The Farewell Tour: The Morning After – 52 Ancestors #265

This is part two of a two part series. You can read part 1, The Farewell Tour, here.

In the summer of 2018, I returned to my home town for a high school class reunion, not really realizing at the time I was embarking upon a personal Farewell Tour. What was supposed to be a simple event became more – a combination of an emotional reunion with the past and ripping a bandage off of a wound.

Highs and lows – tears shed, both happy and sad.

Reflection is a knife that cuts both ways, and deep.

I left the class reunion early the night before. That’s the beauty of having an informal event. You can leave when you want to and it’s not awkward.

Sunday morning in the hotel, I woke to see the mist hanging over the field in the sunrise and remembered where I was. I was anxious to leave, given that I was facing hours looking through a windshield on the road.

But I had unfinished business beckoning first.

I decided that I wanted to, no, needed to, drive by the old places I knew.

Correction – had known. Because I no longer knew them.

Change happens slowly, but after decades of cumulative change, a great deal is different. Eventually, nothing even looks familiar.

I also knew, in my heart, that this was my last trip. This was goodbye.

Forever.

That’s why I had to take this final drive.

Chapters

My life in Kokomo was broken into chapters.

I am omitting the chapter that actually caused my departure. Suffice it to say that it involved intimidation, abuse, violence, blood, guns, police and courts. A monster, pure evil incarnate. That location, individual and events are not reflected in this narrative at all. I have no desire to relive those terrible memories or to allow them the power of any space in my psyche. 

I fully understand people who won’t, or can’t, talk about traumatic events or wartime atrocities.

What I will say is that I’m incredibly grateful for my mile-wide spit-fire stubborn streak.

It saved my life, and that of my children.

I knew I had to leave for safer realms, regardless of the cost – and I did.

I proudly view my wounds as battle scars. Witness to survival.

HE.  DID.  NOT.  BREAK.  ME.

My entire life in Kokomo up to that time had been preparing me for that life-altering day. That fork in the road moment.

I was being molded, shaped into what I would become.

Strong.

Steel.

Resilient.

Survivor.

Home

Mom moved to Kokomo with Dad when I was quite young, before my first birthday.

Kokomo Mom me.jpg

Chief Kokomo

Kokomo was named for an Indian, some say a chief, named Co Co Mo. The old Indian cemetery was known to have been located on the north side of Wildcat Creek between Washington and Union, right where the railroad tracks have been embedded for decades, extending from the old railroad bridge down the center of what is now Buckeye Street.

Chief Kokomo was reburied a few blocks further east within a decade of his death when a sawmill was being constructed where the old Indian cemetery once stood. We don’t actually know for sure that Kokomo was moved, but he was reported to tower above other Indians, being 7 feet tall, and a body of that description was first marveled at, then reburied in a cemetery now behind Memorial Gym.

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By 1868, the train tracks had already replaced the sawmill, apparently, where the old Indian Cemetery once stood. At that time, Buckeye was aptly called Railroad Street.

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This 1868 map of Kokomo shows the old Normal School where Central School would be build in 1898, standing tall and new between Sycamore, High (now Superior), Market and LaFountain (now Apperson Way.)

Part of the Old Pioneer cemetery shown at the bend of the Wildcat Creek subsequently washed away in floods and another portion was encroached upon by the football field. According to Kokomo history, the graves in the Old Pioneer Cemetery were reburied in Crown Point Cemetery in the 1870s. Who knows where Chief Kokomo, Kokomo’s namesake, really is.

Like so many other Indian villages, the Miamis were gone shortly after the settlers arrived and overtook their lands.

David Foster, Kokomo’s founder, when asked why he named Kokomo, Kokomo, said, “It was the orneriest town on earth, so I named it for the orneriest man I knew – – called it Kokomo.”

Well, now, that explains a LOT!

Legends of Chief Kokomo, assuming he actually existed, range from being a kind chief to a shiftless, lazy, alcoholic wifebeater. You can read about him, here.

Today, a monument honoring Kokomo is located in the Old Pioneer Cemetery, on a dead-end street behind the gym, in one of the oldest parts of town where his remains were ostensibly reburied.

It’s there that my history in Kokomo begins.

Kokomo chief statue me mom.jpg

I found a picture of Mom holding me, standing at the monument to Chief Kokomo, dated June of 1957. Mom is wearing a winter coat, so this photo was clearly developed in June, but taken earlier.

I can’t believe Mom is carrying me and wearing heels. My feet hurt just looking at her.

This photo makes me wonder if this was when Mom and Dad first moved to Kokomo and they were out seeing the sights, becoming familiar with their new hometown. They rented an apartment on Apperson Way, just 3 or 4 blocks away.

Kokomo Chief statue today.jpg

Dad was always connected to his Native heritage. He attended and participated in powwows, even though they were illegal at the time, prohibited by law. In fact, powwows were illegal until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act took effect in 1978.

I remember attending powwows held along Wildcat Creek west of town with Dad when I was quite young. Dad gravitated to any essence of Nativeness. Mom had a picture of him in Native regalia someplace in the south when they were dating, apparently having danced. I’m not surprised that he found this monument, although it isn’t well-known or visible without actually knowing where to look.

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Given that this was the first place in Kokomo documented in my life, I felt I needed to include it on my Farewell Tour. Somehow that seemed fitting. I was glad to see that it, along with other settlers’ graves have been preserved and cared for more appropriately than in earlier times.

Kokomo pioneer cemetery marker.jpg

Apperson Way

Mom and I lived in two apartments in Kokomo before we bought a house after my grandfather’s death in 1962.

Kokomo Apperson Way.png

Our first apartment was located just a few blocks from the Pioneer Cemetery.

I have vague memories of living on the first floor of a 2-story house that stood across the alley from this vacant lot on Apperson Way between Mulberry and Walnut Streets.

Kokomo Apperson map.png

I remember climbing into the bathtub with my shoes on, standing in about 3 inches of water, and not knowing what to do. That’s my first memory.

Mom looked amused and laughed, so I knew I wasn’t in trouble.

I remember waking up and standing in my crib, holding on to the wooden sides, looking at Mom and Dad sleeping. They didn’t sleep much longer:)

The train tracks ran nearby, and we heard the “choo-choo” often, with clock-like regularity.

I recall hearing the sirens the day Dad was in an accident, too. Mom somehow knew something was wrong. I remember that she was afraid and then being held awfully tight as we were driven to the hospital in the police car.

It was at the hospital that day, as my father lay unconscious in an oxygen tent, teetering on the edge of death, that another woman with a child walked into the hospital room looking for her husband too.

Then, those two women discovered that my father was the husband of both women, and the father of both children, born 5 months apart.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that they didn’t kill him on the spot.

His heart was evidently in pretty good shape, because he didn’t die of heart failure either.

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Dad with Ellen and David either in late 1955 or 1956.

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Dad with me in about 1956.

Not only was my father out of work for months due to being badly injured, my father and mother’s relationship abruptly ended at this point.

Dad was a passenger in the automobile accident, according to the newspaper, sailing through the windshield. Seat belts didn’t yet exist. Afterwards, and after Mom booted him, his life-long drinking problem got worse. He went home to Ellen in Chicago.

It’s somehow ironic that Mom rode to the hospital in the police car fearful of losing her husband to death, and she lost him alright, but not at all in a way she could ever have imagined. If the accident was a surprise, I’m betting the “other” woman was an even bigger shock. At the end of that life-changing day, I’m guessing Mom had no idea what had just hit her and rolled over her life like a run-away freight-train.

Somehow life moved on. It had to. She had me to take care of.

Mom found a job as a bookkeeper at Mid-States Electric and soon, we moved to a new apartment.

Apartment at Mulberry and Webster

Just Mom and I moved a few blocks away to an apartment in a large house owned by Mrs. Crume.

Divorce at that time, as well as being a single mother carried its own level of stigma. As a single mother, I think Mom felt safe there. Privacy, but someone in the same house and close by, if needed. A door connected our apartments and was always unlocked. Renting from an attentive, watchful widow lady reduced the chances of wagging tongues about an attractive single woman.

Mrs. Crume became a second grandmother, of sorts, especially after my grandmother died in January of 1960.

My poor Mom, when it rains, it pours.

First losing her husband in a terribly humiliating way, rife with betrayal, and then her mother died.

Kokomo Crume grandkids.jpg

Mrs. Crume had grandchildren my age and I loved living there with built-in playmates.

Kokomo house Taylor and Webster.jpg

This yellow house stands on the corner of Taylor and Webster. Our entrance was the covered porch on the side, looking much the same then as it does today, except painted white.

Today, the street is paved, but at that time, Webster Street, on the side of the house, was brick and one way going to the right.

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I can’t tell you how many skinned knees I had from roller-skating.

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There used to be hedges along the sidewalk. I played house with my dolls in the gaps between the bushes.

I must have been about 3.

Kokomo me dolls.jpg

I pushed my dolls up and down the sidewalk in the baby carriage that I received for my 4th birthday.

Kokomo me doll.jpg

I remember this particular doll. She may still reside in the attic, having taken up residence in the grandkids toy box at Mom’s for decades. My kids played with her. Someone used an ink pen to give her eye liner.

I particularly like these pictures because while Dad isn’t in the photo itself, his shadow as the photographer is clearly visible. That mirrored my life with him after he and mother split. A shadowy never-there but never-entirely-gone either presence.

They both loved me, but their relationship was clearly in the past, although it wasn’t for lack of my father trying. He would occasionally arrive late in the day, hoping to spend the night. Sometimes he did – on the couch. I don’t think that’s at all what he had in mind.

Kokomo me carriage.jpg

Four years later, in August 1963, Dad would be gone from this earth forever.

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I stirred up mud pies with my doll dishes in the tiny hidden space between the steps and the house.

I also had a little halter for my pet chameleon. The halter and leash got pinned to a chameleon-sized pillow and I took the chameleon with his pillow outside to keep me company while I made mud pies.

My life was NOT dull!

Nosiree.

I was crushed when my chameleon died.

Kokomo me mom camping on couch.jpg

Sometimes Mom and I “camped out” on the couch in the living room and had picnics on the floor. My son now owns that comforter. Mom and I recovered and retied the comforter when I was a teen. Mom complained about having to stay home from a date to recover it with her mother when SHE was a teen.

Kokomo me mom matching dresses.jpg

Mom made many of our clothes. I was so proud of this matching mother-daughter outfit. We made them together. I’m sure I was a BIG help.

Mom and I shared a bedroom which was above the porch roof and I was ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE I heard Santa and his reindeer on the roof!

Kokomo me Christmas tree.jpg

With my discovery of the tree the next morning, decorated with ornaments and colorful lights, I had sure and certain EVIDENCE that Santa indeed HAD in fact been on the roof😊

Not only did Santa deliver and decorate our Christmas tree, he found us again on Christmas Eve night.

Kokomo me Christmas morning.jpg

Me after running downstairs on Christmas morning in my too-big Native bathrobe with mother’s bathrobe belt. Yep, Santa had been there all right!

Segregation

This was the house where we lived when I started elementary school – 1st grade at Lincoln School. Kindergarten was only available in private schools. We certainly didn’t have the money for that.

Kokomo Lincoln School map.png

By this time, Dad and I had been attending powwows on the riverbanks, far from prying eyes, for several years. There, my hair was braided and tied with leather braid-ties, and I learned to “dance” in the Native way. I wore a beaded belt and a fringed, hand-made leather jacket of sorts.

Powwows were special because it meant I got to spend time exclusively with Dad during times when he visited. Mom stayed home. Dad nipped on a flask slipped into his pocket much of the time.

I didn’t know what was in that flask, and I didn’t care. I loved powwows – the music, singing and drums along the riverbank – and loved going to them with Dad! Those secret powwows spoke to a secret life, unknown elsewhere. The people at the powwow knew things that other people didn’t. I was at home among my people – no questions, no judgement, always welcomed with open arms.

I proudly proclaimed to my teacher at school that I was part Indian. Keep in mind that this was before the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited segregation. Separate was not equal, and never was.

Concerned, the teacher called my mother and told her that she needed to stop me from telling people that I was mixed-race. Indian was not “white” and there were laws about such things.

Mom took me outside and showed me the sign planted in the grass between the sidewalk and curb beside our apartment. She asked me if I knew what it said. Thinking I was quite smart, I said yes, “No parking.”

She read me the words, slowly, one at a time, and they said, “Colored people not allowed.”

She explained that if I continued to tell people that I was part Indian, that we would have to move and I would not be able to go to Lincoln School anymore.

I could tell from Mom’s demeanor that this was very serious.

I didn’t understand.

I remember asking why, and how Mom struggled to answer.

I also remember crying and being told I couldn’t talk about going to powwows with Dad either, because powwows were “against the rules.” So was dancing.

I was devastated and terribly confused. Why was Dad doing something “against the rules?” I had to mind the rules. Why did Mom let me go to something against the rules? And why were powwows against the rules anyway? No one answered my questions.

Mom didn’t think I should go to powwows after that. Dad insisted.

I didn’t talk about that anymore – for many years.

I was old enough to know something was wrong, but not exactly what that something was, or how.

The Neighborhood

While the yellow house was rather traditional, some of the other houses in the neighborhood were anything but.

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I loved this house cattycorner across the street then, and still do.

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It’s not in great shape anymore. I always thought the top looked like a witch’s hat, but I wasn’t frightened. I think I began my love affair with architecture and turrets right here.

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This building across the street and down a few doors was the “old folks’ home” at the time. Note the slide fire escape, still in existence from the upper level in the rear.

I used to cross the street by myself, looking both way first, of course, and visit with the residents. They loved that. Now I realize that not many had family and I never saw visitors. These elderly people were being “warehoused until death.”

I often colored pictures in my coloring book and took them as gifts. I would go back to discover my artwork taped to the walls beside the residents’ beds. I was thrilled!

One day I told the nurse that I had no more pages in my coloring book, and the next time I visited, she miraculously had found a HUGE new coloring book, plus new crayons too. At that time, I didn’t understand the depth of her kindness.

With what seemed an unlimited supply of crayons and pages to be colored, I became a coloring-machine, mixing my own colors and being mindful of the lines! Sometimes I colored the backgrounds too and experimented with layers of color, scratching through the top layer.

Then one day the inevitable happened. I went to visit one of my favorite grandpas, and the bed was empty…

Moving

My grandmother had died in January of 1960 and my grandfather in June of 1962. At Christmas, Mom became a homeowner and we moved on Christmas Eve! No pressure that year for Santa😊

Mom assured me that he would find us, but I wasn’t convinced.

Somehow, he came through!

Merry Christmas, Sycamore Street

We only moved about three and a half blocks away, but then, it seemed quite distant.

Kokomo Sycamore map.png

The house on Sycamore Street, originally built in 1925, looks amazingly like it did then.

The house was divided into two apartments. Part of the reason Mom bought this particular property was so we would have income from one apartment to help pay the mortgage. Our entrance was on the side and we lived upstairs.

Kokomo house on Sycamore.jpg

The best part? I had my own bedroom!

Our house shared a driveway with the huge brick house next door that had a ballroom on the third floor. I’ve always wondered if our house was the gardener or servants’ quarters, but it was too nice for that, and too close too.

Kokomo 1868 Sycamore.png

Digging around in the photo collection as well as at the County Assessor’s office and at Newspapers.com, I pieced together events that formed our neighborhood.

In either 1865 (newspaper) or 1875 (assessor’s office,) Robert Haskett, a bootmaker and businessman in Kokomo build the stunning 3 story house next door to the east. The map, above, shows this portion of Kokomo on a map dated 1868, and the house on Sycamore doesn’t yet exist.

Kokomo 1877 Sycamore.png

This 1877 map shows the Haskett land, outlot 12. It’s interesting to note that David Foster still owned a substantial amount of land on the larger map, and that “New London and Kokomo Pike” was a tollroad with a bridge someplace in what is today Foster Park. Kokomo Pike became Park Avenue that intersects with Defenbaugh.

Apparently at one time people tried to build and live on land that eventually became Foster Park. Kokomo had a devastating flood in March of 1913 where Wildcat Creek came within 10 feet of the railroad bridge, threatening to wash it away, and expanded to nearly a mile wide. I’d wager that if homes were built in Lowe’s Addition, on Fremont and Rose Streets, they were permanently abandoned at that time.

The old Haskett mansion at 524 West Sycamore has two floors that total 3390 square feet, and the third floor ballroom, now considered attic apparently, would have been half of that again. When I lived next door, the ballroom had been abandoned for years, looking like guests just walked out after the last New Year’s Eve gala, shut the door and it wasn’t opened again for half a century.

Today, the mansion, as I used to think of it, is taxed at a value of almost a quarter million dollars, where our old house next door is taxed at $82,000. Of course, our house is half the size and not nearly as fancy. I’m not sure I’ve seen actual curved glass windows since. The Haskett home was truly magnificent.

Robert Haskett and his heirs died, and the mansion along with its property was sold out of the family, then subdivided. Orchards covered most of the land between Sycamore and Walnut and on west where our house and others would eventually be built.

Property tax records indicate that our house today has a total of 1566 square feet, 1 fireplace, 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. It was built in 1926, has 8 rooms total and stands on .129 acres. Apparently, the upstairs fireplace has been walled up, because there were two fireplaces when we lived there.

According to the Historical Society and home assessment records, this was the first house built when the Haskett property was initially subdivided.

Ironically, currently our house and the Haskett house next door are once again owned by the same people.

Kokomo Sycamore.jpg

My bedroom was the window on the second floor to the right of the front porch roof. There were functional fireplaces in the front of the house, both upper and lower – clearly before central heat.

There used to be stately maple trees in the front and side yards.

Kokomo Sycamore side.jpg

Today, the pine tree in the rear, probably about roof height when I lived there, soars above the house, and the maple trees are gone.

The maple tree on the left side came crashing down on top of the house in the devastating 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado. I remember Mom grabbing me by the hair, which was the closest thing she could get ahold of, and literally dragging me down two flights of steps to the basement.

Kokomo Sycamore pine tree.jpg

I walked up the hill in the driveway to knock on the door and see if anyone was home. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but it didn’t matter, because they weren’t.

Kokomo Sycamore garage.jpg

There used to be a garage in the rear where a concrete parking area is today, at left, with another unsheltered parking space at right.

My freshman home-room class constructed our homecoming float on a farm wagon for the parade made from colored Kleenex stuck into chicken wire in that garage. I can’t remember what it was, but we had a lot of fun making it.

We were terrified that it would rain.

Where the white lattice fence stands today at the rear of the property used to be a concrete block wall separating our driveway from the neighbors to the rear.

Kokomo Sycamore house back.jpg

The concrete block chimney was added at some point for the furnace, a boiler when we lived there. Our radiators clanked and Mom was always afraid the boiler would explode.

Kokomo Sycamore side 2.jpg

The door, arched roof and trellises look exactly the same today. And I do mean exactly. It’s difficult to believe they haven’t been replaced since we bought this property 56 years ago. I’m not positive they’ve been painted since Mom sold it 47 years ago.

Lilly’s of the Valley grew in the flower bed below the trellises along with the rose bushes I bought Mom at Woolworths one Mother’s Day. I wonder if any of those plants remain.

Even the unusual lock appears to be the same on the door. Where’s my old key???

I wonder how many people have lived here since Mom sold the house in 1972.

Kokomo Sycamore side 3.jpg

The little window above the inaccessible decorative balcony was my closet, which also housed the door to the attic.

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Today, this home is in the Old Silk Stocking historic district, as it should be.

In 1972, when Mom married my stepfather, she sold this house and we moved to the farm.

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Across the street. Saying goodbye. Forever this time.

The Sieberling Mansion

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Down the street a few blocks the old Siebering Mansion, build in 1887, is now the Howard County Historical Museum.

Kokomo Sieberling.jpg

The stately Sieberling Mansion declined for years due in part to exorbitant maintenance costs. Now, it’s beautiful again and is stunningly decorated for the holidays. I can’t find a copyright-free photo, but just google “Sieberling Mansion Kokomo Christmas decorations.”

Mom and I used to drive the old mansion neighborhood during the holidays, enjoying the display every Christmas season. It seemed like the residents had an implied competition to see whose home could be decorated the most beautifully.

As a child, looking out from behind frosty car windows into the inky night as we slowly inched along the crunchy snow-crusted streets, the colored lights outlining these mansions took on a magical other-worldly quality.

Best of all, that entertainment was free and something I looked forward to every year.

Oh, the innocent joys of childhood.

Lincoln School Years

I spent my elementary years at stately Lincoln School.

LIncoln School 1950

Each year, we would graduate to the next grade, and move from one room to another. By third grade, we graduated to “upstairs” classrooms.

There was no room for a cafeteria in that old building, so we all walked home, ate lunch, then back again. Occasionally we would have lunch with our friends at their houses. That was a special treat.

Sometimes we would hold hands with our friends, swinging our arms, as we walked each other home.

Kokomo Lincoln School today.jpg

Today, the new Lincoln School looks very different. You’ll excuse me if I say it lacks character😊

Every student looked forward to 4th grade where the entire school was caught up in the spring-time spelling bee competition and festivities which crowned the royal court of the best spellers.

Lincoln spelling bee court

Yep, that’s me bottom right, wearing white dress gloves, looking extremely self-conscious and not exactly knowing what to do with myself. I was in the spelling court. I still remember the word that was my downfall. I forgot to say “capital I” when spelling the easy word, I’ll.

The court members were all my friends of course, but my special, brilliant friend, Marianne was crowned the queen – in the center behind me.

Marianne is the friend buried in the Crown Point Cemetery. She passed away on my birthday. Unaware, I dropped into her Mom’s house the morning of her death, and directly into a scenario straight out of hell.

Marianne and her sister, Linda, were my best friends for many years growing up. I don’t ever remember not knowing them.

Kokomo Marianne.jpg

We neighborhood girls used to have slumber parties. This is Marianne putting on makeup and drying her hair (yes, that’s what that thing is) sitting at Mom’s vanity.

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The Larsen’s lived just over on Walnut street. The area above the garage in the rear was a “playhouse” for the kids. That was our favorite place for slumber parties because it was so spacious.

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The neighborhood seemed huge at the time, but in reality, it was only a block or so wide and 3 or 4 block long.

I was too young to walk home from Lincoln School and stay after school by myself, so I had a babysitter, “Mrs. Cooksey” aka “Cookie,” a widow who lived across the street from the school in the house below.

Kokomo Cookie's.jpg

I loved Cookie. We had fun and she let me push the old lawn mower from time to time, probably because if I was behind it pushing, there was no possibility that I could get my appendages into the blades and hurt myself. It made a fun whirring noise. She didn’t think mowing was nearly as much fun as I did.

Kokomo lawn mower.png

We picked dandelion greens, cleaned, cooked and ate them.

Cookie also had a wringer washer in the basement and I was allowed to help turn the crank too. What fun!

That machine looked a lot like this one, below, except her tub was white metal.

Kokomo wash tub

By Etan J. Tal – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78348153

The water drained onto the concrete floor, discolored from years of washwater, and we used a straw broom to sweep the hot, soapy bubbling water into the drain. I made a game of that, seeing if I could sweep all of the bubbles into the drain😊

How do you make chores alluring to a child? Make them fun, of course.

I was terribly sad when Cookie eventually went to work at the hospital. I stopped by to see her for years. She came to see me when I nearly died of meningitis at that hospital when I was 10.

As I got a little older, I did stay alone after school, but Mom wasn’t cracked up about that all day in the summer.

For some reason, the older I got, the more she didn’t want me staying alone. Imagine that!

Kokomo Mrs. Jones.jpg

Mrs. Jones lived in this house. She had a son a couple years older than me, Jimmy, and Jimmy had a friend, Tony. And well….you get the idea. Tony was my boyfriend for quite some time in high school. He left to become a preacher. I went to Europe. Sound like a country song? Tony wrote and sang country songs too.

Jimmy had a band, The Barons, who practiced in Mrs. Jones’ basement. That woman had the patience of a saint.

Suffice it to say that I absolutely LOVED going to Mrs. Jones’ house. The entertainment there was infinitesimally more interesting than lawn mowers and washing machines.

Walking from home to either Lincoln School, or later Pettit Park or Lafayette Park Schools in middle school, I had to walk past a little neighborhood convenience store called Chuck’s Pantry.

It was owned by…Chuck…of course.

I loved that little neighborhood store. Sometimes Mom would send me on an errand there – usually to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Chuck knew all the neighborhood kids, and we all knew exactly how much each and every candy bar cost.

Amazingly though, whatever pennies we had in our change was always enough for a candy bar!

Kokomo Chuck's.jpg

Chuck’s never seemed large, but it looks even tinier today. The grey addition to the left, behind the truck, didn’t exist originally.

The Reservoir

Kokomo had a public swimming pool, but an entrance fee was required.

Kokomo Reservoir map.png

The Reservoir, located 4 or 5 miles east of town, was free.

Kokomo reservoir.jpg

On hot summer evenings, Mom and drove to the Reservoir, parked along the road and with lots of other overheated folks, splashed and played in the water. There were no lifeguards. That’s Mom in the black suit and me with the pigtails.

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There’s little resemblance today. No swimming is allowed now.

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There weren’t guard rails then either.

The Reservoir is the Kokomo water supply, created by a dam across Wildcat Creek which also helps to control the worst of the flooding.

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My Dad used to take me fishing along the dam.

Kokomo reservoir dam me.jpg

I’m actually amazed that my mother allowed playing on the rocks in front of the dam. Given that she didn’t fish, I’d wager she didn’t know until afterwards when the photos were developed. Fishing was an activity I got to do with Dad alone – cherished memories today.

Kokomo reservoir dam today.jpg

I drove past the dam site and it bears little resemblance to yesteryear.

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The only place I can actually see the dam itself is through the trees from the bridge.

I might also mention that various locations at the Reservoir were favorite parking places for teenage couples. And for patrolling police. It wasn’t unusual to find yourself staring into a blinding flashlight, not that I’d know from personal experience of course😊

I’m guessing some things never change.

Walking to School

In 7th and 8th grades, I attended Pettit Park and Lafayette Park Schools, respectively, for one year each. Both were long walks from home.

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Given that the kids who had attended those schools during elementary school had already established relationships and a social hierarchy, those of us transferring in from Lincoln School (to Petit Park) and Petit Park (to Lafayette Park) were landing in uncharted waters.

I didn’t attend either school long enough to establish much of a connection, but the next 4 years would be spent downtown at Kokomo High School. All students who went to KHS transferred from another school, and there were several, so high school was the great equalizer. The playing field was once again level, which is another way of saying that everything was in flux and opportunities were everyplace just for the plucking. At least, that was my perspective.

A new crop of both friends, and boys.

New friends, classes that could be selected, clubs, special interests, sports – you name it. Middle school was in many ways an extension of elementary school where there was little choice for personal expansion. High school by comparison was a smorgasbord – the last stop on our journey to becoming adults.

Of course, that was the whole reason for the class reunion – we left walking across a stage and carrying diplomas.

I passed the same landmarks every day for those 4 formative years.

There were no school buses. We walked to and from school, about half a mile for me, regardless of the weather. Heat, snow, rain; it didn’t matter.

Kokomo Sycamore to KHS.png

There were two ways to walk, either through the center of town along Sycamore Street, past the courthouse, shown below, or one block to the south, along Superior Street.

Kokomo courthouse.png

The courthouse build in 1937 and many of the same buildings are still there, with new businesses as residents of course.

Kokomo Buckeye.png

The Woolsworths store is gone, but I loved that place. The grey building above at right bears no resemblance to the Woolsworths of yesteryear, with its huge plate glass windows that were painted jovially with Christmas and holiday scenes by high school students each winter.

Woolworths stocked items I could actually afford. Many of Mom’s gifts came from there, including a parakeet that “she” wanted. At least according to me, she wanted a parakeet.

Looking south along Buckeye, above, the old train tracks ran down the center of the street, crossing Wildcat Creek in the distance.

We always had to be careful not to turn our ankles crossing the tracks. They were still in use back then.

Kokomo Buckeye looking south.jpg

Walking a block south along Buckeye, to Superior Street, where Buckeye ends today, we can see the bridge. These train tracks were laid where a sawmill once stood, and that was constructed over the old Indian cemetery.

Kokomo Buckeye looking north.jpg

Looking north from the intersection of Superior and Buckeye, above, the tracks run through downtown a few blocks to the depot where the class reunion was held.

Kokomo Superior east.png

The buildings along Superior walking east toward the high school are mostly gone now, morphed into parking lots. Absolutely nothing, other than the train tracks, looks familiar.

As students, we ate lunch in the mom and pop places that used to line the storefronts along Superior.

Around the corner on Union, Finn’s Camera and Drug Shop, of all places, was a favorite offering grilled sandwiches, flavored Cokes and frozen candy bars. Amazingly, Bob Fenn, the proprietor could do math in his head.

Coneys and grills that couldn’t accommodate very many students at once dotted the downtown landscape, but somehow dealt with the noon rush. Two separate lunch “hours” in which students had to leave, eat and be back for the next class within 55 minutes.

The high school did have a cafeteria, but not many students ate there. Those with cars drove elsewhere, along restaurant row on Markland mostly. Burger King, home of the then-new Whopper and Whaler sandwiches was always a favorite. The guys loved the, “It takes two hands to handle a whopper,” jingle, smiling smugly at their private joke, while the girls collectively rolled their eyes and laughed nervously, if at all.

Kokomo Armstrong Landon.jpg

The old Armstrong Landon Building, rebuilt in 1923 after a fire burned the original, still sports its exterior fire escape. At 6 stories, it remains the tallest building in Kokomo. The building occupies the full quarter block of Main and Sycamore. Until the building was demolished where the parking lot is today, the back of the Armstrong Landon Building wasn’t visible from Superior.

Looking at an aerial photo, I think about half of downtown Kokomo is now parking lots. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing, but it’s definitely different.

Kokomo Superior.jpg

In many places, new buildings have sprung up with lovely art and murals documenting Kokomo’s history.

As we walk down Sycamore, in another block, we’ll be in front of Kokomo High School.

Kokomo KHS corner.png

The approach only looks slightly familiar, like a long-ago vague reminder of someplace I once was.

On the right, a newer building has been added, with the original technical education building (woodworking and shop) set back further to the rear, near Wildcat Creek.

Slightly further on the right, the main building stands, but from this persepective, it’s hidden behind the trees.

I created this layout of the campus of both yesterday and today.

Kokomo Kokomo High School layout.png

The old Central School which had been repurposed for the high school is gone, replaced by a parking lot, as you can see above.

Kokomo Katz Korner.png

Perhaps the greatest of ironies is this photo though. Across from the school, off of school property but as close as humanly possible, used to be a row of buildings. I have no idea what was IN those buildings, because that was pretty much irrelevant. One might have been a pool hall. The sign swinging from the brick building on the corner from rusty hinges read Katz Korner, I think.

It was on that corner that the rebel boys hung out. Think James Dean and Fonzie. Yep, rebels all, they stood there and SMOKED. Cigarettes of course, nothing else. Those boys were often referred to as “hoods,” although I’m not sure why. It was supposed to be a disparaging moniker, but it didn’t keep the girls who walked by in clusters, on the OTHER side of the street of course, a respectable distance away, from glancing furtively across the street, pretending they weren’t in the LEAST interested.

Those unruly bad-boy males on the “tough” corner struttin’ their stuff were both very interesting and tantalizingly dangerous. It’s like they had gone over to the dark side, but the dark side was very much a curiosity.

Cigarettes were only “naughty” but anything else would have been illegal. Which brings me to the ironic part – the parking lot that has replaced those buildings belongs to the KPD, Kokomo Police Department, whose headquarters are in the brick building.

I got a good chuckle out of this.

Karma strikes again!

Kokomo High School

Kokomo KHS.jpg

The front of the original KHS building looks much the same, although this building was obsoleted as a high school years ago. It’s now named Central Middle School, but make no mistake, this is not the original Central School that stood across the street.

Kokomo KHS stairs.jpg

Inside, the stairs were wood, and we ran up and down the 3 stories like they were nothing. Lockers lined the hallways. Students had 8 minutes between classes to get to their locker, switch out their books and be seated in the next class before the bell.

And we made it, too, almost every time.

Otherwise, you got sent to the office for being tardy.

These were also the stairs where we girls made a stand in order to be allowed to wear pants, as in slacks, especially in the winter. Before that was allowed, we had to wear skirts or dresses and hose. Who remembers garter belts?

Kokomo garter belt.jpg

Sorry guys, these were miserable.

Keep in mind that we walked to and from school every day, often a mile or more and this was before the days of pantyhose which would at least have helped a little with warmth.

Bottom line, the old-school school administrators felt that dresses were more respectable than pants. I mean, only rabble-rousing females would EVER wear pants – right??? But we were cold and miserable – and I was very proudly a rabble rouser.

I’m sure this confession stuns all of my readers.

“Someone” started a rumor that the girls weren’t going to be wearing panties on a specific day, which of course means garter belts, hose and nothing else. The boys clustered excitedly around the bottom of all of the stairs, waiting for, then twisting their their necks nearly in a knot to watch the females climb the steps.

I remember by boyfriend, Don, saying to me, “You’re REALLY NOT going to do that, are you?”

I gave his class ring back.

Whether we did, or didn’t, wear panties that day, is irrelevant. We clutched our skirts close to us so that the boys couldn’t see (as if they could have anyway,) which had the intended effect.

It worked.

In an amazing change of policy, that has nothing to do with the protest, of course, the girls were quickly allowed to wear pants, but only in bad weather…and NOT jeans. Of course, that was a slippery slope and by the time I was a senior, pants, especially bell bottoms were VERY COOL!!! Skirts and dresses were a thing of the past.

However, my name with school administration from that day forth was officially “mud.” It’s probably in my “permanent record” along with a list of my further transgressions, most of which make me extremely proud.

If I had a graduation picture, I would proudly photoshop “mud” on my forehead and post it here.

Memorial Gym

Across Apperson Way from the main building stood the gymnasium.

Kokomo Memorial Gym.jpg

Standing on what remains of the old Central School steps, I spy Memorial Gym across the street beckoning like an old inviting friend.

Kokomo Memorial Gym 2.jpg

It was here that graduation took place.

Kokomo Graduation 2.jpg

Let’s just say that graduation was a battle for me as were activities leading up to graduation.

I was an (ahem) unconventional, noncompliant student😊

Among other things, I wanted to take an advanced placement college prep course. My male counselor whose approval I needed declined the request, saying, “We’re not going to waste a perfectly good AP seat on a girl. You’re just going to graduate, get married and go to work at Delco. We’re saving those seats for boys who are going to actually do something with their lives.”

He might as well have waved a red flag in front of a bull.

Hell hath no fury…

The dean wouldn’t listed to reason. My mother wouldn’t take me, so I walked to the school board meeting…and spoke.

The board was patronizing and said they would “see about things.”

I stood firm and said I was not going away until they decided, and I refused to sit down.

I was shaking and alone, but stood absolutely still, firmly rooted, unflinching, at the podium. I had to hold the sides to keep them from seeing that I was shaking and terrified. I was on the verge of tears, from nerves, and I was afraid I was going to be permanently expelled.

I was beginning to wonder what I had done. What was I thinking? More to the point, what was I to do next?

No one blinked.

I knew my goose was cooked. But since that goose was already in the oven, no need to stop now…

I noticed that a reporter from the Tribune newspaper was sitting nearby, taking notes, and seemed interested. I ever-so-slightly waved at them with 2 fingers, not letting go of the podium, and smiled just a bit.

She was the only even slightly friendly face.

The reporter moved a few seats closer, watching intently.

The board members glanced up and noticed.

I got my seat in that class, I’m sure because that path was much easier than dealing with a female malcontent who refused to leave or sit down. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many females didn’t and became discouraged.

That condescending, discriminatory attitude and resulting restrictions became a self-fulfilling prophecy for generations of females and minorities.

Females were SUPPOSED to, expected to, graduate and get married and go to work in the factory at Delco. We were NOT supposed to want to pursue a college education unless we wanted to be teachers, or nurses. Those traditional female occupations were OK, but NOT engineers or anything that competed with males. Heaven forbid.

Furthermore, I missed part of a semester due to health issues but completed all of my requirements with outstanding grades. In fact, I graduated near the top of my class.

The administration did NOT want me to “walk” with my graduation class because of my absence, suggesting instead that I attend the “night graduation” for those who had been disgraced into going to night school. Like, you know, girls who had gotten pregnant and were not allowed to attend school with the rest of us because they might pollute us with their lack of morality. (Sarcasm.)

I flat out refused.

I was not allowed to order a cap and gown. That was fine, I said, because I would simply walk in my street clothes – specifically, blue jeans and a rather tight-fitting tank top. I was good with that.

Another battle was brewing.

Apparently, Indiana University had an entirely different opinion of my worthiness – because as if a magic wand had been waved, when the high school was notified by letter that I was receiving an academic scholarship from Indiana University, one of only two awarded – I was suddenly allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony.

Kokomo Scholarship.jpg

As the graduates names were called, their scholarships were announced. It might have been my imagination, but there was a pregnant pause just before my name.

Then it was my turn to walk.

All I can say is that I proudly strutted across that stage, head held very high, waved to my family in the stands, accepted my diploma from officials who were absolutely NOT smiling, reached out to shake each of their hands whether they wanted to or not, including the school board members who assuredly remembered me, smiled by best, brightest smile at them, said “thank you,” and proudly walked off the stage holding my diploma in the air.

Like I said, I’m absolutely positive “mud” is my official name.

Suffice it to say, I not only won the battle, I won the war.

Kokomo IUK.jpg

These weren’t my only battles with the administration at KHS, but the ones of which I’m proudest. I hope in some small way they paved the path for others who followed.

Literally, no one, not even my mother supported me, and I was utterly terrified.

My mother’s favorite saying to me was always, “If you would just behave.”

I didn’t and couldn’t. Thank goodness.

I doubt she thinks that any more😊

Roberta well behaved

Of course, while graduation was the pinnacle of our years at KHS, most of our time spent in Memorial Gym was for sports or gym class.

Basketball games were played inside, with football outside, behind and to the right on the old Kautz field.

Kokomo gym.jpg

The student cheer block, also known as yell block, consisted of coordinated dressing in red and blue with white gloves, cheering and yelling. We practiced in the gym and executed our synchronized “yells,” directed by the cheerleaders, during games when we cheered wildly for our hometown team, the Kokomo WildKats.

Kokomo Wildcats.jpg

The football field was located by Wildcat Creek that ran behind the school and is gone now – only the track and one set of bleachers remaining. The official high school is now Haworth, the “new school” built south of town back in the 1970s.

Kokomo High School, as we knew it, is no more.

Central School

Kokomo Central school.jpg

The old Central School building, built in 1898 stood across from the main KHS building and housed fun classes, like art and debate, for example.

I loved art, although I wasn’t fond of my overly-attentive teacher. I still have one of my leaf pencil drawings.

Kokomo leaf drawing.jpg

The Central School floors were well worn wooden planks, as were the stairs and everything had an echo quality.

Kokomo Central steps.jpg

Only steps to a parking lot where the school used to stand remain today.

Kokomo Central location.jpg

I walked into the parking lot, and noticed something VERY interesting through the trees.

What is that?

Why, it looks like a Fairy House???

The Fairy Houses

We did NOT have Fairy Houses when I lived in Kokomo. Two exist today and they look like they emerged directly from a storybook. They are amazing!!!

Kokomo Storeybook Express front.jpg

Believe it or not, this is a convenience store named Storybook Express with a drive-thru and it’s stunningly beautiful. Can you believe those words together in one sentence?

Kokomo Storybrook Express front.jpg

I want to live in this version of a hobbit house!

Kokomo Storybook Express corner.jpg

Standing in the parking lot, a lovely garden and statue grace the corner.

Kokomo Manetoowa.jpg

Manetoowa, honoring the spirit of the Native Miami people.

Kokomo Manetoowa statue.jpg

The perennial garden surrounding the statue is luscious. A time capsule rests beneath the statue itself.

Kokomo Manetoowa garden.jpg

This is amazing!

Kokomo wildflowers.jpg

Oh gosh, look at the cute little chimney, behind the statue.

Kokomo Storybook Express fence.jpg

Even the “fence” by the street is incredible!

Kokomo Storybook Express glass.jpg

I bet that’s Kokomo Opalescent Glass, too.

Kokomo YWCA.jpg

Looking across the street, I notice the old YWCA building where I spent many Saturday mornings as a child. In elementary school, I “helped out,” checking skates in and out so that I could attend the Saturday morning activities for a reduced rate. The Y had trampolines and crafts and best of all, swimming. Not to mention a pop machine with cream soda. Soft drinks were something we couldn’t afford, but part of my “pay” was one soft drink every Saturday.

The high school didn’t have a pool, so students swam at the Y – walking, or rather, running the block back and forth with wet hair that froze stiff in the winter, and YES, we still made our 8-minute class switch!

There’s one more Fairy House in Kokomo as well.

Kokomo Markland Fairy House.jpg

This one on Markland was for sale and I’m not even going to show you what they did to it.

Kokomo Fairy House side.jpg

Kokomo fairy house front.jpg

Tying Up Loose Ends

About the time I graduated from high school, Mom married my wonderful stepfather, sold our house in Kokomo and moved to the farm. I adored both him and the farm, writing about him here and here, and my wonderful memories of the farm, here.

I did not visit the farm during my Farewell Tour. I said my goodbyes there years ago. The house burned after Dad died and Mom moved to town. Like with this journey to Kokomo, I knew that my last trip to the farm was indeed my last visit ever. “Home” is not there anymore.

Having driven the length and breadth of Kokomo for two days, I had visited just about every place that held poignant memories for me, other than the chapter I omitted – except one.

The house on Mulberry Street at the corner of Indiana.

I didn’t want to, but I needed to return one last time.

My heart started pounding the inside of my chest as I drove down those streets lost in memory.

The House on Mulberry Street

Perhaps I should say where the house on Mulberry Street once stood.

If I close my eyes, I can still see it – standing in its stately grandeur. Stained glass windows restored after being found long-buried beneath the attic floor. A beautiful wooden spiral staircase climbing gracefully inside the front entryway bathed in rainbow light from the colorful windows. The wooden banister rubbed smooth from thousands of hands over a century.

Kokomo Mulberry Indiana.jpg

Today, this is the view.

The townhouse apartments across the street look almost exactly like they did back then.

Kokomo Mulberry Indiana apartments.jpg

I remember the old woman who had lived there seemingly forever warning me just before we bought the property about the rumor that the house was jinxed. “Haunted actually,” she said. “Cursed.”

Finally, taking me into her confidence, wide-eyed, she revealed the dark secret. That no one ever left there married. Ever.

We shouldn’t buy it, she warned, or we wouldn’t either.

Her story revealed that one man, long in the past, had locked his supposedly insane wife away in the attic, a hostage, and she cursed both him and marriage.

I smiled, and while I appreciated her grandmotherly concern, I thought those stories were amusing. I was glad my house, which was approaching her century birthday, had character.

I wondered about the attic though, especially when we were working on the restoration.

The elderly neighbor died shortly thereafter, but I thought of her words often as I found odd things buried there – and in the basement, under the floors, slid in-between the walls and under the insulation that was added decades later.

Kokomo Mulberry memorial garden.jpg

“Our” corner stands vacant now, memorialized only by the garden where the tree and sidewalk to the front door once stood.

Kokomo key.jpg

Today, these keys, found in the walls, resurrected into ornaments, are all that’s left.

Kokomo key 2.jpg

This grand lady was the first house I ever owned. My husband and I bought it because it had so much potential. Translated – it needed a whole lot of work and we could afford the property.

We were convinced that we could do anything.

We were was young and starry-eyed in love. We had vision and a plan for the future.

We would restore our house, raise our family and finish law school.

We would live happily-ever-after.

We worked towards our dreams which were slowly becoming reality. Long hours at work and school along with laboring on the house were paying off.

We could see the finished product through the hours, days and long weeks of back-aching work as we transformed this neglected gem into a much-loved beauty.

We found old newspapers and packages secreted in the walls, along with a very steep hidden stairway secreted in the rear of the house – barely wide enough for one person. Is it possible that those stories were true after all? Something wasn’t “normal,” that’s for sure.

But walls weren’t talking. And our friend was dead.

We kept on working, and working, and working. Restorations of old houses are never “finished.” Take my word for this.

I turned the corner and pulled my Jeep up in front of the property which looks very different today.

Kokomo Mulberry sidewalk.png

I can’t see where the house once stood. Thankfully, it’s shielded from my eyes by the newly planted trees between the sidewalk and Mulberry Street.

However, this small walkway from the street used to lead to the steps that led to the house on the other side of the sidewalk that’s no longer there.

Now, I just see a chilling reminder of a life and hope snuffed out – the walk that leads to no place.

And nothing.

Or maybe to another time.

To the days of wooden banisters and falling asleep in his arms in front the fire crackling in the winter fireplace.

Those long-lost days.

Before…

Kokomo Mulberry rear.jpg

I pulled down the alley to see if I could get a better view from the back. The neighbors bought the lot after the house was no longer there and built a garage. Today a flag waves over children’s playground equipment.

My husband would have been proud that the American flag flies on this land – he was a veteran – a special ops Green Beret in Vietnam.

Kokomo Mulberry aerial.png

After I returned home, I brought myself to look at Google maps where I can still see the footprint of the foundation of the house that once stood there. Of course, eventually the basement was filled in and the rubble removed, but the scar upon the earth and seared into my soul still remains.

I wish I hadn’t looked.

I want to remember the beautiful memory garden instead.

Kokomo Mulberry garden.jpg

I cannot tell you more about this chapter of my life – because I simply cannot.

I will write about this one day, if I can, but that day is not today.

The pain is still palpable and raw. In all these years, I’ve never been back. Never stood here. Never weeped.

When mother and I drove to town, we went out of our way to avoid not only this street, but the surrounding blocks as well. No words were ever spoken – sometimes just silence and tears as we glanced in this direction, then away quickly again, pretending like we hadn’t.

One of us would bite our lip. Neither of us would say anything. We didn’t look at each other, because that would have been to acknowledge something we both were trying desperately not to.

Just look in the other direction and drive straight away.

“I think it might rain,” someone muttered.

I must admit, she and I both wondered if that story about haunting and being cursed was true. If so, that spell was broken, because now all that’s left of that house and that life is a void.

It was all I could do to muster the courage to drive by after all these years – because it meant reliving that devastatingly heartbreaking chapter of my life. Pulling the bandage off the still-bleeding wound. Allowing myself to feel. Praying I wasn’t sucked into the vortex.

I knew this was my last visit, forever, and I needed closure. I needed to say goodbye. I never really got to say that before.

Kokomo Indiana garden.jpg

Finding phlox growing along the fence in a beautiful perennial garden that looks exactly like the phlox my Dad grew on the farm is soothing to me. I’m glad the current owners restored beauty, albeit differently.

Kokomo Mulberry phlox.jpg

It was like my Dad was reaching out to me over the years to comfort me – yet again.

Kokomo Mulberry phlox 2.jpg

It was my Dad’s quiet, steady voice that was able to reach me through the horrible fog all those years ago when my life was scorched to the bare earth and the husband I loved was ripped from my life.

I tried to rebuild my life in Kokomo, but it became increasingly obvious that I needed to leave. I was going to say, “for better opportunities elsewhere,” but the simple truth is I just needed put the past behind me so that I, we, my children and I, could build a future without ghosts that could not live and would not rest.

Kokomo kids.jpg

Goodbye

US 31 connects Kokomo, known for years as “Stop Light City,” to the outside world. What was once a bypass became a congested road lined by factories, businesses and malls. Those of us who lived there didn’t think much of it.

Today, there’s a bypass around the bypass, but I elected to drive 31 once again. After I moved away, it was 31 that brought me home again – and now, it would be 31 with its no-longer-familiar businesses upon which I would take my final exit.

Kokomo stop light city.jpg

My life had changed. I slowly morphed into a new creature. I think of an injured caterpillar that spun itself into a protective cocoon, then eventually hatched into a new creature, a butterfly.

Kokomo garden butterfly.jpg

I spread my wings and flew away.

Kokomo too has changed. Now that my folks are gone and I have no relatives there, there’s nothing in Kokomo to lure me back again. Nothing remains for me now.

For my family, Kokomo was a stop along life’s bumpy road where I lived for a quarter century and Mom for twice that long.

I wasn’t born there, but spent many years unconsciously honing the strength and skills I would need to survive, and then to leave. The strongest steel is forged from the hottest fire.

The best part for Mom and me, both, was the peaceful time on the farm with my stepfather. For her, a salvation. For me, a hiatus. God only graced me with Dad for a few years, but his quiet strength and peaceful presence remains with me wherever on this earth I journey.

Neither Mom nor I left family in Kokomo, so it’s not a place that will be cherished as a “heritage” location by our descendants. There’s no reason for them to return either.

Kokomo aerial.png

As far as descendants are concerned, that’s the very best part of what I took with me.

Them.

Together, we crafted our future.

Farewell, Kokomo.

The Farewell Tour – 52 Ancestors #264

Sometimes, you just need to say goodbye.

Call it closure, resolution, moving on, or what have you.

Some things just need to be done.

This door closed, ever so gently, but not before wandering around one last time.

Smiles, tears, laughter and oh-so-many memories – along with an amazing surprise.

I did it all in the summer of 2018.

Recently, my daughter-in-law mentioned that my grandchildren are interested in where grandma grew up.

When I drove away for the last time on that Sunday morning in the summer of 2018, I had no intention of ever returning.

For two days, I did a driving “Farewell Tour,” which I’ve now transformed into two articles. Not only is this for my grandkids, but I realized, especially since my family left no descendants in the city where I grew up, it’s especially important for me to document my memories.

Otherwise, they die with me. Mom’s already gone.

Perhaps your family would enjoy a similar article about your memories.

Return to Kokomo

I left Kokomo, the town in which I was raised, almost 40 years ago now, for all the reasons that seem so familiar in my ancestors’ stories. Better opportunity, education, higher wages, hope for my children.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just a relocation, but a huge fork in the road. Actually, more like a sharp turn than a curve.

I not only left the location behind, but the culture, the people and everything that went along with it. Good and bad.

Until my parents passed away, I returned fairly often, so it didn’t seem like a dramatic departure, more like a new job with different scenery.

However, I slowly grew distant from all things Kokomo. After my stepfather, then my stepbrother, then my mother died, there was nothing left to go back to – so I didn’t.

By that time, everything having to do with Kokomo was about death and loss – estates, attorneys and battles. Deceit and lies. Not good memories.

Reunion

My high school class hadn’t been terribly active in terms of reunions. There was a 10-year reunion, which I attended.

Kokomo 10 year reunion.jpg

I had just finished my master’s degree, was working in research and was proud of my hard-won accomplishments. I hadn’t stopped to realize, until I arrived at the reunion, that I couldn’t afford senior pictures – and I hadn’t kept in touch – so my nametag literally had NOTHING on it except my name.

I was incredibly glad to see my friend Kim who had finished her medical degree, against astounding odds. Back in the summer of 1970, she and I had studied together in Europe on a scholarship. I don’t know about her, but that experience had changed my life forever.

The 20-year reunion in 1993 occurred on the same weekend that my (now) former husband had a massive stroke.

I think there were other reunions after that, but the years following that stroke consumed every ounce of my time, money and patience. I happened to be in town for one other reunion, dropping in briefly, but I don’t recall when.

Then, in 2018, classmates began planning an informal get-together at a local craft brewery. Alright, my kind of event.

Plus, there were a few people I would really like to see. What happened to them? Would Kim be there?

I hadn’t been back to visit Mom and Dad’s graves for several years. They weren’t, and Kokomo wasn’t, on the way TO anyplace. I thought a combined trip to visit Mom and Dad at the cemetery and meet-up with my classmates would be fun.

What I didn’t realize was that I would be taking a trip down memory lane.

Literally driving into, and through, my past.

And…that this would be my last trip.

My own version of a rock star Farewell Tour.

There is truly, truly nothing to go back for now.

The tiny tendrils that initially held me have dropped away one by one.

Now, I’m free.

The Cemetery

No trip home is complete without a trip to the cemetery. My only immediate family in Indiana lives in cemeteries now.

I wanted to visit Mom’s and Dad’s graves, even though I know they “aren’t really there.” Their physical remains are, and that’s as close as I can get for now.

Kokomo Mom cemetery.jpg

They rest side by side but with separate headstones. My stepfather’s first wife is buried beside him. I always laugh, thinking about him between both of his wives keeping a watchful eye on him.

Kokomo Mom and Dad cemetery.jpg

I know this sounds bizarre, but I took my small car quilt and had a picnic with Mom and Dad.

My stepsister who died as an infant and my stepbrother who died in 1999 are buried there too, as well as the father of my friend, Peggy.

Kokomo Gary cemetery.jpg

I stopped and bought flowers for all of them.

Peggy

Peggy was my long-time friend. Our mothers had worked together and we were close friends in high school, and after.

We hung out, got into trouble together (oh yea!), and eventually supported each other on our life’s journeys as we both experienced joys and tragedies – pretty well summed up by the phrase, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

We visited each other in multiple states across the county.

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Peggy saw my Facebook posting that I was planning to visit Mom in the cemetery in Galveston, and she replied that her dad was buried there too. I found his grave, recorded two videos for Peggy so she or another family member could find it in the future, and left flowers on her behalf.

Little did I know that Peggy, who lived in Alaska, would pass away just a few months later, in January 2019.

I’m incredibly glad I recorded Facetime live at her father’s grave and posted it on her timeline for her family – albeit with a quivering voice. It was such an emotion-filled day for me.

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Mom, below at left, with Peggy and me at Highland Park in Kokomo having a picnic the last time were all together, about 20 years ago.

Peggy and I never did tell mom all the stories. I don’t think she would have appreciated them – certainly not in the way Peggy and I did.

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The Kokomo Speedway

After I left the cemetery, I drove south from Galveston past the Kokomo Speedway – a hangout of mine at one time.

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I never raced at the Speedway, a dirt sprint track.

My racing days began on drag strips and ended a few years later when I rolled a Datsun 240Z while pregnant.

Kokomo Datsun 240Z

My Datsun looked a lot like this one that’s for sale today, except mine was “souped up” with spoilers, an air dam, pin striping and different tires – not to mention a roll bar which is probably what saved my life and that of my unborn child.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually roll the car racing, but doing doughnuts in a vacant shopping mall parking lot one Sunday morning after a snow. I spun into the snow bank (more like a mountain) left by the plow, slid up the bank with enough momentum to flip the car. I can’t tell you how mad I was at myself – not to mention I couldn’t get out of the car until someone noticed my predicament and called for help. That was long before the days of cell phones, but I digress.

I decided at that point that maybe racing, at least for me, probably wasn’t such a good idea anymore. Having children changes your perspective. The only thing, other than the car, that had been hurt was my pride, but it was a close call. Too close.

My favorite events at the Speedway as a child were the figure 8 races, often on the 4th of July when racing was accompanied by fireworks. The stands were always full that night.

A lot has changed here over the years. I wouldn’t have recognized it as the same place.

B&K Rootbeer Stand

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Right down the road, the B&K Rootbeer stand looks almost exactly the same. Memories of frosty mugs served on trays hung on the edges of rolled-down car windows as we parked under the drive-in canopies. The canopies appear to be gone, but the building itself remains, although didn’t appear to be open.

It was here that I remember, on a very nervous first date, saying something that caused my date to accidentally snort his rootbeer up his nose – and back out again. I desperately tried not to laugh but it’s difficult to pretend rootbeer running out of someone’s nose isn’t happening. And yes, there was a second date. Meet Eddie – you’ll see him again.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Eddie would one day be at my wedding. But not as the groom – as the best man. Now THAT’S a story:)

A block on further down the street was a local favorite – of teens and adults both – for entirely different reasons.

Ray’s Drive-In

Even the sign at Ray’s Drive-In is the same today.

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As teens in Kokomo, we “drove around,” meaning we piled into cars – mostly owned by our parents – and cruised through several locations popular with teens. We wanted to see who was riding with whom. Who was sitting “close” to whom? Were girls sitting right next to boys on the bench seats, with no one in the passenger seat? If so, they were a couple. Or were they a couple and NOT sitting side by side? Were they arguing? Who was absent from cruising meaning they might be on a date?

Inquiring minds wanted to know!

So much to observe and interpret – and of course we didn’t want to miss ANYTHING!

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Ray’s Drive-In, just a block from B&K Rootbeer remains a drive-in today. Ray’s was famous, literally, for their huge elephant ear tenderloin sandwiches and their frozen custard. I’m drooling just thinking about it. They are still on the menu.

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I discovered after moving away that these fried tenderloins are a regional treat. Translate – you can’t get them elsewhere.

You also can’t get another regional favorite, Sugar Cream pies, and try and I might, I CANNOT get them to taste right.

Northwest Park

The next stop on the teen cruising circuit was Northwest Park, a half mile or so west of Ray’s on Morgan Street.

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The last time I visited Northwest Park, in the 1970s, I played frisbee in a field of grass that you can barely see behind the tunnel of trees that had just been planted at the time. They were about 3 feet tall. You always remember things the way you saw them last, so imagine my surprise.

North-N-Tavern

Driving east on North Street, I passed this *historic* tavern, pronounced “North End Tavern.”

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Some places are iconic. I’ve never been IN this tavern, but it has always stood on this corner, and has never looked great. It was always a known “trouble spot,” not where kids gathered, but regularly on the police scanner on weekends. It was close to the north Delco plant and several smaller factories that paid lower wages.

What’s that old saying. “In good times, people drink, and in bad times, people drink.” This neighborhood watering hole seems to prove that adage.

If I was going to go to a bar in Kokomo, it was going to be one with music, preferably a live band. Drinking wasn’t my thing, but music certainly was.

For the most part, when I lived in Kokomo, my time was consumed by college, family, work and children.

Quilts

I learned to quilt at home and in the Missionary Circle at church, but I wasn’t a quilter, per se, back then. Things have changed!

I was thrilled to discover that a quilt show was being held the same weekend as the reunion. In fact, that might have been the tipping factor to convince me to go😊

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When my Mom married my stepdad, we moved to the farm. The farmhouse had been constructed by the Amish who lived quite prevalent within the community.

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Amish are prolific quilters and maintain beautiful gardens.

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I learned to love flowers in Kokomo. Rose of Sharon blossoms remind me of the beauty of flowers blooming their hearts out on the farm.

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In fact, farm life and flowers often appear as a theme in my quilts today, influencing the choice of fabric, design and color selection.

Not everything in Kokomo was beautiful though.

Universal Steel

Kokomo was an industrial, automotive, manufacturing and steel-town. Many people from Kentucky, Tennessee, western Virginia and West Virginia moved north to work in the factories, creating a microcosm of all things Southern. This explains my accent. My father’s family was from Tennessee and we didn’t know we had accents. We talked just like everyone else!

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Many factories sprang up, as did an entire secondary layer of service industries. While I was in college, I worked at Universal Steel, a recycling steel company where I gained experience outside of college on computers. My first management job, I was responsible for their entire system that managed everything from inventory to accounting to payroll.

To make life interesting, episodically the “frag” machine that shredded cars would blow up if the gas tank wasn’t entirely empty, often causing the office building across the “yard” to lose power. That’s death to computers and caused no end of problems for me.

Computers and education were the path to a better life. Hard to believe my professional computer science career started here, a place where I had a flat tire almost daily.

It was Universal Steel that sent me to classes at the Burroughs training center in Detroit. From there, I was on my way.

Wildcat Creek

Creeks and rivers were central to the lives of our ancestors. I didn’t realize it, but the Wildcat Creek, located only a block or so from the house where I was raised was ever-present in my life too. I could literally see it between the buildings in the distance.

You’ll notice throughout this article many references to Wildcat Creek.

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Shortly after arriving in town the day of the reunion, I met with my classmates for lunch at a restaurant located on Wildcat Creek, a couple blocks from where we went to high school. From the parking lot, I could see the old iron railroad bridge. Today walking trails span the banks of the Creek.

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I’m amazed this old iron bridge still exists. It was old when I was young. At that time, only railroad tracks crossed this bridge. Today there’s a pedestrian path.

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Wildcat Creek was never beautiful. Slow-moving and green – it was never inviting. Yet, it holds such good memories – mostly because of the parks along its length. The Wildcat flooded often. Where you can’t build structures, you build parks.

Foster Park, along the river, was where David Foster, an Indian trader first located in a cabin reportedly belonging to Chief Kokomo. I waded along the riverbanks here as a child.

I walked with boyfriends as a teen.

The older part of town is found along the creek. To the north, on hills above the floodline, the historic Victorian homes. To the south, the older, less opulent homes that were sometimes flooded.

I started my driving tour when I left the restaurant after lunch.

Ghosts of Places Past

The main drag east and west on the south end of town was Markland Avenue.

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Stopped at the corner of Markland and Main, I spotted the old triangle shaped factory building, located along the now-defunct railroad track, so important to shipping in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these factories were built.

I hadn’t thought about his oddly shaped building in years.

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Elwood Haynes, automotive pioneer, built factories and brought industry to Kokomo. Many buildings like this one, scattered throughout town, harken back to that time.

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When I lived in Kokomo, these buildings housed smaller factories that produced supplies for the automotive industry. The structures have been repurposed several times since then.

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This one was at one time a maintenance facility for the interurban railways, or trolleys. They were gone by the time I lived in Kokomo. Today, this building appears to be used for storage.

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Driving down the street, you can see the ghosts of businesses past in the long triangle-shaped building along Main Street.

I had a boyfriend, we’ll call him “R,” who worked either in this building, or the next one south, now gone – then Kolux. I used to walk the mile and a half or so from home and meet him when he got off work in the summer. No AC in those buildings, so he was always drenched with sweat. No mind – I didn’t care. We’d roll the windows down in his red 65 Chevy SuperSport 4-on-the-floor, also with no AC, and drive to Ray’s Drive-In or B&K Rootbeer for refreshments.

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Across the street to the right, my favorite pub still exists – even though I drank very little. Always a factory town, the Corner Pub was a family place, famous for their steaks and drinks. I always had one, just one, Apricot Brandy Sour. They certainly had the best plate-sized New York Strip steaks in town at the time.

Yum!!!

Mid-States Electric

A few blocks on south at Defenbaugh and Market, I found the building that was once Mid-States Electric, a supplier to the automotive manufacturing industry, where Mom used to work.

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Mom’s office as the bookkeeper was just inside the door sheltered by the right canopy, which didn’t exist at the time.

Mom ran the office in addition to being the bookkeeper. Inger, Peggy’s mother, sold light fixtures when they added services for builders. The lighting showroom was in the door under left canopy, above.

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The electronic parts were stocked in the rear where the contractors entered, the red area today on the side, above.

I remember the old Coke machine back there. Cokes were 5 cents each, in glass bottles that you slid out of their row.

Mid-States’ claim to fame was that one or more of their parts were incorporated into the early space capsules through Delco Electronics which manufactured some of the components.

After my father’s death, and before Mom met and married my stepdad, she eventually dated the owner of the company. Let’s just say that didn’t end well. It seldom does for the woman.

Thankfully, it did end and as a result, Mom landed a better job elsewhere a few years later.

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Looking north from the parking lot, I can still see the old factory water towers in the distance.

It wasn’t a short walk to our house, probably a couple miles, but I walked it often. We didn’t worry about kids being kidnapped back then.

Mom worked at Mid-States for at least a dozen years and I worked there as well from time to time on Saturday mornings to help out and earn some spending money. Mostly, I carefully addressed envelopes by hand and did filing.

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Mid-States was a supplier to Delco Electronics and was strategically located a block away. The huge Delco plant was 3 or 4 blocks long and as wide. Imagine my surprise today to find green grass and nothing else.

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Ghosts of train-tracks past, partly paved over, leading now to nothing and no-place.

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Delco may be gone, but many old factories are still in use. This is the water tower I saw from the Mid-States parking lot, now part of an automotive recycling facility. It may have once been Kokomo Opalescent Glass, now located nearby.

Pictures like this graphically explain the term, “rust-belt.”

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

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I remember Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company quite fondly, the current factory shown above.

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In business since 1888, they produce amazing art glass and it’s quite affordable in the gift shop. I do own a couple of pieces.

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I bought this plate in the 1970s at the Treasure Mart.

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Of course, ashtrays are out of vogue today, but that wasn’t always the case. This ashtray, about 5 or 6 inches across,  has an interesting backstory.

Mom was a very attractive lady.

Mom Graduation color

Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company purchased electronics from Mid-States Electric. A man named Bill was the vice-president and sales manager, at least eventually.

Bill paid an awful lot of attention to Mom. He brought her gifts, and when a dog bit me on the playground at school, he bought a goldfish for every hole the dog’s teeth left in my hand. Of course, he didn’t give the fish to ME directly, but took them to Mom.

I do recall that Mom and Bill had a couple of dates, but something happened and not only was she angry with him, but avoided him henceforth. Whatever happened, she was madder than a wet hen.

All I know for sure is that she was NOT discussing this with me.

In 1966, Bill made her a custom one-of-a-kind ashtray.

At that time, every home had ashtrays sitting on the tables.

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I didn’t realize Mom had labeled this until I flipped it over just now to see if anything was written underneath.

Today, this graces my desk, holds my thumb drives and makes me chuckle thinking about the memories.

I would like to have purchased another piece of Opalescent Glass while I was there. I was hoping for a colorful butterfly signifying metamorphosis.

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Maybe something like this.

Now I wonder if I could talk them into making a double helix. That would be stunning! Hmmm.

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Unfortunately, the gift shop was closed, but the factory was operational. I found the trash while walking through the parking lot.

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This is the trash heap. Just wow!

This was one of my favorite parts of my Farewell Driving Tour. Beauty is where you find it.

Highland Park

Driving back past the building where Mid-States Electric used to be, west on Defenbaugh Street, with the railroad tracks down the middle of the street for the full length, to Highland Park.

Today, the tracks only run for a couple blocks and then center flower containers that form a median barrier are located where the tracks used to be. The tracks became useless when Delco was no longer at the end of the line.

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There’s still an essence of Mom there – both in that building and in Highland Park where she often took me as a child.

Highland Park

There were three main parks in Kokomo.

Northwest Park, the “new” park where I played Frisbee and the pine trees are now tall. We already visited there.

Foster Park, along the Wildcat Creek downtown, which we will visit shortly, and Highland Park, in the south part of town.

Highland Park was by far the largest with lots to see and do.

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Today, both Old Ben and the old Sycamore stump are housed in this building. When I was young, the Sycamore stump stood outside and Ben had a small building that vandals broke into and damaged Old Ben’s horns and tail.

Who is Old Ben, you ask?

A mammoth, iconic steer.

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I know his name is “Old Ben,” but I distinctly remember everyone calling him Big Ben – because he was HUGE!

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Ben doesn’t look bad for being over 100 years old now.

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I remember marveling at Ben as a child, pressing my nose against the window to get a better view.

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This Sycamore stump, housed in the same building, is massive too – more than 57 feet in circumferance.

It was very difficult to photograph with the close proximity and glass. The stump was actually a phone booth when I was a child and probably 20 people could have easily fit inside.

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Nearby is an old shelter that used to house a well.

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We pumped water with the handle on hot days when I was a kid.

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The stonework is original, but the well is now defunct.

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When I was a child, the main playground area had 2 sections. One was smaller and fenced. When I was about the age in the photo above, the officer on duty approached mother and suggested that we needed to play in the smaller fenced area. I was “too dark” for the white playground, on the “non-colored” swings and merry-go-round.

Of course, the smaller fenced area’s swings and other items weren’t nearly as nice. They were the “colored” area – and the sign said as much.

Mother was furious. I now realize that in part, she didn’t want anyone to see me playing in the “colored” playground because I could not have attended the “white” school where we lived. In fact, we couldn’t have lived where we lived either. So being sent to the “colored section” was about a lot more than appears on the surface. As a child, I clearly didn’t understand. I just wanted to play.

We left, despite my protests, and I don’t recall that mother and I ever went back to that particular playground.

It was only shortly thereafter that desegregation was legislated and the issue disappeared, at least officially, as did the secondary playground which then became a special protected area for young children.

Highland Park is a park because it’s low, sits in a bowl of sorts, floods often and you certainly can’t build there

Across from the main playground area today are many picnic tables scattered along the length of the creek as it zigzags through the park.

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Unfortunately, the curved iron table legs stick out beyond the edge of the seats as the iron curves up underneath the seat. Many years ago, Mom got her foot caught in one while carrying a dish at an Avon picnic, fell, and broke her pelvis in 3 places. I would think they would have changed the design, but looking at Google maps today, I noticed it’s still the same.

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Maybe a lawsuit would have hastened a safer design, but mother would never have done that. I made that suggestion to the powers that be, and didn’t even get so much as an “I’m sorry.” Not exactly heartwarming when your mother is hospitalized and incapacitated.

Amazingly, she eventually recovered.

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This footbridge leads to a small island skirted on all sides by the creek. As teens, we used to cross onto the island and sit on the banks of Kokomo Creek. People driving by can’t see you, but they can see your car in the lot.

Intrigue!

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Kokomo Creek is much more inviting that Wildcat Creek, in part because it’s shallow and there are no polluting factories.

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As kids, we used to catch crawdads here in conical shaped paper cups after having Sno-Cones at the concession stand, still standing in the distance, above.

We never kept the crawdads – always let them go. I never wanted to hurt a living creature. The fun was in the wading and catching! There is no joy in killing.

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Looks like kids still take off their socks to wade!

Back then, there was a child-sized amusement park too.

Today, the child’s train and other children’s rides are gone, but they were so much fun at the time.

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That’s me in the second car with the pigtails above, and right behind the engineer, below!

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The train used to run along the banks of the creek from one end of the park to the other, blowing its whistle. I don’t know when the train disppeared, but it was gone before I had children.

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This little child-sized ferris wheel was so much fun, and not frightening at all. You could only ride if you were age 5 or under.

I was so disappointed when I was too big.

I vaguely remember another picture that I didn’t find in mother’s box of photos.

Near the old Sycamore stump was a small children’s play area. There were a few swings and 3 slides of varying sizes. You can see several of these pieces of now-known-to-be-dangerous playground equipment in this article, but the slide I’m referring to is the second photo into the article.

It had small edges about 3 inches tall and a hump near the top. The author calls it the “metal slide of doom” and I can vouch for that.

I climbed to the top of the BIG slide, sat down, and started sliding, only to hurtle over the side from the top, falling onto the ground with a dull thud.

I vaguely remember hearing my mother scream, seemingly distant, then nothing.

Apparently my father ran up to me and snatched me up off of the ground to him – terrifying my mother even more, in case I’d broken my neck.

Kids are pliable, and I, thankfully had broken nothing.

However, I forever thereafter hated slides. Still do.

I rememer once after that having to climb back down the steps, with kids in the way.

I never did THAT again either.

The Covered Bridge

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Indiana is the land of covered bridges. Thankfully, they disassembled this bridge in the countryside and brought it to Highland Park instead of tearing it down.

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Today, it graces Kokomo Creek near ancient trees.

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Couples used to hold hands and sneak kisses in the privacy of the bridge.

I remember. (Teehee.)

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Today, I’m alone here with my memories.

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A time traveler of sorts, peeking backwards.

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Viewing life through the knotholes is somehow fitting.

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The park was also on the teenage cruise path, because there were several places that couples could park their cars and take walks.

Mom sometimes ate lunch here on her Avon route, and I used to come and sit at the picnic tables and pen letters to my merchant seaman penpal, Robin.

The other end of the park sported a dam and a pond.

A little later, back at my hotel, I realized I had forgotten to drive to that part of the park. I returned, because I wanted to take one last walk there.

The Dead, Raised

The sunshine was warm and lovely, with very few people. I parked the car and began strolling along the creek, lost in thoughts of old friends and exciting times like when I slipped off the algae-covered dam into the creek and emerged, both abashed and completely drenched.

Of course, I was in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to be ON the dam in the first place.

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I see the geese are still residents. I used to feed the geese and have fond memories of coming here when I was pregnant, walking my rescue dog, a small Sheltie named Lady.

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These geese are VERY tame.

One time, Mom, me and a very handsome boyfriend named Eddie brought popcorn one Sunday afternoon to feed the ducks.

Eddie wanted to impress both of us, but he could do nothing to convince a duck to eat out of his hand. He tried calling, talking, chasing – but absolutely nothing worked.

Mom sat down on the ground, and within a minute or so, the ducks were not only eating out of her hand, they were in her lap.

Several ducks!

Then the geese joined in. Eddie gallantly rescued Mom from the Great Goose Ambush. Or maybe I should say that Mom allowed herself to be rescued😊

Of course, that rescued Eddie’s hurt pride too.

This is the park where Mom, Peggy and I were last together.

Where Mom tripped over a picnic bench leg and broke her pelvis when she was in her 70s.

I was lost in memories here, having drifted back in time, when I noticed someone else in the distance. Other than the two of us, this part of the park was empty, and I didn’t want to disturb her.

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The other person was playing a guitar and singing. Lovely, just lovely. And Carly Simon too.

You’re So Vain

“You probably think this song is about you.”

One of my favorites from my years in Kokomo and seemingly written about a beau.

“You gave away the things you loved…”

Be still my aching heart.

Then, Janis Joplin. Me and Bobby McGee.

Music speaks to my soul which was experiencing a full range of emotions.

The tragedy in Janis’s voice, and life, mirrors my feelings about Kokomo perfectly.

Tears welled into my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

I needed to cry.

My life there was so hopeful…until it wasn’t anymore.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Oh God.

“I let him slip away.”

This truly, truly harkened back to my life there.

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”

This lady’s voice was hauntingly familiar.

I closed my eyes and strolled quietly along the water, hoping that she wouldn’t see me and stop singing.

My heart needed this.

Many of my Kokomo memories are extremely sad. Soul searing.

I stood completely still, eyes still closed, letting her aching voice float me back in time.

She finished that song, and another.

Then she stopped and didn’t start again.

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I opened my eyes to see that she had stood up and was walking towards me, slowly, hesitantly, gingerly.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

I wrenched, lurchingly back to the present.

She peered at me questioningly…and said my name. Not Roberta, but Bobbi, my nickname used among friends.

I was utterly stunned, but stammered, “Yes. Yes, but who are you?”

“Carla” she said.

And together, we both blurted out, “what are you doing here?”

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We grabbed each other, hugging and crying.

Carla was one of my best friends in high school.

We had lost track of each other entirely – 45 years ago.

In fact, at the last reunion I attended, I had been told that Carla had passed away, so imagine my shock!

I thought I had seen a ghost and it took every ounce of self-restraint to NOT blurt out, “but I thought you were dead.”

I presumed she was here for the reunion too and was SO VERY GLAD because I had lost track of nearly everyone, and I knew that a couple of the people I really wanted to see, like Kim, weren’t attending.

“What reunion?” she asked.

She was in town to visit her brother.

We sat and talked for some time, catching up. Time flew. I told her I was going to the reunion and where it was being held. Thankfully, it was not a reservation affair, so she could attend too. We traded information and I told her I hoped to see her that evening.

I still can’t believe how fortunate we were to be brought back together again for that instant in time. The stars aligned.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

What a beautiful gift.

But now it was time to go.

Continental Steel

Leaving Highland Park the back way took me past the old steel mill, now defunct, vacant and a hazardous waste site.

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This toxic land probably reaches a mile in each direction. A solar farm occupies part of the acreage. The once loud, booming steel mill now eternally silent.

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I remember, as a child, riding by the steel mill in Mom’s car and peering inside to see if I could see the red-hot molten steel being poured from huge vats.

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At night, liquid metal cast an ominous orange glow over everything. It was both exciting and frightening, seeing the eerie orange men, just feet or inches from molten death.

The entire neighborhood for blocks in every direction had layers of gritty grey dust that constantly permeated everything – for decades.

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Across the street where this building stands today was a tavern that catered to the steelworkers called, you guessed it, The Steel Inn.

More than one wife went to retrieve her husband from the Inn’s clutches on payday. They cashed checks!

Many Kokomo husbands and fathers worked at “the mill.” The pay was good, even though the work was hot and miserable. In the end, those families lost their pensions due to corruption and mismanagement.

The Seashore Swimming Pool

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Driving on north toward Foster Park, the old Seashore Swimming Pool is now known as Kokomo Beach.

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The Seashore was one of my favorite places. I remember it as huge, of course.

We bought a season pass so I could swim daily in the summer. I walked to the babysitters in the morning, then to the pool after lunch, walking home when the pool closed at dinner.

These were some of my best memories of Kokomo. I loved to swim and bake in the sun by the hour.

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I swam and dove and danced.

Of course, I avoided those “metal slides of doom” 😊

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Kokomo Beach has a lot more to offer today than when I was a kid, but we loved it just the same. Summers were hot and the water was cool.

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Not to mention that the pool was also on the teenage circle cruising tour to see who was talking to whom and wearing what. Or not wearing what. Bikinis were in, but I wasn’t allowed to wear one! I did however “adjust” my two piece a bit. Ahem.

At that time, you could drive around the entire pool in a circle, half on the street side, the other half being the circle driveway that also passed the dance hall.

I tell you what – that open air dance hall with the juke box was HOT, and I don’ t mean the weather, and only accessible from inside the fenced pool. However, those crusing by could clearly SEE the dancers and watchers through the chaink link fence.

Anyone who was anyone made an appearance there, preferably daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the pool was open. And if you were wearing a very cool bathing suit, all the better. If you were a guy, you fed the juke box quarters to keep the girls dancing. Mostly, girls danced with each other, except for slow dances. Very few boys had the self-confidence to dance quite so openly. Except one boy whose mother was a dance teacher at Arthur Murray. He could dance up a storm!

Mother didn’t want me to go IN the dance hall, but she really couldn’t keep me out since she was at work. In the dance hall? Who, me? Noooo, must have been my evil twin!

A pedestrian bridge now connects the pool property to Foster Park, across the Wildcat Creek, but when I lived here, we had to walk the long way.

Kokomo Beach walk.jpg

A beautiful fountain has now been installed in Wildcat Creek, definitely improving the appearance.

Kokomo Beach bridge over Wildcat.jpg

This was a welcome surprise as I walked across the pedestrian bridge.

Kokomo Wildcat at Foster Park.jpg

Looking up the Creek, I can see the bridge over the main North/South street, Washington, in the distance. Across Washington Street used to be a long-abandoned gravel pit with a high fence. That place with its rusting abandoned equipment was ghostly and frightening.

I mean, what if you fell in and couldn’t get out? No one would know. You would die there. No thank you.

Today, the gravel pit has been filled in and there is nothing but mostly-forgotten memories and grass where residents walk their dogs.

Foster Park

Named for David Foster who first settled here in 1842, trading with the Miami Indians along the Wildcat, this park was only a block from the house where I grew up.

Kokomo Sycamore house from Foster Park.png

In fact, today from Superior Street along Foster Park, I can still see “my house,” between the buildings. As a child, we used to cut between the houses on the hill where the gravel leads to the lower church parking lot today.

It’s on that hill, walking to the pool one day, that I found a half dollar coin dated 1852 in the dirt.

It was also through this gap between buildings that I watched the Palm Sunday tornado tear across the south part of Kokomo on that devastating Sunday afternoon in 1965, not realizing what I was seeing.

Kokomo Foster Park tennis.png

Here’s roughly the view of Foster Park that I saw from my bedroom window, except from higher and a block further distant. Softballs diamonds were located where the tennis courts are today. Playground equipment is to the left, and Wildcat Creek is just the other side of the drive, in the trees, at the rear of the photo. I could see the Creek from my bedroom window, because the house stood on a hill. When the Creek flooded, it never flooded beyond the park, but it looked like a massive lake.

I played softball in Foster Park (poorly), swung on the swings (joyfully), played miniature golf (terribly), and it was here that I sat in the car with my friends on July 20, 1969, listening to the moon landing.

Kokomo Foster Park tank.png

This tank has “always” been in the park in front of the playground area and kids climbed on it when I was young. They obviously discourage that today.

Foster Park houses the log cabin that was the Girl Scout office. We had special meetings here.

Kokomo cabin Foster Park.jpg

At that time, the cabin was one room and heated only with a large fireplace. I remember the wonderful wood-smoke smell so vividly.

Kokomo Girl Scouts.jpg

It’s apparently still a Girl Scout building with at least one addition. I’m sure it has central heat and probably air too.

Progress.

While the log cabin is still there, many places in Kokomo aren’t.

Lord-Jon’s Tacos

My favorite Kokomo food place, Lord-Jon’s Tacos has been closed for years now. The owners sold the recipe to another local business, and while the tacos aren’t the same, they’re better than *not* Lord-Jon’s at all.

I found a photo I took some years back when I introduced a friend to Kokomo’s best.

Kokomo Lord-Jon's Tacos.jpg

Lord-Jon’s started out in a small restaurant and then moved to a tiny fair-type food trailer when I was a teen. We often drove there for lunch in high school.

There was no eating in, so we often bought our tacos by the bagful, then drove down the street to the A&W Rootbeer. We pulled into the drive-in area, ordered icy rootbeers and ate our tacos and rootbeer. To this day, I still think of those two unlikely food items going together.

I craved these tacos when I was pregnant for my children. Thankfully, they were 3 for $1 at the time.

Later, Lord-Jon’s would purchase two buildings, one on the east side of town, one on the west, and discussed franchising. I don’t know what happened, but not only did franchises not happen, they closed both locations and sold the recipe.

Kokomo Handle Bar.jpg

Today, the Handle Bar in Kokomo offers something similar, although I understand that they’ve now changed hands too. Sadly, each change moved those tacos further from the originals.

Kokomo Tacos.jpg

Just the same, my mouth is watering just looking at these.

We’ve tried to reproduce Lord-Jon’s tacos, to no avail. The tortillas appear to be deep-fried masa flour, but I really don’t know – and no one is talking.

More Memories

Lord-Jon’s isn’t the only thing that’s gone of course.

So are the drug stores, restaurants and groceries that I remember as a kid.

The old A&P grocery store had coffee grinders by the checkouts that ground coffee beans by the bag, dispensing ground coffee back into their own bag. While Mom shopped, I offered to pour coffee beans into the big grinders and push the button for people because I loved the smell. I still love the smell of coffee.

Outside the A&P, in the parking lot, were tie-ups for horses for the Amish families. There were always horses and buggies there. We thought nothing of it.

The “other” drive in restaurant was Frisch’s Big Boy on the south side of town.

Kokomo Frisch's.jpg

You can see the drive-in canopies in the rear in this 1962 phone book ad. This was the southern point of the well-worn teenage cruising circle. Over the course of the evening of cruising, around and around and around, you had to pull in and purchase something at each place, at least once. It was necessary to see who else was driving around. Otherwise, you might miss something!

In Forest Park, the shopping plaza on the west side of town, the Ben Franklin store. In the building to the left, Haag Drug became the Huddle Restaurant and eventually, the Dairy Queen.

Kokomo Forest Park.jpg

Mom’s job after Mid-States would be located about where the National Grocery was in this photo. This photo looks to have been taken in the 1950s or 1960s and Mom worked at Kokomo Land Company in the 1970s.

Upstairs on the second level, we played Bingo. I was pre-school, but I got my own card and was I ever PROUD, especially the first time I got to jump up and shout BINGO. Legitimately – for myself I mean. I shouted bingo all the time. If someone bingoed, they let me shout!

My Jobs

I began babysitting when I was about 10 for the neighbors across the street, with mom nearby. By the time I was 12, I was experienced and in demand.

Kids could work part time at age 14. That was a rite of passage.

Kokomo Hutto Drugs.jpg

My first “real job,” the summer I turned 14 was covering for vacations at the lunch counter at Hutto’s Drug Store.

I was so VERY excited. I learned all about making flavored cokes. Yum!!!

I remember getting my very first quarter tip and how thrilled I was to have a tiny cache of change in the cup bearing my name under the counter at the end of the day. I didn’t know about that part in advance.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I saved my money to buy my boyfriend, “R,” a birthday present. She didn’t like that at all. I also used to call him from that phone booth out front and ask him to come and give me a ride home. She REALLY didn’t like that. She didn’t like him at all – and as it turned out, she was right.

About 2 blocks down the street from where we lived, Scotty’s Hamburgers opened a couple years later.

Kokomo Scotty's.jpg

I worked at Scotty’s in high school. We always contributed food to the police officers and firefighters.

Kokomo old police station.jpg

The old police station and fire station was just across the street in this old “castle.” The arched doorways housed the fire trucks. The doors were always open, and the firefighters sat just inside or outside on the sidewalk in chairs. They were always ready to leave on a moment’s notice and also loved to talk. Kids visited with them often. At Christmas, they made and collected toys for children in the community and made sure Santa visited everyone.

If you were a child and your toy broke, they could, and would, fix it. They fixed my doll somehow. I was just sure they could fix anything!

I don’t think this was meant as community outreach, but it surely was!

Kokomo praying mantis.jpg

Today, there’s a Subway and praying mantis on the corner.

I don’t know, so don’t ask. (I think it’s supposed to be art.)

One of my favorite places was the Treasure Mart. In today’s vernacular, it was a resale shop. It had a little of everything. Scratch that. It had a lot of everything, except clothes. No clothes.

Kokomo Old Treasure Mart

Located at Sycamore and Delphos, it too was a huge repurposed building. Located on the main drag, it was always convenient to stop by and see what they had.

Across the street is Crown Point Cemetery where my friend, Marianne, was buried following a tragedy that that ended her life, and others, far too soon.

Kokomo Crown Point.png

Cristo’s Club – My Guilty Confession

Ahem, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I used to love Cristo’s. It was a bar, but more specifically, a dance club type of bar – and I loved to dance.

The difference between Christo’s and other bars was that Christo’s had live music. The only other location within 50 miles with a band was an upscale place beside Delco that catered to Delco employees – which I wasn’t.

Cristo’s could also be a bit “rough” from time to time. I never had a problem, and I did things I would never do now – like leave my purse on the table while I was dancing.

I went there with dates, without dates, with girlfriends – it didn’t matter. I was comfortable regardless.

Disco was in. Eventually, I danced in competitions with a specific partner – one of my college professors.

If I die of lung cancer, it’s because of the second-hand smoke from Cristo’s😊

I wondered, does Cristo’s still exist?

Kokomo Vaile.png

I drove down Vaile Avenue and spotted the old PPG (Pittsburg Plate Glass) plant.

Kokomo PPG.png

Cristo’s was located across from a factory, like most of similar establishments in Kokomo. We’re getting close now.

Kokomo Cristo's.png

This is, or was, it.

The building was in bad shape back then, so I’m not surprised that it’s gone. But what great memories!

Celebrate, Celebrate – Dance to the Music

I suddenly feel like dancing!!!

The Kokomo Tribune

After high school, I worked as a proofreader at the Kokomo Tribune – a building that took up an entire block after purchasing the building on the end that used to be a funeral home. I remember walking through the embalming room before the new purchase had been remodeled and integrated into the Tribune building. There were instruments hanging on the wall. SCARRY!!!

Kokomo Tribune.png

The Tribune was located across the street from one of my favorite places, the library, and believe it or not, I actually checked books out and read them in lulls when I wasn’t proofreading.

The old Carnegie Library was been replaced with a contemporary building in 1967.

Kokomo library.png

When I was 11, I was invited to display my salt and pepper shaker collection in the old library building, just before the new library opened. I was VERY excited, because the newspaper reporter came, took my picture and interviewed me!

When you’re 11, that’s a VERY big deal.

The Post Office building remains across the street from the Tribune, below. I worked there for a few months during the Christmas season one year, sorting bags and bags and bags of mail. I remember seeing the bag being set aside for a special delivery to Santa at the North Pole.

I laugh every time I see this building.

Kokomo post office.png

As teens, we could leave high school to eat lunch. One day on a lunch errand with two girlfriends for someone’s mother, we just happened to be following an old farmer wearing overalls up the steps into the Post Office when his suspenders snapped and his pants fell to the ground, around his ankles.

Quite startled, he tried to hobble up the stairs, but could not with his pants preventing him from walking or climbing stairs.

He had already seen us behind him.

He tried to hobble while attempting to pull his pants back up, but couldn’t do that either.

In the mean time, he dropped the mail he had been carrying. We wanted to help him, but couldn’t bring ourselves to approach him, in part, because we couldn’t control our laughter.

Even funnier were the boxer shorts he was wearing – with large red hearts.

We progressed from laughing to howling.

I can just hear him saying to his wife that he didn’t care, he wasn’t going to let a perfectly good pair of shorts go to waste.

Or, maybe, that was her saying that to him.

In any case, we laughed until we cried and couldn’t breathe. We sat down on the steps because we could not go inside and face him – after he finally GOT inside. Tears streamed down our faces.

Finally, we had composed ourselves at least somewhat, figuring he had exited out the door on the other side. I would have.

We continued up the steps and opened the door, only to run smack dab into him face-to-face.

He hurried out the door. We hurried in and the hilarity began all over again.

We noticed that the clerks didn’t need to ask why we were laughing and they were trying to compose themselves too.

It was a hopeless endeavor.

That poor man. I wonder if he ever told his wife.

I bet he threw those shorts away AND got new suspenders.

The Newspaper Route

College required lots of money, especially when you also have to pay for child care. In addition to my proofreading job, I needed extra income to make ends meet. My husband and I both decided to adopt a driving newspaper route. The routes paid fairly well and only required 2-3 extra hours per day, 7 days per week. The most difficult part was getting up extremely early to pick up your bundles of newspapers at 5 AM on weekends. The newspaper published in the evenings during the week, but in the morning on holidays and weekends.

Kokomo Tribute carrier.jpg

Originally, we shared one route, but eventually, we each had our own. We paid off our car loans, student loans and bought a house.

On Saturday, I would come back from delivering the papers to go to work proofreading for the Sunday paper.

Then, in an instant, life changed.

One October day during mid-terms in college, when the corn was full height but harvesting had not yet commenced, a woman ran a stop sign at a country crossroads.

Kokomo accident location 800W 500N.png

I couldn’t see that she was approaching the intersection due to the corn, and as I began to enter the intersection, she shot in front of me at high speed. I knew I was going to hit her, so I slammed on the brakes, threw the transmission into reverse to slow my speed as much as possible and then it happened.

BOOM!

I remember the impact and my car flipping end-over-end over her car, airborn, into this field. Again and again and again.

When my car finally landed, I was upside down and the front of the car had been crushed into me. I was hanging by my seatbelt with sheet metal and glass all around me. I drifted into and out of consciousness and vaguely remember seeing someone, who turned out to be the other driver, peering into the windshield – then screaming.

It was a pretty awful sight.

Suffice it to say that the neighbors who lived on the corner went to our church and called my parents who lived a few miles down the road. Next, I remember hearing my mother screaming. That would have woke the dead, believe me.

Thank God I had just left my son with Mom because he would have been killed. That was before the days of car seats and he played in the back of my Pinto wagon while I drove the route, delivering papers.

The neighbor had the presence of mind to take my son into the house so that he wouldn’t see me like that.

I survived, obviously, but that accident began a chain of events that would eventually lead to me leaving Kokomo – not immediately – but a few years later.

The butterfly effect.

Let’s talk about something else.

The Gas Tower

Every city has landmarks, and Kokomo was no different.

People could see the gas tower for miles in any direction.

Kokomo gas tower mom me.jpg

The tower was “always there” and for many years, I didn’t realize what it was. It looked like a trash can we had at home, so as a small child, I thought it was just a very large trash can.

Kokomo gas tower 2.jpg

The gas tower stored natural gas which had been discovered in the area in the 1880s. This gas boom encouraged industry and was directly responsible for Elwood Haynes establishing his automobile business in Kokomo.

The tower was constructed in 1954, 378 feet tall, storing 12 million cubic feet of gas.  Looking back, I realize it was a huge bomb just sitting there on the south side of town.

Eventually, maintenance costs became atrocious – $75,000 per year and a million for a paint job. In 2003, the tower was demolished, leaving a vacancy on the horizon.

I remember when I was about 10, my great-aunt visited. She wanted to see the town, so we drove around while Mom was at work and promptly got lost.

I had her pull over into a parking lot, and as soon as I could find the tower on the horizon, I could orient myself and knew how to get back to something familiar.

While everyone in Kokomo was familiar with the tower, I had never been in the old train depot before the reunion, at least not that I recall.

The Reunion

After changing into my “skinniest” clothes, it was time to join my classmates.

Kokomo Depot.jpg

The reunion itself was held in the old train depot, now a craft brewery, located on North Buckeye. I love the original bricks on Buckeye Street.

Kokomo Depot inside.jpg

The reunion consisted of buying a beverage and sitting on the patio. Given the informal nature of the event, people wandered in and out, and it was impossible to take a photo when everyone was present. Fortunately, we did have a photographer among us (whose name unfortunately escapes me.)

Kokomo reunion at depot.jpg

The less-formal environment was lovely. Clearly, the majority of the 300+ classmates didn’t attend.

I was initially surprised to discover that many of my classmates are retired, until I thought about the factories and remembered that they have 30-and-out retirement plans.

While going to college, obtaining degrees and “living the American dream” of business ownership seemed like a great idea at the time – it’s with no small amount of envy that I realize had I simply stayed in Kokomo and continued working at Chrysler, then I too would be retired today with a full pension.

There is no pension, ever, when you’re self-employed.

Of course, I clearly wouldn’t be writing this blog, or involved on the frontier of genetics – so only occasional tinges of regret about that road not taken.

Kokomo restaurant.jpg

The building across the street from the depot had been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. I would have eaten there, except I wanted either Pizza King pizza or Lord-Jon’s Tacos, or at least a close facsimile!

Unfortunately, Lord-Jon’s Tacos is gone, but Pizza King isn’t!

Kokomo Pizza King old.png

The Pizza King, an Indiana franchise, used to be located in this building on Phillips at Taylor. Mom and I used to order a pizza very occasionally for a special treat. Eddie, that boyfriend I mentioned, used to work here and he would call us if they had a pizza that was burned a bit or someone didn’t pick up their order.

Today, the Pizza King has moved across the street and down half a block into the building that used to be the old Hansel Coal Company that dated from the 1920s. No one has heated with coal in decades and I’m actually surprised that the building remains.

Kokomo Pizza King now.png

Unfortunately, they were closed and I didn’t get pizza after all☹

Kokomo Pizza King pizza.jpg

I grew up on Pizza King pizza, and like Lord-Jon’s Tacos and Ray’s tenderloins, this is the best pizza EVER!

The next morning, I would leave Kokomo for the last time – but I had one last thing to do first. The hardest part of all.

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Charles Hickerson (c1724 – 1790/1793) High Drama on the Frontier – 52 Ancestors #263

We first find Charles Hickerson in Surry County, North Carolina on January 11, 1771 when he witnesses a will by Lydia Stewart.

Charles isn’t on the 1771 tax list, but he is there by 1772. He was not a young man – about 48 years old with children of marriage age.

Where did Charles come from?

We don’t know, but there IS a long-standing theory that Charles and family came from Virginia. At the end of this article, I’ll share what DNA has revealed.

Where did that Virginia theory come from?

Happy Valley

In the book Happy Valley, written by Felix Hickerson (1882-1968) and published in 1940, Felix discussed his research, looking at multiple possible ancestral lines.

First, Felix documents the Rev. Francis Higginson (1587-1630) who arrived from Claybrooke, Leistershire, England and was the first minister in Salem, Massachusetts.

Felix states that the Higgison’s of New England are connected with the Higginsons and Hickersons of Virginia on pages 4 and 24 of The Higginsons in England and America.

He notes that:

The name Hickerson in Virginia was first spelled Higginson then Higgason, Higgerson and Hickerson, dating to 1645 or earlier when Capt. Robert Higginson, the Indian fighter, commanded at the Middle Plantation, a palisaded settlement in York County.

Robert Higginson was a son of Thomas and Anne Higginson of Berkeswell, Warwick England.

Robert had two brothers, Humphrey and Christopher, mentioned in James City family records.

Felix then says, “The Higgisons later settled in old Stafford County, VA as is shown by wills, deeds and inventories, among which is an inventory of the estate of Thomas Higgason who made a will that was probated in February 1743.

Felix goes on to state that after 1778, we find Charles Hickerson and his wife Mary Lytle on the Yadkin River along Mulberry Creek.

I found Charles slightly earlier, on the 1772 Surry County, NC tax list – a portion of which became Wilkes County in 1777.

Felix descended from Charles Hickerson through his son David, and his son Lytle (1793-1884). Felix lived on the family home place on the Yadkin River at Wilkesboro owned by Lytle called “Round About,” originally owned by Col. Benjamin Cleveland of Revolutionary War fame.

I spent time this past summer in the Allen County Public Library searching through all of the Hickerson/Higgason and related books and records from New England and elsewhere, to no further avail. Felix was a thorough researcher.

Where Did the Information About Stafford County, Virginia Come From?

Years ago, before DNA testing, when I was trying to figure out which of John Vannoy’s sons my ancestor Elijah Vannoy descended from, I asked people descended from all 4 candidate-sons to send me information about their wives. Sarah Hickerson was married to Daniel Vannoy.

In the Hickerson packet sent by my Good Samaritan cousin, we find a partial letter, as follows:

Nacogdoches, Texas
May the 20th, 1877

Dr. Hickison (sic)

Dear Sir,

I write you in regard to a business matter.

You will doubtless be surprised to hear from one of Elizabeth Hickison’s daughters. My mother was daughter of Charles Hickison of North Carolina. He was buried at the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River, Wilkes County, North Carolina. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mollie Little. She was from Scotland. Grandfather was from England. I write you the particulars so you will know who I am. My mother married a Stuart. I was 3 years old when we left that country. My age is 86 years. I have been a widow 34 years.

(remainder of letter is missing)

Comments by Felix Hickerson:

I think it is undoubtedly true that the Charles Hickison here referred to was the father of David Hickerson and the grandfather of Litle (Lytle) Hickerson.

Whether Hickerson was originally spelled “Hickison” is doubtful, as an old lady, aged 86, living so far away, could easily become careless about the spelling when perhaps others adopted the simplified spelling.

“Mulberry Fields” was the original site of the town of Wilkesboro. It was the central meeting place for a large neighborhood.

Mulberry Fields is shown on the map below.

Hickerson Mulberry Fields 1752.jpg

On this map from 1752, North is at the bottom, so Mulberry Fields is actually north of the Yakdin.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the name of the letter’s author was on the portion that is missing.

What other documents do we have?

Pioneers of Coffee County

Alice Daniel Pritchard states in this 1996 Coffee County book that:

Charles Hickerson, the progenitor of the lineage presented here, came from Virginia to settle in the New River Basin of North Carolina, about 1772. He and his son, David were on the 1774 tax list of Benjamin Cleveland. In 1778, that part of Surry became Wilkes County. Information from the unpublished manuscript of William Lenoir, lists Charles Hickerson with the names of Wilkes County Revolutionary War Soldiers. He served on a jury for the State of North Carolina Wilkes County court in 1779. In July 1784, Charles Hickerson was over age 60, as recorded in the Wilkes County Court Minutes when he was listed as being exempt from paying Poll Tax. On July 29, 1788, Charles Hickerson sold 150 acres of land on Mulberry Creek, Wilkes County to David Hickerson for 75 pounds, “Being survey Charles Hickerson lives on,” signed by Charles Hickerson and Mary Hickerson. In her nuncupative will, Dec. 5, 1793, probated February 1794, Mary Little Hickerson did not mention her husband, leaving the impression that he had preceded her in death. He was not on the 1800 Wilkes County, census.

Before this verbiage, Alice discussed the fact that Charles was rumored or suspected to have been from Fauquier or Stafford County, Virginia and that Stafford County was formed from Fauquier.

Charles Hickerson’s son, David Hickerson, moved to Tennessee before 1812 where one of his sons served in the War of 1812.

We don’t think of letters being written and travel occurring between those locations, about 350 miles across the mountain range, but both seemed to happen more than we might have expected. Thankfully, at least a few letters survived.

Coffee County Letters

When David Hickerson moved to Tennessee, his son, Little, also spelled Lytle Hickerson remained behind and lived the rest of his life in Wilkes County.

David Hickerson died in 1833, but his sons still communicated back and forth and apparently visited from time to time. These letters show what life was like in the 1830s.

Letter from John Hickerson to Major Little Hickerson

Coffee County, TN
January 25, 1836

Major L. Hickerson
Wilkesboro, NC

Dear Brother:

I have been looking for you in this county for some time but have been disappointed. Have concluded to write you a few lines to inform you of our misfortune in losing our daughter Sally. She was taken sick on Tuesday the 15th of December. Her child was born on Friday and she died on Sunday the 20th. The child is living. We have it here. I hope we can raise it.

I was in Nashville when Sally died and had been there for some time. No person known that never had the misfortune to lose a child how much it will grieve them to have one taken so suddenly. But when death comes we must submit. Sally’s mother didn’t get to see her until Friday evening after which she never spoke again.

I hope when you receive this letter if you are not coming to this county soon you will write and let me know when you expect to come and when Ely Petty is coming.

Our crops of corn and cotton are light in this county. My corn crop is up to the average. Before the frost I expected to make between 40 and 50 bales of cotton but only made 10. The early frost last fall almost put me in the notion to hunt a warmer climate. I will try it another season.

We have got our new county at last after a struggle of 6 or 7 years with the strongest kind of opposition. I have no doubt but the county seat will be at Stone Fort. On the first Monday in February next, the commissioners are to meet to select a place for the county seat. I had the appointing of the Commissioners. I among of them and can venture to say the Stone Fort will be the place. It will make the people’s land valuable in the neighborhood.

If you have a disposition like mine I hope you will never undertake anything without you are sure of success. Am sure I have spent $500 about the new county. Maybe I have made 200 or 300 enemies that used to be my friends. Ever since our election I have been out on the new county business. We lost our election by a few votes and rascality. In one instance the sheriff had to case the vote. The Hillsborough people when they beat us in the election made sure they would get their new county and have the county seat at Hillsborough. They bragged and boasted and said many things that they had better left unsaid. They said the Hickersons had lost their election and the new county was dead and buried. About that time I would have feely given $1000 if it would have insured our success. I got busy in a few days and went to see a number of people in the adjoining counties who were newly elected and in a good humor and ready to promise anything that was right and reasonable. I made the necessary arrangements with them and employed a surveyor and had our county run out and complied with every letter of the constitution. I have been at Nashville most of the time since the Legislature met, but we never got our new county bill past into a law until the 8th of January. The victory was – – much talked about as the battle of New Orleans.

When the new county bill was first introduced in the Senate the vote was nearly equally divided. By the time it came to the third reading there was but one vote against us. In the House, the majority vote was in our favor at the first reading, and only one opposing vote at the third reading.

I got acquainted with most of the members of both houses. Some of them I fear cannot be repaid for their kindness.

You can tell ___ Allen I met a son of William Allen in the legislature from ___ County. His name is Jared S. Allen. He was a good friend of mine.

Didn’t intend when I began this letter to make it so long drawn out. Will write again when the commissioners select the place for the county sea of Coffee County.

All our friends are well.

Yours with respect,
Jn. Hickerson.

Letter from John Hickerson to Major Litle Hickerson

Coffee County, Tennessee
April 29, 1837

Dear Brother,

I received your letter on the 26th of March a few days ago. Was truly glad to hear from you and family, and that all are in good health, plenty to eat, a fine son, etc. You mentioned writing a few days after the presidential election was over. The letter didn’t reach me. There are so many Van Buren postmasters in this State it is difficult for a letter to pass, or even a newspaper is the editor does not belong to the party. My paper, the Banner, that never used to fil don’t come now more than half the time. The editors tell me they never fail to send it, and I have no doubt for they are honest. I believe some of the Van Buren postmasters intend to make the people quit taking any paper that tells the truth. They like darkness better than the light because their deeds are evil.

Myself and family are all well and so are all our friends and neighbors I saw mother a few days ago. Her health was as good as could be expected of one of her age.

A great many commission merchants in Nashville and New Orleans have failed. Produce of every description has fallen very much since you were here. Cotton that opened last fall at 12 to 14 cents in Nashville is now worth only 6 to 7 cents. Plenty of negroes for sale in this county but no buyers. Corn and bacon are plentiful Corn is $2 per bushel on credit. Bacon is 10 cents but the Wagoners are buying it up fast and hauling it to Mississippi to sell for 25 cents per pound.

The town of Manchester is improving very fast. Three stores there now, all doing good business. We have had one circuit court since you were here. AT the next, two negroes will be tried for killing their mistresses.

I wish to be remembered to all my old friends. Best wishes to yourself and family.

Jn Hickerson

You mentioned in your last letter that Col. Waugh spoke of taking a long trip through the west this spring. Tell him to be sure and call on me without fail. Please write me real often and I will be sure to answer.

To Major Litle Hickerson
Wilkesboro, NC

Now that we’ve seen what life was like in the 1800s, let’s look at the earliest records pertaining to Charles. What can we discover about his life?

Was Charles a Patriot?

Charles Hickerson lived in Wilkes County during the Revolutionary War.

Charles is not listed on the DAR website as having served as a Patriot, meaning no one has yet joined based on his service but according to the DAR criteria, since he served as a juror in 1779, he would qualify.

He may have actively served as well.

William Lenoir, a soldier from Wilkes County kept a diary that incorporates details about his Revolutionary War service – which of course includes information about other Wilkes County men too.

The William Lenior Diary shows the following two pages:

Hickerson Lenoir list.jpg

The first page indicates that the men on this list were involved in an expedition against the Indians on May 31, 1776.

Leonard Miller, listed, either was then or would become Charles Hickerson’s son-in-law.

Hickerson Lenoir list 2.jpg

This page simply lists “soldiers” and included is Charles Hickerson, with his name scratched through, along with Andrew Vannoy, my ancestor’s son, who we know served.

Additional information is provided on page 258 in the Journal of Southern History.

Hickerson Journal Southern History.png

Lenoir’s diary in an article in the Journey of Southern History tells us that:

In the spring of 1776, the Cherokee Indians, inhabiting a large area in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, inspired by the efforts of John Stuart and Alexander Cameron, the British Indian agents, began a series of attacks upon the white settlers of the frontier. They further agreed to attack when the English fleet reached the port at Charleston – a plan that was thwarted. However, the militia determined to stop any further plans.

A North Carolina force of 2800 men in addition to 1500, 1150 from South Carolina and more from Georgia were placed under commanders that entered and destroyed the Indian towns along the Tugaloo River. These consisted of the Cherokee Lower Towns with 356 gun men, the Middle and Valley Towns with 878 men and the Overhill Towns with 757 men. Outlying towns had another 500 warriors, totaling about 2000 in all.

The Rutherford expedition passed along the Island Ford Road, a few miles south of Morganton, and moved on to Old Fort. The Wilkes County and Burke County forces joined with this group.

Rutherford’s instructions were direct, according to the State Records of North Carolina. He was to move into the Indian country and, “there act in such a manner as to you in your good sense and judgment may seem best so as effectually to put a stop to the future depredations of those merciless Savages.” Rutherford was an experienced Indian fighter and was trusted to know what to do.

On July 16, 1776, we find the following passage written by the North Carolina Council of Safety:

The Troops Brigadier Rutherford carries with him are as close Rifle Men as any on this continent and are hearty and determined in the present cause. We have every expectation from them. With pleasure we assure you that they are well armed and have plenty of ammunition in short they are well equipped.

William Lenoir recorded his experience in his diary.

August 1776 – After ranging sometime on the head of Reddeys River with 25 men Capt. Jos. Herndon was ordered to raise as many men as would be equal to the number of guns in his district and perade at the general place of rendezvous at Cub Creek.

Does this entry actually mean that there were only a total of 50 guns in the entire county? Surely not. On the 1787 tax list just a few years later, there were a total of 12 districts with 1003 total entries ranging between 45 and 120 entries per district with the average of 83. This makes far more sense.

The next day, on the 13th, the militia paraded.

On Wednesday the 14th I took 30 men out of our company and as Lt. of the same joined Capt. Ben Cleveland with 20 of his men.

On Saturday the 17th marched from the Mulberry Field meeting house to Moravian Creek 6 miles. On Monday the 18th to Bever Creek 10.

The men continued to march towards the Cherokee towns through August and into September when the fighting began on the 12th with the killing of 3 Indians and the scalping of one Indian squaw. On the 19th and 20th, they killed more Indians, took prisoners and began burning towns.

Lenoir notes several times how difficult the terrain was.

His account is painful to read, understanding that the settlers thought they were within their rights, and the Indians felt invaded, especially after having ceded a large amount of land in 1775, supposedly to buy peace and no further settler incursions. You can read about the Cherokee Wars here.

Indeed, the militia laid waste to the Cherokee towns, with amazingly minimal loss of life on either side – at least compared to what could have occurred. Thirty-six towns were completely destroyed, along with their stores and crops. The Indians faced the prospect of starvation. The Cherokee survived the winter using their knowledge of the land on which they lived, eating nuts and what they could hunt and gather. They signed peace treaties the following year. Those treaties, like the rest, didn’t last long. The westward land push continued.

Today, the path taken by the soldiers is known as Rutherford’s Trace.

Hickerson Rutherford's trace

By Learn North Carolina – Map by Mark A. Moore, Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives & History. Based on research by Charles Miller, Waynesville, North Carolina. From brochure Rutherford Expedition, 1776 produced by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. – http://www.learnnc.org/lp/media/maps/nc/rutherford-trace-450.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52491123

Lenoir closes by noting that he arrived back home on Monday, October 7, 1776. If Charles Hickerson was with these men, he returned home then as well, as did his son-in-law, Leonard Miller.

Did any of these men collect a Revolutionary War pension or land based on this service? Unfortunately, this campaign didn’t last long enough – from August 12th through October 7th. Not even 60 days. In various pension requests submitted after the Pension Act of 1832, it’s noted that the application was denied because the man did not serve a minimum of 90 days.

Leonard Miller’s Revolutionary War pension application confirms the dates and many of these events, although clearly not in as much detail as Lenoir, nor at the time they happened.

In 1776, Charles Hickerson would have been 52 years of age. I don’t know whether he would have been considered seasoned and wise, or “too old,” especially given the difficult terrain and physical demands of the march through the mountains.

No place is there any explanation about the men whose names are lined through.

However, I counted.

  • 58 total names
  • Of those, 2 are lined through and listed as providing a horse.
  • 2 have a note – “h found” and I’m wondering if that means not found.
  • 9 are lined out, in addition to the two who provided horses
  • That leaves a total of 45.

In Lenoir’s commentary, he states that there were 20 men from his company and 30 from Benjamin Cleveland’s which totals 50. He also mentions that there were about 25 men at Reddies River, but he doesn’t say if that 25 is part of the 50.

There’s no way to correlate between these numbers and list to arrive at the actual number of men who went on this expedition, or to know who they were.

I was hoping to find at least one of the men whose name was lined through applying for a pension or land, but I was not able to do so. They would have been more than 76 years old by 1832, assuming they were only 20 in 1776, and this campaign didn’t last long enough. However, I was hopeful that perhaps one of the men served later, perhaps during the Battle of King’s Mountain, in addition to the 1776 Expedition to the Cherokee – which would have told us that the men lined through did in fact serve.

What did I find?

  • Nathaniel Gordon is mentioned in Chapman Gordon’s wife’s pension application as being an officer, but Chapman served in 1779 and 1780.
  • John Sheppard enrolled in 1777.
  • In 1833, Timothy Holdaway did apply for a pension from Bent Creek, Jefferson County, Tennessee, stating he was one of the first settlers there 50 years earlier, just a few years after the War. He describes more of the march against the Cherokee in his application. His name is listed twice, once under “h found.” However, he’s not lined through.

Therefore, we don’t know if Charles Hickerson signed up and then didn’t actually go on the expedition, or what, exactly. We do know that Leonard Miller did march in the expedition, as proven by his 1832 pension application, but he was also charged, not once, but twice, with being a Tory.

One man’s pension application describes marching against Tories at the Moravian Town in Wilkes County, along with other places. Apparently, there was at least a small Tory population there. It was even smaller after the soldiers hung several Tories.

Early North Carolina Records

Aside from the Revolutionary War records, what can we discern about Charles in early records?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Lydia Stewart’s Will

Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia Stewart on January 11, 1771. Lydia’s will provides us with Charles’ signature, or in this case, his mark.

This is the only remaining personal item of his own making on this earth, other than his DNA passed on to his descendants, of course.

Lydia Stewart will.jpg

In the name of God Amen I Lydia Stewart of Rowan County in North Carolina being weak in body but of perfect mind and memory thanks be given unto God do dispose of my worldly estate as followeth

Imprimus I will that out of my estate a title to be obtained for a certain tract of land on the southside of Yadkin River adjoining Benj ? and James Persons land and if such title can be obtained the same to be sold of the value thereof to eb equally divided unto my beloved sons David, Samuel, John and Isaiah Stewart.

Item I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter Lydia (the daughter of my son David) my bed and furniture thereunto belonging.

Item I give unto my son Samuel the bed and furniture usually called his bed.

Item I give unto my son Benjamin an iron pot now in his possession

Item I give unto my son Joseph’s daughter Lydia a good heifer or young cow

Item I bequeath unto my beloved sons David, Samuel, Isaiah and John Stewart all the rest of my estate to be equally divided amongst all their heirs I do nominate and appoint my said sons David Stewart and Samuel Stewart exec of this my last will and testament ratifying allowing if confirming this to be my last will and testament I do utterly dismiss all former wills by me made in testimony whereof I have set my hand and seal Jan. 11th, 1771

Signed sealed and published and pronounced in the presence of us

Christopher Stanton, jurat, his mark

Charles Hickerson his mark

Edw Hughes, jurat (signed)

Lydia’s will was probated in Surry County in November term 1772, proved by Edward Hughes and Christopher Stenton.

Lydia’s husband, Samuel died about 1770.

It’s interesting that Lydia’s property was on the Yadkin in 1771, suggesting that’s where or near where Charles lived as well. A few years later, we know that Charles lived just north of Wilkesboro, which is located on the Yadkin River in an area called Mulberry Fields at that time.

Even more interesting, we know that Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Mary, married a Stewart and one Samuel Stewart filed suit against Daniel Vannoy, husband of Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Sarah, in 1781.

Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson, used the alias of Samuel Stewart.

(Thanks to cousin Carol for finding Lydia’s will.)

Surry County Tax Lists

Charles Hickerson is first found on the Surry County tax list in 1772, but is absent in 1771. However, based on Lydia’s will, we know he was already living there in January 1771.

Benjamin Cleveland’s 1774 tax list shows:

  • Francis Vannoy with Leonard Miller, in all 2
  • Charles Hickerson, David Hickerson, in all 2
  • Daniel Vannoy 1

The 1774 list is important because it shows an early affiliation between the Vannoy and Hickerson family. Leonard Miller either was at that time or became the son-in-law of Charles Hickerson by marrying daughter, Jane.

By the 1790 census, Leonard Miller had 8 family members and lived 19 houses from Daniel Vannoy who married Leonard Miller’s wife’s sister in 1789. Six living children suggest a marriage of at least 12 years, so married perhaps between 1774 and 1778 – right about the time of the 1776 Expedition. It appears since Leonard appears on the tax list with Francis Vannoy in 1774 that he was not yet married at that time.

Finding Charles Hickerson and his son, David, together on the tax list may suggest that David isn’t then married either.

1775 John Hudspeth list of taxes:

  • Charles Hickerson 1

The War

While military events aren’t reflected in the tax records, they were very much a part of the lives of these Appalachian families – for six long years during which time Wilkes County was formed from Surry in 1777. What residents didn’t fear from the Indians, they feared from the British and Tories, not to mention the fear of battle taking place and destroying their homes.

The first Cherokee Expedition occurred in 1776, and the famous Battle of King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. The last battled listed, here, was another Cherokee Expedition that ended in October of 1782 following a total of 28 known battles in which Wilkes County men participated plus 4 earlier battles, here, when Wilkes was Surry County.

Perhaps the best known battle was the Battle of King’s Mountain, often credited with turning the war.

Hickerson King's Mountain.png

Colonel Cleveland commanded forces at the Battle of King’s Mountain too, along with many Wilkes County men. I do know that some men were older at that battle. Specifically, the Rev. George McNiel was 60 and went along as the chaplain, of sorts.

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list of the OverMountain Men who fought at King’s Mountain.

In the intervening years, Tories were despised and were hung from the Tory Oak in Wilkesboro in 1779, and from a tree at RoundAbout, the plantation of Col. Benjamin Cleveland.

Land!

On March 4, 1778, Charles Hickerson entered a claim for 320 acres on both sides Mulberry Creek including his own improvement. Entry 14

Hickerson 320 acres.jpg

This tells us that this is where Charles has been living. He couldn’t claim land until the Revolutionary War was over so that the United States government actually had land to give.

Just a few weeks later, on April 21, 1779, Leonard Miller entered 50 acres on Mulberry Creek joining Charles Hickerson’s lower corner. (Leonard Miller marked out, David Hickerson written in.) Entry no 977

This tells us that Charles’ son-in-law, then his son owned adjacent land.

September 24, 1779 – Granted Charles Hickerson 320 acres both sides Mulberry Creek, page 96

Oct 16, 1779 – William Fletcher entered 100 acres at the first big branch of Mulberry that runs into Mulberry Creek above Charles Hickerson’s called the Hay or Mead Branch below improvement that the Tolivors made (William Fletcher marked out and Aaron Mash written in). Entry 1247

Aha – there’s probably the Tolivor family whose daughter David Hickerson likely married!

I love stream names, because they provide us with intersection points.

Hickerson Hay Meadow.png

Intersection of Hay Meadow branch and Mulberry Creek. About 3 miles north of the Yadkin.

Beginning in 1779, we find Charles Hickerson in the court notes, often serving as a juror, probably as a result of becoming a land owner.

Sept term 1779 – State vs William Alexander indict T.A.B. 13 jury impaneled and sworn: including Nathaniel Vannoy, Daniel Vannoy, Charles Hickerson. Not guilty

Daniel Vannoy is Charles Hickerson’s son-in-law, or at least he would become his son-in-law on October 2nd.

Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson were probably married at the bride’s house – so in the cabin of Charles Hickerson. Except – we have to wonder why Charles Hickerson didn’t sign for his daughter’s marriage. Was he not in favor?

December 6, 1779 – Charles Hickerson is a juror

January 24, 1780 – Joseph Herndon entered 200 acres upper long branch Mulberry Creek above path leads from Mulberry Fields to Charles Hickerson’s. Entry 1555

You can see several landmarks mentioned on this first map of North Carolina, created by John Strother in 1808. Mulberry Fields is shown with the red arrow, with Charles Hickerson’s land nearby marked with the red box. If this branch isn’t Charles Hickerson’s then it’s the branch just below, at the rear of the red arrow. The point here is that the location of “Mulberry Fields” is to the left of his land, where Charles is described as being buried. This makes sense, since his land was considered to be in or at the Mulberry Fields.

Other landmarks mentioned in various documents are Mulberry Creek, Roaring River, Fishers Creek, Cub Creek which runs by the courthouse, Moravian Creek, and Beaver Creek – all of which we see below.

Hickerson Strother map.png

Using the actual survey portion of Charles Hickerson’s grant, plus a little math, we can determine a lot.

Hickerson survey.png

A pole is 16.2 feet, so the top to bottom measurement is 2,592 feet, or about half a mile. The left to right distance is 4,860 feet, or just under a mile, which is 5,280 feet.

Looking at Mulberry Creek on Google maps, we can see a section that looks almost exactly like this drawing.

Hickerson land map.png

Looking just north of this, in fact, we can see Hay Meadow Creek, referenced in another deed.

Hickerson map Hay Meadow.png

This is where Charles lived.

Hickerson land aerial.png

The path referenced is probably either Mulberry Creek Road or Mountain View Road.

Unbeknownst to me, I’ve driven this road, oblivious that it was literally through my ancestor’s land.

Let’s take a drive!

Taking a Drive

On the road just about where Charles’ land would begin, let’s drive north on Mountain View Road.

Hickerson road.png

Fields hang precariously on the sides of hills, placed wherever there’s a few feet available to cultivate.

Hickerson field.png

Charles’ cabin stood someplace along this route.

Hickerson barn.png

Above, driving through the hills before we descend a bit to cross Mulberry Creek, below.

Hickerson Mulberry Creek.png

Charles owned the land on both sides of the road and both sides of the creek. Mulberry Creek isn’t terribly wide.

Hickerson Mulberry bridge.png

Of course, no bridge existed in those days. Charles and his neighbors would have forded the creek with a wagon or his horse would just have walked across.

Hickerson Y.png

The Y where Mulberry Creek Road goes to the left and Mountain View Road to the right – both roads skirted a mountain or large hill.

We’ll go to the right, first.

Hickerson Mountain View Road.png

We immediately start climbing as we move away from the Creek.

Hickerson hill.png

It’s pretty much straight up on the left.

HIckerson field 2.png

Fields dot the landscape to the right.

Hickerson curve.png

As we drive further, it’s wooded on both sides, not farmable, then or now.

Hickerson wooded.png

We’ve reached the boundary of Charles’ land, so I’m “turning around” and going back to the intersection with Mulberry Creek Road.

Hickerson at Mulberry Creek Road.png

I’m turning right onto Mulberry Creek Road, with the bridge over Mulberry Creek on the curve, above.

Hickerson Mulberry Creek Road.png

The first thing I see is the S curve sign!

Oh NO! I can’t “Google” drive down that road. Apparently, it’s too curvy for the Google car.

Hickerson Mountain.png

Here’s what I’ve missed. For perspective, in the upper left-hand corner of the picture is the intersection of Hay Meadow Creek with Mulberry Creek.

Hickerson logging.png

Now, looking northeast to southwest, the roads skirt this mountain or hill that clearly can’t be cultivated. In the upper left-hand corner, we see the bridge over Mulberry Creek. It looks like this mountain is being logged now. That’s probably the only way to make this land productive – but it wasn’t when Charles Hickerson owned this land and its mountain. I wonder if this mountain or “hill” had a name.

Where did Charles Hickerson actually live on this land from 1772 until his death between 1790 and 1793, and his son David after that?

How did Charles earn a living? Did he clear and farm the lowlands, or did he perhaps build a mill on Mulberry Creek?

Where are Charles and wife Mary, buried?

FindAGrave shows several cemeteries in this area.

Recalling that Charles’ granddaughter said he was buried at Mulberry Fields, I‘d wager he’s buried on his own land, in a cemetery marked only by a wooden cross at the time, or fieldstones, lost now.

Hickerson cemeteries.png

The cemeteries with brown pins are family cemeteries. The brown question marks are “lost” cemeteries that families know exist, or existed, but not exactly where. The green cemeteries are church cemeteries, none of which existed at that time.

I’d wager that there’s a lost cemetery someplace on Charles Hickerson’s land. Both he and his wife, Mary, died in the 1790s and you know his children had children that died. They likely would have been buried in the family cemetery too.

Civil Matters

Thank goodness for court records that allow us a distant peek into life at the time Charles Hickerson lived.

Charles would have traveled to town, Mulberry Fields then, Wilkesboro now, to the courthouse where he would have remained until after the several-day court session was concluded. Not only did he have a civic responsibility, but court was the entertainment of the day.

Until Charles Hickerson owned land, he would not have qualified to be a juror.

September 1779 – Charles Hickerson, juror

December 1779 – Charles Hickerson, juror

March 1780 – Charles Hickerson, juror

May 5, 1780 – Alexander Holton entered 50 acres north side Mulberry Creek between John Robins and Hickersons (Alex Holton marked out, Gervis Smith written in), entry #1804

Apparently, Charles got a new neighbor.

1782 tax list: Charles Hickerson 320 ac, no slaves, 3 mules or horses and 4 cattle.

No slaves. I’m greatly relieved.

April 1784 – Charles and David Hickerson summoned to court as jurors next session.

July term 1784 – Ordered David and Joseph Hickerson, William Johnson, Thomas Robins, George Barker, Leonard Miller, John Robins Sr, Andrew Vannoy, John Nall, Phillip Johnson and George Wheatley, Lewis Piston, Francis Brown or any 12 of them be a jury to lay out and view a road from Thomas Robins to the main road near Robert Chandlows and that John Robins Sr. appointed overseer of the same

July 29, 1784 – The following person be exempt from paying a poll tax on account of their age and infirmities: Charles Hickerson

The list of exempt people included Charles. In 1784, Charles was either age 60, or infirm. If he was 60, that puts his birth in 1724, which seems about right.

April 25, 1785 – court at George Gordon’s – Charles Hickerson appointed juror to next court

July 27, 1787 – Andrew Vannoy, William Viax, Nathaniel Burdine, Owen Hall, Jesse Hall, John Hawkins, David Hickerson, John Chandler, Robert Chandler, Joseph Hickerson, Leonard Miller, James Brown, Walter Brown, Timothy Chandler, Henry Adams, John Townzer and Stephen Hargis jury to view and lay out road from Andrew Vannoy’s to Timothy Chandlers.

We know that Andrew Vannoy lived further north on Mulberry Creek, near the town of McGrady today, probably on Vannoy Road. This also tells us that Joseph Hickerson, Charles’ other son, lived nearby too.

July 29, 1788 – Between Charles Hickerson and David Hickerson 75 pounds 150 acres Mulberry Creek being survey Charles Hickerson now lives on. Witness Philip Goins, Nathaniel Gordon and Charles Gordon. Signed Charles X Hickerson and Mary X Hickerson, page 35

Charles patented 320 acres. This 150-acre conveyance leaves 170 acres unaccounted for. What happened to that?

July 30, 1789 – Deed from Charles Hickerson and Mary Hickerson to David Hickerson 150 acres on oath of Charles Gordon

To assure the legality of a land transfer, the seller also appeared in court to testify and generally, one of the witnessed gave oath that they witnessed the conveyance, meaning the money pass hands.

In the 1790 census, Charles Hickerson has 3 males over 16 and 1 female. David who lives next door has 1 male over 16, 4 males under 16, 3 females and 2 slaves.

This is interesting, because Charles Hickerson only has 2 sons, David and Joseph, who are both adults. Who are those 2 additional males?

By 1790, Charles’s son, Joseph is also serving on juries and David serves often.

The 1790 census is the last official sighting of Charles Hickerson.

Charles died sometime in the 40 months between the 1790 census which recorded the population as of August 2, 1790, and December of 1793 when his wife Mary published her nuncupative will.

Had Charles not been dead by that point, Mary would not have been able, legally, to will possessions such as furniture to her children. Had Charles been alive, the rug, linen, chest and bedstead would have belonged to him, not his wife. Until the husband’s death, his wife owned nothing personally.

Just the fact that Mary had a will at all is the confirmation we need that Charles had passed. Given that Charles had no will or probate, or if he did, it was somehow lost in the records, he likely sold his land before his death – including the 170 missing acres.

However, the deaths of Charles and Mary were the starting shot for a war between their children.

Had Charles been alive, he would likely have been devastated at this turn of events. In all likelihood, his steady hand and mere existence probably prevented this flareup and family feud since 1781 when we see our first hint of a disagreement when Samuel Steward aka Hickerson sued Charles’s son-in-law, Daniel Vannoy.

What happened?

Arson, Robbery, Slander and Drama

In reality, this drama began a few years before Charles’ death. Let’s take a look as this unfolds, like pages in a really good book.

Let’s start with a bombshell.

In April 1786, Braddock Harris was prosecuted in court for attempted rape and was carted through the town for an hour as a spectacle with a sign pinned to his forehead saying, “This is the effects of an intended rape.”

We don’t know who the female in question was – but we do know that sometime in 1786, Braddock married Charles Hickerson’s daughter, Rachel, and in 1787, she had their first child. It’s possible that the female was Rachel, and it’s also possible that the rape wasn’t simply attempted, or perhaps it wasn’t a rape at all.

There are no further records about this, and we simply don’t know. One thing is clear – everyone but everyone in the county would have known about Braddock’s humiliating punishment – and Rachel married him anyway.

But there’s more.

According to court records, on March 1, 1789, at 10 in the night, John Roberts robbed the house of Braddock Harris and burned it to the ground. In 1792, Braddock filed suit about this arson and in 1793, the suit was heard, with Roberts being found guilty.

However, the drama doesn’t end there either, because Jane Hickerson Miller, Rachel Hickerson Harris’s sister is accused of concealing goods from the robbery that preceded the fire. Yes, Jane, at some level, participated in the robbery and torching of her sister’s home.

It’s no wonder this family was at war.

July term 1791 – Deed from Braddock Harris to Henery Carter for 120 ac land proved in open court by oath of James Fletcher Esqr

Braddock sold his land in 1791 and the family moved to South Carolina not terribly long after Mary’s death in 1793. I’ve wondered if one of Rachel’s children died in that fire, but there’s no way to know.

Jane Hickerson Miller was the wife of Leonard Miller.

Leonard served in the Revolutionary War in 1776, 1779 and 1780.

We don’t know exactly when Leonard married Jane, but in 1788, Leonard and his wife were being sued for slander.

October 29, 1788 – Mourning Wilkey vs Leonard Miller and his wife case for words #7, jury called and finds for plaintiff and assess her damage to 50 shillings and costs

Mourning Wilkey was a widow by 1787 when she was listed on the tax list with 4 females and an underage male. She apparently wasn’t just going to stand by and take whatever Leonard and Jane were dishing out.

On October 7, 1792, we discover in the Morgan District Superior court that both Joseph Hickerson and Samuel Hickerson are subpoenaed and required to attend the March 1793 court to testify for the state against John Roberts and his wife, and Jane Hickerson Miller, their sister and aunt, respectively, in the robbery and arson of the cabin of Braddock Harris and Rachel Hickerson Harris, his wife. They are both bound for 70 pounds, but released on their own recognizance for 20 pounds.

In March 1793, not only was John Roberts found guilty of burning Braddock Harris’s house down after robbing it, Jane Miller was convicted too.

State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court March Term 1793, Jurors for the state present that John Roberts late in the Morgan district labourer not having the fear of God but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the first day of March 1789 about the hour of 10 in the night of the same day with force and arms in the County aforesaid did a certain dwelling house of Braddock Harris there situate feloniously voluntarily and maliciously did burn and consume against the form of the statute in such case made and provide and against the peace and dignity of this state. Indt. Arson. Signed by the attorney general. Witness Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson, Rachal Harris.

While Roberts case was recorded in the Wilkes County and Morgan records, Jane’s was found in the Morgan district only.

March term 1793 – State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of law – The jurors for the state upon their oath present that Jone Miller late of the County of Wilkes in the Morgan District labourer being a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation and a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods on the 10th day of March 1789 in the county aforesaid one feather bed of value of 15 pounds of the goods and chattels of one Braddock Harris by a certain ill disposed person to the jurors aforesaid as yet unknown then lately before feloniously stolen of the same ill disposed person unlawfully unjustly and for the sale of Wicked gain did receive and have (she the said Jone Miller) then and there well knowing the said bed to have been feloniously stolen to the great damage of the said Braddock Harris and against the peace and dignity of the state . J. Harwood Atto. Genl. State vs Jone Miller Ind. Misdemeanor, Braddock Harris, John Roberts (name marked through) prosr. And witness. Joseph Hickerson. Witness Rachell Harris. Sworn and sent.

(Hat tip to my friend, Aine Ni in Fort Wayne for finding the March term 1793 entry for Jane, for me.)

This suggests that Jane (Jone) Miller is not living in Wilkes County at that time.

This verdict is quite damning – making reference not only to this instance where Jane was involved with secreting the bed stolen from her sister, but states that she is “a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods.” For good measure, they also say that she’s “a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation.”

Wow – “evil name and fame.”

Just wow!

And a bed? A bed isn’t exactly small and can’t be easily hidden.

From the Wilkes County court notes.

April 1793 – David Hickerson, Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson on jury

April 1793 – David Hickerson vs John Roberts and wife, slander deft and enqu #8, jury impaneled and sworn, find defendant guilty in manner and form as charged in plaintiffs declaration and assess his damage to 50 pounds, 6 pence and costs. Plaintiff releases 48 pounds of his judgement.

Ordered R. Wood to show cause why David Hickerson should not pay witness in suit.

John Roberts is the man who burned down Braddock Harris’s house and David Hickerson was the bond for Jane Hickerson Miller, who was charged alongside of him. This suit occurred one month after the suit in which Roberts was found guilty. Samuel Hickerson and Joseph Hickerson in additional to Rachel Harris were witnesses.

This implies that David Hickerson sided with the man who burned his sister’s house, but also sued him for slander? Then forgave him?

I have no idea WHAT to think. Why aren’t there actual court notes? This is killing me.

Note the difference between the 50 shillings found for Mourning Wilkey and 50 pounds found for David Hickerson, both for slander. What was the difference between those two cases?

Fifty pounds was a HUGE fine for people in that place and time – enough to purchase a significant amount of land. However, David Hickerson then forgives John Roberts 48 pounds of the fine. Why would he do that when this is the man who torched his sister’s house after robbing it? Why wouldn’t he keep those funds and if nothing else, give them to his sister to help compensate her family?

How confounding!

Charles Hickerson was likely dead by this point, April 1793, but Mary was still living. I’d not be surprised if all of this turmoil hastened her death. Maybe hastened Charles’ passing too.

Mary died sometime between December 5, 1793 and February 1794 when her will was probated.

The fight over her few meager possessions started almost immediately in a family that was already over the brink.

In Mary’s will, Jane Miller and Mary Stewart were mentioned specifically, along with Mary Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart. The balance of possessions after what was left to those two daughters and David and Joseph Hickerson were to be divided among Mary’s daughters. The problem may have been that Mary didn’t name all of her daughters, and she left the contents of the chest to Mary Stewart. It’s possible that the contents of the chest were in dispute. Mary doesn’t say what was in the chest, and it would have been easy for contents to be changed. Even if they weren’t, suspicions in a family so terribly torn would be rampant.

And of course, what the court said about Jane Miller, “a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation.” That dynamic along Jane’s involvement with the robbery and burning of her sister’s house are certainly factors.

How many daughters did Mary Hickerson have? We’ve identified at least two that were previously unknown, Sarah and Rachel. There could be more, possibly an Elizabeth. If a daughter was deceased, does that mean her children would inherit? No matter, the will was in dispute and the family was embattled – complete with aliases.

May 7, 1794 – Samuel Steward alias Little Dr Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy, slander #3 jury impaneled, jury find for defendant.

May 7, 1794 – David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – same jury, Leonard Miller forfeit his appearance as witness in case.

May 7, 1794 – David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy slander #4, jury sworn, same as jury 3, finds for plaintiff and assess his damage to 40 pounds and 6 costs.

Not only were they fighting, publicly, they were taking their battles to court.

May 7, 1794 – Leonard Miller has forfeited according to an act of assembly for his nonappearance as witness in the suit of David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy he being lawfully subpoenaed.

Where was Leonard? Did he leave?

May 7, 1794 – Order by court that attorney McDowal show cause tomorrow 8th why new trial not be granted in the suit Samuel Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy.

May the 7th seems like a circus in the courtroom in Wilkes County. The entire family appears to have been present except for Leonard who didn’t show up, and the gallery was probably full of spectators too. This was juicy stuff that would fuel the grapevine for months, if not years.

August term 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy complainant ordered that a sci facias issue to Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart alias Little and his bail to appear at next court to show cause why execution is not satisfied.

November 2, 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy, complainant, a sci fa issued to Samuel Hickerson alias Steward Hickerson Litle.

Scire facias is a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should not be enforced or annulled.

November 6, 1794 – State vs Daniel Vannoy, indicted assault and battery, fined 1 penny.

November 7, 1794 – State vs Samuel Hickerson indicted assault and battery #7, submitted to court and find 5 pounds and costs, fine remitted to 1 d by order of court.

November 7, 1794 – State vs William Curry, indicted assault and battery, jury called.

Ordered fine 5 pounds be remitted in State vs David Hickerson.

Ordered by the court that the fine of 5 pounds state vs David Hickerson be remitted to 1 d.

It sounds like November 6th and 7th were potentially another circus performance. You can almost hear the judge calling everyone up before the bench, telling them to stop fighting, go home and work out their differences. Kind of like colonial adult time-out chairs.

Nov term 1794 – Capt. Joseph Hickerson mentioned as collecting taxes in his district.

Apparently, Joseph Hickerson was trying, and succeeding, in staying out of the fray, although he was called to testify against John Roberts and his sister, Jane Miller. He’s apparently the only one that manage to escape the rest of the drama. Or at least kept it out of court.

We don’t really know how all of this actually ended up, other than both John Roberts and Jane Miller were convincted – in pretty damning terms.

We know for sure that Charles was alive in 1789 when this took place. He may or may not have been alive in 1792 when Braddock first filed the complaint, but Charles’ wife, Mary, was. He might still have been alive in 1793 when the orders were given for the 1794 court appearances, but neither he nor Mary were alive in 1794 when this played out.

This family was in terrible turmoil, even before Mary’s will. Her death and will was simply fuel on the flames.

We do know that Mary Stewart, Samuel Hickerson and Rachel Harris moved away. Leonard Miller winds up in South Carolina, then Georgia. Jane Miller appears to remarry in 1806, with David Hickerson signing her bond.

Daniel Vannoy bought land several miles away in 1779, so he would not have been nearby daily. He sold his slaves on November 8, 1794, the day after this court episode, and sold his land two months later in January 1795, disappearing altogether.

David Hickerson sells out and leaves by 1809 for Tennessee, although two of his sons remain in Wilkes County.

Of Charles’ children, only Joseph Hickerson and Sarah Hickerson Vannoy positively remained in Wilkes County – although Sarah somewhat disappears too.

I know in my heart that there is far more to this story – and I know just as well that I’ll never know what it is. Daniel’s disappearance is somehow connected and it’s impossible to tell how from the distance of more than 200 years.

Well, What Does the DNA Say?

While attempting to confirm the Stafford County, Virginia connection, I’ve probably proven the theory that Charles descends from the Stafford County Higgerson line false, thanks to Y DNA.

Whoo boy.

I was excited several years ago to find a cousin who was a Hickerson male descended through Charles’ son, David, born between 1750 and 1760 who died in 1833 in Coffee County, Tennessee. Our descendant took Y DNA and autosomal DNA tests. And, thankfully, his Y DNA matches another descendant of David through son Lytle who remained in Wilkes County.

The bad news is that our Hickerson Y DNA:

  • Does not match the Higgerson DNA line from Stafford County, VA.
  • Does not match the Thomas Higgison (1761-1834) line that descends from King William and Hanover County, VA and has multiple testers
  • Does not match the John Higgison (1654-1720) line from King William County, VA that has multiple testers
  • Does not match the Thomas Hickerson (1736-1812) line from Stafford County, which is the line that was suggested. Two of Thomas’s sons’ lines have tested, and possibly more, although not everyone has posted the information as to which son they descend through.

Charles Hickerson had one other son, Joseph, who, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have any Y DNA testers. We need a Y DNA test from a Joseph Hickerson descendant.

It’s possible that the Y DNA of David Hickerson and Joseph Hickerson don’t both match the Y DNA of Charles Hickerson.

If David’s two descendants match Joseph Hickerson’s Y DNA descendant, then we know that Charles Hickerson was not descended from the above lines.

However, and here’s a BIG however, our Hickerson men do match 4 descendants of a James Henderson born in Hunterdon, New Jersey in 1709 and died on Nov. 21, 1782 with a distance of 6 mutations at 67 markers. That’s not exactly close, but given that many of the families from Hunterdon settled in Rowan County in the Jersey Settlement and moved to what became Wilkes County, it can’t be discounted either, at least not yet.

Autosomally, David Hickerson and Sarah Hickerson Vannoy descendants have matches to:

  • Descendants of Joseph Hickerson
  • Descendants of Samuel Hickerson (whose mother was Mary Hickerson who married a Stewart)
  • Other descendants of David Hickerson
  • Other descendants of Sarah Hickerson who married Daniel Vannoy
  • Descendants of Jane Hickerson who married Leonard Miller
  • Descendants of Rachel Hickerson who married Braddock Harris

If you are, or know of, a Hickerson male who has descended from Joseph Hickerson, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you. We need you.

Y DNA of Joseph’s descendant who carries the Hickerson surnames is critical information necessary to solve one more mystery of Charles Hickerson.

The story of the first half-century of Charles’s life still needs to be written! We can’t do that until we resolve the question surrounding Charles Y DNA, and in doing so, figure out who Charles DOES descend from.  Are you the key?

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Sarah Hickerson (1752-1760 – before 1820), Silent Member of a Feuding Family – 52 Ancestors #262

Sarah Hickerson was nearly invisible, and she would have been lost forever to history were it not for her marriage to Daniel Vannoy on October 2, 1779 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Daniel Vannoy marriage

Why didn’t Sarah Hickerson’s father, Charles Hickerson, or brother, David Hickerson sign her bond? This is a bit unusual. Her husband, Daniel signed, along with Francis Reynolds who has no known connection at all.

Given her marriage date, Sarah Hickerson would have been born about 1758 or 1759, or perhaps slightly earlier. Daniel was born in 1752.

While Sarah’s father, Charles Hickerson, did not have a will, her mother, Mary Lytle Hickerson, did. At least a nuncupative will that served as the catalyst for dissention between Daniel Vannoy and Sarah’s family members, particularly her brother, David Hickerson, and her sister’s son, Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward.

The Feud

In fact, this “disagreement” turned into a full-fledged feud. Think Hatfields and McCoys.

The problem, I think, was that Sarah wasn’t mentioned in her mother’s December 5, 1793 will, but the will did say that the remainder of Mary’s property was to be divided among her daughters.

As they say, that’s when the fight began.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say – First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller.

No signature and no executors.

I suspect that Amy Hickerson is actually Ann, wife of Joseph Hickerson, Mary’s daughter-in-law.

This presents an interesting quandry – because we don’t know if Sarah was alive or dead at the time her mother died.

The only thing we know for sure about Sarah Hickerson, other than the fact that she married Daniel Vannoy in 1779, is that she was definitely alive in 1784 when her son, Elijah, was born. That’s been proven via DNA results.

It’s probable that Sarah was alive in the 1790 census as well, because there is no record in Wilkes County that Daniel married anyone else and the census reflects a female of her age in the household of Daniel Vannoy.

In 1790, Daniel and Sarah had 2 male children and one female child. We don’t know who either of those two individuals were.

Sarah and Daniel are reported to have had another son, Joel, born in 1792 and I also have a DNA match with a man who descends from Joel – although in all fairness, Joel was clearly a Vannoy and if he was assigned to the incorrect parents, I could still match Joel’s descendants. I’d love to know if this man matches any Hickerson descendants directly. He doesn’t match any of the people I match who are descended from Charles Hickerson.

I match a total of 17 descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, 6 of them being through Elijah Vannoy, my ancestor, but 11 being through Sarah’s siblings:

  • David Hickerson
  • Jane Hickerson who married Leonard Miller. Leonard Miller was reported to have been a Tory, “having joined the Biritish a second time” reported by author Alice Pritchard, source Criminal and Civil Action Papers, C.R. 104 325, found in the NC State Archives.
  • Joseph Hickerson
  • Rachel Hickerson who married Braddock Harris around 1786 in Wilkes Conty. (Rachel born 1765-died 1822 Franklin, GA)

Rachel Hickerson?

Who was Rachel Hickerson? Another daughter that wasn’t mentioned in the will, apparently, judging from multiple DNA matches.

I was utterly shocked to discover that Braddock Harris was married to a Hickerson female because I literally stumbled over Braddock last week in the North Carolina State Archives BEFORE I discovered who his wife was.

Serendipity strikes!

Ok, so what’s so interesting about Braddock Harris?

Braddock Harris

I was researching Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson. In an every-name index book, Daniel Vannoy was listed as a court juror on April 26, 1786. The case heard before the one in which Daniel sat as a juror is transcribed below, simply because I found the topic and entry so unusual.

State vs Bradock Harris – indicted assault, jury called, jury find guilty. Ordered defendant fined 5 pounds and be CARTED up and down the court yard from Humphries to Smothers with this inscription wrote in large letters on paper and fixed to his forehead and read loudly by the sheriff at each place. THIS IS THE EFFECTS OF AN INTENDED RAPE and the last part of the punishment be inflicted between hours of four and five o’clock this evening.

Court was adjourned for one hour and following were present: Charles Gordon, Russell Jones and William Nall, Esquires.

The caps are in the record and are not mine.

I’d wager that the court adjourned so everyone could go outside and watch the procession.

Now you understand my utter shock when I discovered Braddock Harris’s wife was Rachel Hickerson.

I checked Ancestry on my laptop at the archives and found it interesting that in the 1790 census, Bradock was married with 2 children. At the time, I thought to myself that it appeared that someone was willing to marry Braddock, so he wasn’t entirely ostracized in the community. Or maybe, maybe, he was already married and was a married man attempting to commit rape.

But wow!

I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that Braddock would marry or maybe had already married Rachel Hickerson when he was tried in 1786. It’s also possible that this charge of attempted rape was “upon the body” of Rachel Hickerson before they married.

But there’s more, far more, to this story.

Robbery and Arson

Court notes are so amazing!

In 1792, David Hickerson, Sarah and Rachel Hickerson’s brother, was a bond when John Robards was accused of burning Braddock Harris’s house down in the fall of 1790. Not to mention robbing it.

This day complained Bradock Harris to me a subscribing Justice of the Peace for said county of Wilkes on oath that he had just cause to believe that some time in the fall of 1790 that John Robards did rob his house and then burn it and Jain Miller did conseal part of said property all contrary to the lawes and good government of said state. These are therefore in the naim of said state to regular and command you to apprehend the said John Robards and Elizabeth his wife and Jain Miller and bring them before some Justice of the Peace for said county to answer the above complaint and that they may be further delt with as the law directs bearing fail not (now?) given under my hand and seal this 13 day September 1792 James Fletcher (seal). Memorandum of recognizance at March term 1 day Bradock Harris bound to prosecute in the sum of 50 pounds, Arson (Anson?) Gipson his security bound in the sum of 50 pounds. Jain Miller bound in the sum of 50 pounds and gives David Hickerson security bound in the sum of 50 pounds Joseph Herndon, Rachel Harris bound a witness for the state in the sum of 25 pounds. Joseph Herndon, James Fletcher, State vs John Robards and wife and Jan Miller. Warrant. Executed by Andrew Bryont.

Jane Miller is Sarah Hickerson’s sister, but more importantly, Jane Miller is the sister of Rachel, whose house was burned. David Hickerson posted her bond. The court entry states that Rachel Harris is testifying for the state, so that implies thta Jane Miller and Braddock Harris are not.

In other words, Jane Miller is accused of hiding items from her sister Rachel’s house after John Robards robbed and burned her house. David posted bond to guarantee that Jane would show up in court.

Holy Cow, what was going on in this family?

A year later, in March 1793, John Roberts (not Robards) was convicted of that crime with Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson and Rachel Harris as witnesses.

State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of Law March term 1793 jurors for the state upon their oath present that John Roberts late of the County of Wilkes in the district of Morgan labourer not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the first day of March in the year of our Lord 1789 about the hour of ten in the night of the same day with force and arms in the county and district aforesaid  a certain dwelling house of one Braddock Harris there situate feloniously voluntarily and maliciously did burn and consume against the form of the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of this state . J Haywood Att. Genl. State vs John Roberts, Indt., arson, Braddock Harris pros and witness. Joseph Hickerson, Saml. Hickerson, Rachel Harris Witnesses. Sworn and sent. William W. Erwin Clerk, J. Haryood Att. Gnl.

What happened to Jane Miller? In relation to this suit, we don’t know. It’s possible that I missed the entry. However, Jane has an interesting situation too.

Jane Miller appears alone in the 1800 Wilkes County census with 4 males and a female child. In 1806, Jane Miller married James Reynolds in Wilkes County, with David Hickerson signing for her marriage. It surely looks like Jane remarried.

I’d say Leonard died, except that one Leonard Miller was a Revolutionary War pensioner from Georgia and stated that he served under Capt. Cleveland. Capt. Cleveland lived in Wilkesboro. Did Leonard Miller just leave?

A Family Divided

So far, the family appears to be divided, as follows.

Side 1 Comment Side 2 Comment
Braddock Harris House robbed and burned in 1790
Rachel Hickerson Harris House robbed and burned in 1790, testified at trial Her sister, Jane Miller, accused of consealing stolen items
Jane Miller Accused of consealing part of stolen items
David Hickerson Signed bond for Jane in 1792 and for her marriage in 1806
Joseph Hickerson Testifies as trial
Samuel Hickerson Testifies at trial

This entire family is confounding!

War

Obviously, this family is at war with one another.

Sarah’s father, Charles Hickerson, died sometime between the 1790 census and her mother’s death after December 5, 1793. Given the information above, I originally thought that the theft might have had something to do with Charles’ possessions, but given that the robbery and fire appears to have happened on March 1, 1789, that theory is out the window – unless Charles’ possessions had already been mostly distributed.

Death and property brings out the worst in people it seems. Sometimes the battles begin even before the person dies.

However, this feud didn’t seem to be entirely new. As far back as 1781, just two years after their marriage, Daniel Vannoy, Sarah Hickerson’s husband was in conflict with Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward who also had several other aliases.

September 4, 1781 – Court entry for Samuel Steward vs Daniel Vannoy.

We don’t know what that suit was about, but we do know it was filed by Samuel. Another suit was filed in 1794, just three months after Mary Lytle Hickerson’s will was probated.

Obviously, this feud heated up again. Like, to a full boil.

On May 7, 1794 we find this in the court notes:

Samuel Stewart alias Little D. Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – slander – jury called.

This tells us that Samuel Stewart is probably of age, so born before 1773. In fact, he was probably of age by 1781 when the first suit was filed, meaning he was born about 1760, pushing his mother’s birth year back to about 1740 or so. However, based on the letter from Mary (Elizabeth) Hickerson’s daughter, dated May 20, 1877, where she states that she is 86 years old, so born in 1791, Mary may have been quite young when she had Samuel.

This 1794 court entry suggests that the man was then or sometimes called Samuel Steward but his legal name is Little D. Hickerson – suggesting that he was illegitimately born to his mother, Mary Hickerson, before she married a Stewart/Steward/Stuart man.

This next entry appears on the same day:

David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – same jury, Leonard Miller forfeit his appearance as witness in case.

Now David, Daniel’s brother-in-law, gets in the picture and he too files suit against Daniel.

It sounds like Leonard Miller, Daniel’s brother-in-law, husband of Jane Hickerson Miller, didn’t show up for court. He probably didn’t want to be in the middle, but if he was a witness, it’s likely he was there when whatever happened, happened.

Court ordered attorney McDowal to show tomorrow why a new trial shall not be granted in Samuel Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy.

Here, he’s actually listed as Samuel Hickerson.

Court ordered R. Wood to show cause why David Hickerson should not pay witness in suit.

I’m guessing that R. Wood is an attorney for David Hickerson.

In today’s parlance, everyone is lawyered up.

On November 2, 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy, complainant, a sci fa issued to Samuel Hickerson alias Steward Hickerson Litle.

This is the fourth name for Samuel, aka whatever, which may imply that he also uses the surname Litle.

Scire facias is a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should not be enforced or annulled.

In this case, the scire facias filing suggests that Daniel argues that Mary’s will should be set aside as pertains to Samuel, the son of Mary Steward to whom Mary Hickerson left a feather bed and everything in that trunk. It’s also questionable based on the language if Mary meant a feather bed “each” for Mary and Samuel, or one for the both of them.

In essence, this probably included much of Mary’s, worldly goods except the purple rug, chest, feather bed, tea ware and 3 yards of white linen.

Or maybe the confusion wasn’t over the bed and there an allegation that additional items were added to the chest that hadn’t been in there before.

Of course, Mary Hickerson was Daniel’s mother-in-law.

As the leaves were turning and the first anniversary of Mary’s death was approaching, things deteriorated further.

November 6, 1794 – State vs Daniel Vannoy, indicted assault and battery, fined 1 penny.

This is one of those verdicts where it appears that the court (no jurors were mentioned) had to find Daniel guilty based on the evidence, or even his own admission, but fined him as little as possible. This is what I refer to as a wink and a nod. Yep, you did it Daniel, as they patted him on the back and said, “yea, I would have too.”

November 7, 1794 – State vs Samuel Hickerson indicted assault and battery.

Unfortunately, no outcome is listed for this trial. It looks like Daniel and Samuel plus William Curry had an old-fashioned brawl. David Hickerson was probably involved too.

State vs William Curry, indicted assault and battery, jury called.

William Curry is the man for whom Daniel witnessed the deeds. I wonder if he’s somehow related too or maybe just a neighbor in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m not sure how William Curry is mixed up in this, but he clearly is based on the distribution of the costs.

Court ordered a fine of 5 pounds be remitted in State vs David Hickerson.

If a fine was ordered, David was found guilty. It’s worth noting that the fine, unlike Daniel’s, is more than a penny. This suggests that David was the aggressor or instigator – at least THIS time.

Ordered William Curry pay Joshua Souther, John Love and the prosecutor in suit State vs William Curry, and Daniel Vannoy pay other witnesses – def found not guilty.

William isn’t found guilty, but for some reason Daniel has to pay the witnesses. This is a mess.

I have a mental image of these men rolling around scuffling on the barroom floor. That might not have been the case at all, It could have been in the churchyard, or at the mill, or maybe at one of their houses. I guess it’s a good thing none of them had a knife or gun at the time, or the charges might well have been much more serious than assault and battery.

Daniel was on a tear. He was obviously furious about something and feeling very wronged. Was he? Was Sarah? Was he righteously indignant, protecting his wife and family? Or was he simply out-of-control?

November 8, 1794 – Bill of sale from Daniel Vannoy to Nathaniel Vannoy for negro woman named Wille, oath Isaac Parlier.

The next day, Daniel sold his slave, probably to pay the costs and witnesses. I don’t know if this case was a matter of money or of principle, or both, but clearly Daniel was “all in.”

This was the third slave Daniel sold in 1794, all to his brother Nathaniel.

Was Daniel preparing to leave? That seems a bit extreme – but tensions, testosterone and passion was clearly running quite high.

January 16, 1795 – Between Daniel Vannoy and Patrick Lenin Cavender, 50 pounds, 100 acres on South Beaver Creek branch South fork of New River below his spring branch…gap between Frenches and Querrys Knobs. Wit David X Fouts and David Burket. Signed Daniel Vannoy pages 390 and 391.

Two months after those suits and after selling his slaves, Daniel sold his land – the land where he and Sarah lived.

Daniel Vannoy land

Daniel disappears in the records at this time.

Daniel Vannoy's land from Blue Ridge Parkway

Overlooking Daniel and Sarah’s land from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Scorecard

What’s been added to the scorecard?

Side 1 Comment Side 2 Comment
Robbery and Arson
Braddock Harris House robbed and burned in 1790
Rachel Hickerson Harris House robbed and burned in 1790, testified
Jane Miller Accused of concealing part of stolen items
David Hickerson Signed bond for Jane in 1792 and for her marriage in 1806
Joseph Hickerson Testifies as trial, although we don’t know in what capacity
Samuel Hickerson Testifies at trial, although we don’t know in what capacity
After Mary’s Estate Comment Side 2 Comment
Samuel Steward 1781 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1781 – Sued by Samuel Steward
Samuel Stewart alias Little D. Hickerson alias Samuel Hickerson alias Samuel Steward Hickerson Litle 1794 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1794 – Sued by Samuel Steward
David Hickerson 1794 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1794 – Sued by David Hickerson
State vs Daniel Vannoy Nov 6, 1794 – Assault and battery, fined 1 penny Daniel Vannoy
State vs Samuel Hickerson Nov. 7, 1794 – Assault and battery Samuel Hickerson
State vs William Curry Nov. 7, 1794 – Assault and battery, not guilty, Daniel Vannoy ordered to pay several witnesses William Curry, Daniel Vannoy
State fined David Hickerson Nov. 7, 1794 – 5 pound fine David Hickerson

Many times when slander suits are filed, a counter suit is filed as well – but all of these suits are against Daniel Vannoy. None filed BY Daniel Vannoy.

It appears that David Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson Stewart and Jane Miller are found on one side, with Daniel Vannoy on the other. We don’t know where Rachel and Braddock Harris fell in this feud. They may have already left for Laurens County, SC where they are living in 1800.

Leonard Miller simply decided not to appear and preferred to pay a fine. He was probably out of favor, having been a Tory and was either dead or gone by 1800.

Given that David Hickerson sided with Jane Miller in the arson, one might also presume that Jane and Daniel were at odds too, especially since Jane was present when Mary spoke her will.

Ann Hickerson, Mary’s other witness of her will appears to be the daughter-in-law, the wife of Joseph Hickerson, the brother who seems to have escaped this melee. Joseph is also a Captain of Militia, so perhaps he actively avoided the family ugliness.

The long and short of this is that it appears that Daniel Vannoy, Sarah’s husband, is at odds one way or another with every known sibling in Sarah family, except possibly Joseph.

But what we don’t know is anything about Sarah herself. Why doesn’t she testify, or maybe she did and she’s one of the unnamed witnesses. Why is there no mention of her, anyplace?

Where Was Sarah?

I wish I knew!

Sarah appears to be living in the 1790 census, and if she gave birth to Joel Vannoy in 1792, she was clearly alive then. She is not mentioned by name in the 1793 will that her mother spoke on December 5th. But then again, neither was Rachel and we know positively that Rachel was Mary’s daughter because I match the DNA of her descendants and we share no other common ancestors. Not to mention the lawsuits between the various members of the Hickerson family. They feud far too much not to be related.

Following the 1794 suits, Daniel Vannoy sells his slaves and then two months later, in January of 1795, sells his land, without Sarah’s signature.

Sarah may have been dead by this time. That would be the logical conclusion – but is it accurate?

Daniel disappears, but given the family war, “disappears” might mean that he left, might mean that something “happened” to him and he was simply never heard from again.

It’s very obvious with the following events that this was not a calm well-mannered brood:

  • Attempted rape (Braddock Harris)
  • Robbery and arson abetted by Jane Hickerson Miller.
  • Slander and assault accusations involving Samuel Hickerson Steward, son of Mary Hickerson Stewart/Steward/Stuart and Daniel Vannoy.
  • Slander and assault accusations involving David Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy.
  • Something involving William Curry.

This is probably but the tip of the iceberg. Most of the drama probably never made it to court.

Which of course leads me to wonder about violence against Daniel. The land in Wilkes County is mountainous, rough and remote – even today. Wilkes and Ashe County both include sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway that twists and turns its way along the summit of the Appalacian range. It would be very easy for a body to disappear, never to be found.

Sarah Hickerson Appalachian range

Daniel is Gone

It seemed probable that Daniel Vannoy was gone, one way or another, after 1795.

Until recently, I thought it equally as probable that Sarah had died, simply because if she had left with Daniel, she would not have left her two sons behind at the ages of 3 and between 9 and 11.

If Daniel had left Sarah high and dry, then the court would have bound the boys to someone in order to learn a skill.

Typically, if both parents died and the boys were orphaned, they would have been bounds out too. Maybe a family member took them.

Sometime around 1809, Sarah’s son, Elijah Vannoy married Lois, the daughter of William McNiel, their neighbor on Beaver Creek in neighboring Ashe County, the land that Daniel sold in 1795 where he and Sarah had lived since their marriage in about 1780. Elijah would only have been about 10 years old, so he had to have lived close to Lois after that time.

Did Sarah Hickerson Vannoy live with William McNiel and family in Ashe County until William McNiel moved back to Wilkes County in about 1810? It’s possible.

Did Sarah die and William McNiel raised the boys? That too is possible.

One thing is for sure, both Elijah Vannoy and Joel Vannoy married in Wilkes County. Joel married in 1817 with Little Hickerson, Sarah’s nephew through her brother David, signing his bond.

In 1810, there is a census entry in Wilkes County for one Sarah Vannoy, but that woman appears to be too young, age 26-44. Sarah Vannoy had three females living with her, and no males. Sarah Hickerson would have been at least 50 years old and possibly as old as 58 if she was Daniel’s age.

Sarah’s children or other people living in the household were:

  • Female 16-25 so born 1785-1794 – this could well be the daughter reflected in the 1790 census
  • Female 10-15 so born 1795-1800
  • Female 10-15 so born 1795-1800

Sarah Hickerson 1810 census.jpg

This could be Sarah with an incorrect age. I have no other candidates for who this Sarah Vannoy might be, but if it is Sarah, son Joel, age 18, is not living with her.

Regardless, by 1820, Sarah had not remarried, nor is she listed in the census. One way or another, Sarah appears to be gone by then, at about age 60.

Just when I thought I had this figured out, a rogue piece of evidence popped up, causing me to reevaluate what I thought happened to Sarah.

Dang! I love/hate it when this happenes!

Sarah’s Daughter

I can only positively confirm one child of Sarah’s, Elijah Vannoy, with significant evidence of a second son, Joel. We know positively that another son and one daughter was born before 1788, but we don’t know her name, if she lived or what happened to her.

I corresponded by letter with another researcher, now deceased Joyce Dancy McNiel (1937-2003), for about 20 years. Joyce believed that Susan Vannoy (c1804-c1883) who married George McNiel (1802-1878) was the daughter of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson, and stated that she had disproved Andrew Vanoy (1742-1809) as Susan’s father. Joyce stated that she also disproved another Vannoy male, but didn’t specify who. I would add that Nathaniel Vannoy’s Bible records do not show a Susan.

There are only 4 Vannoy sons of John Vannoy in Wilkes County who were candidates to be the father of Susan: Andrew, Nathaniel, Daniel and Francis.

Francis Vannoy, who lived beside the McNiel family had a daughter Susannah born in 1774 who married Edward Dancy in 1793, so Susan who married in 1806 is not the daughter of Francis.

That leaves only Daniel of the four sons in Wilkes County. The only other dark horse is that Susannah could potentially have been the daughter of Abraham Vannoy, a fifth son of John Vannoy, whom we know little about, although he never appeared in any Wilkes County records or census. In other words, it’s very likely that Susan is the daughter of Daniel Vannoy. If that’s true, then it appears that Sarah lived at least until Susan’s birth in about 1804.

My now deceased cousin, George Franklin McNiel (1934-2018), husband of Joyce Dancy McNiel, descends from the McNiel line, but also descends through Susan Vannoy. He has no Hickerson ancestors, unless of course, Susan is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

George’s DNA matches two descendants of David Hickerson who moved to Tennessee. This isn’t proof, but it’s certainly suggestive evidence, especially since David moved away from the area and there is no evidence of other common ancestors in the tester’s lines.

If it’s true that Susan Vannoy is Sarah’s daughter, then where was Daniel? Clearly by 1810 he’s gone, but where was he between 1795 and 1810? Is it possible that this child is Sarah’s and not Daniel’s? If so, there would surely be a bastardy bond, and I saw nothing in the court notes to suggest such years ago, but then again, I wasn’t looking for something in the 1800s – I was searching for Elijah in the 1780s. The early bastardy bonds are not published or available on FamilySearch, at least not that I could find.

If Susan is Sarah Hickerson’s child, then probably so is that other female child in the 1810 census, meaning that Sarah Hickerson has three children we can’t identify – a daughter and son born before 1788, and a daughter born between 1795 and 1800.

I wish the census ages lined up better with Sarah in 1810. Susan Vannoy McNiel consistently gave her birth information in later census documents as 1804, but the 1810 census shows the females living in the house as having been born between 1795 and 1800.

Let’s look at the three children of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy .

Sarah Hickerson’s Children

Elijah Vannoy was born about 1784 and married Lois McNiel about 1809 in Wilkes County before moving to Claiborne County, TN in about 1812 with Lois’s father, William McNiel. They had children:

  • Permelia Vannoy born 1810 married John Elijah Baker, Jr.
  • Joel Vannoy born 1813 married Phoebe Crumley
  • Mary Vannoy born about 1815 married Isaac Gowins
  • William Vannoy born in 1816 married Harriett McClary
  • Elizabeth Vannoy born in 1817 married Elisha Bishop
  • Elijah Vannoy born in 1818 married Isabella Holland and Mary “Polly” Frost
  • Nancy Vannoy born in 1820 married George Loughmiller
  • Sarah “Sally” Elizabeth Vannoy born in 1821 married Joseph C. Adams
  • Angeline Vannoy born about 1825 Sterling Nunn
  • Lucinda J. Vannoy born in 1828 married Col. Joseph Campbell

Col. Joel Vannoy was born about 1792 and married Elizabeth St. Clair in 1817 in Wilkes County, having children:

  • Joel Alfred vannoy born about 1818
  • Elizabeth Caroline Vannoy born about 1819 married Horatio Nelson Miller
  • John Hamilton Vannoy born about 1821
  • Emily Amanda Vannoy born about 1822 and married Edward Welsh
  • Alford Vannoy born about 1824
  • REbecca Elvira Vannoy born about 1826
  • Adeline Amelia Vannoy born in 1827 married Willis S. Parker
  •  Ann Mariah Vannoy born 1829 married Rololph McClellan

Secondly, Joel Vannoy married Emily Lemira Suddworth about 1832. They lived in Burke County, NC and had children:

  • Abraham McClean Vannoy born about 1832 married Martha James
  • William Wiley Vannoy born in 1834 married Susan Elizabeth Crowson
  • Sarah Martha Vannoy born 1835 married Joseph Preston Shields
  • Catherina A. Vannoy born about 1837 married Vance Taylor
  • James Vannoy born about 1838
  • Washington Alexander Vannoy born about 1839
  • Harvey Suddeth Vannoy born in 1840 married Catherine Welborn
  • Thomas Irvin Vannoy born in 1843 married Louvina Leona Gandy
  • Elijah Ross Vannoy born about 1844
  • Anderson Mitchell Vannoy born in 1855 maried Lennie Lo Davielia Ball

Susan Vannoy, born about 1804 married George McNiel on November 21, 1822 and lived in Wilkes County. She had children:

  • James Harvey “Jimmie D.” born in 1823
  • Jesse A “Tess” born 1825
  • Rebecca Mariah Vannoy born 1830 married James Harvey Taylor and had children including 3 daughters:
    • Alice Taylor born 1857 married John Stansberry
    • Ellen Taylor married Jacob Lewis and had children including daughters
      • Virginia Bellee Lewis married Arcillas Calloway and had children including daughter
        • Evelyn Virginia Calloway
      • Ada Malinda Lewis
    • Maggie Taylor married Joe Warden
  • John G. “Blind John” born 1832
  • Delilah Vannoy born 1834 married the Reverend William W. White and had children including daughters
    • Mary A. White born 1864
    • Deborah Ann White born 1868 married Albert Dodamead
    • Lillie White born 1871 married James Henry Shaw and had two daughters,
      • Irma Shaw born 1897
      • Wynell Shaw born 1904
    • Thomas Winslow born 1836
    • Polly Vannoy born 1838 married Alexander Boone Miller on January 27, 1859 had children including daughter:
      • Theodocia Miller married Simeon William Eller and had daughters
        • Mary A. Eller born 1880
        • Opie Delilah Eller born 1882 married William B Owens or Owings and had children including daughters
          • Mamie Gladys Owings born 1908
        • Fanny Ruth Eller born 1892 married Robert S. Loughridge
    • Nancy A “Aunt Nan” Vannoy born in 1845 married Jesse Harrison McNeil including daughters:
      • Mary Ida NcNiel born 1869 married John E. Rector and is not reported to have had daughters
      • Margaret Susan “Maggie” McNiel born 1871 married John Calvin McNiel and had children, including daughters:
        • Nellie G. McNeil born 1895 married Nell Kerley and had daughter:
          • Wanda Kerley born 1925 married Frederick Clifton Miller
        • Nannie Jeru McNeil born 1909 married Edwin Warren Hastings
      • Rachel Julianna McNiel born 1874 married Gaither Alonzo Canter and had children including daughters:
        • Rachel Edna Canter born 1905 married Conrad Joseph Whittington
        • Nonnie Estelle Canter born 1905 married Arvel Everette Parsons
          • Mary Nell Parsons born 1929 married Wayne Gilbert Church and had daughter:
            • Lisa Dawn Church born 1963
          • Mary Louise Canter born 1917 married Claude Royal Elledge and had daughter:
            • Julia Anne Elledge born 1940
          • Delilah Kate McNiel born 1878 Francis Alexander Shober Church and had daughter:
            • Ella V. Church born 1908 who married Ruff Dockery
          • Sallie Emmaline McNiel born 1883 married John Sylvester Church and had children including daughters:
            • Georgia LaVaughn Church born 1906 married Daniel Dewitte Waisner and had children including daughter:
              • Mary Josephine Waisner born 1924
            • Blanche Bell Church born 1913 married Howard Preston Elliott
            • Gladys Nora Church born 1918 married Thomas W. Banks
            • Nannie Beatrice Church born 1920 married Irvin G. Catlin
            • Ella Mae Church born 1925 married Charles James McCarson
          • Noble Blanche McNiel born 1888 married Robert Jesse Foster and had children including daughters;
            • Mary Margaret Foster born 1923 married Frank Jackson Wallace
            • Jessie Marie Foster born 1924 married Robert Lee Hutchinson and had daughter
              • Danna Hutchinson 1959-2016

Can We Find DNA Proof?

There are three possible ways to obtain proof or at least evidence of Susanna’s parentage. Of course, as genealogists, we always ask ourselves how much “proof” is enough? Fortunately, we have DNA tools to gather information. In this case, there are three avenues that we can pursue.

Mitochondrial DNA to prove that Susanna Vannoy was the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of children, but only their female children pass it on. That means that in the current generation, both males and females can test. Mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the father’s DNA, so the mitochondrial DNA of Susan’s descendants is the same as her own.

If we compare Susan’s mitochondrial DNA with that of her mother’s sisters’ descendants – meaning the daughters of Mary Lytle Hickerson, then we will know whether Susan Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy, or not. If so, Susan’s descendants through all daughters (to the present generation, where males can test too) will match the descendants of Mary Lytle Hickerson through all daughters (to the present generation, where males can test too.)

Under Susan Vannoy, above, I’ve listed her descendants, focused on the direct matrilineal descent. All of the people bolded are deceased, but their descendants carry the mitochondrial DNA of Sarah Vannoy. In the case of people like Dana Hutchinson whose children are likely to be living, either a son or daughter could test – because all children inherit their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

If this is you, and you’ve either tested or are interested, please get in touch!

Autosomal DNA to prove that Susanna Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

If the descendants of Susan Vannoy McNiel don’t descend from the Hickerson family in any other way, and they match descendants of Charles Hickerson, the Hickerson progenitor in Wilkes County through any of his children who aren’t related to the tester through another line – then there is a good possibility that Susan Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy.

The more Hickerson descendants a Susan Vannoy descendant matches, the better. Matching someone from David Hickerson’s line through the children who migrated to Tennessee would be preferable simply because they are less likely to have intermarried with the Wilkes County families.

If Susan’s descendant triangulates on a proven Hickerson segment, even better!

Charles Hickerson’s children include:

  • David Hickerson born about 1760, probably in Virginia, married Sarah or Nancy Taliaferro/Toliver, lived in Wilkes County, NC and moved to Franklin County that became Coffee County, Tennessee before 1812. David’s two sons, Lytle (Little) and Charles remained in Wilkes County.
  • Joseph Hickerson married Ann Green, had children and lived his life in Wilkes County.
  • Rachel Hickerson married Braddock Harris about 1786, removed to South Carolina before 1800 and eventually to Whitfield County, Georgia, having several children.
  • Jane Hickerson was born about 1762 and married Leonard Miller, having several children. She remarried to James Reynolds in 1806 in Wilkes County.
  • Mary Hickerson married a Stewart/Steward/Stuart and left Wilkes County about 1794 according to a letter from a woman who lived in Nacogdoches County, TX in 1877, claiming to be the granddaughter of Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson. Mary’s unnamed daughter who wrote the letter referred to her mother as Elizabeth who had married a Stuart. The 1790 Wilkes census only shows us a James Steward with a total of 3 males over 16, 5 under 16 and 4 females. Mary Hickerson also had a son named Samuel Hickerson who used the name Samuel Steward whose whereabouts are unknown.
  • Sarah Hickerson, of course, married Daniel Vannoy. Her proven son, Elijah Vannoy married Lois McNiel and moved to Claiborne County, TN about 1812. Her likely son, Joel Vannoy married in 1817 to Elizabeth Elvira St. Clair, living in Wilkes County until in 1832 when he married Emily Lemira Suddworth and lived the rest of his life in Burke County. And then there’s probable daughter Susan, of course.

Autosomal DNA to prove that Daniel Vannoy is the father of Susan Vannoy.

If Sarah Hickerson Vannoy is Susan’s mother, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Daniel Vannoy is Susan’s father – especially given that Daniel literally disappears from the records after he sells his slaves and land in 1795. He’s not in the 1800 census either, yet Susan is born about 1804 according to the later census records in which she is recorded.

If Susan’s descendants who are not related to Vannoys through other lines match known descendants of Vannoys, particularly Elijah, and are not related to those matches through other common lines (like McNiel, Shepherd or Rash), then there’s a good possibility that Daniel was indeed Susan’s father.

Of course, the more matches the better, especially if the matches triangulate on a proven Vannoy segment.

Summary

Rebuilding the life of an ancestor who only appears in one record is very difficult. I’m very thankful for that one record, or Sarah Hickerson would be another one of those nameless dead ends. A vacant spot on my tree.

The researchers who lived in the decades before us didn’t have the benefit of DNA testing. I surely hope that with the focus of multiple descendants, plus more people testing every day, that before long we will be able to confirm Susan’s parents.

Additionally, it would be wonderful to be able to identify the at least two and possibly three missing children of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy, assuming they lived and had families.

We may never know much more about Sarah’s life, but it would be heart-warming, as a mother, to be able to restore her children to her memory.

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Daniel Vannoy (1752 – after 1794) Embattled, then Disappeared – 52 Ancestors #261

Daniel Vannoy Blue Ridge Parkway.png

Daniel Vannoy is the father of Elijah Vannoy who was born about 1784. This seems like such a simple statement, but believe me, identifying Elijah’s father was anything BUT simple. In fact, without DNA testing, we would never have been able to know which of the 4 sons of John Vannoy was the father of Elijah.

Fortunately, we know the identity of the wives of the 4 Vannoy sons. It was through matching the descendants of the ancestors of Daniel’s wife, Sarah Hickerson, that we identified Daniel.

I wrote about that here and here.

In a nutshell, Y DNA proved that Elijah was indeed a Vannoy male, and autosomal matches to Sarah’s siblings’ descendants proved that Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson were Elijah’s parents.

Birth and Baptism

Daniel Vannoy was born on February 22, 1752 in Rowan County, North Carolina, according to family Bible records.

The location of Daniel’s birth in Rowan County has been widely reported as Potts Creek, but Potts Creek, today, is about 90 miles southwest of the Jersey Church where we know positively that Daniel’s father was living. There may have been a different Potts Creek at that time, but it’s unlikely that Daniel’s father, John Vannoy moved away from the Jersey Settlement, and back again, especially given that settlers were even less safe further west. I’d love to know the source of the Potts Creek information.

Daniel Vannoy may have been named after Daniel Gano, one of the men who lived in Hopewell New Jersey and whose son, John, migrated not long after the Vannoy family settled in the North Carolina Jersey Settlement. The Reverend John Gano was the eventual minister of the Jersey Settlement church, at least until he high-tailed it back to New Jersey because of the unsafe conditions in North Carolina.

It’s worth noting that Gano recorded that the trip from New Jersey to the Jersey Settlement in North Carolina was 800 miles and took him 5 weeks – and he was riding a horse, not pulling a wagon which would have taken much longer – about 10 miles per day on average. That means that John Vannoy’s trip to North Carolina took about 80 days – if nothing broke and everything went well.

Gano returned to New Jersey in 1760 due to Indian trouble in North Carolina, but clearly John Vannoy and his sons remained. In February 1760, the Cherokee attacked Fort Dobbs and the white settlements along the Yadkin and Dan Rivers. War with the Cherokee lasted until August 1761 when a peace treaty was reached.

Daniel Vannoy was baptized into the Dutchman’s Creek Church on August 17, 1774 at 22 years of age.

August the Seventh 1774, there was added to the Church by baptism:
Daniel Vannoy

Dutchman’s Creek Church became Eaton’s Ford on the Yadkin in 1790. The Mulberry Fields Baptist Church, where Daniel was baptized was a more distant branch of Dutchman’s Creek.

Daniel was baptized as an adult and the family had clearly moved to the area known as Mulberry Fields, today known as Wilkesboro, by 1774.

Moving West

Daniel’s father, John Vannoy, owned land near Lick Creek Road Church when Daniel was born. The Jersey Church where Daniel would have first attended is a few miles up the road. Eaton’s Baptist Church is at the middle red arrow on the map below. The Mulberry Fields church was located at what is now Wilkesboro, about 75 miles northwest of the Jersey Settlement.

Nathaniel Vannoy lived at Mulberry Fields, but Andrew Vannoy eventually lived near McGrady, up on the mountain, another 17 miles further north. Daniel’s other brother, Francis, lived on Reddies River, in between Andrew and Nathaniel.

Daniel Vannoy Jersey to Wilkesboro.png

It’s interesting that Daniel Boone’s parents lived on Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin as well, and that Daniel Boone’s brother, Edward Boone was baptized the same day as Daniel Vannoy. In fact, the Boone family seems to be a presence in Daniel Vannoy’s life, with Squire Boon also found in the court notes with Daniel Vannoy.

Daniel Vannoy lost his father when he was about 25 years old, in approximately 1788, and shortly thereafter, Daniel married.

Wedding Bells

Like many young men, we don’t hear much about Daniel until he marries, but we do find Daniel on the Surry County tax list in 1774 and 1775 with 1 poll. That portion of Surry County would become Wilkes county a few years later.

Wilkes County was formed in 1777, and in Wilkes County, Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson were married on October 2, 1779.

Daniel Vannoy marriage.jpg

On his marriage document, we have Daniel’s only known signature. This tells us that he could read and write.

After Daniel’s marriage, he began farming and we find him in a variety of typical records for the next few years.

Court Minutes 1777-1788 – September 6, 1778 – page 3 – Court ordered that George Wheatley, Edmund (blurred), Jeffrey Johnson, Francis Vannoys, Jonathan Stamper Jr., William Johnson, Thomas Stubblefield, Francis Reynolds, James Reynolds, Moses Toliver, David Hickerson, Daniel Vannoys, Charles Burns, Andrew Vannoye, Joseph Pourter, Joseph Fannel (?), view road from end of road at Roaring River to court house.

Francis and Andrew Vannoy are Daniel’s brothers, and David Hickerson is Daniel’s brother-in-law.

Daniel Vannoy Wilkesboro Roaring River.png

Assuming the courthouse then was in present-day Wilkesboro, and the “end of road at Roaring River” is about at Elkin Highway today, this was about a 10 mile stretch of road. This length explains the next entry that divides the length into more manageable segments for maintenance. Daniel’s brother, Nathaniel, was responsible for opening and overseeing a section of the road.

The next day, Francis Reynolds was appointed as the overseer of the new marked road from the court house to Francis Reynolds Ridge Road, Francis Vannoy overseer of the road from Francis Reynolds Ridge Road to Roaring River, George Wheatley overseer of the road from Roaring River to Little Bugabo Creek, and William Warrel over seer of the road from Little Bugabo to the County Line.

Land

March 27, 1778 – James Fletcher entered 400 acres on the South side of the Yadkin River including an island at Moravian Lower line to John Prophets claim including improvement said Fletcher lives on (Caveated by Daniel Vannoy) – entry 47.

A property caveat is a legal document lodged to provide notice of a legal claim to a property. Lodging a caveat allows time for both parties to claim their interest in court. No other transactions can be registered against the title until the caveat is resolved.

Moravian Creek is south of the Yadkin River, while at least some of the rest of the Vannoy family settled several miles North of the Yadkin, although Nathaniel lived in the Mulberry Fields area.

We don’t know for sure if Daniel received this grant, but based on the next entry, it appears that he might well have.

October 7, 1779 – Charles Gordon entered 100 acres east corner east and west line Mulberry Fields tract joining Daniel Vannoy’s tract, entry 1236.

Let’s see if we can find this land.

Daniel Vannoy Moravian River.png

This land would be in Wilkes County near present-day Wilkesboro. The mouth of Moravian River is shown intersecting with the Yadkin at the upper red arrow, with what was then Mulberry Fields to the right.

Of course, in the intervening 221 years since Daniel tried to claim those 400 acres, roads were constructed, as well as many floods having occurred. I don’t see an island today, but that doesn’t mean much if the island was small.

The great irony is that when I visited Wilkes County in 2004, my favorite coffee shop, the Coffee Tavern, was located on the Yadkin River, quite near this location.

Daniel Vannoy coffee tavern.jpg

Now a dental office, this was about a mile and a half as the crow flies from the mouth of Moravian Creek on the Yadkin. Daniel’s land would have been more than half a mile wide by a mile long – but of course it might not have been rectangular. The Coffee Tavern is likely further east, but not by far.

I struggled to find this property today, but finally succeeded.

Daniel Vannoy Moravian to coffee tavern.png

I knew I was close, but the Coffee Tavern was actually further east at 1409 Willow Lane. Still, I stood on the back deck with my coffee and looked out over the Yadkin not far from where Daniel and his brother, Nathaniel lived. I had no idea then how close I was, but I clearly remember feeling moved.

The Yadkin was smaller than I expected, but it was clearly the lifeblood of, and responsible for, the settlement of this part of North Carolina.

Finally, I found the actual survey itself, and the island mentioned. There’s an important clue, “just below the mouth of Cub Creek.”

And North is down, not up.

Daniel Vannoy Cub Creek.jpg

I wasn’t far from this location at the Coffee Tavern – although it appears that Daniel only attempted to own this land but didn’t succeed. His brother Nathaniel lived close by.

Daniel Vannoy Mulberry Fields.png

This area in Mulberry Fields was clearly the early stomping ground of the Vannoy men.

Beaver Creek

Daniel then entered land further west. The descendants in Wilkes County have always said that “Elijah’s people” were from “over in Ashe County” – and it was true.

October 18, 1779 – Daniel Vannoy entered 100 acres on a branch of the New River called South Beaver – entry 1248.

Daniel Vannoy 1780 survey.jpg

Next in the file was the survey drawing which helped immensely in locating Daniel’s actual land.

Daniel Vannoy Beaver Creek survey.jpg

Daniel’s brother, Nathaniel would be his chain carrier for the survey.

This land would be in future Ashe County when it was formed in 1799.

Daniel Vannoy South Beaver.png

New River in Ashe county shown by the green arrows, and the South Beaver is shown by the red arrows. It’s about 5 miles long.

Daniel Vannoy South Beaver to Wilkesboro.png

The closest portion of South Beaver was not close to Wilkesboro – about 24 miles distant.

Andrew Vannoy was claiming land on Mulberry Creek by 1780, and Francis was living on the Reddies River by Lewis Fork by 1783. Nathaniel claimed land in Mulberry Fields.

Daniel Vannoy Beaver to McGrady.png

The closest points between Vannoy Road in Wilkes County and South Beaver Creek. Daniel’s brother Andrew lived close to McGrady near the Old North Carolina 16 location, known as the “Old Wilkesboro Road” which snaked its way through the mountains.

On December 6, 1779, Daniel was again serving as a juror in Wilkes County.

While things appear calm in the courtroom up until now, keep in mind that the country is in the middle of the Revolutionary War and many men from Wilkes County served. Nathaniel Vannoy was a Sergeant Major and Daniel’s brother Andrew was a Captain, but there is no suggestion that Daniel served.

The Feud Begins

September 4, 1781 – Court entry for Samuel Steward vs Daniel Vannoy.

A jury was called – no trial outcome is listed. This looks to be the official beginning of a feud between the Hickerson family and Daniel Vannoy – not even 2 years after his marriage to Sarah. By this time, their first child had probably been born.

This suit is likely a foreshadowing of things to come a decade later.

It’s worth noting that on the 1782 tax list, there are no Stewarts or Stewards and in the 1790 census, there is only one Steward family in Wilkes County, James Steward.

Three pages later in the court transcriptions, another suit involves a near neighbor.

Nathaniel Jud vs Daniel Vannoy.

Another jury is called, with no outcome listed.

I would like to have been a fly on that wall.

Court would have been quite interesting on April 26, 1786. Daniel was a juror in court that particular day, although not for this specific trial. The trial where Daniel served immediately followed this case.

State vs Bradock Harris – indicted assault, jury called, jury find guilty. Ordered defendant fined 5 pounds and be CARTED up and down the court yard from Humphries to Smothers with this inscription wrote in large letters on paper and fixed to his forehead and read loudly by the sheriff at each place. THIS IS THE EFFECTS OF AN INTENDED RAPE and the last part of the punishment be inflicted between hours of four and five o’clock this evening.

Court was adjourned for one hour and following were present: Charles Gordon, Russell Jones and William Nall, Esquires.

The caps are in the record and are not mine.

I’d wager that the court adjourned so everyone could go outside and watch the procession. Interesting that in the 1790 census, Bradock is married with 2 children.

The next entry for that day in the Wilkes County court is a case where Daniel Vannoy is a juror, so he would have witnessed the case above, including the punishment. Court in the 1700s was the soap opera entertainment of the day.

The fact that Daniel is serving in Wilkes County tells us unquestionably that he was living in Wilkes County and was a property owner at this time.

The 1782 Wilkes County tax list shows that Daniel had 100 acres of land, 1 negro, 1 mule or horse and 4 cattle. This implies that he did not obtain the 400 acres in Wilkesboro and was probably living on the South Beaver Creek land.

A few months later, we find Daniel in the records again. It appeared that he applied for another grant on Beaver Creek.

October 23, 1782 – NC grant no 274 – Daniel Vannoy 100 acres on Beaver Creek branch South fork New River page 229.

I thought this was a second piece of land, but it wasn’t. The first document is the entry for the grant, and this document, below, is the actual granting of the same land.

Daniel Vannoy 1782 grant.jpg

In 1787, Daniel is found on the tax list with a wife, 2 sons and a daughter.

We know now that one of those sons is Elijah Vannoy, but we don’t know the identity of the other son, nor of the daughter, assuming they survived, of course.

November 11, 1788 – Petition of the back inhabitants of this state humbly sheweth that there are many small pieces of land in the upper or back parts of this state now lieing vacant and the price of entering of land being high and the inhabitants in general low circumstances causes many families to live on rented lands whereas if the price of entering was reduced they might be in a capacity of getting land on their own. We pray that you would reduce the price of entering land so as to put poor men in a capacity of getting land to maintain their families on.

These petitioners look to be men from Wilkes County, NC. I recognize many of the names such as Vannoy, Shepard, Cleveland, Hickerson and McNiel.

We find Daniel Vannoy listed among the petitioners.

In 1790, Daniel is found on the census with his wife, 2 sons, a daughter, and a slave.

Daniel Vannoy 1790 census.jpg

Viewing the neighbors on the census list is often useful. Unfortunately, Daniel is the last person in the second district, but the people listed above him are likely recorded in some form of neighbor order.

In this case, Leonard Miller is married to Daniel’s wife’s sister, Jane. Does this mean that Daniel and Leonard are living not terribly far from Charles Hickerson, Sarah’s father, in Wilkes County?

July 28, 1790 – Daniel is a court juror.

November 12, 1792 – Daniel Vannoy witnessed a deed for William Curry Sr. and Jr, on the Middle Fork Fisher’s Creek.

November 7, 1793 – Court ordered Isham Harvell, William Chambers, William Mitchell, Charles Johnson, William Curry, Daniel Vannoy, Charles Foster Jr. James Harvil, William Hendren, John Hendren, John Howard view road from road leads from Old Store to Samuel Nicholsons to the Meeting House at road between Fisher’s Creek and Cub Creek.

Cub Creek intersects with the Yadkin in Wilkesboro, but Fisher’s Creek, now Fisher’s River, is about 35 miles East.

Daniel Vannoy Cub Creek to Fishers Creek.png

November 8, 1793 – Bastardy bond 50 pounds Reuben Carter charged with begetting bastard child on Mary Brewer, Daniel Vannoy and John Johnson bondsmen, page 383.

This bastardy bond for Reuben Carter makes me wonder if Daniel is related to either Reuben Carter or Mary Brewer, the mother of Reuben’s child. Note that on the census, Henry Carter is listed three houses above Daniel Vannoy.

April 6, 1794 – Between Daniel Vannoy and Nathaniel Vannoy 160 pounds for negro women named Winnie formerly property of Col. Charles Gordon and her child, Reubin. Wit Rowland Judd and Isaac Parlier. Signed Daniel Vannoy page 190

This hurts my heart to know that Daniel owned slaves. There’s no clue as to how or when he obtained those slaves.

Daniel’s In-Laws

Before the end of 1793, Daniel’s father-in-law, Charles Hickerson had died and is reported by his grandchildren to have been buried at Mulberry Fields.

We know Charles Hickerson had died because Daniel’s mother-in-law, Mary Hickerson died on or about December 5, 1793. Mary “published” a nuncupative will that was probated in Wilkes County at the February court term 1794 and recorded in Will Book A, page 386.

As they say, that’s when the fight began.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say– First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller.

No signature and no executors.

I suspect that Amy Hickerson is actually Ann, Mary’s daughter-in-law.

The problematic words in this will are likely “the balance of my property to be equally divided among my daughters.” Mary doesn’t name the daughters, nor does she say if that includes any deceased daughters who might have children. Or, maybe there wasn’t any other property left, based on how this will read, so any daughters not specifically remembered would have received nothing at all.

Mary Steward who had a Hickerson son, Samuel, is the probable the source of the alias of Samuel Steward in the 1794 slander case with Daniel Vannoy as well as the 1781 court suit.

It’s also of note that Mary did not leave anything to her daughter, Sarah, Daniel Vannoy’s wife, and that too may have been a source of conflict.

Was Sarah Hickerson Vannoy deceased before her mother? If so, Sarah clearly had children and Daniel would obviously have felt they should have inherited something from their grandmother.

If Sarah wasn’t deceased, why was she not specifically remembered. Did her only inheritance fall into the “balance of my property to be equally divided among my daughters,” but there was no property left to divide?

Slander and Assault!

Obviously, someone was very unhappy. That someone was apparently Daniel Vannoy and by inference, his wife, Sarah, assuming she was living. I do presume she was alive, because Daniel Vannoy never remarried, at least not that we know of. The Wilkes County marriage records exist prior to and after this date.

On May 7, 1794 we find this in the court notes:

Samuel Stewart alias Little D. Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – slander – jury called.

This tells us that Samuel Steward is of age, so born before 1773. In fact, he was probably of age by 1781 when the first suit was filed, meaning he was born before 1760, pushing his mother’s birth back to about 1740 or so.

This entry suggests that the man is now called Samuel Steward but his legal name is Little D. Hickerson – suggesting that he was illegitimately born to his mother, Mary HIckerson, before she married a Stewart/Steward man.

David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – same jury, Leonard Miller forfeit his appearance as witness in case.

It sounds like Leonard Miller, Daniel’s brother-in-law, didn’t show up for court. He probably didn’t want to be in the middle, but if he was a witness, it’s likely he was there when whatever happened, happened.

Court ordered attorney McDowal to show tomorrow why a new trial shall not be granted in Samuel Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy.

Here, he’s actually listed as Samuel Hickerson.

Leonard Miller is Daniel’s wife’s sister Jane’s husband.

David Hickerson is Daniel’s wife’s sibling.

Court ordered R. Wood to show cause why David Hickerson should not pay witness in suit.

I’m guessing that R. Wood is an attorney for David Hickerson.

In today’s parlance, everyone is lawyered up.

On November 2, 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy, complainant, a sci fa issued to Samuel Hickerson alias Steward Hickerson Litle.

This is the fourth name for Samuel, aka whatever.

Scire facias is a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should not be enforced or annulled.

In this case, the scire facias filing suggests that Daniel argues that Mary’s will should be set aside as pertains to Samuel, the son of Mary Steward to whom Mary Hickerson left all of her furniture and everything in that trunk. In essence, this probably included all of Mary’s worldly goods except the purple rug, chest, tea ware and 3 yards of white linen.

Or maybe there was an allegation that additional items were added to the chest that hadn’t been there before.

Of course, Mary Hickerson was Daniel’s mother-in-law.

As the leaves and seasons were turning and the anniversary of Mary’s death was approaching, things deteriorated further.

November 6, 1794 – State vs Daniel Vannoy, indicted assault and battery, fined 1 penny.

This is one of those verdicts where it appears that the court (no jurors were mentioned) had to find Daniel guilty, but they fined him as little as possible. This is what I refer to as a wink and a nod. Yep, you did it Daniel, as they patted him on the back and said, “yea, I would have too.”

November 7, 1794 – State vs Samuel Hickerson indicted assault and battery.

Unfortunately, no outcome is listed for this trial. It sounds like Daniel and Samuel had an old-fashioned brawl.

State vs William Curry, indicted assault and battery, jury called.

William Curry is the man for whom Daniel witnessed the deeds. I wonder if he’s somehow related too.

I’m not sure how William Curry is mixed up in this, but he clearly is based on the distribution of the costs.

Court ordered a fine of 5 pounds be remitted in State vs David Hickerson.

If a fine was ordered, David was found guilty. It’s worth noting that the fine is more than a penny.

Ordered William Curry pay Joshua Souther, John Love and the prosecutor in suit State vs William Curry, and Daniel Vannoy pay other witnesses – defendant found not guilty.

William isn’t guilty, but for some reason Daniel has to pay the witnesses. This is a mess.

Daniel was on a tear. Today, this is referred to as “going full southern.” I can’t help but think of Julia Sugarbaker.

Daniel was obviously furious about something and feeling very wronged. Was he actually?

November 8, 1794 – Bill of sale from Daniel Vannoy to Nathaniel Vannoy for negro woman named Wille, oath Isaac Parlier.

The next day, Daniel sold his slave, probably to pay the costs and witnesses. I don’t know if this case was a matter of money or of principle, or both, but clearly Daniel was “all in.”

This was the third slave Daniel sold in 1794, all to his brother Nathaniel.

Was Daniel preparing to leave?

January 16, 1795 – Between Daniel Vannoy and Patrick Lenin Cavender, 50 pounds, 100 acres on South Beaver Creek branch South fork of New River below his spring branch…gap between Frenches and Querrys Knobs. Wit David X Fouts and David Burket. Signed Daniel Vannoy pages 390 and 391.

Two months after those suits and after selling his slaves, Daniel sold his land.

This land sale document held the clue to actually locating Daniel’s land.

Daniel Vannoy Beaver Creek land.png

Frenches Knobs is the red balloon, above, and the area being pointed to with the red arrow looks very much like Daniel’s survey. Noticing the road to the right of the Beaver Creek Primitive Baptist Church holds another potential clue. It’s named Bob McNiell Road.

Daniel Vannoy land.png

This is roughly the area of Daniel’s land.

The Cemetery is named the Peter McNeill Family Cemetery according to FindAGrave. The Beaver Creek Primitive Baptist Church was founded in 1785, which clearly suggests that both Daniel Vannoy and the McNiell family were involved. This church was on Daniel’s land, which makes me wonder if he was actually one of the founders himself. He owned this land from 1780 when he staked the claim until 1795 when he sold it.

The oldest McNiell family burial is Peter Gaither McNeill born in 1827.

Daniel Vannoy Blue Ridge.png

Note that Daniel actually moved across the top of the Appalachian Range. Frenches Knob is shown with the red pin. The two arrows beneath show the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs in dog-leg fashion along the top of the ridge. I’ve also noted McGrady and Wilkesboro.

Visiting Daniel’s Land at Frenches Knobs

Let’s take a drive and visit Daniel’s land!

Daniel Vannoy Frenches Knobs.png

The beautiful valley between the knobs where Daniel lived. I can’t help but drink this in. This is heading Northwest on 163 right about at the east boundary of Daniel’s land.

Daniel Vannoy Frenches Knob view.png

The infamous Frenches Knobs, above, and an old barn in a field.

Daniel Vannoy Beaver Creek Church Road.png

The intersection of Beaver Creek Church Road and Bob McNiell Road with North Carolina 163.

Daniel Vannoy Beaver Creek Church cemetery.png

There’s a cemetery back behind Beaver Creek Church, shown at right above, but we know that William McNiel sold out and moved on, with Elijah Vannoy, to Claiborne County, Tennessee about 1811. This appears to be a related McNiell family, as William McNiel’s children left with him when he packed up his wagon.

I do wonder if Sarah Hickerson Vannoy might be buried here.

Daniel Vannoy land 163.png

This was Daniel’s land. I’ve now “turned around,” because Daniel’s land seems to end about here, and am driving back southeast.

Daniel Vannoy land knob and barn.png

I wonder if this was the location of the original homesite. Note the ancient tree in the front yard, and the old barn out back. Not to mention, it’s relatively flat and has a source of fresh water nearby.

What Happened to Daniel?

And then, after Daniel sold his land in 1795, in the next 4 years before Ashe County was formed…silence. Nothing in any Wilkes County Records.

Daniel is not found in the 1800 Wilkes or Ashe County census, but in Ashe County, only the census for the Morgan district still exists. He’s not found anyplace else for that matter either.

Daniel Cavender who purchased Daniel’s land in 1795 is not listed in the census either, but he could have died or sold the land in the intervening years.

Given that Elijah Vannoy married William McNiell’s daughter in 1809, let’s see if he’s listed in the 1800 census.

William McNiel is listed in the Morgan District of Ashe County with:

  • 4 males under 10 (Niel McNiell born about 1792, other 3 males unknown)
  • 1 male 10-15 (George McNiell born about 1788)
  • 0 males 16-25
  • 1 male 26-44 (William McNiell born c 1760)
  • 2 females under 10 (Mary McNiell born about 1792, Nancy McNiell born 1794)
  • 1 female 10-15 (Lois McNiel born about 1786)
  • 1 female 16-25 (Sarah McNiell b 1784)
  • 1 female 26-44 (Elizabeth Shepherd born 1766)
  • 1 female over 45 (unknown)

It’s possible that we found Sarah Hickerson Vannoy. Although this doesn’t fit exactly either. Sarah could be the woman over 45, as she would have been about 48. The extra male under 10 could be Joel Vannoy born in 1792, but Elijah, born about 1784 is missing.

In 1810, William McNiell is again living in Wilkes County, 5 houses from Andrew Vannoy. I find William still in the Ashe County court notes in 1809, but not in the Ashe County 1810 census, so it would appear that these families are moving together back to Wilkes County.

In 1810, Daniel Vannoy is still missing in the census, but there is a Sarah Vannoy who might be the widow of Daniel living in the Wilkesboro District, in Wilkes County, with no males, 2 white females 10-15, 1 white female 16-25 and 1 white female 26-44. Sarah would have been about 58 at this time, so whether this Sarah is the widow of Daniel is unclear. The ages don’t match, but the census is notorious for those types of issues.

There doesn’t seem to be another candidate for this Sarah Vannoy.

If this woman is Daniel’s wife, Sarah, then Daniel and Sarah had two more daughters between 1794-1800, but son Joel born about 1792 is missing. If this woman is Sarah, then the woman with William McNiell in 1800 might not be Sarah, as she has 2 additional small children not accounted for in 1800.

In 1810, when Elijah, Daniel’s son, then about 26, emerges on the census, it’s not in Ashe county which was formed in 1799, but in Wilkesboro District in Wilkes County which extends north of Wilkesboro, not far from McNiels and David Hickerson.

No Vannoy or McNiel (by any spelling) is on the Ashe County 1815 tax list either.

Daniel is most likely dead by 1817, because his son, Joel Vannoy who was born in 1792 married Elizabeth Saint Clary (Claire?) on March 18, 1817, and his marriage license was signed by Little Hickerson as bondsman. Surely, if Daniel was alive, he would have signed himself.

This may also suggest that Sarah was not estranged from her family – at least not in 1817, although her brother, David, Little’s father, had been in Tennessee by that point for several years – and so had Sarah’s son, Elijah Vannoy.

If Sarah was alive, it’s apparent based on where her 2 sons emerged that she moved back to Wilkes County.

Many Wilkes County families moved on to Tennessee around the 1810 timeframe, and maybe if Sarah was living, she was finding her family shrinking.

The only children of Daniel Vannoy that we know of, for sure, are my Elijah born about 1784, proven through DNA, an unnamed son and daughter born before 1788 according to the tax list, probable son Joel born about 1792 and a rumored daughter Susan, courtesy of long-time Wilkes County researcher, now deceased, Joyce McNiel. Susan was reported to have been born about 1804 and married George McNiel, born about 1802. Joyce proved that two other sons weren’t the father of Susan, but she was never able to prove who her parents actually were. DNA could probably do that today.

Of course, if the Sarah in Wilkes County in 1810 is Daniel’s wife, then Daniel had 2 additional daughters.

Possibilities

Daniel was quite active for years in Wilkes County, serving in court as a juror, which means he was a citizen in good standing.

This all seemed to come unraveled in 1793 and 1794 with the death of his wife’s parents and resulting conflict when he would have been in his early 40s. From that point on, Daniel simply disappears.

By 1799, when Ashe was formed, Daniel would have been living there, based on his land grants, that is, if he still owned land. However, Daniel had sold his land in 1795.

There are no further land transactions for Daniel Vannoy in either Wilkes or Ashe County.

Daniel’s son Elijah was born about 1784. Son Joel is reported to have been born in 1792 according to the book, “George Michael Eller and Descendants of his in America”, so he could not have been one of the males in the 1790 census. This also means that it’s unlikely that Sarah in 1810 in Wilkes County is Joel’s mother, because Joel would have been 18 and still living at home – or working on a farm someplace.

Furthermore, the fact that Elijah married Lois McNiel in 1809 or earlier, fully 14 years after Daniel Vannoy sold his land and disappeared suggests that Elijah was living someplace in Ashe County. How else would he have been courting Lois McNiell? Their first child was born 11 months after a court entry in Ashe County with William McNiell appearing as a court justice. You have to be in physical proximity to court.

Knowing that William McNiel was Daniel Vannoy’s neighbor in Ashe County, I can’t help but wonder if William McNiell raised brothers, Elijah and Joel Vannoy.

When Daniel was last in the records, Elijah was about 11 and Joel about 3.

Did Daniel die, intestate, in either Wilkes or Ashe County before 1800? If so, he would not have owned property at that time, because the Wilkes records are complete and there is no mention of Daniel after 1795. If he didn’t own property, he may have had no estate to probate.

If that’s the case, he went from being a slave-owning land-owner to not owing slaves or land without enough assets to probate. That would be unusual but certainly not impossible.

Did Daniel die in Ashe County sometime between 1799 when the county was formed and 1806 when the court records began? That’s certainly possible. A significant number of records were destroyed in the Ashe County courthouse fire in 1865.

If Daniel died sometime after 1806 in Ashe County, some of the court records exist. I’m reading them page by page, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Daniel. Currently I’m working on 1810, and no Daniel Vannoy. I don’t think he’s there. That’s 15 years after he sold his land and disappeared.

It is interesting that William McNiel, the father of Lois McNiel whom Elijah Vannoy would marry in 1809 lived in Ashe County, also owning land on the north side of the South Fork of New River.

William McNiel still owned land in Wilkes County that he sold to his new son-in-law, Elijah Vannoy, in 1810.

Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson were married in 1779. If Sarah was age 20 at the time, she would have been born about 1759. In that case, she could have borne children until about 1802. If she was slightly older, Daniel’s age, born in about 1752, then Sarah would have been giving birth until about 1795.

It’s certainly possible that the Sarah that appears in 1810 in Wilkes County is indeed Daniel’s wife, but there’s no record of her other than the census in Wilkes County.

The 1810 census exists for both Wilkes and Ashe Counties, and it’s apparent that Daniel is living in neither county at this time.

It’s possible that Daniel and family moved on when Daniel sold his land in 1795, except that Daniel and Sarah would not have left their son Joel, born in 1792, only 3 years of age, behind.

It’s also possible that Sarah and Daniel both died and the Vannoy boys were raised by one of their uncles, or someone else, in Ashe or Wilkes County.

On the census records, we do find that Andrew Vannoy has an unexplained male in both 1800 and 1810, but not two unexplained males. In 1787, both Joseph and Benjamin Darnell, born about 1780, were bound to Andrew Vannoy until they were 21 because their father had died. This extra male in 1800 could have been one of the Darnel boys.

Marital Strife?

The situation between Daniel and the Hickerson family had to take a toll. It obviously unraveled Daniel, because he is being sued for slander and assault by a number of people.

I can’t help but wonder if this situation caused his relationship with Sarah to deteriorate as well. At that time, extremely few people got divorced. In fact, divorces were only granted at the state level – and yes, I checked.

What was more common was for the man to simply “leave,” to move on to another place and perhaps remarry.

I have no evidence that this is what happened to Daniel, but I also have no evidence, not one shred, that Daniel remained in either Ashe or Wilkes County – even though his minor sons did.

The fact that Daniel sold his land as well as his slaves suggests he left. I can’t find any additional land transactions. I can’t find his wife. I can’t find a probate record, or his children being assigned guardians or bound out like the Darnel boys.

Yet, Daniel’s 2 sons emerge in Wilkes County in 1809 and 1817, respectively.

Did Daniel literally just disappear in life too?

I find his two known sons, both in Wilkes County, with Elijah’s marriage occurring in 1809 or before and purchasing land from his father-in-law, William McNiel, in 1810.

Perhaps the reason Elijah was willing to leave with the McNiel family for Claiborne County within the next couple of years is because both of his parents were gone, and his parent’s two families were estranged from each other.

Daniel’s son, Joel Vannoy, is found in Wilkes marrying in 1817 with Little Hickerson signing as his bondsman. Daniel probably rolled over in his grave – assuming he was in a grave someplace and not blissfully married in another state.

This certainly suggests that Joel Vannoy was close to the Hickerson family.

There’s are also other possibilities – more nefarious.

It’s not unheard of for vigilante justice to occur.

Maybe Daniel disappeared up in those mountains.

It’s rough, really rough, terrain. A body would never be found.

But given that Daniel sold both a slave and land, that looks like the less likely option – unless, of course, it was known that he had cash.

It’s apparent that Daniel was preparing to not live there anymore. What isn’t apparent is why his sons, ages 11 and 3, were left behind.

Daniel could also have committed suicide. I don’t ever recall people discussing things like that – but surely, they happened. Perhaps they were couched as accidents – suicides and murders both.

We know that Daniel’s grandson, Joel Vannoy, was mentally unstable and confined to an institution for some time. Was Daniel mentally ill too? Is that perhaps what happened to him in 1794 when he was in his early 40s? Are we witnessing a psychotic break from the distance of two+ centuries?

One thing is for sure, Daniel was one unhappy man in the last records we have of his life.

Then, he was simply…gone.

Daniel Vannoy's land from Blue Ridge Parkway

Overlooking Daniel’s land from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Michael McDowell Jr. (c 1747 – c 1840): Slanting Misery – 52 Ancestors #260

In the first article about Michael McDowell, Michael McDowell Jr., (c1747-c1840), Revolutionary War Veteran, Spy, Miller and Apparently, Rabble Rouser – 52 Ancestors #258, I told the story of Michael’s early years.

When Michael McDowell was about 63 years old, when most people are looking forward to sitting around a cozy fireplace on chilly mornings, Michael set out on yet another great adventure, lumbering along in a wagon pulled by his three horses and slowly making his way across mountains to the next frontier.

Michael McDowell Wilkes to Slanting.png

On average, wagons traveled approximately 10 miles a day. This journey, crossing the Appalachian Mountains through a pass someplace would have taken about 3 weeks, presuming that no wagon axles broke or anything else unforeseen happened to slow their progress during their bumpy trek.

Sometime in late 1809 or early 1810. Michael McDowell and most of his family left Wilkes County, North Carolina and settled on the border between Lee County, Virginia and Claiborne County, Tennessee, along the Powell River. They probably made the journey in the fall, after harvest, but before snow, or in the spring before planting – although mud would have been worse during that time.

We know that Michael had arrived in Lee County by mid-May of 1810.

Michael McDowell Powell River map.png

The 1810 tax list of Lee County, Virginia, located just across the county and state line from where Michael McDowell eventually settled in Claiborne County, Tennessee shows the following men on a tax list taken on May 12th:

  • Michael McDowell 1 poll, 3 horses
  • John McDowell 1 poll, 1 horse
  • Edward McDowell 1 poll, 2 horses
  • Luke McDowell 1 poll, no horses

A “poll” means this man is paying for 1 male over the age of either 16 or 21, depending on the time and place. They are listed separately, which indicates that they live in separate households. None of these men owned slaves over age 12 on this list, nor is there any indication they ever owned slaves at all.

Another indication that Michael lived initially in Lee County is that in 1812 when his son-in-law, William Herrell (Harrell, Harold, Herald) purchased land, Herrell was identified as “of Lee County, Virginia” in the deed. It’s also possible that the state line was indeterminate at that time. A Supreme Court case filed in 1893 sought to clarify the Virginia/Tennessee state line, as there had been disputes since the original surveys of the border between these two states. The Herrell/McDowell lands were only about half a mile, or less, from that eventual border.

Pushing Further Into Kentucky

A hundred miles further northwest, Pulaski County Kentucky Marriage Records transcribed by the Pulaski County Historical Society document the following marriages:

  • April 18, 1811 – Edmon McDowell married Lucy Haynes, Thomas Haines bondsman, Thomas Hansford present
  • November 7, 1811 – William McDowell married Anna Herrin, Wesley Short present
  • December 8, 1811 – Luke McDowell married Francis Fields, Wesley Short present

I find no documentation in these marriage records that these were Michael’s sons, but the 1810 tax list in Lee county is at least suggestive that Edmon (Edward) and Luke are connected with Michael McDowell Jr. Wesley Short stands with both William and Luke, connecting them. A William McDowell is later found with Michael where he lived in Claiborne County. However, for the William in Claiborne to have been the William who married in Pulaski County in 1811, he would have had to have moved back to Claiborne County sometime after his marriage.

What was the draw in Pulaski County, Kentucky? They aren’t the only men from this region to settle there.

Thompson Settlement Baptist Church

Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War pension application in 1832 tells us that that he has a good relationship with the Baptist preacher, James Gullut (Gilbert), who he had known for 15 or 20 years which means they met roughly between 1812 and 1817. Now, we just need to find out which Baptist church James Gullut (Gilbert) was associated with.

At the Thompson Settlement Baptist Church, founded in 1800 and located across the Tennessee/Virginia border on Powell River in Lee County, Virginia we find records of James Gilbert being received by experience and baptized on April 23rd, 1815 by Reverend Andrew Baker.

“Received by experience” means that Gilbert was “saved” and subsequently baptized in this church, not transferred from another church. If he had transferred from another church, he would have been “received by letter.”

Michael McDowell Thompson Settlement.png

The Thompson Settlement church was located on Powell River, in Lee County, some 15 miles from where Michael McDowell lived on land aptly named “Slanting Misery.” And trust me, it is – I’ve been there.

Michael appears to have initially settled, at least temporarily, in Lee County, Virginia but that didn’t last for long, settling by 1812 in Claiborne County, Tennessee, just over the Lee/Claiborne line. He may not have moved very far, half a mile or so, or he may not have moved at all – believing that the area where he lived was actually in Lee County. The boundary was disputed and other settlers in Carter Valley in Hawkins County discovered they weren’t living in Virginia, after all. Maybe Michael did too.

Getting to the Thompson Settlement Church in Lee County from Michael McDowell’s land was no small feat, given that the wide Powell River probably had to be forded, at least once, if not twice, and there were mountains in the way. I’m not at all sure it wouldn’t have taken a day to get to church in a wagon – and you had to take the wagon in order to transport a family. In fact, probably the entire extended family. A day coming and a day going would make church a 3-day event – and that just wasn’t feasible every week for a farming family. Not to mention that trip in the winter would have been both miserable and perilous.

MIchael McDowell Thompson Settlement to Slant Misery.png

It’s no surprise that the Rob Camp Church was eventually formed about 3 miles away, just past the Clarkson’s, in the part of Claiborne County that became Hancock County, but not officially until 1844, after Michael McDowell’s presumed death.

McDowell Rob Camp Church

It’s likely that a group of church members had been meeting locally for a long time. In 1842, the church minutes stated that the members met at the home of Rob Parkey. Parkey Gap is in the ridge of mountains just south of Slanting Misery, so “church” might have been simply at a neighbors house.

If Michael hadn’t already died, his membership was never transferred to Rob Camp. He would have been 97 at that time.

Thompson Settlement Church

The Thompson Settlement Church records provide a few nuggets of information.

Events recorded reflect members being tried within the church and censured for activities like playing marbles, dancing and drinking, letting us peep into the rules and daily church life. We also gain insight into the lives of the membership, and the clergy.

On July 1, 1822, “Brother James Gilbert is licensed to use a public gift when he may think proper.” In essence, this means they are giving him the official nod to preach, whenever he is ready.

Then, on May 1st, 1823, “Brother James Gilbert is set apart for ordination, and Brother William Wells and Brother William Jones to be called as a Presbytery to ordain Brother Gilbert to the ministry.” Gilbert was ordained the following week.

In 1835 and 1836, James Gilbert is still with the church, so we know that in 1832 when he gave a deposition for Michael McDowell, he was indeed the minister. Based on the information provided in Gilbert’s autobiography, it sounds unlikely that he would have endorsed Michael if he were not a church member, because in that place and time, not being a church member equated to being an unrepentant sinner.

This tells us that Michael McDowell was a member of the Thompson Settlement Church – the first indication of any kind that he was a church member. James Gilbert was probably also Michael McDowell’s neighbor, because in 1845 when James Gilbert and others established the Rob Camp Church in what was then Hancock County, Michael McDowell’s neighboring families were among the first listed church members with James Gilbert among the parishioners. Rob Camp was an offshoot or sister church to Thompson Settlement and a lot closer.

A list of members who belong to the Thompson Settlement Church in Lee County, VA detailed members in the year 1835 and Mikel McDowell is noted, with no indication as to what happened to him. Nancy McDowell is listed as well, with “dismissed.” John McDowell’s wife, Nancy, died in 1841, per her gravestone. I guess death is one method of dismissal.

Another membership list dated Saturday, September 1, 1838, includes the name of Michael Macdowell, with a note beside the name, “dismissed.”  Is this someone other than the elderly Michael McDowell, or is dismissed recorded instead of deceased, perhaps? I don’t see deceased on the list for anyone, so I’d suggest that dismissed means “no longer a member.” Clearly, the disposition of these members was added later, not when the list was created. The fact that he was listed on this 1838 list means he was alive then.

We know that Michael was not in the census in 1840 under his own name, but he may have been living with family members.

Claiborne County, Tennessee

In Michael McDowell’s pension application in 1832, the good Reverend Gilbert states that he has known Michael for 15 or 20 years. This places Michael’s arrival in the area no later than 1812-1817, and perhaps earlier – but we knew that from the tax list.

Michael’s son, John, said in a deposition that a group of families migrated about 1810. That year is of course confirmed by the Lee County, Virginia, 1810 tax records.

Michael McDowell Wilkes to Claiborne.png

Three of Michael’s sons married in Pulaski Co., KY in 1811, although initially I wasn’t entirely convinced that these men were all Michael’s sons. We do find Edward signing that 1799 deed in Wilkes County as a witness for Michael McDowell Jr. and William is found later with Michael in Claiborne County. Y DNA adds evidence that indeed Edward and Luke were sons of Michael McDowell. To date, the only McDowell men matching this group above 12 markers are men who descend from those two sons of Michael.

Where was Michael McDowell in the 1810 census? The Claiborne County 1810 census is lost, as is the Lee County, VA Census. There is no McDowell in Pulaski County in the 1810 census.

In 1845, John McDowell, son of Michael McDowell, when giving a deposition on behalf of his sister, Mary McDowell, who married William Herrell, testifies that about 1810 a group of families moved to Claiborne County, and that both he and Mary McDowell Harrell were among those families. I’d wager that Michael McDowell was driving a wagon in that train, the back full of the family and a few of their belongings. They couldn’t have brought many things in a wagon that also had to transport the family. There were probably multiple wagons given that Michael and his sons had a total of 7 horses after arrival. Or maybe the sons rode horseback instead of in the wagons.

At least 4 of Michael’s younger children would have been riding. We know that Michael’s oldest son, Michael III, stayed in North Carolina, but the rest of his known children moved north with Michael. His daughter, Mary, was pregnant at the time with her first child.

I surely wonder what prompted Michael to uproot and leave, given that he was well-established in Wilkes County and had been for about a quarter century. Maybe with his children at marriage age, he knew if he didn’t relocate “now” he never would, because his children would be establishing their own homes and would be reticent to leave.

If Michael left Wilkes for Claiborne in 1810, he would have been 63 years old. Not a young man – older than I am today and I certainly would not want to undertake that journey, especially not under the conditions of that time and place in a wagon with no shocks or springs, over badly rutted roads, up and down mountains. Makes me ache to even think about that. Not to mention shudder when thinking about those cliffs and precipices. No thank you.

Michael would have had his youngest children riding behind the seat, in the wagon or walking alongside, perhaps encouraging a cow to keep up. In 1800, Michael had 4 children age 0-10, so they would be between 10 and 20 in 1810.

William Harrell’s first land purchase in Claiborne County was on October 10, 1812 and was witnessed by none other than his father-in-law, Michael McDowell.

May term 1813 – Oct. 10 1812 John Claypool and Eliza his wife of Claiborne and William Harrold of Lee Co Va. for the sum of $200 a tract of land lying in Claiborne on the N side of Powell River including a stripe of land on the opposite side of said river included in a tract of land conveyed to William Bails by James Allen bounded as follows: Beginning on the back line in a deep hollow at two hickories and at a dogwood, thence to a white oak marked AB (with the right side of the A the same as the back of the B) thence to the south line of said tract containing 100 acres more or less it being part of a tract of 440 acres conveyed to said William Bails by James Allen as above said conveyance bearing the date Jan. 20, 1809. Witnesses William Briance, Michael McDowel (his X mark), William Hardy. Registered Dec. 3, 1813.

Notice that Michael signed with an X, like he did every previous document. It appears that Michael was not able to read or write. That didn’t keep him from transacting business.

Land

In January of 1814, Michael was granted 15 acres plus 200 acres previously assigned to John Braham. Perhaps Michael had been living on John’s land ever since his arrival. Or maybe he settled on the land he eventually purchased, given that William Herrell’s land was right next door.

Michael McDowell 1814 land grant.png

The great thing about Michael’s land grant is that it tells us exactly where this land is located.

District 6, Powell River by 4 Mile Creek and it’s bluff adjoining Herrell’s line beginning on the north bank of Powell’s River above the mouth of 4 Mile Creek then up the rivers…to the east bank of 4 Mile Creek…

Michael also received another 25 acres in the same location.

Slanting misery panorama

During one on my visits, I took these photos which I’ve assembled as a panorama, taken from the top of “Slanting Misery,” Michael’s land, looking left to right from the Harrell land to the Clarkson grant. In the next 3 generations, these families would intermarry and become my ancestors.

On February 1, 1817, Michael McDowell witnessed a deed for the purchase of land by his son, John McDowell. Another witness was William McDowell. This is the first instance of William McDowell in any record, unless you count the 1811 marriage in Pulaski County, Kentucky.

Although the land that’s being surveyed below isn’t Michael’s, it’s the best overview of the area and property owners that I’ve ever found because the drawing includes all of the families along Powell River. Notice the survery is for a Parkey, the same family as where church was being held. The Parkey’s owned significant land along the Powell River, including south of the river.

parkey survey 2 cropParkey survey 3

A current map shows the following locations. Before GPS and Google Maps, this is how we found land and locations. It worked!

MIchael McDowell topo map.jpg

Additional information is recorded in the Claiborne County Court Notes from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819-1821:

Thursday Nov. 11, 1819, Page 31 – John McDowell appointed as a juror to the next session.

Wed. August 16 1820, Page 162 – Ordered by the court that Alexander Ritchie be appointed overseer of the new road leading from the 9 mile post at Doherty’s to the Powell Valley Road at John Hurt that is from the said 9 mile post to Powels River and have for hands the following bounds that is all Capt. Thoms McCarty’s company south of Wallen’s Ridge and the following named hands on the N side of said ridge – William Herrold, John McDowell, Joseph Baker, William Baker, William Medlock, William McDowell and Robert G. (or C.) Parks.

I suspect Parks was really Parkey.

In 1824 Michael McDowell granted a deed to John P. McDowell in Claiborne County, for “love”. A second transaction was the reverse. Did these men trade land?

In these records, we need to differentiate between John McDowell and John P. McDowell, who were different men.

John McDowell’s 1825 survey was located on the far northern end of “Slanting Misery.”

Michael McDowell John 1825 survey.jpg

William McDowell’s 1829 survey is shown below, adjacent William Herrell in the area that would be called Herrell’s bend of Powell River.

william herrell 2 survey

The 1830 census for Claiborne County shows:

Michael McDowell:

  • 1 male 80-90 (Michael 83)
  • 1 male 30-40 (unknown, born 1790-1800)
  • 1 female 70-80 (wife about 77)
  • 1 female 20-30 (unknown, possibly wife of male 30-40)

The unknown male could possibly be son William. Although William had land surveyed in 1829, he isn’t listed on the census.

Michael was living beside his son, John McDowell, age 40-50, so born between 1780-1790, with John’s 5 children.

They live less than a dozen houses from William Herald who married Michael’s daughter, Mary McDowell, in 1809 in Wilkes County.

Michael McDowell 1830 census Claiborne.png

Nathan McDowell is living in Claiborne County as well, but not close to Michael. He is age 30-40, so born between 1790-1800, as is John P. McDowell, age 30-40.

In 1832, we find another 50 acre survey for John and William McDowell, jointly.

Michael McDowell 1832 John and William

The John and William McDowell 1832 4 Mile Creek survey mentions Michael McDowell as a chain carrier. In 1832, Michael McDowell was 85 years old. He must have been a quite spry 85, or maybe this Michael was a grandson?

Michael McDowell 1832

John and William’s land was the north end of Slanting Misery, adjacent Michael McDowell’s land.

The map below shows the exact area as the survey above, including the location where the river is forded at McDowell Shoal with the red arrows. You can see the 2 tracks on the other side of the river, on Slanting Misery.

Michael McDowell ford of river.jpg.png

The land at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek is the land Michael sold to his granddaughter, Margaret Herrell and her first husband, Anson Martin. After Anson’s death, Margaret married Joseph Bolton and they became my great-grandparents. They probably lived right here.

Michael McDowell 4 Mile Creek mouth.png

River Road runs alongside Slanting Misery, across Powell River from Slanting Misery. Michael owned land on both sides of the river. The yellow arrow is the mouth of 4 Mile Creek, and the green arrows mark the two fords of the river today.

Michael McDowell 4 Mile Creek ford and barn.png

This view shows 4 Mile Creek, the fords and the barns on Michael’s land. Michael’s house stood near the barns and cemetery. McDowell Shoals is to the far right on River Road, above.

Michael McDowell McDowell Shoals.png

This high area along River Road, looking across the Powell River to Michael’s land is called McDowell Shoals. You can see the island in the middle of the river that used to support a swinging rope bridge.

On May 16, 1832, the surveyor surveyed 50 acres of land on both sides of 4 Mile Creek for Michael and the chainer was John McDowell.

Michael McDowell 1832 survey

Today, driving along River Road, we cross 4 Mile Creek just before it dumps into the Powell River. Michael owned this land.

Michael McDowell River Road 4 Mile Creek.png

By this time, Michael was 85 years old, and he’s still amassing land!

We know his age due to his application in court on May 17, 1832 for his Revolutionary War pension. It was no small endeavor to travel to the courthouse in Tazewell, either. That journey began with fording the Powell River, as map shows, which runs high in the spring, sometimes VERY high.

Michael McDowell to court.png

That trip to town probably required a couple days and equally as long to return. Michael and whoever went with him probably stayed in town during the week to attend court. The entire adventure to appear before court probably took a week or more. Not to mention that “court,“ which occurred quarterly, was the entertainment of the day. If you went to all of the trouble and effort of attending court, you were surely going to stay for the entire spectacle. Who wants to leave the movie at intermission? Court was the soap opera of 1800s Appalachia, with adult beverages flowing freely. Not to mention that Michael would have gotten to mingle with the other Revolutionary War veterans who were also applying for pensions. I can just see those old men telling stories and “swapping lies,” as my Dad would have said. Maybe over some whiskey at the tavern.

In 1833, a deed was granted from Michael McDowell to S. and W. (Nathan S. and William) McDowell “for love,” confirming a close relationship. I wish he had told us the exact nature of those relationships.

The Claiborne County 1833 tax lists shows Michael living beside William McDowell and William Herreld who lived 5 doors from John McDowell.

Michael McDowell 1833 tax list.png

John McDowell obtained a grant in 1834 on the Powell River, just below the mouth of 4 Mile Creek.

Michael McDowell 1834 JOhn grant

And another grant in 1836. This family was a land baron! It’s just that the land was rough and not very productive.

1836 land grant.jpg

I thought surely that Michael was finished obtaining land, but not according to the Tennessee land grant books found in the Middlesboro, KY library. In 1836, when Michael would have been 89, he was granted another 40 acres. I have to wonder if a lot of this land was “scrub” by this time, or others would have already patented the land had it been productive farmland.

Last First Year Acres District Book Page Grant County
McDowell Michael 1836 15 E dist 8 669 70038 Claiborne
McDowell Michael 1836 25 E dist 8 669 70039 Claiborne

The 1839 Claiborne County Tax list is in alphabetical order, not house order, and it tells us that Michael had 40 acres valued at $100, taxed at $5. There is another 60 acres listed as school and valued at $50 and taxes at 2.5. He has no poll, due to his advanced age, and under the tax column, it shows .05, which does not add up to the total of the previous columns, but then neither do the rest so I’m apparently misunderstanding something.

It appears that at least part of Michael’s land is missing, although that simply might mean that others were farming the land and paying the taxes. Some deeds could have been conveyed by hand and not recorded as well.

In his lifetime, Michael was granted a total of 330 acres. He conveyed land to John P. McDowell in 1824 for “love” and to Nathan and William McDowell in 1833, although the acreage is not stated.

Given that Michael obtained yet another two land grants in 1836 for 25 and 15 acres, and was taxed in 1839 for 40 acres, this appears to be the amount of land that Michael has left.

Anson Martin and Margaret Herrell

On June 20th, 1840 Michael McDowell along with William McDowell sold 2 acres of land to Anson Martin at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek for $50. Anson had married Margaret Herrell, Michael’s granddaughter, about 1828. I have to wonder why they only purchased 2 acres. That certainly wasn’t enough to farm. Would they have established a mill at the mouth of a creek?

At this time, Michael would have been 93 years old and it is presumed he died shortly thereafter since he is not listed individually on the 1840 census, and not listed on the Rob Camp Church membership in 1844. He is probably buried on his own land on Slanting Misery, close to the confluence of Four Mile Creek and the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, but like most of the early pioneers in this area, there is no marked gravestone to identify the exact location in the cemetery.

The Claiborne County 1840 census shows us that there are a John and William McDowell, both living near William Herral, with William McDowell having a female aged 80-90, possibly his mother.

Additionally, the Reverend Nathan McDowell who had moved further east in Claiborne County has a male living with him, age 80-90. Are these two elderly people Michael McDowell and his wife?  Perhaps they both needed help, and two children each took one parent.

Or, maybe, just maybe, there was something else going on.

A Scandal

Michael McDowell’s son-in-law, William Herrell served in the War of 1812 not long after the family settled in Claiborne County. William came home, while many of their neighbors, including James Claxton, their neighbor who lived in the next river bend to the west, did not.

After the war, William Herrell and Mary McDowell Herrell continued to live on the land adjacent Michael, as they would until Michael’s death. From the distance of almost 200 years, life seems routine based on what few records exist. Deeds and court records, mostly, with a few tax records sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s in those tax records that we find the first hint of the scandal that must surely have enveloped the family, if not the entire community and possibly further.

William Herrell is taxed in 1836 and 1839 on land and a slave worth more than half the value of his land.

In the 1900s, the whispered story that William Herrell had two wives lived on, even into the late 1900s. Told in hushed voices so that children wouldn’t overhear. Of course, that made the savvy children strain to listen harder – thankfully – because it was one of those nearly 90-year-old children that heard her grandmother tell that story – and told me around the year 2000. Her grandmother KNEW the family involved, but wouldn’t say who, other than “William Harrell had two wives,” and then just clucked her tongue.

Of course, there were two unrelated Herrell families in the region during that time, our William Herrell who lived in the far north part of the county, and another Herrell family who lived in the far southern part of Claiborne County, bordering on Grainger County, about 30 miles distant. There was also a William Herrell in the Claiborne/Grainger group, my friend’s ancestors, but this rumor didn’t seem to pertain to him as he never owned slaves, which confused my 90+ year old friend. According to my friend, those two families didn’t realize they weren’t related back in time and (at least she) presumed they were because their names were the same.

It wasn’t until I discovered that “my” William had two wives that this persistently repeated story made sense. It was quite by accident that I discovered which Herrell family was involved.

I don’t mean that William had one wife who died and he then married a second wife, but that he had two wives at the same time. Technically, if not legally, bigamy. Not only that, but one wife was white and one was black. In that time and place, THAT might have been the bigger cluckable offense. Which also explains, of course, why this it wasn’t legally bigamy. Not only was it illegal for a white person to marry a black person, there was more to this story.

And no, William Herrell was not Mormon, so his actions were not religiously directed. In fact, not surprisingly, we don’t find any evidence of William in any church records.

Apparently, the white Herrell family and black Herrell family in northern Claiborne, the part that eventually became Hancock County, “always knew” they were somehow related, even though exactly how had been long forgotten, at least according to oral history from some of the family. Others, however, knew more. In fact, their oral history included the fact that Cannon, the son of Harriett, William’s slave, wound up owning some of William’s land via inheritance.

One thing is for sure – Cannon Herrell and the rest of the Harrell family all lived together, apparently harmoniously, along the Powell River for generations – including today.

Harriett Herrell was William Herrell’s slave, but at some point, as the story goes, she became his second wife according to my friend. Eventually, my elderly friend told me that when she was young, in the early 1900s, her grandmother, great-aunts and others still discussed the scandal of the William Harrell with the white wife and the black wife. She said that topic never got old, and all “those old women did was gossip about people.” Obviously a very interesting and unusual story to hold thier attention for so long.

William reportedly built Harriett a house on one side of his property, his wife Mary McDowell Herrell’s house on the other side, and he would live with one until she got mad at him and kicked him out. Then he’d live with the other until she got mad and kicked him out, when he’s go back and live with the other wife again as the circular scenario continued to repeat.

There is one part of the original story that doesn’t add up. That tidbit is that Harriett “had a whole passel of kids,” which she did not according to available records, or her descendants. There are no stories of Cannon having siblings other than Mary’s children. Of course, we don’t know how many children Harriet bore that might have died, or, God forbid, might have been sold.

A second problematic part from the Cannon family oral history is that William Herrell left Cannon land, which it appears that William did not. We know this in part because at the time William Herrell died, in 1859, intestate, Cannon was still legally a slave and William could not have bequeathed him land. That does not mean that in 1872, Mary McDowell Herrell couldn’t have left or given Cannon land. The deeds burned, so we’ll never know for sure.

However, Cannon did eventually own some of William’s land, living adjacent Alexander Herrell, his half-brother, although Cannon purchased the land outright. That deed occurred after the first courthouse fire.

Mary McDowell Herrell, William’s wife and Cannon’s step-mother, raised Cannon with her children after Harriett’s death and could certainly have left Cannon money when she passed, sometime after 1872. William did claim Cannon as his child, according to all parties, and Cannon carried the Herrell surname. Cannon is listed on the census with the family in 1870. In 1850 and 1860, he is listed as mulatto – one of only two people in that broad region. Cannon’s parentage was clearly no secret to anyone.

Cannon lived with Mary and her adult daughters until after Mary died. According to the census, Cannon seemed to be doing financially fine on his own – better than his stepmother and sisters combined. Mary owned the property, but Cannon owned more personal property than the women. It probably took the efforts of everyone, working in tandem, to farm and earn enough to survive, given the location of their farm.

How did I find Cannon?

In the 1830 census, William Herrell (spelled (Harold) did not own a slave.

In the 1840 census, William Herrell owned one female slave, with a male slave under the age of 10. That child was Cannon Herrell who was born between 1827 and 1838, depending on the record you reference. Keep in mind that slaves were taxed according to thier age, and younger males were taxed as a lower rate than older males.

On the 1850 slave census, Cannon is shown as age 12 and Harriett is gone.

On the 1860 slave census, Cannon is owned my “Mary Herrel and 5 others,” clearly her children as a result of William’s death in 1859, where Cannon is listed as age 33. That would put his birth in 1827, the earliest date we find.

In 1870, Cannon is living with Mary and his age is given as 35, putting his birth in 1835. In 1880, he has married and gives his age as 45.

Cannon Herrell death 1916.jpg

Cannon’s death certificate in 1916 says he was illegitimate and doesn’t name a father which is not unusual under the circumstances, meaning a white man fathering a child with a black woman. It does list Cannon’s mother’s name as Harriett Herrell.

I considered that there was one other possibility, which is that William Herrell’s eldest son, Alexander, fathered Cannon with Harriett. Alexander, born on Christmas Day, 1820, would have been 16 or 17 when the child, Cannon, was conceived IF he was born in 1838. At this point, I think it’s more likely that Cannon was actually born earlier, possibly in 1830, given that the family actually had a full birth date which is recorded on Cannon’s death certificate. Other records indicate 1834, 1835 and 1837. Any date before 1838 would likely exclude Alexander.

In 1829, William Herrell’s white wife, Mary, bore her last child, Malinda. I would suggest that many tears were shed by both Harriett and Mary during those years. Both would have been trapped in a situation neither one wanted and neither could control. I suspect they spent a lot of time together.

Furthermore, if William empregnated Harriett once, it’s nearly certain that behavior didn’t cease. The behavior clearly wasn’t “common and accepted” because in 1850, Cannon was only one of two mulattoes listed in that region.

It was 1838 when Margaret Herrell Martin, William’s oldest child, and her husband, Anson Martin, requested to be dismissed from the Thompson Settlement Church. There was no “other church” to join at that time, in this region, which suggests they left the church for other reasons. I’d can’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the scandal which may have just been occurring and assuredly was hotly debated for a variety of reasons.

Slavery in Claiborne County was unusual, and slavery in this part of the county was almost unheard of, although in 1830, the Bales family who is listed adjacent William Herrell had one slave, and John Parrott, another two properties away owns a few slaves including a female slave of the age that could have been Harriett. By1850, Peter Parkey owned slaves too.

Just a few years later, these families would fight for the north during the Civil War.

In this part of Claiborne County, there was no flat land to be cultivated. Plantations were impossible. Slaves were few and far between, and when a landowner was found with slaves, it was generally one, or at most, two. Poverty was a common thread. No one had enough money for anything, let alone slaves – so William’s purchase of a slave between 1830-1836 is mystifying – especially having been to see his land and his family’s hardscrabble existence clinging to the river banks.

The portion of this article titled “Roberta and Mary’s Great Adventure” shows the Herrell property.

Given these circumstances, it’s not surprising that what occurred between William and Harriett was so scandalous, not to mention the strong primitive Baptist regional leaning. And poor Harriett, caught up in all of this. I can’t help but wonder if she died in childbirth, but there is absolutely no evidence of that.

Two years later, in 1840, Margaret and Anson bought the two acres from Michael McDowell. Were they trying to live someplace away from Margaret’s father’s land and the family drama? Granted, the land at the mouth of 4 Mile Creek wasn’t very far from her parents – but maybe far enough.

Did Margaret ask her grandfather to sell her two acres? Margaret’s parents were William Harrell and Mary McDowell, Michael McDowell’s daughter. Margaret’s brother was Alexander Herrell. Everyone lived in close proximity to one another.

Regardless of whether William Herrell or Alexander Herrell fathered a child with Harriett, Y DNA confirms that one of them did – and it was most likely William. I’d say almost certainly.

Regardless of which male fathered Cannon, William’s wife, Mary and her family may have been ostracized, especially at church, as a result. Harrell Bend and surrounding area was already quite remote and remains so today – it’s own microcosm.

Michael McDowell, Mary’s father, was certainly alive in the 1830s when Harriett gave birth to Cannon. I’m guessing, given that Michael never owned a slave and neither did any of his sons in Claiborne County, that Michael was not one bit pleased when William Herrell who was both his son-in-law and neighbor purchased a slave between 1830 and 1836, then (presumably) proceeded to cheat on Michael’s daughter with that slave.

This is the same Michael McDowell who beat Betty Wooton in Wilkes County in 1790 and was prosecuted more than once for trespass. Michael apparently had something of a temper, so I’m guessing it had abated somewhat by the 1830s – or he was just too old to do anything about the situation.

The slave, Harriett, probably had absolutely no say in any of this and was also a victim, in more ways than one. Slaves controlled absolutely nothing, including their own bodies. In 1838, William would have been about 50 years old and she was probably young.

To make matters even worse, the fact that Harriett was possibly purchased as a second wife compounded an already difficult situation. When Cannon was born, if William’s fidelity was ever previously in question, all doubt was removed. If Alexander was the father instead of William, which is not what the original oral history on either side of the family indicates, scandal would still have spun around the family, especially in the church.

Making matters even more sticky, Nathan S. McDowell, Michael McDowell’s son and Mary McDowell Herrell’s brother, was a Baptist preacher, described as having a “very crabbed disposition.” He had already purchased land in Claiborne County, but in 1837 he began serving as moderator of the Big Springs Baptist Church south of Tazewell, 18 miles distant.

This family was probably torn from stem to stern, although Nathan was reported to have refused to swear an oath of fidelity during the Civil War. Still, adultery is adultery and sin is sin, regardless. Not to mention the human emotions of Mary, Harriett and all the family members other than William who caused this mess.

Mary McDowell Herrell, about 50 in 1838, was probably EXTREMELY unhappy with her husband, to put it mildly. Betrayal is incredibly painful – especially if Mary suspected that William bought Harriett with that plan in mind and she could do absolutely nothing. Regardless of the circumstanced under which this occurred, William bore sole responsibility for being intimate with another woman – and “how” could have been even worse if the act was not consensual. For that matter, can a woman held in bondage to a man actually give free consent? I don’t think so.

Michael McDowell was elderly and probably also very angry with his son-in-law, William Herrell. He had obviously been close to William since at least 1810 and had spent the time since as neighbors on the Powell River.

Mary lost her husband’s fidelity in the 1830s (if not before) when William fathered Cannon, lost her father about 1840, her son-in-law (Anson) in about 1845, gained an orphan half-sibling of her children between 1840 and 1850 when Harriett died, as well as losing her husband, William, in 1859. Mary may not have grieved William’s death on a personal level, we don’t know. They had children and shared a lifetime together. They were economically tied and more work would have fallen on Mary and her children’s shoulders after his death. That 20 years or so of Mary’s life must have been living hell – and Michael couldn’t have helped but notice his daughter’s pain.

In the 1870 census, after William’s death and Cannon was freed, Cannon is still living with Mary McDowell Herrell and her adult daughters. That smaller family unit was reported to be very close. I hope so. They deserve that.

Nope, no family drama going on at Slanting Misery. Nada. Nothing to see here folks! Move right along. This has all the makings of a good soap opera. Downton Abbey’s got nothing on the McDowell/Herrell clan living on the Powell River.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that Michael McDowell who roughed up Betsy Wooten in 1790 didn’t personally put William Herrell into a grave for cheating on his daughter. Maybe Michael was simply too old (90 in 1837), or maybe that’s why Michael may have been living with Nathan in 1840. Maybe he tried. It appears that Isabel, Michael’s wife was living with William McDowell in 1840, unless that female is William’s mother-in-law.

Perhaps Michael got sent to live with the preacher son 18 miles away because the entire family felt everyone was safer with some distance between Michael and William Herrell. Or maybe the family simply hid Michael’s gun(s), much like we hid my mother’s car from her for her own (and others’) safety during her last few months.

I understand that William Herrell is buried in the Herrell Cemetery although there is no marker. I’m sure he would not have been welcome in the McDowell Cemetery if in fact Cannon was fathered by William Herrell. Mary’s brother, John, owned the McDowell Cemetery land when William Herrell died. I don’t know whether Mary is buried with William in the Herrell cemetery, or maybe she was buried in the McDowell cemetery, with the rest of her family. That decision rested with her children, and the decision may have been predicated upon whether Cannon was fathered by William (probably) or Alexander Herrell (probably not), along with whether or not William “repented” and if Mary forgave him.

Cannon’s family certainly believed he was fathered by William, and Cannon lived beside Alexander on the land he purchased, for the duration of both men’s lives.

It’s possible that this stress contributed to Michael McDowell’s demise – although he was clearly elderly.

Let’s visit the McDowell Cemetery on Michael’s land where he most assuredly rests.

Where is the McDowell Cemetery?

Michael McDowell’s descendants helped me find the old McDowell Cemetery on Slanting Misery, which was no easy task, I assure you. By looking at this tranquil land today, you’d never guess it’s storied history.

Let me begin with a letter from Mary Kay, married to (now deceased) Les McDowell, Michael’s descendant through son Luke.

This is Mary Kay. Michael McDowell is my husband Les’s ancestor.

Twice we have waded the Powell River to the Old McDowell Farm, in 1997 and 1999. The first time I photographed the gravestones there. The second time we took a large crowbar over there to turn over a big stone in hopes of seeing scratchings indicating that it was for Michael. Unfortunately, it was just a plain stone; no evidence of it ever having had anything on it. However, in “witching” the graves, there are definitely at least three other bodies there – two men and one woman. We think that Michael has to be one of the men, but I guess we’ll never know.

Grave “witching,” also called dowsing, a technique using a rod or stick often made of hickory is a very old technique used traditionally to avoid digging up existing graves when new burials were being dug, and more recently to locate old graves. It sounds ominous, but it wasn’t and isn’t. I grew up with this tradition which is also used to find underground water when wells are being dug.

Back to Mary Kay:

Mary Parkey, the historian for the Claiborne County Historical Society at that time, had the original deed to that land, in Michael McDowell’s name. I wanted to purchase the deed from her, but Mary wouldn’t sell it, but did provide a photocopy. The original was in the house fire that took Mary’s life a few years later, along with many other irreplaceable documents.

Mary Parkey, now deceased, was descended from both Margaret Herrell and Anson Martin, and Alexander Herrell.

Mary Kay sent a list of the names of the people buried in this cemetery surveyed in 1994. The name of the cemetery is Speer-McDowell and the location is given as the Bill Brooks Farm, formerly Edd Breeding. Locally, it was just called “The Old McDowell Farm” and as late as the 1990s, Joe Herrell still owned the adjacent farm at that time.

For nearly 200 years this land had remained in the same family.

  • Hettie Greer (w/o R. L. Greer) b. 06-25-1892; d. 12-26-1918 (her mother was Mollie Thompson and her father was James Speer)
  • E. Speer b. 11-29-1845, d. 01-13-1923 (James Edward Speer, son of John Roe Speer and Rachel Denton)
  • Mary E. (Mollie) Speer (wife of J. E. Speer) b. 03-11-1873, d. 06-27-1914
  • Hettie Edds, (w/o J. E. Speer) b. 11-19-1829, d. 02-05-1888
  • R. Speer b. 1820, d. 18–?
  • Caroline McDowell b. 01-16-1830, d. 10-04-1899 (daughter of John McDowell, no record of marriage)
  • Surena McDowell b. 3-11-1826, d. 11-07-1893 (daughter of John McDowell, no record of her ever marrying)
  • John McDowell, aged 94, d. 10-17-1817 (This year is incorrect, he died in 1877. Clearly the 7 was misinterpreted.)
  • Nancy McDowell, aged 47, d. 12-03-1841 (means she was born in 1794 and is probably John’s wife)

Reconstructing the Family from a Letter

A letter from Mary Opal Herrell in 1997, when she was 80, said that her grandpa Jim Speers first wife was a McDowell and that he is buried in the McDowell cemetery between his first wife and second wife.

The 1880 census shows James Speer, age 33, living with Matilda, age 41, with daughter Elnora, age 7. Caroline age 47 is married to R.M. Tipton who works on the farm, and Bird Campbell, a male age 15 is a servant, along with Surena McDowell age 51, listed as a sister-in-law.

In the 1900 census, James Speers states that he is born in November 1846, age 52, and is married to Mary, born in March 1873, age 27. They have been married for 9 years, have 2 living children, Hettie born in 1892 and Leonidas born in 1893.

The second wife appears to be Mary Opal’s grandmother. Mary Opal’s mother died when she was just a year old in the flu epidemic. She said that John McDowell sold the land to Jim Speers. Mary Opal said that her Aunt Nora, Jim’s daughter from his first wife never accepted Jim’s second wife. Nora was “raised by the McDowell women.” Mary Opal Herrell appears to be the daughter of Hettie Greer who died in 1918.

In the 1870 census, James Spear, age 22, is living with John McDowell, who is age 89 (so born in 1781) and James apparently married John’s daughter, Matilda, by 1872. The Hancock County courthouse burned, twice, so the deed between John McDowell and James Speer which would have been conveyed probably between 1872 and 1877 when John died went up in flames.

Fortunately, between the cemetery records, the census and Mary Opal’s old letters, we reassembled the family, at least somewhat.

Visiting the Cemetery

Let’s visit the cemetery!

The first group of photos were provided by Mary Kay and show Mary Kay’s husband with a local gentleman crossing the Powell River and their discovery of the cemetery on Slanting Misery.

First, let’s look at an aerial view. The red arrow below marks the actual location where people drive or walk across the river when the water is low enough. It’s the only location accessible on both banks of the river.

MIchael McDowell ford and island.png

After Michael lived here, a swinging bridge was hung across the river someplace in the area of the green arrow. I believe the tiny white dot in the center of the river just above the green arrow is the old foundation of the bridge on an island. The bridge was washed away decades ago in one of the legendary floods.

The photo below shows the men wading the river, marked by the red arrow above, and the gate on the Slanting Misery side. When I waded the river, the water was higher.

Michael McDowell powell river.png

This next photo shows the group walking along Slanting Misery, roughly parallel with the river.

Michael McDowell shed.png

I had to visit the location twice. It couldn’t find the cemetery the first time, so Mary Kay sent instructions, which I’ve included below, although all of the buildings except the barn were gone when I visited.

The buildings are landmarks — if you didn’t see these you were not at the right place. You come to the shed first, and it will be on your left. Quite a ways further, the barn will be on your right. The cemetery isn’t far from the barn and will be on a hill on your left.

Michael McDowell barn.png

I never saw the barn the first time, and asked Mary Kay if she could provide additional instructions.

I’m wondering if you missed seeing it because you thought it was a more “structured” graveyard than just an area with stones. It is too bad that there wasn’t a fence around it, before the cows damaged the stones. The person who owns it has no connection with McDowells.

Mary Kay sent one photo of another landmark that I could use – assuming I could find the landmark.

The cistern and what looks like stones from a house foundation are “after” the shed, and I think, on the left on the way to the cemetery.

Michael McDowell well.png

I strongly suspect that the foundation is that of the original house which was probably nothing more than a log cabin. It looks very small, but that was common then.

Michael McDowell cemetery.png

Finally, the cemetery. It was overgrown in 1997 when she visited and in 2004 when I visited as well.

Michael McDowell cemetery 2.png

The current Google map shows Slanting Misery.

Michael McDowell Slanting Misery.png

The entire peninsula is between 2000 and 3000 feet long, and the Virginia/Tennessee border is about that far north of the northern tip of the Slanting Misery.

The next photo shows a closeup of the river ford and the barn.