Tuesday, June 25, 2019

52 Ancestors - LEGEND: We Owned Natural Bridge

As a child I heard several times the most amazing story that always filled me with pride. Now I can’t remember exactly how it went, but at the core of the legend was that our family once owned THE Natural Bridge located in Rockbridge County, Virginia, not far from Lexington, home of Stonewall Jackson and Cyrus McCormick (of cotton gin fame).
Natural Bridge
courtesy old perfesser
Creative Commons Wikimedia 

Supposedly Thomas Jefferson gave the property to the Marquis de Lafayette in gratitude for his service during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette gave the land to someone in our family who then gave it back to Jefferson. Something like that, anyway.

I believed that story for a long time. Then one day the whole thing sounded preposterous and I decided to quit believing. However, a marriage bond registered in Rockbridge County prompted me to take another look at that old family story. On August 24, 1846, Mitchell Davis and Daniel Hileman signed a bond guaranteeing a marriage would be solemnized between Mitchell and Martha Ann Willson, daughter of Samuel Willson. Mitchell and Martha are my great-great grandparents.  

Marriage bond Mitchell Davis and Martha Ann Willson 1846 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Is it possible that Martha’s father Samuel owned land where the now-famous Natural Bridge is located?

On a research trip to Rockbridge, I snagged copies of the most promising deeds that mention Samuel Willson hoping such an unusual feature would be noted within the metes and bounds. No such luck. Maybe I did not get the right deeds. After all, Samuel had a father and probably some uncles who were landowners. Plus there were wives whose family might have owned Natural Bridge. What were their names? With so many Samuels dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, I have yet to determine MY Samuel’s lineage.

Perhaps UNfortunately but certainly NOT surprisingly, I can safely say the family legend is hogwash. The natural land formation now known as Natural Bridge was first recorded in 1742 by John Howard who had been commissioned to explore southwest Virginia to the Mississippi River. Then supposedly George Washington came in 1750 as a young surveyor. Tour guides like to point out the initials “G. W.” which are carved on the wall of the bridge.
The famous "G. W." initials
from Flickr
George Washington? Maybe. Or maybe some pimple-faced teenage boy named Greg Watson or Gabe Williams. The “George Washington” theory has been given some weight since the discovery of a large stone also engraved with “G. W.” along with a surveyor’s cross. That was certainly enough to convince historians that indeed Washington did survey the bridge.

And while we’re on the subject of “legends,” there is another legend that George Washington once threw a stone from the bottom of Cedar Creek OVER the bridge. Didn’t he also throw a coin across the Potomac?

Even if my ancestors were squatting near the Natural Bridge, they certainly did not OWN the land. Thomas Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land including the Natural Bridge from King George III for 20 shillings in 1774. As President, Jefferson surveyed the area himself. He even built a 2-room log cabin as a retreat for guests, some of whom were quite famous: John Marshall, James Monroe, Henry Clay, and Sam Houston, just to name a few. Therefore, it is not likely he gave the land to Lafayette.

During one of my family’s annual Civil War battlefield vacations, we stopped by Natural Bridge. My moody teenager self was not impressed. But apparently it was a big tourist draw in the 18th and 19th centuries. 
Wendy, Momma, Mary Jollette 1965
Cedar Creek runs under the bridge
Natural Bridge behind us
It has been featured in art and in literature, most notably Herman Melville’s comparison of Moby Dick rising out of the water in an arch to Virginia’s Natural Bridge. William Cullen Bryant said the Niagara Falls and Natural Bridge were the two most remarkable features of North America. I guess he hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon.

In 2013, Natural Bridge and surrounding land were slated to be sold at auction. I guess our family could have tried to buy it and thus bring a bit of truth to the family legend. However, a partnership between the state and conservation groups led to the creation of Natural Bridge State Park. Still, I wonder who concocted this story and why.
Oil painting of Natural Bridge
by Jacob C. Ward 1835
You can get a copy on Amazon.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sepia Saturday: 3 on a Wall

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt immediately reminded me of this photo:
Fred Slade about 1946 Coast Guard Boston MA https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Fred Slade in the middle
Other two unknown
That’s my dad in the middle. He was about 19 years old. He had just joined the Coast Guard in 1946 and was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts. I cannot say for sure if this photo was taken in Boston, but the little bit of background resembles the Boston wharf near the Coast Guard Base.

His favorite things to do when he had free time in Boston were to catch a Red Sox game and attend a concert by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell.

Sadly I have no new story to tell about Daddy’s time in the Coast Guard. If you want to read his story, look HERE and HERE.

Why don’t you and 2 of your friends make your way to Sepia Saturday for more photos and stories of threesomes.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

52 Ancestors - EARLIEST: Morris Jollett's Inventory

The earliest concrete sign that the Jolletts were in colonial Virginia dates to 1732. On the 27th of September of that year, the estate of Morris Jollett was appraised and entered into court. Two months later, Morris Jollett’s son William signed upon oath and ordered the inventory to be recorded. The order was recorded on February 7, 1733.

The record is not easy to read, but I submit it here as an invitation for others to render an opinion on what poor ol’ Morris left behind. One word that is particularly puzzling looks like “Joyron.” The context and comparison to other letters, specifically the “r” in “Mortor” and “Grinding,” make me think it is a terrible spelling of “iron.” What else could it be?

An Inventory and Appraisement of Morris Jollett Estate
Westmoreland County, VA
September 1732

Two cows & two calfs
Two cows & five heiffers
One plow and a small grinding stone
?? of puter
?? of old iron
One pair of old small stillards [? Not sure of that]
One old halbord and old box iron
One brass candlestick and small brass bottles
One old spice mortor
[?] iron pots old
Old [?] plow old tables
One old gun and weavers loom
Two old cots [coats?] and a pair of breches
One old Tub with a parcel of old feathers and other lumber
A parcel of earthenware, [?] glass bottles
A parcel of very old B???
Small [ ? ]mpory
One small cake of bees wax
A frying pan, ax, roofhook all old
Old pail old hoe old piggins
Two old loads of beds loads old furniture
One mare & old saddle
Herd of hogs small goat
4 geese
TOTAL VALUE was 22 pounds, 13 shillings, 4 pence

In Witness to an Order of Court bearing Date this 27th Day of September 1732 We whose names are under written being first sworn by a Magistrate have valued & appraised above Inventory.
Daneil Gobbs
Charnock Cox, Jr.
Daniel Crabb

Westmoreland County in a Court held for the County this 28th Day of November 1732
This Inventory of the Estate of Morris Jollett deceased was returned into Court upon Oath by William Jollett his son and Administrator and ordered to be Recorded.
G. Turberville CCW

Recorded the Seventh Day of February 1733.

A few EARLIER documents exist for Morris Jollett in transcription form. They include records of a patent for his cattle brand in 1711 and again in 1716. Three years later he was a witness in an inquisition into the death of a man who had drowned.

I’m not sure how Morris Jollett is related, but surely he must be. I’m just a few generations away from connecting the dots between his son William to Thomas Jollett and then my 4G grandfather James Jollett in Greene County, Virginia.

A more difficult challenge will be to connect Morris and son William to John Jollitt who arrived on the Tristram and Jane in 1637. He was turned over as an indentured servant to Nathaniel Floyd. Interestingly enough, Floyd himself had come to Virginia in 1625 as an indentured servant. Sometime around 1627 he obtained his freedom and purchased land on the Warwick River.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sepia Saturday: Memories of County Line

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a country church. My mother-in-law’s old photo album contains a couple pictures that we always assumed were of her home church in Mathias, West Virginia.

St Luke's UCC County Line Church Timberville, VA https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

However, when I started comparing the architecture to more recent pictures, it became obvious that we were wrong. As it turns out, the church in this old photo is right next door to my husband’s homeplace in Timberville, Virginia. The photo must date to about 1948 when my in-laws bought the land and built their house.

The church is St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, known to locals as “the County Line Church.” Why? Because it sits on the county line between Rockingham and Shenandoah counties. In fact, my husband grew up in the last house in Rockingham County.

The satellite view shows that there are only 2 properties on Short Lane (appropriately named!): the Mathias property on the left and the church property on the right. In the triangle separating Short Lane and Mountain Road is the cemetery.
Satellite view of the Mathias property and church next door
The tombstones are slightly visible in the cemetery.
Neither my husband nor I have a STORY to tell; after all, his family did not attend there. But there are a few recollections from having grown up next door.
  • One of the neighbors always drank too much on New Years Eve and would make his way to the church to ring the church bell at midnight.
  • My husband’s brothers and sisters and friends used to play hide and seek in the cemetery in front of the church.
  • My husband’s parents always feared the church would extend the cemetery in front of their property.
  • Friends of my husband’s family own a peach orchard nearby. When the father died, the son had the funeral home deliver the casket to the farm and load it on a wagon that they used to haul peaches. He then drove the wagon to St. Luke’s County Line Church for the funeral.
  • The congregation used to make apple butter to sell. All the neighbors, even those who did not attend County Line, came out to help peel the apples and take a turn stirring. As a little girl, our daughter even helped stir for a short while.
  • The road between my husband’s home and the church goes slightly uphill, but to a little girl on a pink bicycle, it gave a thrill to go WHEEEE downhill.
  • Going past the church the road goes downhill slightly, but enough so that a snow drift disguised that fact. Yes, we drove right into that trap and got our car stuck. Fortunately, it was just a short walk on Short Lane to get a shovel.

It is a pretty little country church.
St Luke's UCC County Line Church https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
St. Luke's UCC - "County Line Church"
photo courtesy St. Luke's Facebook page
For more stories of churches, please visit Sepia Saturday.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

52 Ancestors - DIARY: The Next Best Thing

I keep hoping a tell-all diary will find its way to my “gene cave” with answers to all my questions:
  • James Jollett, was Thomas Jollett your father? If so who were HIS father and mother?
  • Nancy Walker Jollett, who were your parents?
  • John Fleming Walsh, are you SURE your father was named Patrick, not John?
  • Margaret Slade, were you sneaking around with John Calhoun in the 1850s?
  • Stephen Slade, what made your mother pick up roots and leave Florida for Virginia?
  • William Boyd, we got your number. We know you were really William Jollett. What was that unspeakable crime that set you on the run and made you hide the truth?
  • Frank Rucker, so which line should I follow - Jarvis or Angus?
  • And so on and so on.

Although apparently none of my ancestors left behind a diary, several kept wonderful scrapbooks that serve like a picture diary.

My grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring kept a scrapbook during her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - Go Dukes!). It is filled with wonderful photos of classmates, campus covered in snow, her dorm exterior, her room which she shared with two others, the hockey field, and the “new” swimming pool.

One of the best entries in the scrapbook though is a story about a hike up the Massanutten in October 1924. Probably the most recognizable physical feature of the Shenandoah Valley is Massanutten Mountain. People often say it looks like an elephant’s head and trunk.  

Massanutten Mountain
Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
Velma and her friends were accompanied by the college president, Samuel Duke. 
Samuel Duke and Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Samuel P. Duke
College President from 1919-1949
Here is a transcription of her report along with the photos she took to remember that day. I had to guess what Velma wrote in some places where the white ink has faded. Impressions in the paper helped.

One Saturday about 250 girls went to the station at H.T.C. and went to the foot of the Massanutten Peak on the train. Here we all got off and started on our way up the mountain. About every five minutes, when climbing the mountain, we would stop and rest. We got to the top about one thirty. We stopped and ate our lunch and walked over to the peak as we wanted to. 

Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Thelma Hockman and Velma

Then at three o’clock when everyone was tired of looking around at the beautiful Valley we started down the mountain. We got to the station about four o’clock and had to wait a while for the train. During the time we were waiting we found many ways to amuse ourselves. We got back to H.T.C. just in time for dinner.
Velma captioned this photo

Oh how I wish Velma had revealed how they amused themselves. That would surely be diary-worthy.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Sepia Saturday: 2 Kids and a Pony

 Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo of a postman delivering the mail via horse and cart reminded me of this studio photo:

Unknown children possibly John Joseph Killeen and Bridget Killeen of Ireland https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

It is glued onto the black paper quickly chipping away in my grandaunt Helen Killen Parker’s photo album. The two children are just another of the hundreds of mysteries and unidentified friends and family gathered in photo albums and shoeboxes. Studying the faces, enlarging the photo, reviewing family units, and comparing to other photos have produced little to help me draw any conclusions about this charming pair.

The only REAL clues lie in the other photos on the 2-page spread.

On the same page is this phuzzy photo:  

Unknown children possibly John Joseph Killeen and Bridget Killeen of Ireland https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Are they the same children a few years later?

The other photos are just chips, maybe half inch wide by 1”-1.5” long like this one:
Possibly Mary Theresa Sheehan https;//jollettetc.blogspot.com

The photos seem much older than others that Helen may have taken herself, so I wonder if the photos belonged to her mother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh. Maybe the pictures are of her as a young girl. However, she had at least 2 brothers and 4 sisters, so a photo of just 2 children does not seem likely. Nor does it seem likely she would have had a professionally-produced photo of only two of her own 8 children.

Another thought that just today occurred to me is that maybe the two children are Helen’s father John Joseph Killeen and his sister Bridget as children. That certainly matches the family makeup. Do the photos look like they date from the 1870s-early 1880s when they would have been children in Ireland?

What about this photo of a young boy with cow? The boy certainly resembles the child in the cart. Is that a thatched roof in the distance?

Unknown boy with cow 1870s or 1880s  https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Thinking out loud here on my computer screen has brought me to a realization that should have been obvious before now: as a descendant of John Fleming Walsh, Mary Theresa’s second husband and Helen’s stepfather, I need to remember that in a blended family, those unidentifiables may very well be from the “other” family whose importance cannot be denied.

Quit horsing around and make your way to Sepia Saturday for more photo phun.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

52 Ancestors - NAMESAKE: Burton Lewis

Many years ago when I first became aware of traditional naming patterns, particularly among the Irish and Germans, I was hopeful that I could trace my ancestors more easily. Surely my database would grow and grow as a result of my new understanding of how children were named for their grandfathers and uncles. However, not so. It seems the generations I was working with were perhaps too far removed from the traditions of their forefathers.

Nevertheless plenty of grandfathers in my line have been honored when new baby boys came into the family. Take Burton Lewis Jollett, for example. 
Burton Lewis Jollett https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Burton Lewis
(cropped from a larger photo courtesy Ben Marks)
He was the first child born to my 2X great-grandparents James Franklin and Lucy Ann Shiflett Jollett. That was 2 October 1860 in Greene County, Virginia.

The name “Burton” was bestowed in memory of Lucy Ann’s father Burton Shiflett. Just one month before the birth of her baby boy, Burton was stabbed to death at the hands of Lucy Ann’s uncle Leland Frazier. At trial, Leland pleaded “not guilty” to murder but was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead and was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary.

As for the “Lewis” half of the name, I had assumed it was either Burton Shiflett’s middle name or just a name that sounded good next to “Burton.” However, it turns out to be a tribute to his other grandfather, Fielding Jollett.

On deeds, in census records, and in other legal documents, Fielding’s name often included a middle initial that looked like either “L” or “S.” It wasn’t until I found James Franklin Jollett’s death certificate that I learned Fielding’s middle name (or maybe FIRST name) was actually “Lewis.” The informant was James Franklin’s daughter Laura Jollett Sullivan. She identified James Franklin’s parents as Mary Armentrout and “Louis F. Jollett.” Who knew?

Burton Lewis has been on my mind lately. Just this past week Burton Lewis’s great-grandson found my blog and contacted me. Along with thanks for the research, he sent PICTURES. For the first time, I saw Burton Lewis as a young father.
Burton Lewis and Family about 1900 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
About 1900 Greene County, Virginia
Standing: Fleta Florence and Chester Clarence
Seated: Burton Lewis, Lewis Lloyd, Blanche Beecher,
and wife #2 Cornelia Morris Jollett
(photo courtesy Ben Marks)
I also learned that Burton Lewis was born with a club foot. Really?? 

I never noticed the deformity in the few photos I have in which Burton Lewis was standing with his brother and sisters at a family reunion.
Jollett Family Reunion about 1927 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Jollett "kids" from youngest to oldest
Ulysses, Victoria Breeden, Sallie Clift, Mary Frances Davis,
Leanna Knight, Laura Sullivan, Emma Coleman, Burton Lewis
and their father James Franklin Jollett
But it is certainly clear in the photos my 3rd cousin Ben sent me.
Burton Lewis and Ulysses Jollett https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Burton Lewis and younger brother
(photos courtesy Ben Marks)

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.