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Nil Nisi Bonum

“Speak no ill of the dead,” a maxim I inherited from antiquity, came down to me via my more immediate ancestors.  The sentiment is ancient; indeed, its origin is attributed to the Spartan Philosopher Chilon, that subsequently the Romans—appropriated in typical Imperial fashion—promulgated in Latin as De mortis nil nisi bonum (Of the dead [speak] nothing but good). And since I also was taught in the Southern American tradition that if I could say nothing good I should say nothing at all, there were some things about which we never spoke . . . ever. Such is the case of the tragic events surrounding the lives of my namesake Samuel Hilburn Holland (1862-1915) and his son Samuel Britt Holland (1896-1975). My mother named me intentionally in honor of her grandfather Samuel, of whom I knew little, and only incidentally for her uncle Sam Britt, of whom I knew nothing whatsoever as I was growing up. So I have always wondered about my namesake, my great grandfather Sam and what he was like. Of my forgotten granduncle I thought nothing at all.

Who was Samuel H. Holland, My Namesake?

What I did know about my mother’s grandfather consisted of a single fact: he died a violent death at the hands of a “black man.”  I resolved that when I took up the task of unraveling my family history and genealogy I would uncover all I could about this horrific—and legendary— event that had reverberated down the generations, albeit silently, more as a tremulous existential vibration than in any audible story.

My mother Audrey was born the eighth of nine children to Katie Roberta “Bertia” Holland Moates, ten years and some months after her grandfather’s murder.  When his death happened on 18 Dec 1915, her mother, “Ma Bertie”—as I knew her—at age 27, was already married eight years to my “Pa” and had four children of her own, my elder aunts and uncles. By the time I came around in the 1950s and 60s and began to form memories of my maternal grandmother, her Dad—Great-Grandpa Samuel—lay buried in Dothan, Alabama already for forty or so years. Still, I detected (and she admitted to a fellow grandchild)—I suspected because of his death—a spiritual struggle with a deep-seated and persistent animus in my devout Ma Bertie, directed reflexively toward all people of color. She once remarked how you might not like black people “if your father had been murdered by one.”

If anyone ever had reason for such a feeling of perpetual animosity, she did. That being said, another grandchild corrected my implication that our mutual grandmother shared the animus of our segregationist Southern society. My cousin stated “She loved people who were poverty stricken, financially wealthy, healthy, sickly, black, white or brown- never even seeing the difference.” Nonetheless, in the early 1960s, I and all those I knew shared no expressed sympathy for the grievances we heard voiced in the civil rights movement. News of the alarming rhetoric and civil non-violent disobedience was met with distrust, fear, and outrage, or most often. with complicit silence. I wondered and never fully understood whether this subversive hatred was actually due to a generalized prejudice arising from any private legacy of trauma or was the result of absorption of the racial bigotry that pervaded the Jim Crow society of southeastern Alabama and northwest Florida that, like the unnoticed but ever-present salt dust born of the gulf shore surf, spread far-and-wide over the land as if carried by on-shore breezes. Such a compound is subversively corrosive to all that is exposed to it.  I concluded finally, too, that we all may imbibe the ethos of a society but pay it no mind, and like fish in water do, we gulp it down uncritically as “just the natural order of things.” I have come to realize also that no event happens in isolation and the repercussions are never felt by a single individual alone. The metaphor of ripples and waves on the sea is much used because it mirrors reality. Life and history are also, in fact, a tangle of cause and effect as much as are the roots of the tidal wetlands of palmetto and mangrove where the surf spends itself after traversing the wide gulf. My mother’s grandmother whom all called “Sweet Mama” endured unbelievable heartache, apparently with little complaint. She gave birth to ten children, but between 1900 and 1902 (before my grandmother was a teenager) Sweet Mama, Mary Cornelia Arnold Holland, buried three of her sweet infants. Thus, by age six the toddler Sam Britt Holland was left as the youngest surviving baby of the family. I can only imagine the anguish Mary endured. No one ever mentioned it to me in my family, not my mother nor my grandmother—no one.  Below are reproductions of photographs of those women, (left to right) my mother Audrey Moates Matteson (1926-1999), her mother “Bertia” Holland Moates (1888-1966), and my great grandmother Mary Cornelia Arnold Holland (1868-1923). These three women passed down other stories and attitudes to me, but nothing spoke of the sadness of Sweet Mama’s life.

The author’s maternal Moates-Holland-Arnold line. (Left to right) Mother, Audrey Bell Moates Matteson (age about 18); Grandmother Katie Robertia “Bertia” Holland Moates (age about 19); Great Grandmother Mary Cornelia Arnold Holland (age about 32).

What “Sweet Mama” Suffered

I learned from documents that Mary Cornelia began her life with Samuel Hilburn Holland on 16 Nov 1884 in Headland, Alabama when they were married. Below is a rare photograph of the couple early in their marriage, perhaps before 1890. The unsmiling couple do not appear happy, but it may have only been the customary serious formality of early portrait photography.

 Samuel Hilburn Holland (1862-1915) and Mary Cornelia Arnold Holland (1868-1923) in about 1910.

I infer from an advertisement for a farm implement in the Dothan Eagle the regional newspaper that Sam enjoyed a reputation as a hard working farmer who provided for his family on their place a few miles from Dothan and Headland out Route 1 near Abbeville in southeastern Alabama.  Piecing together the record of their residences I have deduced that the Holland family, that began in the area north of Dothan, migrated slowly southward, ultimately relocating from south of Dothan in about 1913 to the Dekle Plantation near Greenwood, Florida. There Samuel may have worked as a foreman/overseer or a field hand. No physical record remains of his rank. The Dekles were prominent land owners in northwest Florida in the early 1900s.  Below is a reproduction of a contemporaneous newspaper photograph of the experimental alfalfa fields of the M. L. Dekle farm. M.L. and his son E.N. Dekle farmed over 1000 acres in the region.

Despite claims in the Pensacola Journal boasting of an extremely low crime rate in Jackson County, the newspapers of the period are rife with salacious stories of violence and murder; for example, at about the time Sam Holland and Mary with their son Sam Britt were moving to the area, a smoldering grudge erupted in nearby Blountsville, Florida.  Mr. W. L. Spivey, the overseer of M. L. Dekle’s farm was dispatched with a blow from a monkey wrench wielded by Jimmie Lee Fields. The late Mr. Spivey had, likewise, emigrated to west Florida from Alabama. Apparently Mr. Fields eluded the law and was never brought to justice.

Samuel Hilburn Holland similarly met his end in a violent interlude on the Dekle “Plantation.” December 18 was a Saturday, a Sabbath day, a week before Christmas. It was then that Samuel H. Holland had an altercation with a field worker over a pair of shoes that Sam had sold the man, according to the fragmentary, whispered family story. The worker complained that the shoes were too small and he wanted his money back. Sam refused, remarking that he could not resell them if they had been worn (presumably because the man was a “Negro”). Details are sketchy but the outcome is clear from newspaper accounts: the nameless man (called only “a Negro”) killed my great grandfather with two blasts from a shot gun.

Two of several newspaper accounts of the murder of Samuel H. Holland, 18 Dec 1915. The Dothan Eagle (above) and the Montgomery Advertiser (below).

The news of the homicide spread quickly, recounted in numerous journals. Initial reports were that the unnamed assailant was apprehended, but later reports were that he had eluded the Sheriff and would soon be found by the posse. One of my contemporary historical correspondents suggested that the newspaper reports in this age of “yellow journalism” were more “aspirational” rather than factual. The absence of any subsequent mention of a hearing or trial further suggests that the “Negro” evaded capture and prosecution. If the individual had indeed been jailed he had been released, apparently without charge. We are left guessing as to what transpired that Saturday near Greenwood, Florida.

Early Twentieth Century Alabama/Florida: An Age of Violence

It seems odd to me that such a relatively minor disagreement would turn deadly. Thus, I continued searching more broadly, looking over a wider time period in hope of getting a sense of the times. What my search brought to my attention was a newspaper article in the 19 July 1895 Boston Globe. The story shocked me. The lede told that Sam H. Holland of Abbeville, Alabama “drew a long knife and stabbed Manley [actually J. C. Money] to death” in an argument. I then read several other accounts, the gist of which was that J. C. Money and Samuel H. Holland had partnered in the purchase of a seine with which to net fish. Mr. Money showed up at the Holland farm on 16 July 1895 with his son to claim the net for his anticipated outing. Unfortunately, Sam had planned an excursion on that same Tuesday afternoon. The two farmers exchanged heated words and the situation escalated when Mr. Money slapped Mr. Holland, who then proceeded to stab Mr. Money in the chest “to the hollow” and cut Money’s son when the young man tried to intervene. Mr. Holland fled the scene, convinced that he had mortally wounded his friend. Fortunately, Money recovered from his wounds and even outlived by many years his knife-wielding former partner.

Newspaper clippings that recount the violent attack of Saamuel H. Holland on J. C. Money in 1895.

No charges were ever filed.  Nobody in my family ever mentioned the event either . . . that I know of.

 Clearly, my great grandfather Sam was given to violence. The incident suggests an “impulsivity and dis-inhibition” characteristic of mental illness. The stabbing occurred while my grandmother lived at home (age about 7), surely old enough to remember the event but young enough to fail to comprehend what transpired. I wonder, however, about other events that might have occurred that were left unreported.  Such violent behavior is rarely an isolated event. On his tombstone Sam is lauded by an epitaph reading “His words were kindness/ His deeds were love/ His spirit humble/ He rests above.” My cynical mind replies:  Nil nisi bonum.

I wondered if other factors might have contributed to the volatile mix that led to Sam’s assault in 1895 and his death in 1915. A 1909 editorial praises Sam for seeing the error of his ways “a short time ago” and coming out in favor of prohibition, joining his brother Thomas Holland in support of the 18th amendment prohibiting the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages. We might surmise that alcohol had been a major part of Sam’s life up until that time. His other, older brother Britt Holland, however, was both the town Marshall and a saloon keeper in neighboring Columbia, Alabama and had a very different view of things. Sam may have struggled with alcoholism, being torn between his two brother’s divergent points of view. But such things are rarely spoken of.

These foregoing revelations cast a different light on the drama that might have played out in Greenwood in 1915. If Sam’s disagreement with the farm hand over a pair of unsatisfactory shoes had grown too rancorous, it would not be surprising to see Sam Holland pull a knife to exact satisfaction for an insult as he had done two decades earlier, especially if his judgement was impaired due to inebriation. It could have been that he brought a proverbial knife to a gun fight and his unnamed assailant fired the lethal shots in self-defense. This scenario would account for no charges ever being filed. But we do not know. The record is silent.

The Sins of the Father

Whatever the details were, the outcome was profound. Mrs. Mary Cornelia Holland was suddenly widowed miles from family with a teenage son (18) just spreading his wings while suddenly bereft of the steadying hand of a father. Samuel Britt Holland soon began to appear in the newspapers himself.

Samuel Britt Holland (1898-1975) shown here in his sartorial splendor in about 1919. Photo courtesy of his great granddaughter Tracy York Weaver.

In my search of the newspapers (using the collection and search engine at newspapers.com) for “Sam Holland” I stumbled upon the story (5 June 1916) of a bail jumping young Sam Holland “of Ozark,” Alabama. The papers report that young Sam Holland was apprehended by the Sheriff in Pensacola. A careful reading of the several stories that followed his case establishes that it is indeed the Sam Holland whose father died just a few months earlier. The younger Samuel, at first, spun a tale that he had been kidnapped by his fellow co-conspirators in a meat stealing caper (to which he had confessed) but later admitted that he had paid them to take him to Escambia County, Florida so that he could “join the Navy.” He hoped, I surmise, that by joining the military he would evade having to rat out his partners in larceny. Apparently, the 18-year-old delinquent did indeed weasel out of any charges and escaped prosecution by joining the Alabama National Guard about two weeks later. Very soon the 1st Infantry of the Alabama Guard was sent to Nogales, Arizona. He is listed proudly in the local newspaper among the county boys who joined up. The young recruit was deployed outside of the jurisdiction of the Alabama authorities in support of General Pershing’s pursuit of Poncho Villa into Mexico. If his mother Mary had hoped her wayward son would learn some disciple in the army, she was soon to be disappointed. His new associates were rather shady and prone to dissolution. Many of the recruits in his unit were young men who had never before had any money nor been out from under the watchful gaze of their families. In Nogales the Alabama National Guardsmen earned a reputation for prodigality, drunkenness, brawling, and frequenting the bordellos on the border. Gen. Edward H. Plummer remarked of these boys, “In time of war, send me all the Alabamians you can get, but in time of peace, for Lord’s sake, send them to somebody else!”

After about a year on the border, Pvt. Holland was discharged (2 May 1917) because of his dependent relatives (probably his widowed mother.) Another Alabama guardsman was discharged at the same time who would play an important part in his future, Sam Cotton of Ozark, Alabama. Pvt. Cotton had a sister Ann Marie Cotton who would become Mrs. Sam Holland a few years later. But civilian life was not for Samuel Britt when a war was raging and there was a chance for adventure. While his former unit was mobilized and absorbed into the 31st “Dixie” Division of the U/S. Army, Holland enlisted on 26 April 1918 in the newly formed 48th Infantry, a mechanized infantry unit of the regular Army. There he may have received training in automotive repair and maintenance that he would exploit later.

Camp Sevier, South Carolina where the 48th Infantry was posted in late 1918.

According to regimental history and roster reports listing Samuel B. Holland (Service Number 814232), the 48th was posted to New York to perform guard duty. Soon he was promoted to the rank of Corporal in June but was transferred to Camp Sevier, South Carolina for training. A few months later his rank was reduced again for unknown reasons. It appears that his training was not complete before the armistice on 11 Nov 1918 and he did not transport to France as he expected. Private Holland was honorably discharged on 22 January 1919.

 We can infer that Sam Holland and Ann Marie Cotton married after his return from the Army sometime in the spring of 1919 since, 38 weeks later, their child Charles Wimberley Holland was born (8 Jan 1920) just in time for the trio to appear in the 1920 census, living next door to Ann Marie’s parents and Sam Holland’s comrade from Nogales, Sam Cotton.

Bad Choices Beget Bad Consequences

Sam B. Holland found work in Panama City, Florida in a garage associated with an automobile dealership. It was there that he developed an acquaintance with a young man recently released from the notorious Alabama Industrial School for Boys. It was an unfortunate choice of pal for Sam. I have pieced together from contemporary newspaper accounts and other documents the tale of the shocking events that transpired in 1920.

Leslie Lammon appears from reports to have been a “hard case.” He had been arrested and incarcerated several times for grand larceny as well as for manslaughter. This freckled faced youth of 19 (in 1920) belied the evil influence he apparently exerted on the older (21-year-old) Holland.  These two auto mechanics were fired in mid-May 1920, possibly for some larcenous plan gone awry. Stranded in Panama City, Florida, the pair hatched an impulsive and ill-conceived scheme to steal an automobile and drive home to Dale County, Alabama. A person in his right mind would have seen that such an escapade would not end well. The newspapers tell how the two partners in crime appeared one rainy Sunday evening (possibly inebriated) on the doorstep of Alice Canty’s boarding house east of downtown Panama City in the predominantly black Millville district. Widow Canty was an Afro-American entrepreneur who had recently purchased a fine new vehicle. Perhaps they knew of her through their contact in the car repair and maintenance business where they worked. The boys spun a yarn to the sympathetic matron about being stuck a few mile out of Millville. They asked to “borrow” her new vehicle, a 1920 Sullivan Salient 6 similar to the vintage model in the photograph to retrieve the ladies they had left alone in the fictional auto.

1920 Model Sullivan Salient 6. Photo courtesy of Oldtimers.com. Lammon sat in the front seat beside the victim who drove, while Holland rode in the rear seat with the chaperone who survived.

Mrs. Canty declined to loan her vehicle, but her daughter volunteered to chauffer the white boys back to their vehicle and pull them out of the hole they claimed to be stuck in. Rosa Canty Kirkland was 23 and a professional driver as was her mother Alice, according to the 1920 Census. As a nod to propriety, Mrs. Bessie King, a boarder, volunteered to ride along as chaperone.

What we can glean from various published accounts, a few miles north of town, Rosa began to get suspicious and threatened to turn back. At that point Lammon pulled out a pistol and threatened her. Rosa lept from the seat and ran. Lammon fired at her retreating figure. The bullet grazed Rosa’s skull and she pitched forward. Leslie D. Lammon fell upon her, violently stabbing Mrs. Kirkland’s unconscious body. When Bessie tried to stop him, Lammon cut her as well. Then he turned on her. Bessie later reported according to the Bay County Sheriff that, at that point, Holland intervened, chivalrously putting himself between the injured Bessie and her assailant; thus, Sam sustained wounds also from the hand of Leslie. Apparently Sam was able to calm Lammon enough that the trio with the—now deceased—Mrs. Kirkland’s body in tow climbed back into the car and drove north. At some point Sam persuaded Lammon to try to get Bessie medical attention. Sam had an Uncle Sterling Price Holland living near Dothan who was a physician. Sam is reported to have suggested they head there to seek triage for Bessie, who was bleeding severely. They proceeded north toward Columbia, Alabama, perhaps passing through Greenwood, Florida near where Sam’s father met his end just five years earlier. About halfway to Columbia the vehicle crossed Cowart’s Creek. The two men pulled the corpse from the backseat and tossed it into the creek bed.  Failing to find Dr. Holland at home, they left Miss King in the care of some “colored” neighbors and continued north. That family, of course, notified the Sheriff, who soon apprehended Lammon and Holland in Columbia.

The pair were indicted and brought to trial in Panama City, Florida, but not before they made a jail break and went on the lam. That escapade lasted only a few hours before the jail birds were re-captured. In November the perpetrators of the “most heinous crime in recent memory” as the newspapers opined were to come to trial. In a last-ditch effort to subvert justice some compatriots of Holland and Lammon set fire to the Bay Count Courthouse. The building was gutted by the arson but the trial was not delayed. Instead the court moved down the street to the theater, where the arguments were heard and the two were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, 19 Nov 1920.

The partners in crime rode—manacled—to the Florida State Penitentiary in Raiford, Florida. The prison is legendary for the “chain gangs” that worked the prison farm. After two years, Sam petitioned for a pardon from the Board of Pardon and Parole according to the Tampa Times newspaper. Apparently it was denied since his name was not among those granted release in a follow-up story a few days later. Perhaps it was galling to Sam that in 1925, Leslie D. Lammon was more successful when he was pardoned “because of his youth at the time of the crime.” We deduce, however, that Leslie did not escape prison unscathed. Years later when he registered for the draft, his paralysis was noted. Ultimately he died of a stroke but only after living as a free man with his father and mother, Archie and Lula Lammon, for years. He continued working as an auto mechanic in Montgomery, Alabama it appears. He returned briefly to a life of crime (along with his brother Olin) in the late 1930s, serving a few months for auto thief. Nevertheless, he survived until 1961, when he died in Houston, Texas at the age of 60.

Sam, meanwhile, was tortured by misfortune. His beloved mother, Mary Cornelia died in early November, 1923, likely from injuries she sustained in a sensational train wreck the month before in which she was (erroneously) reported to have died along with a cousin Fanny Holland, whom he may have been close to; we surmise this relationship because he listed a Fanny Holland as a “sister” on his draft registration. The railroad accident resulted from an L&N colliding with a sight-seeing excursion train near Greenwood, Florida. The irony is sobering in that Mary Cornelia was injured in an accident occurring near the site of the murder of her husband, less than nine years earlier. One report reveals that she was occupied by a small child. It could have been Charles W. Holland who would have been about three at the time. Charles’ granddaughter claimed that he was Sweet Mama’s “pick” of her grandchildren. A few weeks later Sam was transferred from prison to the care of the psychiatric of the Veterans Hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas according to military records. The following May 1924, Marie Holland sued Sam B Holland for divorce. A story shared with the author by one of Sam Holland’s great grandchildren confirmed that Marie Cotton (Holland) Pouncey remained estranged from her ex-husband until her death. Indeed, the family story is that the former Mrs. Holland instructed the black nanny of her child, Charles Wimberley Holland, that the “mammy” should hide the child from Sam if he ever came around. Charles’ granddaughter surmised that her great grandmother’s stipulation arose out of a fear that, due to Sam’s alleged bad character and mental health issues, he might harm the child, physically or psychologically.

I have learned from one of Charles’ granddaughters that ultimately Sam did reach out to re-connect with his grown son later in life, possibly in the 1940s and 50s. The granddaughter reported that her granddad Charles retold her fantastical-sounding tales that seemed dubious to her: stories of World War I exploits on the border with Mexico [true]; membership in the French Foreign Legion [probably a hyperbolic extrapolation of service in the France-bound 48th Infantry of US Army]; an arrest for stealing meat and jumping bail [true]; a conviction for murder [true]; incarceration in prison [true]; his commitment to the insane asylum in the VA Hospital [true]; a second family with a “Mexican lady” [probably a confabulation arising from Sam’s exploits in Arizona or an actual second unconfirmed marriage].   When I shared the documentary evidence with my correspondent, she was flabbergasted at the veracity of much she had completely discounted as tall tales. Still some stories beggar belief.

His story was not fully told, however, since the 1940 US Census lists Samuel Britt Holland as an “inmate” in the VA Hospital in North Little Rock, Arkansas. It further identified him as “married,” apparently not to Marie Cotton, however. This may be an error or wishful exaggeration or may suggest an unidentified spouse. While, it is possible that sometime between about 1930 and 1940, Sam did indeed meet and marry a “Mexican lady,” whose identity currently eludes us. A recent interview with Sam’s great niece who knew him in his final years undermines this idea, however. According to William Edward Holland’s (Sam’s brother’s) granddaughter, Sam remained true to Marie Ann Cotton the rest of his life. She knew of no other family except his ex-wife Marie Cotton and Charles W.  Holland. On the other hand she recalls calling Charles’ sister “in Texas,” a fact that suggests that Charless’ had at least one half-sibling. If any additional information comes to light we will amend this essay with any revelations. l

As our knowledge stands at the present, Sam only appears in documents in the period from 1940 until 1975 mentioned in the aforementioned census of 1940 of the VA Hospital in North Little Rock, Arkansas and as a survivor in two obituaries of siblings as “in the Veterans Hospital” (1952) or residing in “Tuscaloosa” (presumably at the VA Hospital in 1966).  The latter inference is consistent with Sam’s grandniece’s account that he had lived in the VA Hospital in Tuscaloosa “for years.” In fact, she recounted how she had to “move heaven and earth” to get the VA to release him to the private nursing home Oakview Manor in Ozark, Alabama, the VA-approved nursing home nearest to her residence at the time. She visited him often and showed great kindness to him. As she told the story, Sam said that he had sustained a gunshot wound to his head during the war and had a plate up there, a statement she took at face value and never checked out. When he was wounded—he told her—he was at first presumed dead. He told how he had been thrown on the charnel wagon where he languished for over twenty-four hours among the corpses. Later his comrades were alerted by his moans and rescued him. According to her “Uncle Sam Holland” he had been in hospital ever since that day. However, based on Sam’s military records that report that he was not wounded in action, not disabled, and never served abroad, this story appears to be a fabrication designed to arouse sympathy and compassion in his caregivers. Or it could have been a fantasy that Sam truly believed, a product of a faulty memory. Apparently, the ruse was believable, because my correspondent was shocked and incredulous when I reported what I had uncovered of his early life. She dismissed at first what my research had uncovered as “trash” and malicious lies. The facts that I shared she derided as surely being those of another Sam Holland, not her beloved Great Uncle.  Thus, it became clear to me that I risk causing great offense among some of my family by shining a light into the dark corners of our family history and reporting what I find there, especially if it contradicts long-held, tender memories of a person. Nil nisi bonum,indeed.

Some might suggest that my dark biographies are slanderous and unfair, since the subject is powerless to defend himself. Although one cannot be held liable by Common Law for slandering the dead, I–nevertheless–hope to report accurately the facts. What is certain is the man my cousin knew in his sixties and seventies was a broken man but still a kind gentleman. He told her (and the VA reported to her, as she shared with to me) that he had been continuously under the care of the VA since he first entered the hospital.  Moreover, her anecdotes confirmed to me that he suffered from the effects of past trauma. Once when she and her father, Sam’s nephew, took the old veteran on an excursion to Ft. Rucker for the July 4th fireworks, he became extremely upset when the explosions began.  It seemed as if he were reliving some horrible, presumably wartime, experience in the concussions of the aerial display. Today we would describe what she recounted as PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I wonder if it was the stress of his war experiences (real or imagined) or of the tragic events that led to his imprisonment and the hardships of prison life that rendered Sam incapable of living in society?  In any case, Samuel Britt Holland was subject to a true life sentence of institutional incarceration (at least intermittently) beginning in about 1920 until the day he died in 1975. His was a life sentence without possibility of parole.

During our inquiry we were able to acquire a copy of Samuel Britt Holland’s death certificate that reveals that he spent his last years (at least from the spring of 1974) in the Oakview Manor Nursing Home of Ozark, Alabama, succumbing at last to congestive heart failure possibly as a consequent of Alcohol Dependence Syndrome (i.e. Alcoholism) in his youth or a genetic predisposition to the disease that also resulted in his dotage in Arteriosclerosis and Cardio-Vascular-Renal Disease complicated further in the end by pneumonia and uremia. Sam breathed his last at 10:40 a.m. on 15 Jan 1975 at age 76 in the Dale County Hospital in Ozark, Alabama only a few miles from my relatives in Dothan.  At the time I was in Texas laboring away in graduate school and was oblivious to my great uncle’s troubles or even his existence.  Mercifully, he did know some kindness at the hands of my second cousins.

But Wait! There’s more

I thought that I might have reached the end of Samuel Britt Holland’s sad story, but when I searched more widely among newspaper articles, I ultimately came across three other men with the same name as my great uncle, a Sam Sr, a Sam Jr, and a Sam III.  I was surprised to discover these individuals who shared the identical moniker with my relative. Who might these individuals be? I pursued the connection until I uncovered that they are indeed my 3rd cousins, descendants of one James Otho Holland (1888-1982), a 1st cousin to my grandmother (their fathers were brothers); James was born in 16 Nov 1888 in Abbeville, Alabama, just four months after and 18 miles away from the site of my maternal grandmother’s nativity. The two cousins surely were acquainted. James must have known his Uncles Samuel Hilburn Holland (also of Abbeville, Alabama) and Britt Holland (Samuel Britt’s uncle of Columbia,, Alabama) both of whom died the same pre-Christmas week in 1915, one by homicide and the other by illness. My Great Uncle Samuel Britt was apparently named both in honor of his father (as was I) and his Uncle Britt. Cousin James was very likely also aware of his Sam Holland’s exploits and misadventures.  Sam’s troubles were widely reported and were also probably the subject of family gossip. From accounts of his grandfather James Otho, I learned that James the cousin was of a like-mind and spirit as my grandmother’s brother, fond of strong drink and given to impulsive violence and often devoid of inhibition.

From newspaper accounts I confirmed that James Holland exhibited a violent impulsiveness and disinhibition, especially when inebriated. On one occasion, an article reported, at the age of 81, he suffered a broken shoulder blade and cuts to his face and ear (from his own knife in the hands of the alleged assailant) when he instigated a drunken altercation with another patron of a bar. In addition, James’ grandson told me the story that his father had told him of Grandpa Holland’s excessive alcohol use and his violence. Once, as he (allegedly) chanced to see a neighbor pass on the sidewalk outside, he dashed from the house shouting “I am going to kill that woman!”  Reputedly a Dixie cup half-filled with grain alcohol was an essential part of his morning wakeup ritual. In 1920, about the time of Sam Holland and Leslie Lammon’s trial, James Otho Holland lived in Noma, Florida, sixty miles and about one to two hour’s drive from the Bay County Courthouse in Panama City. James Otho Holland seems capable of arson, although no physical evidence has ever come to light that he was among the friends of my Great Uncle Samuel Britt Holland who ignited the courthouse. Such a suspicion is consistent with a tale from James’ youth in which he reputedly built a fire around a stubborn ox intending to rouse the brute to rising to pull a cart but that, instead, resulted in the beast’s immolation. Whatever his culpability, clearly, James admired his cousin, for in 1961 he named a son in honor of his still-living relative who resided in the VA hospital in Tuscaloosa, as well as for his two long-deceased uncles, Samuel Hilburn and Britt Holland.

These salacious anecdotes of our ancestors may cause us embarrassment and some discomfort. In fact, the truth may have been obscured. Samuel Britt Holland (1898) exhibited from time to time a cavalier approach to reality. Recall how he implicated his coconspirators in a false kidnap plot when he was a youth. Later, he lied to Mrs. Canty to get access to her fine automobile. (Unfortunately for all, events did not go to plan.) The tall tales that Sam told his son strained the truth and the listener’s credibility. So we should not be surprised to hear that Uncle Sam repainted his past with a more flattering brush than brutal honesty would. Of course, we feel at least a tinge of shame at their outrageous behavior.  Revisionist memories are much easier to live with.

Things Unspoken

In every family there are things that are not discussed or are whispered. So it is in my family. These stories are the proverbial skeletons in the closet, I suppose. Nevertheless, I believe that we do better not to suppress knowledge of past unpleasant events in our family histories or airbrush the imperfections of our antecedents. If we are not clear eyed and honest, we risk preserving memories that border on hagiography which render our patriarchs as paper saints rather than the real broken, but precious people they were. While imperfect humans, they are our ancestors to whom we are beholden. Furthermore, we risk missing the lessons of the cautionary tales of their lives. Alcoholism and mental illness are as heritable as a propensity for heart disease, I have read. Genetics accounts for 30 to 70 percent of a predisposition to such diseases. Hopefully we view, nowadays, these traits more as disabilities rather than as moral failings. On the other hand, we are not fated by our genes to anti-social behavior or an inevitable coronary. Our early life experiences and our intentional choices are also significant in our development.

As I have examined the circumstances of the lives of my forebears, I have become slower to judge than I was before. Samuel Hilburn Holland and his son, Samuel Britt Holland were born into an age of violence. They experienced loss and struggles that I do not know. What is more, they each probably inherited a strong propensity for substance dependence and for impulsive and disinhibited behavior that manifested in aggressiveness and belligerence.  Of course, as one wag has noted, “a tendency to violent aggressiveness in obviously genetic since the majority of violent offenders have a Y chromosome,” that is they are male and subject to the hormone testosterone. But forewarned is fore-prepared. I have observed a high incidence of substance dependence (alcoholism and psychotropic drug dependence) in a significant fraction of my relatives who are also descendants of Thomas Holland and Emeline Holland nee Holland. (Yes, they were half first cousins, sharing Moses Holland as a grandfather, but with different grandmothers. This is a co-sanguinity which was common in the 19th century but evoked an “Eewwww!” from my granddaughters when they heard of it.) Thomas and Emeline were grandparents of both James Otho Holland and of my grandmother. Whether this is relevant is unclear, but it is a fact.

Knowing what I now know, I am both saddened and grateful. I grieve the pain my ancestors endured and inflicted on others. I cannot excuse their guilt but I can better understand what led them down a path to destruction. At the same time I can forgive them their broken humanity and say “except by the grace of God there go I.” Thus, I am grateful for all those who endured and survived to give life to their offspring. I resolve not to let the lesson of their struggles be in vain. I resolve to be wiser and kinder and repudiate hatred and dissolution. I take heart at something Anne Lamott, the motivational writer, frequently reminds us: “Grace bats last.” As I completed this essay, I heard an addendum from my cousin who was Uncle Sam’s last familial caregiver; it is something of a benediction. She told me that near the end, she shared her faith in God and invited Uncle Sam to seek God’s forgiveness. He did so, privately confessing “his many sins.” I hope that it brought him comfort as he faced the darkness.

As a consequence of my investigations, too, I have been inspired to propose a new, replacement motto: Nil nisi verum, [Of the dead speak] nothing but the truth. Thus, we will truly honor their memory and really know them, perhaps for the first time.

The tombstone marking Samuel Britt Holland’s grave in Dothan, Alabama.

Acknowledgements

I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation and gratitude for several individuals who generously shared their recollections of their grandparents and the stories that they have preserved about Samuel Britt Holland. To preserve their privacy I will not name them but I acknowledge my indebtedness to them, nonetheless. Their memories are their own; on the other hand, the conclusions I draw in this essay, however accurate or erroneous, are the responsibility of the author alone.

In this post I return one final time to the case of the elusive father of my maternal great grandfather’s [James Marion (Miley) Moates’] father.

Every fan of police procedural dramas knows what all dogged detectives need to establish in order to make a case. He (or she) must uncover the (1) means, (2) motive, and (3) opportunity and (4) any circumstantial evidence that links a person of interest to a case and uncover any other circumstantial evidence of guilt, such as DNA markers shared by descendants of James Marion and other MIley progeny, as well as evidence a sense of culpability by the suspect. We shall apply the same criteria to the elements to make the case that William Goodman Miley (1802) is the most likely “suspect” for the elusive “Miley” father of James Marion (Miley) Moates.


James Marion (Miley) Moates (1843), “Aunt Navy” Genera Belle Moates [later Mrs. Will Hunt (1876)], Ruth Ann Dew Moates (1846) shown ca. 1900, in Brannon Stand, Dale County, Alabama.

1. The Means

While it may seem trivial (and embarrassing) to inquire as to the means of procreation, not all the characters on the scene in about 1840 are equally capable or likely to sire a child. Clearly the individual must be a post-pubescent fertile male. Moreover, the potential father must be a male descendant of Robert Miley (1762) and Mary Goodman (1761) present in the region as indicated by shared DNA between James Marion Moates’ descendants and other Miley-Goodman descendants. This genetic fact limits the pool to three prime suspects: Samuel Miley (1790), Robert G. Miley (1820) and William Goodman Miley (1802), with the possible addendum of their sons. Daniel Miley (1822), William’s son by his first wife cannot be ruled out based on DNA evidence.  However, there is no record that he ever resided with his father in the area, but more about that later. Nor should William’s younger half-brother Andrew Barnwell Miley (1818) escape our examination since he resided in the adjacent county for a time in the 1850s.

Probable Date of Conception 7 Feb 1843

James Marion Moates was born on 3 Nov 1843. Assuming that he was conceived approximately 38 weeks prior (the mean time between conception and birth), the most likely time for the fateful liaison between Rachel Moates and her partner was 7 Feb 1843 +/- 10 days.

Consider the prime suspects and their sons: Samuel had two children: William Jackson Miley (1832) and James Montgomery Miley (1836). At the time of James Marion’s conception Samuel’s sons were thus eleven and seven respectively, both prepubescent. Likewise, Robert (Z) Miley’s eldest son Forrest Miley (1835) was only eight at time in question and can also be ruled out.

Turning to the Miley brothers we notice that Samuel (1790) was fifty-three at the time of James Marion’s conception and, as noted earlier, the father of only two children. He would be dead within seven years at age sixty.  His wife Mary was a relatively young forty-four and probably still capable of child bearing. They had not conceived a child in eight years prior to James Marion’s birth. Consequently, it is unlikely that Samuel fathered James Marion, his child producing years nearly a decade behind him.

In contrast, Samuel’s younger brother Robert was more fertile. He sired (at age 23) his third child (William H. Miley) in 1843 out of a total of nine progeny that ultimately were born to his wife and him. Indeed, he had the means to produce an illegitimate heir, as did his elder brother William Goodman Miley.

2. The Motive

Turning to the element of motive we are presented with the question: “Can we reasonably speculate as to the motive of the conception of James?” The liaison was probably consensual since there is no record of an outcry or legal repercussions of assault at the time, as one would have expected because Noah Moates, her father, was a Justice of the Peace and an officer of the court.  What is more, Rachel later—at least for a time—went by the surname “Miley.” Furthermore, she did not marry until after the suspected father was dead, perhaps out of sense of propriety or religious sensibility.  On the other hand, one may argue that the union may not have been consensual, with Rachel instead choosing to avoid the fruitless task of pursuing criminal charges, since pregnancy was believed in that day never to result from rape.

Nevertheless, since all of the male persons of interest were married at the time of James’ birth, we can safely conclude that James was the result of an illicit amorous liaison. Technically, the affair was not adultery since Rachel was unmarried.  Adultery was a crime only against the husband of the unfaithful spouse, since women apparently had no expectation of faithfulness from their husbands.  The motive was clearly not procreation but lust, at least on the father’s part. Scandalous nevertheless, even if not technically criminal.

But notably William was a remarkably prolific pater familias. He, with his wife number one, Catharine Shubert (1797), had two children before her death in about 1833 at the age of 34 when he married the twenty-year-old Emmaline Owens (or Oentz) who was also known as “Emily” and “Emeline,” proceeded to produce thirteen more offspring in the next twenty-five years. In fact, at the time of James Marion’s conception, Emimaline was three to four months pregnant with their sixth child, Malias Loven Miley. Clearly, William had the capability of impregnating James’ mother Rachel Moates.

3. The Opportunity

The third element of our case—opportunity—both general and particular is crucial. As we suggested above, we can alibi Daniel Miley (1822) since he was busy courting his future bride whom he married in 1844, in Loundes County, Georgia 200 miles away (not to be confused with Loundes County, Alabama). There is no record that he ever set foot in Montgomery or Pike County where Rachel Moates resided in the 1840s, since he departed home before 1840, probably before his father married his step-mother in 1833. In contrast, the Miley brothers Samuel, Robert, and William all owned property within about ten miles of the Moates Sandy Creek farm just off what is now Highway 231, the “Troy Highway.” (See the map below. The various landmarks are interpreted in the caption below the figure.))

Area map showing the location of all the participants in the drama and a few local landmarks in northern Pike and Southeastern Montgomery County, Alabama ca, 1840. Samuel, Robert, and William all resided or worked farms near the Moates enclave. The lavender “pins” indicate the location of the various holdings of the Miley brothers. The Rushton family were co-founders with William and “Emily” MIley of Pisgah Primitive Baptist Chhurch. inn 1842.

William also had a place near Elba in present-day Coffee County (Dale County in 1840). In fact, he continued to maintain a residence there, fifty miles away throughout his sojourn in the region. He and “Emily” lived there with neighbors William Luker, Adam Hardy, and William A. Owens (with wife Freelove Snellgrove) in 1840. But in late August 1842 the Mileys with the Rushtons helped found the Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church up north near their Pike County-Montgomery County farm.  Meanwhile, records of the Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in Elba in Dale (Coffee) County record that “Brother William Myley” had united with the congregation by “restoration” and Emeline by baptism on May 4, 1841. Delving further into the documents we find an undated membership list where their names are stricken. Then much later they are added again. This observation is a clue as to what transpired subsequent to James Marion’s birth.

A Theory of the “Crime” and a Sense of Guilt

“It is not good for man to be alone”

Brother Miley must have noticed Sister Moates, daughter of his neighbor Judge Noah Moates, across the room at Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church during one of the monthly church meetings. Later in the 1850s, in northwest Florida we find that Noah was an active elder in the Baptist church of his community. William surely heard Miss Moates’ sweet voice among the congregation that lifted the multi-part harmony of the a cappella Sacred Harp fasola hymns that were a customary part of the service. The lantern light in the rustic log meeting house playing on her young fair face set it aglow. She may have reminded him of how each of his young brides (Catharine and Emmaline) formerly looked, years before, when he had first married them.

It was near the beginning of February and the weather was cold. His bed was cold, as well, since Emmaline, sometimes called “Emily,” approaching thirty years of age, had begun her confinement with their sixth child together. Emily may have chosen to stay at their house near Elba where she had given birth to her other children and where she could count on the help of her neighbors and friend Freelove Snellgrove Owens, who was possibly a kinswoman by marriage.  William would then be alone at the farm on the Montgomery-Pike County line.  Perhaps, Planter Miley offered Miss Moates a buggy ride back to her home north of his place. Since his house was on the way maybe they stopped off to warm beside his fire. Alone in the house passion may have overtaken them. We can only be sure that they enjoyed one or more trysts.

Soon Rachel may have experienced a recurring case of nausea. By March or April, Rachel’s worse fears were realized. She was pregnant. Inevitably shame and ostracism would follow the news if it got out that she were “in the family way” and “that kind of woman.” Surely Rachel let William G. know of her condition. There is no record that he took any notice however, busy as he was with the birth of his son Malias Loven Miley in about July of 1843. There may be a hint that Emmaline knew of her husband’s perfidy in their son’s name. Malias is a rare masculine form that may mean “sea of bitterness.” Loven originates in the Germanic “Loben Den Herr” as in “Praise the Lord.” By November 1843 when James Marion (named for his uncles James W. Moates and Francis Marion Moates) was born, the Mileys had rejoined the Primitive Baptist congregation in Coffee County where they would be isolated from the scandalous rumors in Pike County.

Rachel, however, could not escape. She could only retreat into the safety of the Moates compound on Little Sandy Creek, surrounded by her father’s extended family that included her dear brothers James W. and Francis Marion Moates. By 1846 the scandal apparently was too much for the William Goodman Miley clan, who decamped for Hillsborough County, Florida, setting near the location of present day Tampa—and making a fresh start. Likewise, the Noah Moates family moved to Eucheeanna {You-CHEE-anna), Walton County, Florida, sometime before the end of 1849. The move began sadly because of the death of William C. Moates, Rachel’s elder brother, in February 1850 as recorded in the Mortality Schedule for that year. [The Mortality Schedule is a part of the decennial census that recorded the names of the deceased who died in an area in the preceding year.] In the 1850 census Rachel had the means to live in a separate household from her father under the name “Miley.” Thus, she avoided the opprobrium of the community by posing as a widowed or an abandoned spouse, a subterfuge that persisted in the Moates family for many generations. The fact that she had independent means suggests that she was “bought off,” but since Alabama did not record such arrangements or require bonds we can only surmise it to be so.

If the nature of William G. Miley’s relationship with Rachel Moates were known in the congregation of the Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, he could have surely been subjected to church discipline. I have not been able to find any contemporaneous records from the congregation. But interestingly, William Miley re-joined the Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in the late 1840s by “restoration,” the mode of joining a congregation that was then afforded those who had been excommunicated or had been expelled from a congregation.

Thus, these circumstances imply that William Goodman may have had reason to flee the region. Notably, Robert Z. and Samuel remained in the area. Robert even purchased additional property in 1843.

In the map below note the William Miley held two properties and appears to have returned to the southern “outparcel” where “Emily” Miley remained while William was wooing Miss Moates in Pike County.

A larger scale map of the region of Alabama where the Moates-Miley drama played out. Note the two widely separated parcels owned by William G. Miley.

The DNA Evidence

I submitted a sample of sputum for DNA analysis to two analytical services: 23andMe and Ancestry.com. Then I sought the heritage of the individuals who shared significant segments of DNA with me. In the case of 23andMe it was challenging to discover how I and my DNA cousins were related. Nevertheless, I found a large group of cousins with whom I shared DNA on the 12th chromosome and who had in common their descent from Robert Miley and Elizabeth Goodman, parents of the Miley brothers. In particular, among this group I discovered I shared the most DNA with direct descendants of William Goodman Miley. What is more, I have found no descendant of Robert Z. Miley or Samuel Miley, William G.’s brothers.

Turning to the results from Ancestry.com, I utilized the Thru-lines™ application to identify individuals whose genomes share DNA with mine and who have built a family tree that overlaps mine. Once again I discovered scores of Miley kin descended from William Goodman Miley and several of his brothers and sisters. But also as before, no cousins who are descended from Robert G or Samuel Miley appear among any of my DNA Matches. It is unlikely that I would not find a DNA cousin among their descendants if either were my 2x great grandfather. On the other hand, it is very likely (about 50%) that they did not inherit the specific DNA segments that I share with the descendants of Robert Miley and Elizabeth Goodman.

The Verdict

Of all the suspects only William Goodman Miley had the means, motive, opportunity, and shared DNA to have sired James Marion Moates. Moreover, he displayed evidence of guilt by fleeing the community within less than three years of the birth of James Marion Miley Moates. None of the other potential fathers exhibited any shame. In addition, his membership in his local church suggested some unidentified moral failing. There is no evidence that William G. Miley ever acknowledged his illegitimate son.

Interestingly, years after James Marion’s birth (in 1846) Emmaline gave birth in Hillsborough County, Florida to her seventh legitimate child, Martin Marion Miley. Martin’s middle name may have been her subtle rebuke or reminder of William’s infidelity. Or Martin could have been named in honor of the South Carolina Revolutionary Hero Francis Marion.

Whether William Goodman Miley ever privately acknowledged his paternity of James M. Moates or not, (and there is no record that he did) it is a fact. It is also a fact that James was disowned by his father. Consequently, James must have dealt with feelings of rejection all of his life. Ultimately, Rachel’s son assumed the name of his beloved grandfather Noah Moates. Thus, the scrap of paper where a young man’s hand practices his penmanship takes on a profound significance. Written in neat, careful lines, several times are the words: “Tell me thy name and tell me now. James Marion Moates.

Addendum: The Quest

The journey to finding my mysterious 2x Great Grandfather Miley

,Over the last year I have pursued an investigation that has successfully culminated in identifying my great grandfather’s father. For those who wish to retrace this exciting inquiry, with its twists and turns below are listed the links to the various blog posts.

Date: August 20, 2020

Date: October 14, 2020

Date: January 3, 2021

Date: August 29, 2021

In a previous post I have contended that Thomas Spenser Dew married Elizabeth Atkinson of Burke County, Georgia in 1838, and was not married to Elizabeth Williams. But I feel it is insufficient only to deny the union with Elizabeth Williams. In doing so, I would be shirking my responsibility as a historian and genealogist, albeit even as an amateur. A complete accounting demands that we fully inquire into the marriage of Thomas “Due” and Elizabeth Williams. In other words, we must answer the question “Who married Elizabeth Williams in 1832?”

Among the several documents that have survived the ravages of time is a Granville County, North Carolina marriage bond sworn by Thomas Due (aka Dew) on 14 May 1832 in which he promises that there are no impediments to his marriage to Elizabeth Williams. As you will notice in the reproduction in figure 1, Thomas “Due” signed the document with his mark (X). Thus, we will designate this individual as Thomas (X) Dew/Due in our account. The fact that he signed with a mark is significant in that it suggests that Mr. Due (or Dew) was illiterate.


Facsimile of marriage bond between Thomas (X) Dew/Due and Elizabeth Williams 14 May 1832 made in Granville County, North Carolina.

Also note that the co-signer is Anderson Bailey, a cousin of Penelope Bailey the widow of Redding Haswell (deceased about 1828) who married a Thomas Due in 1829, as documented by an earlier matrimonial bond co-signed by Penny’s elder brother William J. Bailey. Apparently she died before 1832, leaving Thomas with two orphaned step-children from her previous marriage.

Thus, it is likely that the Thomas Dew (aka Due) who married Penny Haswell nee Bailey and took responsibility for her two children as step father—namely, Helen and William—also married Elizabeth Williams after Penny’s death. Indeed, this Thomas joined Penny’s nephew in a legal suit in 1841 (Jeremiah Estes, who could sign his name) that disputed the will of her father John Bailey as having unjustly omitted any bequest to her orphaned children.

Exemplars of the mark signature of Thomas (X) Dew/Due illustrating his illiteracy in 1829, 1832, and 1841.

This Thomas seems to have made a life with Penny for a time. In fact, we find a Thomas Dew living in Beaver Dam, Granville County, N.C. with a wife and two children, viz. Penny, William, and Helen.

The Parallel Lives of the Two Thomases

Meanwhile, Thomas Spenser Dew the son of Zachariah Dew (my ancestor), who both resided near the county seat of Tarboro in Edgecombe County, N.C.—a county eighty-plus miles away from Thomas and Penny—appears in his father’s household, continuously from 1810 through 1830. In 1810 at age 2, the infant Thomas shows up along with a sister and his parents. Ten years later at age 12 he appears in the appropriate category, as do his sister and three new younger brothers, born in the interim. In 1830 at age 22 our Thomas is apparently still residing with father Zachariah in Edgecombe County while Thomas (X) Dew is simultaneously living under his own name with Penny in Granville County. But in 1840 Thomas Spenser Dew is absent from North Carolina and his father’s household, as is consistent with his testimony. Thomas (X) “Due” age 32  however, appears in the eighth year of his marriage to Betsy Dew Williams residing in Wake County, North Carolina along with three sons and one daughter under age 5 and one son and one daughters age five to 10. “Betsey” Williams Dew age 29 also appears in the 1840 Census in the female-20-to-30 category, as expected.

Recently a document has come to my attention that indirectly validates the new Wake County residence of the Thomas (X) Dew family. The School Census for Granville County, North Carolina in the mid-1840s lists among others, “Helon” in the household of William Bailey, who was the husband of Glaphrey Bailey, sister of Penny Baily Haswell Dew, Thomas’ first wife. Helen is listed as “Haswell” in household of William and Glafrey Bailey the 1850 Census for Beaver Dam, Granville County. William [Haswell] Dew Bailey, as he later chose to be called, was living with other relatives in another county. Moreover, Betsy Williams Dew’s younger siblings—children of George Williams, her father—are also enumerated in the Granville School census. However, there is no mention of the Dew children, a fact consistent with their residing in another county.

A spreadsheet listing by age the members of the Zachariah Dew household and tracking the presence (or absence) of Thomas Spenser Dew in the household extracted from the data for decennial censuses for 1810 to 1840. The individual highlighted in green most likely is Thomas Spenser while the darker blue highlight is father Zachariah and the light blue entries Thomas’ younger brothers. The lighter orange represents his sisters while the amber highlight identifies Thomas’ mother Sarah. The brown is an elderly woman (>70 years of age) that appears only in the 1830 census and may have been a mother or mother-in-law of Zachariah or Sarah. By 1840 Zachariah had been married to Sally Ann Jewel (highlighted in violet) for four years. Notably Thomas at age 32 is gone by 1840 from the household (consistent with no male in the 26 to 45 category) as is his mother as well, replaced by a slightly older step mother. Perhaps Sarah’s death and Thomas’ departure for Georgia in late 1835 were not just coincidental.     

Therefore, we suspect that Thomas Spenser Dew, who—by his own account—departed for Georgia in late 1835, and thus does not appear in his father’s household in 1840 nor under his own name in 1840 in North Carolina, is not the husband of Elizabeth Williams.

Moreover, Thomas Spenser Dew was the church clerk of Little Buck Head Baptist Church in Burke County, Georgia in 1841 and does not appear to have missed any meetings.  What is more, he was quite literate and would not have permitted his name to have been misspelled “Due,” as it appears on the legal documents. Below are some samples of his distinctive signature from this period.

 Exemplars of the signature of Thomas Spenser Dew from the minutes of Little Buck Head Baptist Churc (ca. 1842) and an undated testimony in his own hand.

No documents indicate that Thomas (X) Dew/Due was a near relative to Thomas S. Dew back for several generations nor that their paths ever crossed. Nevertheless, extensive genealogical research has revealed two estimated recent common ancestors (ERSA) in Thomas Dew (1600-1660), Speaker of the House of Burgess and his wife Elizabeth Ann Bennett (1603-1667). This couple were the 5x great grandparents of Thomas S. Dew and 4x great grandparents of Thomas (X) Dew/Due. Thus, the two Thomases were 5th cousins once removed. Each of their Dew family lines had diverged in the approximately two hundred years that they had dwelt in the colonies only to coincidentally settle as “Thomas Dew” and be born the same year (1808) about 88 miles apart in Tarboro, Edgecombe County, N.C. (Thomas S.) and Beaver Dam, Granville County, N.C. (Thomas X). Making matters even more obscure, the Dew cousins each married a woman named “Elizabeth” in 1838 and 1832, respectively. Genealogical confusion inevitably followed.

Thomas (X) Dew/Due son of Seth Dew spent his childhood and much of his adult life (up until about the mid-1840s) in Granville (and later Wake) County (red ellipse) before he resettled in western Tennessee. Meanwhile, Thomas Spenser Dew, the son of Zachariah Dew, grew up in the area near Tarboro, Edgecombe County (blue ellipse) before he departed for Georgia in late 1835. Map courtesy of geology.com

Tracking Elizabeth Dew

What is more, as of this writing, I have found 28 descendants of siblings of Elizabeth (Dew) Atkinson, as well as 12 descendants of her maternal first cousins who share the parents of Elizabeth’s grandmother Mary Ann Polly Shepard, and 41 descendants of her paternal first cousins who share the parents of her grandfather, Adam S. Brinson, all of whom are my DNA relatives. This forms a pool of eighty-one (81) 5th cousins (sometimes 5th cousin once removed) who are unique to Elizabeth Atkinson. Such a large data set makes for compelling genetic evidence that Elizabeth Atkinson Dew is indeed my 2x great grandmother. Therefore, it is likely that my ancestral “Elizabeth” was not Elizabeth Williams. Indeed, the two Thomas-Elizabeth Dew families lived parallel but disparate lives.

The decade of 1850 finds Thomas S. Dew, wife Elizabeth (Atkinson) Dew and his girls Sarah Ann, Ruth Ann, and Martha A. in Ozark, Dale County, Alabama while Thomas (X) “Due,” Elizabeth, and their seven boys and two girls appear in the census for Henderson County, Tennessee just east of Jackson. In about 1851 came further confirmation that the Thomas (X) Dew family had indeed left North Carolina in the form of a newspaper legal notice that “Thomas Dew and his wife Betsy” were defendants in a complaint brought by Betsy’s step-mother Elizabeth Henly Williams (as if we needed more confusion) against the estate of her late husband George Williams and his heirs. The advertisement stated that the Dews no longer resided in North Carolina and consequently the advertisement put them on notice of the complaint.

In 1860 Thomas S. Dew, Elizabeth and his now four girls appear in Eucheeanna, Walton County, Florida while Thomas (X), “Bitsie,” and their children had settled in Denmark, Madison County, Tennessee about ten miles southeast of Jackson. Thomas and Betsy lived out the remainder of their lives in the community where they are buried. My great great grandfather Reverend Dew on the other hand, after burying his dear Elizabeth, married his second wife Caroline Slay of Washington County, Florida whom he out-lived another decade before he ultimately settled in about 1842 in Houston County, Alabama near Dothan. There he lies buried, having died in 1899 at the age of nearly 91.

In an ironic twist, Thomas Spenser Dew’s 3x great granddaughter, my daughter, recently moved to Dyer County, Tennessee about ten miles from the grave of Thomas (X) Dew/Due and Betsy Williams Dew’s son Thomas Jefferson Dew.  In the photograph my daughter appears with her daughter. Thomas J. Dew is their 6th cousin 4x and 5x times removed, respectively. The evidence is compelling that Lisa is the descendant of Thomas Spenser Dew and Elizabeth Atkinson Dew, not Thomas (X) Dew/Due and Elizabeth “Betsy” Williams Dew/Due.  Thus, we now can answer the question of who married Elizabeth Williams (1811-1873): the widowed husband of Penny Bailey Haswell, namely, Thomas Dew/Due (1808-1862) of Beaver Dam. Granville County, North Carolina, the son of Seth Dew and the father of Thomas Jefferson Dew (1847-1927).

Case closed.

Emily and Lisa Edington 4x and 3x great granddaughters (respectively) of Thomas Spenser Dew photographed in a recent visit to the grave of Thomas Jefferson Dew, son of Thomas (X) Dew and Elizabeth “Betsy” Williams Dew of Granville County, North Carolina. The graves are in the Poplar Grove Cemetery in Newbern, Tennessee, under a large eponymous tulip poplar tree. Thomas J. Dew is their 6th cousins three and four tines removed. Mr. Dew’s mother is NOT their ancestral Elizabeth Dew.

I do not like to admit it, but I was wrong—not wrong about everything but incorrect in one particular: the identification of my 2x great grandmother. I had (along with several other genealogists) said she was Elizabeth Williams. In fact, in a previous post I had spun a beautiful story of unfulfilled love that fit the data I had at the time, viz. Thomas Spenser Dew, my 2x great grandfather, was married to a woman named Elizabeth, born about 1816, in Georgia. (This is established fact, documented by the 1850 and 1860 US Population Censuses.) I erred in my mistaken hypothesis, however, because I accepted two misleading bits of evidence (1) the existence of a marriage bond made in Granville County, North Carolina.for Thomas “Due” and Elizabeth Williams signed in 1832 (when our Elizabeth of Burke County, Georgia would have been 16 years of age and three years before Thomas Spenser headed to Georgia in late 1835); and (2) the absence of any documentary evidence of an Elizabeth Atkinson, as our ancestor. Of course, Miss Atkinson had been rumored to be Thomas’ wife in family lore (viz. the recollections of my Mother Audrey and of Ruth Dew “Aunt Sister” Moates, my eldest maternal aunt. See figure 1). Then I laid my hands on the church record of the Little Buck Head Baptist Church (hereafter abbreviated LBHBC) via Interlibrary Loan from the archives at Mercer University. In the process, I re-confirmed the adage “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” much to my embarrassment.

From family Bible given to my Ma Bertia by my mother Audrey Moates Matteson in 1958.
 Figure 1—The notes of my Aunt Ruth called “Sister” and my mother Audrey that identify their grandmother as Elizabeth Adkinson
and Martha Atkinson, respectively.

What I saw in the image on the microfilm reader as I sat in the Nashville Public Library Special Collections excited my imagination. On the flyleaf of the minutes book was the signature of Thomas S. Dew among the other church clerks who had possession of the book during their tenure. My grandfather’s grandfather was indeed a man of import in the Burke County, Georgia church and was a literate, educated individual. Furthermore, in the early pages of the record that began on July 4, 1835 at the establishment of the congregation, I found that in the meeting of 12 Aug 1837 Thomas Dew joined LBHBC in the company of kinsmen Mills Peel and Mill’s son Levi Peel. These gentlemen were Thomas’ suspected Uncle and 1st Cousin, respectively, who had also relocated from Edgecombe County, North Carolina in late 1835-early 1836 as did Thomas.

Elizabeth Atkinson Found!

Then I saw a name that stunned me! The minutes of the 7 Oct 1837 meeting, not quite two months later, recorded the fact that two ladies joined the congregation: Elizabeth Atkinson and Harriet Atkinson.  I believe them to be sisters and the daughters of Sarah Atkinson, whom I have subsequently deduced to be the widow of Jeremiah John Atkinson. Moreover, Sarah was born a Brinson, sharing a surname with many in the congregation.  I had encountered Harriet earlier in my research. She married Levi Peel in July 1838. Is it possible that this is the Elizabeth, her sister, whom Thomas would marry on 28 February the same year as well?  If so, then Harriet would be both his cousin by marriage and his sister-in-law, as well. We also note that the girls’ mother Sarah Atkinson was a founding member #10 of the church.

It is a very real possibility. When Thomas prepared to leave the church to remove to Alabama, after he had been licensed and ordained, he requested a letter of dismissal (6 Dec 1847) for “Thos. Dew and his wife.” Thus, his wife “Elizabeth” was clearly also a member of the church. There is no specific mention of any marriage ceremony, nor the joining of a Mrs. Dew or any other Dew in the congregation. Thus, we must look to the membership list to find the most likely Elizabeth who had joined as a single adult under her maiden name. In the Baptist faith tradition, each individual may enter the covenantal family of the church by their statement of faith, or—following baptism by immersion as an adult—a letter of dismissal in good standing from their former congregation. See figure 2 for a facsimile and transcription of the first page of the membership list. Thomas S. Dew appears as number 41 in the company of Mills and Levi Peel, respectively his uncle and first cousin.  Two months later (according to the minutes of the church) Elizabeth Atkinson became member number 54 with her sister Harriet.


Portion of membership list (in chronological order) of Little Buck Head Baptist Church, Burke County Georgia (1835-1855) with a transcription in which Thomas S. Dew (member #41) and Elizabeth Atkinson (#54) are highlighted in red. The super/subscripts dist or dead or Excomm were added later to indicate the ultimate disposition of the member, namely (1) dismissed in good standing by “letter,” (2) died or was (3) excommunicated in church discipline, respectively. No notation suggests that he individual was still a member in 1855 when the minutes were closed.

A careful accounting of the membership by comparing the list with the minutes of each meeting that notes who “came forward” reveals that six women named Elizabeth joined Little Buck Head Baptist Church in this period. The “Elizabeths” of LBHBC are as follows:


Elizabeth Atkinson #53 joined 7 Oct 1837 dis’d       [as Mrs Dew?]
Elizabeth Wallace #76 joined 11 Aug 1838 [presumably a member until after 1855]
Elizabeth Williams #97 joined 11 Dec 1841             [Williams! But not our Elizabeth, joined after
Thomas married Elizabeth Atkinson 1838]
Elizabeth Brinson #30/#116 joined 11 Jun 1836/dis’d 9 Apr 1842 [rejoined post 1844]
Elizabeth Forehand #163 joined post 1844 [presumed wife of William C. Forehand #162]
Elizabeth Thorn #172 joined post 1844 [Unmarried in 1850, daughter of Middleton Thorn]

There is no Elizabeth, save Miss Atkinson, who joined before the date of Thomas S. Dew’s and Elizabeth’s marriage in February 1838 with the exception of Elizabeth Brinson, the later of whom was dismissed in 1842 under her maiden name and rejoined after 1844. Thus, it is highly likely that this Elizabeth Atkinson was the bride of the North Carolinian émigré.

Occam’s Razor to the Rescue

There is a principle of decision theory called Occam’s razor which holds that when choosing the preferred hypothesis between two theories that fit the data, the simpler of the pair is most often the closer to the truth. In my previous post I had attempted to account for Elizabeth of the 1850 and 1860 censuses being born in 1816 and claiming Georgia as her birth place and having the maiden name of Williams. Thus, I concocted what I now consider an elaborate fiction. The less convoluted narrative is that the “Thomas Due” and Elizabeth Williams of Granville County, North Carolina of the marriage bond were a different couple than Thomas S. Dew of Edgecombe County, North Carolina and Elizabeth Atkinson of Burke County, Georgia, who are, thus, my ancestors. I was duped by a case of mistaken identity. What is more, our Thomas Spenser Dew was very literate and was particular about the spelling of his name. Here are several examples of his signature from about the time in question. (See figure below).

Exemplars of the signature of Thomas Spenser Dew. The first from the fly leaf of the church records dated “1842 Dec the 10 [th] day” when he took possession of the book as church clerk. The next three are samples from the minutes that he habitually signed at the end of each entry. The final two are from his personal testimony, written in his own hand over several years.

The marriage bond made in 1832 between “Thomas (X) Due” and his bride Elizabeth Williams is signed only with “His mark.” Thus, the X in our designation of him. (See next figure.) This Thomas was most probably illiterate and could not write or spell his name. In a subsequent post I will attempt to identify this Thomas. In any case, he is NOT Thomas S. Dew, I now believe, not only because of the advanced state of Rev Dew’s literacy but also because of the awkward timeline of the matrimonies. It seems implausible that Thomas S. Dew would have married Elizabeth Williams in 1832 only to relocate to Georgia alone over 300 miles away three years later and marry another Elizabeth so soon. Indeed, Thomas S. was apparently single when he joined LBHBC in 1837 as there is no record of a “Sister Dew” at that time. It is more likely that Thomas (X) Due/Dew married an Elizabeth Williams (of unknown age). We will explore their potential identities in a subsequent post. In any case, it now seems much more likely that Thomas Spenser Dew did NOT marry Elizabeth Williams.

The signature of Thomas (x) Due/Dew on the marriage with Elizabeth Williams. Incidentally, note that Anderson Bailey, Penny Bailey Haswell Dew’s cousin was literate and could sign his name.

Therefore, I owe my mother and aunt an apology for my rather out-of-hand dismissal of their communications. The family story, however, is not without error. My 2x great grandmother’s name was indeed Elizabeth (not “Martha” as my mother reported) with a maiden name of Atkinson (not “Adkinson” as my aunt reported).

Moreover, I have deduced that the Elizabeth of Georgia was the child of Sarah Brinson Atkinson and Jeremiah John Atkinson of Burke County, based on a wide range of admittedly circumstantial evidence. For example, the Dews had an affinity for the families Atkinson and Brinson as is often the case among rural ancestral communities. Elizabeth also had other close relations in the church, if my deductions are accurate: for example, her aforementioned sister Harriet Drusilla Atkinson Peel; brothers Alexander W. Atkinson and John Atkinson, the latter of whom I believe sheltered the couple in 1840.

Thomas S and Elizabeth Dew May Have Lived with Brother John Atkinson in 1840

Interestingly, in the 1840 census no Dew family appears on the enumeration for Burke County, Georgia. Thomas reported in his witness that his house burned in January of that year and subsequently he worked for John Atkinson. An examination of the 1830 census reveals John Atkinson living alone, but in 1840 he shared his home, in addition to his wife “Mahuldah” aka Huldah (known from the membership list of LBHBC and the 1850 and subsequent censuses), with another man and woman of ages consistent with those of Thomas (b. 1808) and Elizabeth (b. 1816). In 1850 the guests (presumably the Dew family) had moved on, showing up in the census of Ozark, Dale County, Alabama, with three daughters: Sarah Ann and Ruth Ann, both born in Georgia, and Martha A., an infant born in Alabama the year before.

Recently, two documents have come to my attention that place Thomas S. Dew in Burke County, Georgia until the beginning of 1849, namely a survey order and a deed for about 100 acres near Millen on the Burke County-Screven County line adjacent to the land of Daniel Brinson, probably one of Elizabeth’s maternal cousins. Why the Dew family departed Georgia and moved southwest to Dale County, Alabama is unclear at this time. But in the census next year Thomas had real estate listed at a value of $500, presumably the parcel southeast of Millen, Georgia.

A More Straightforward Tale

While I confess by chagrin at having put forth what turns out to be an elaborate conspiracy theory, I acknowledge it that has been a way of life for me as a scientist over the decades of my professional career: propose a hypothesis that explains the data, one that is falsifiable and then proceed with it until it is OBE (Overtaken By Events), that is, until it is shown to be contrary to reality. Taking the new data into account and applying Occam’s razor we are led to the conclusion that the narrative in this part of Thomas Spenser Dew’s life is much more straightforward than I reported earlier.

In late 1835, after the death of his mother Sarah Peel Dew, Thomas, age 27 relocated with his Uncle and family to the rich farmer land of Burke County, Georgia. Soon after arriving Thomas met Elizabeth Atkinson, daughter of the family of the widow Sarah Atkinson, perhaps as a consequence of his employment by Elizabeth’s brother John in 1837.  Their attendance at the new church (Little Buck Head Baptist Church) without doubt gave them opportunity to see each other and to begin courting. At the same time Thomas’ cousin Levi Peel began courting Harriet, Elizabeth’s sister. In February 1838, after Thomas had secured a job as a clerk in a shop in town (possibly Millen) the couple was married, followed a few months later by Levi and Harriet’s nuptials. The Dews settled into married life in their own (rented) home until January 1840 when their house caught fire and burned all they had. With the support and care of family the two were able to weather the disaster, however, and rebuild their fortunes, adding daughters Sarah in 1842 and Ruth (my great grandmother) in 1846. Apparently, Thomas prospered as a farmer since he was able within a few years to homestead his own 100 acre place. At the same time his involvement in the affairs of the congregation on Little Buck Head Creek grew as did his skill as an orator. In 1842 he became the Clerk of the church, often called upon to represent the church with other brothers in the association meetings. Within five years he “heard the call” and was licensed to preach, and on 9 May 1847 he was ordained by the congregation a minister of the gospel. The church house remains from those days as a monument to the piety of the saints Thomas knew. (See contemporary photographs of the Buck Head Baptist Church meeting house and interior built in 1855 on the site of the previous church house.)

Exterior of Buck Head Baptist Church, Jenkins (ealier Burke) County, Georgia built 1855.
Recent photographs of the exterior and interior of the historic Buck Head Church in Jenkins (formerly Burke) County, Georgia. The building was constructed in 1855, after the Dews had departed the area. It was Thomas S. Dew who stood in meeting i1n the 1840s to propose that the church become incorporated.

I can imagine how that, in 1849, Thomas heard the “Macedonian Call: Come over and help us!” Perhaps the call came from an itinerant preacher who brought word of the need for preachers in the developing frontier of Alabama; perhaps it came as a letter from a friend. For example, the town of Newton had been founded less than five years earlier and lay just south of the settlement then known as “Woodshop” later renamed “Ozark.” In this spot the Dews planted their growing family, . This was an actual frontier of development, and opportunity, both in commerce and in evangelism. Whatever the precise details, it is clear that Thomas uprooted his family from the comfortable surroundings of Burke County where Elizabeth had grown up and transplanted them to Dale County just in time for Martha to be born an Alabamian.

There the Dew family labored in the vineyard of the Lord for a decade, leaving a legacy in the Ozark Baptist Church that is still remembered, until in 1860 they moved again to the fateful locale of Eucheeanna in Walton County, Florida. There my great grandparents (James Marion Moates and Ruth Ann Dew) would meet and later marry as I have detailed in a previous post.

A New Family Tree and New Cousins

Because I have been properly chastened by new-found information, I now offer humbly a revised identification of Elizabeth Atkinson as Thomas’ spouse. Subsequently, I constructed a more accurate family tree in Ancestry.com. As a consequence, scores of fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins have popped up among my DNA Matches, individuals who are related to me and my family via the ancestors of Sarah Brinson Atkinson and Jeremiah John Atkinson. I believe that we have—at last—solved the mystery of Thomas Spenser Dew’s wives. Thomas only had two mates: Elizabeth Atkinson (m 1838- d. about 1865) and Caroline Slay Dew (m. 1870-d. 1872). Penny Bailey Haswell Dew and Elizabeth “Betsie” Williams Dew were the wives of another Thomas Dew/Due whose identity I will explore in a subsequent post.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to view the original documents and capture a sense of Rev Dew, a man previously shrouded in the mists of vague family legend. Like a fresh breeze clears the fog, new information has permitted me to catch a clearer glimpse of who this man really was and to come to know him as a real person, not merely as an ephemeral collection of pixels in an heirloom on-line image. In the same way, I hope that you, dear reader, will see him. I believe that then it will have been worth the effort—despite my embarrassing missteps—to find him and my long unknown great great grandmother Elizabeth Atkinson Dew. She was herself also a person of remarkable resilience and courage, who followed her peripatetic husband like the patriarch Abraham’s wife Sarah, moving always to the unknown frontier from her comfortable and familiar circle of home and kin.

Re-discovering a Great, Great Grandfather
of Sam Matteson May 2021

One ancient image that now floats about in cyberspace (see below) provides a rare and precious picture of some of the Moates-Dew family at the end of the nineteenth century. Judging from the apparent age of my grandfather Noah W. Moates (about four by the look of him and b. 27 Dec 1889) and that of an infant whom I have identified as James Worley Jefferson Long (less than 2 and b. 1893) in his mother “Lizzie” Long’s arms, the photograph can be dated to about 1894. The “Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes” of the family and the presence of palm fronds suggests that the photograph was exposed on or near Palm Sunday (March 18, 1894). On the right in the group portrait is a bearded gentleman sitting in a rocking chair holding a large Bible on his lap.  Incidentally, this venerable book, a King James Version Bible printed in 1878 is in the care of my 1st cousin once removed, Katie Beauchamp. The elderly man in the photograph is my great, great-grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Spenser (sometimes spelled Spencer) Dew (sometimes spelled Due). Here he is about age 85. To my knowledge this is the only photograph of him in existence.

Probably Palm Sunday (or Easter Sunday) March 18 or 25, 1894 Dothan, Alabama (Note the Palm Branches.) This image is from a timed exposure. Note also that Docia Moates (far right rear) appears to have more than the normal number of fingers on her right hand, having
shifted her pose mid-exposure. The family members present are listed below.

Back row (standing left to right): Charles Murphey, Annie Moates Murphey, Mary Jane Robbins Long, Caroline Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dew Long, child-in-arms [probably] James Worley Jefferson Long, Jefferson Davis Long, Genera Bell “Aunt Navy” Moates Hunt, James Thomas Moates, Theodocia “Docia” Ernestine Temple Moates

Center Row (seated left to right): John Adams Moates. Christopher Columbus Moates, James Marion (Miley) Moates, my grandfather Noah Theodore Webster Moates (standing), Ruth Ann Dew Moates, Grover Cleveland Moates, Thomas Spencer Dew

Front Row (seated on ground left to right) [probably]: Thomas Anderson Long, Cleopatra Cornelia Long, Isla Estelle Long, James Thomas Murphy

[Principal source: Ancestry.com “LongAncestornames” shared by parsonhenry1957, 26 Dec 2019]

Without question, the Reverend was an influential figure in the families of his five daughters, Susan Ann Dew McSween Murphy, Ruth Ann Dew Moates, Martha Ann Dew McLeod (during her short life), Mary Ann Dew Borders Sowell, and Caroline Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dew Long and in the families of their descendants. I discern the shadow of this towering individual inumbrating the generations, falling on my mother’s generation as well as on that of his other great grandchildren and even on me, although in hazier outline. Little is accurately known of him and his life despite the rumors in the family. Much of the information we do have is sketchy or apocryphal, since myth is most happy to blossom in the gaps.  Thus there are oft-repeated but unsubstantiated family tales that must be dispelled before we begin to know who he really was. Fortunately, we can easily dispense with many of the notions because of the power of DNA analysis and on-line documentary evidence now available to us. For example, Reverend Dew was not married to a Native American woman, at least not in the Moates line. I am only four generations removed and should share about (½)4=1/16 ~ 6% DNA each with him and his partner. But I must disappoint my children and tell them that we have no indigenous ancestor because I have no detectable levels of Native American DNA in my genome, as is also the case with Rev Dew’s great granddaughter, my Aunt Ann Moates Rowley, who shares about 12% of her DNA with her ancestor.  Moreover, Thomas Spenser Dew (or Due) never sired a son named Thomas Jefferson Dew or Thomas Spenser Dew Jr as some have reported. In this investigation I have eagerly pursued these leads only to be disappointed when I discovered that it was a coincidental or false clue. For example, the suggestions of a lost son are misapprehensions of the son of Thomas Franklin Dew of Tennessee. Reverend Dew never lived in Tennessee, even though he was indeed peripatetic.

Moreover, some actual facts also get distorted and conflated in the retelling. For example, my mother conjectured that Thomas’ “first wife” must have died because “Martha Atkinson raised his girls.” As we will establish below, Elizabeth Williams was Thomas’ wife from 1838 to her death soon after the 1860 census. What is more, I cannot find any record of any Martha Atkinson in the years after 1860 when his “girls” were still young (but older than 8-18.) The Atkinsons were in fact a trusted family in Thomas’ life, ever since his days in Georgia. In fact, Ann Caroline Atkinson Peel from Burke County, Georgia married Thomas’ first cousin and did indeed live next door to the Thomas Dew family in 1860 in Eucheeanna, Florida. She, a first cousin by marriage, may have been a helpful feminine presence in Reverend Dew’s household during the hard days of the late 1860s. Incidentally, Ann’s daughter Mary ultimately married Francis Marion Moates, James Marion and Ruth Ann Dew Moates’ uncle. The source of the name Martha may lie in my mother’s grandmother’s younger sister Martha A. Dew (note the similarity to the legendary Martha Atkinson) who died by age 21 some time during this period.  Thus, the family ties are so tangled in a love knot that you dear reader and family descendants can both be forgiven for becoming confused. The truth is simpler than family lore but complicated enough. The fables handed down to us, moreover, are no more dramatic than the straightforward reality we have uncovered.

T. S. Dew, Wandering Preacher (1808-1899)

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” [Genesis 12:1]

We have found documentary traces deposited by our Thomas Spenser’s presence, dropped like crumbs along the way, that indicate his residence successively in Granville and Edgecombe Counties of North Carolina (particularly in Tarboro and Beaver Dam, N.C.), then in Burke County, Georgia near Millen, followed by a decades-long sojourn in Ozark, Dale County, Alabama, and then another ten years in Eucheeanna (now an unincorporated community near Defuniak Springs), Walton County, Florida, before moving for about thirteen years to Orange Hill, Washington County, Florida then settling at last in the area near Dothan, Alabama. (See below the map of his peregrinations over his long life.) Much confusing misinformation attaches to his life journey because of many contemporary but unrelated Thomas Dews. He has been confused with a few of them, even most notably the famous (or infamous) antebellum President of William and Mary College Rev Thomas Roderick Dew. Furthermore, our Thomas Dew was never married to a Rachel. The misattribution perhaps sprouts from the confusion with the name of his son-in-law’s, i.e. James Marion Moates’, mother, Rachel Moates Miley Gleason.

The sojourn of the patriarch Thomas Spenser Dew (1808-1899) looks—in retrospect—purposeful although there is no record of a grand plan in the mind of the preacher.

Our investigation has been plagued again and again by elliptical information and outright misinformation. For example, I obtained—after much waiting on the post office to deliver the documents from the various Departments of Vital Statistics—highly anticipated Death Certificates of three of Thomas’ daughters (who died in the early twentieth century) each promising to reveal their mother’s maiden name and birthplace. Unfortunately the informants (often a child of the deceased) did not know their grandmother’s name or birth place and sometimes they guessed wrong or simply wrote “UnK” or “Don’t Know.” We can pardon these lapses because of the decades since the passing of their grandparents and the lack of conversation about the “ole folks at home.” Thus, we have had to cast a critical eye on all of the data we uncover to ascertain the trustworthiness of the information.

What we most reliably know of Thomas Spenser Dew comes from a precious document preserved by the children of Noah W. Moates, his grandson, my grandfather. The artifact is an undated testament of three pages written in Thomas’ own hand and probably composed soon after the events recorded before memories had faded. Below is an image of the pages, the original penned in iron gall ink.

Facsimile of handwritten testimony of Thomas S. Dew (left) with transcription (right)

Facts from His Own Hand

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” [James 1:27]

From his own hand we learn that Thomas S. Dew was born 25 November 1808 to Zachariah Dew and his wife Sarah. From other sources we learn that later, in 1836, Zachariah Dew of Granville County North Carolina became betrothed to Sally Ann Jewell according to a marriage bond. Thus, although Sally is often a nickname for Sarah, this was obviously Zachariah’s second marriage. Years later, Thomas exhibited an affinity for the family Peel. This suggested to me that perhaps his mother and Zach’s first wife was named Sarah Peel. This was a novel, perhaps daring conjecture. But after I made the hypothetical connection to the Peel family in my family tree, Ancestry.com indicated that I do indeed share many DNA matches with multiple descendants of the Peel family (25 in various sibling branches). Many showed up, in particular, among the progeny of Mills Peel who removed from Edgecombe County, North Carolina between 1830 and 1840 to appear in the 1840 census of Burke County, Georgia. The name Sarah Peel, however, like a genealogical phantom, does not appear in any documents that I found, but this situation is not surprising given the near chattel state of women in the 19th century. Female identity was linked to their nearest male relations, be it father, husband, or even son. Thus, Thomas’ mother Sarah was (probably) the sister of Mills Peel of Granville, North Carolina and (after the mid-1830s) Burke County, Georgia.

In addition, we find our Thomas Dew (or Due as it is often misspelled) in other documents. In 1829 from a marriage bond we learn that Thomas became betrothed to Penelope “Penny” Bailey Haswell.  The bride’s elder brother William Bailey served as Thomas’ bondman.

Marriage Bond record between Penny [Penelope Bailey] Haswell and Thomas Due [Dew] 27 July 1829

While marriage does not inevitably follow every bond issued, apparently the marriage of Thomas (age 21) and Penny (age 30) was consummated. Thomas and the widow Haswell (she had married Redding Haswell at the end of 1824, who—sadly—died within four years) appear unnamed together with her two children by Redding in the 1830 US Census for Granville, North Carolina.

Thomas Dew Family in 1830: Head—Thomas Dew. Unnamed in the enumeration: William (born Haswell) Dew (later Bailey) age 1; Thomas age 22; Helen Haswell (later Hight) age 5 and Penny age 31.

Further investigation revealed that Penny also died within the next three years, however. We deduce this fact from the observation that Thomas sought to remarry in May of 1832 after Penny left the grieving husband with two small children to care for. We find that later in 1841 he and Penny’s nephew by marriage Jeremiah Estes sued the estate of Penny’s (deceased) father John Bailey, administered by Penny’s elder brother William Bailey, on behalf of their respective minor children with their widows, the daughters of Grandfather John Bailey. I could not find what resulted from the suit but did discover that ultimately Helen was fostered by Penny’s sister Glaphrey Bailey and her husband William “Gentleman Buck” Bailey (no blood relation to Penny’s family) until Helen married Herbert H. Hight. Unfortunately she perished before 1860, a childless bride, perhaps a victim of the complications of childbirth as was so common in those days. Her sibling William Dew, being a man, fared better; he was fostered by another Bailey cousin (reportedly Joseph Bailey and Elizabeth Strickland Bailey). He appears to have lived a long and prosperous life, siring many children under the moniker William Dew Bailey or W.D. Bailey.  We may conclude that Thomas was kind to his step-children, finding homes where they could flourish with their blood relatives after events frustrated his attempt at quickly securing a step mother. In the interim from Penny’s death and to his ultimate marriage to Elizabeth he remained a celibate widower as far as I was able to determine.

As we mentioned above, Thomas in 1832 attempted to arrange to provide a step mother for Penny’s children by proposing to Elizabeth Williams. Apparently, she accepted, even at the tender age of sixteen.

The text of a petition in the probation of the will of John Bailey (deceased 1841) submitted by Jeremiah Estes and Thomas Dew. Transcription: “. . . died before his Father; also that your petitioners Helon [sic] Haswell & William Dew, who are infants [represented?] in this behalf by their next found [heir] Thomas Dew, are the children & heirs at law of Penel-ope, a daughter of the said John Bailey (desc).
Marriage Bond 14 May 1832 for Thomas Due [Dew] age 23 and Elizabeth Williams age 16-17. Their marriage did not occurred until 28 February 1838, five and one half years later, after Elizabeth turned 21.

Disappointingly, the marriage of Thomas and Elizabeth Williams was not to be, at least not immediately. We are tempted to imagine the anguish of the star-crossed lovers. Since Elizabeth was a minor in 1832 she could not legally marry without parental consent. We can only surmise the reason for the delay but can confirm that they waited more than five long years before Thomas and Elizabeth finally wed on 28 February 1838 according to his testimony. The location of the nuptials is unknown at the moment. I suspect that it was in or near their new home in Burke County, Georgia. It may not have included either of their families. This is a topic of continuing research as is the identity of Elizabeth’s Family. I plan a future essay fully exploring this mystery but will whet the reader’s appetite with a few preliminary findings.

Which Elizabeth?

Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” [Ruth 1:16]

That Mrs. Dew was born Elizabeth Williams is supported by her appearance in the 1850 and 1860 censuses where she identified herself as “Elizabeth,” born in about 1816, with an inferred birthday after 6 June and before 5 November 1816 (that is, August 1816 ± 3 months) based on her age on the dates of later census enumerations. She also reported that she hailed from Georgia. (See Figures below.)  Several family trees of amateur genealogists associate our Elizabeth Williams Dew with one Eliza Williams, daughter of Dudley Williams of Edgecombe County, North Carolina. However, Eliza is mentioned in Dudley’s will that is dated November 1814 and that was probated in 1815. Since I have several DNA cousins who are, in fact, descended from Dudley Williams and Catherine Tyre, I was initially persuaded that there was a familial association, but because of the consistency of Elizabeth’s claimed birth year (1816) she is probably not this Eliza, being born after Dudley Williams (Eliza’s father) had expired. What is more, Eliza Williams (born about 1811) daughter of Dudley appears to have married a man named Pearson and resided elsewhere.  Instead, I have since become convinced that the family relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth may be that of cousins (2nd cousin twice removed, for example) rather than parent-child. That would explain the shared DNA with Dudley’s descendants; his progeny and I are cousins, but our common ancestors are further up the Williams family tree; namely, my DNA cousins and I share the ancestors Samuel Williams (1698) and Sarah Elizabeth Alton (1711), who were the parents of Solomon March Williams and the grandparents to Dudley by a different son.

Thus, after vigorous inquiry, I have concluded that it is more likely that our Elizabeth is the offspring of the union of Solomon B. Williams and Elizabeth Stanley, the children respectively of Henry Guston Williams of Warren County, North Carolina (and grandson of the Revolutionary War hero Solomon March Williams) and the Quaker family of Michael Stanley of Guilford County, North Carolina.  My confidence in this conjecture is strengthened by the identification of many DNA cousins who Ancestry.com has identified as descendants of the Stanley family as well as cousins from the Solomon March Williams’ clan. If this is indeed the case, then  Elizabeth Williams Dew may have been born in Davidson County, Tennessee (where I coincidentally currently reside) during Solomon B. Williams’ and Elizabeth Stanley’s sojourn there before their return to North Carolina in 1819.  It was during their residence (1819-1832) in central North Carolina—apparently—when the widower Thomas crossed paths with Miss Williams, perhaps at one of the palatial plantation houses of the Williams Family in Warren County.  Evidence for and investigation of my bold contentions deserve a dedicated exposition and evaluation that is beyond what is appropriate here. Sufficient it to say that in about 1830 or soon afterward the whole Solomon B. Williams family relocated to Alpharetta, Georgia near Atlanta. It is plausible that Elizabeth pined away there for her beloved but forbidden Thomas, while he apparently waited faithfully and persistently in North Carolina until 1835 when he departed the Edgecombe/Granville County area for Burke County, Georgia over 300 miles away.  Thus, Elizabeth nee-Williams Dew could rightfully claim to be “from Georgia.” Oh, how I wish their correspondence had survived! We must be satisfied, however, with the crumbs of history.

The Thomas Dew Family 1850 Dale County [Ozark] Alabama—Thomas Dew (1808) North Carolina; Elizabeth (1816) Georgia; Sarah A[nn] 1843; Ruth Ann (1846) Georgia; Martha Ann (1849) Alabama.
The Thomas Dew family 1860 Walton County [Eucheeanna] Florida—Head Thomas (1808) North Carolina, wife Elizabeth (1816) Georgia, daughters—Sarah A[nn] (1843) Georgia; Ruth A[nn] (1846) Georgia, my 2xgreat grandmother; Martha A[nn] (1849) Alabama; Mary A[nn] (1852) Alabama.

On the Little Buck Head (1835-1850)

“And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” [Romans 10:15]

Thomas’ recollections (see photo and transcription) indicate that at the age of 27, presumably having placed his step children in the care of their blood relations and following the death of his mother Sarah (Peel) Dew, he quit North Carolina and immigrated the 300 miles to Burke County, Georgia. Perhaps he hoped to make a fresh start and put behind him the sadness at the loss of two significant women in his life (Penny his wife and Sarah his mother), and leaving as well the scene of his disappointment in a frustrated betrothal.  Out of all the possible destinations for a new beginning, this corner of Georgia seems at first to be a remarkably random place. I suspected that something special must have drawn him to the banks of the Little Buck Head Creek in what is today Jenkins County, Georgia, far from his birthplace. As we will see throughout his life story, the lure of family is an overwhelming attraction.  Thus, it seems that he was influenced to join his uncle Mills Peel in the county after Planter Peel had also relocated his family there from the Piedmont of North Carolina between 1830 and 1840.

I have confirmed that Thomas did indeed resettle in the coastal plains of Southeastern Georgia by verifying the presence of the various individuals he mentioned by name. Rev. Dew writes in his testimony, “Worked with Mrs. Torrence in 1836.” I have identified her as Mrs. Martha Torrence, widow of John Torrence of Burke County, Georgia a cotton planter.  She is the only Torrence (or Torrance) appearing in the relevant censuses.  Likewise, John A. Atkinson, whom Great Grandpa Dew identifies by name, twice in his notes, and, who probably played such an important role in Thomas’ life, also appears in the 1850 census, as well. Atkinson’s grave lies in the Little Buck Head Church cemetery near his daughter Sarah’s headstone. Incidentally, Sarah was instrumental in the formation of the congregation (Little Buck Head Church) in 1835 that later grew into Millen Baptist Church of present day Jenkins County.

When Thomas found work as a shop keeper (probably in the village of Millen) he and Elizabeth wed, since she was now over 21 and no longer legally required parental consent to marry. I suspect that her parents still not approve of the union and probably disowned her, but this only a guess without any evidence one way or the other. There is no mention of this Elizabeth in the Solomon B. and Elizabeth Stanley Williams family records, although there is a gap at 1816 in the almost annually incremented list of births of their children. By 1850, when for the first time household members are listed by name in the census, Elizabeth would have been long gone. Furthermore, when old man Sol died in 1871, Elizabeth Williams Dew was already deceased herself. So there would be no need to mention her or her unknown heirs. There is therefore no record of her. Similarly, Thomas may have been estranged from his father and the new family Zachariah started with second wife Sally Ann Jewell, since—when Zachariah Dew’s will was probated in 1879—his two surviving daughters claimed (erroneously) that all other heirs (including Thomas) were deceased. They apparently had not heard from their long lost elder brother in years.

Soon (in 1839) the couple would be lodged comfortably in the overseer’s house on the Burton Plantation where Thomas “overseed.” Then disaster struck! We feel a frisson of anguish at the words penned decades later by Thomas, “My house took fire on 21th Jan 1840 and burnt all I had.” It is telling that the Thomas Dew family does not appear as a separate family in the 1840 census of the county. Perhaps the couple found shelter either in the household of Thomas’ uncle Mills Peel or that of his friend and neighbor John Atkinson for whom he worked the following year. In the period from 1840 to 1850 Thomas must have continued to work in Burke County to provide for his growing family with Elizabeth giving birth to their first born, Sarah Ann on 10 June 1842. About a year beforehand Thomas had taken leave of his responsibilities and made the two week journey back to North Carolina to attend to the legal matter of his disinherited step children. That occasion may have been the last time he ever saw his Tar-Heel-State family.



A first-hand account of Thomas Dew’s sojourn in Burke County, Georgia. The individuals named Mrs. [Martha] Torrence (widow of John Torrence), John [A.] Atkinson, and the Burtons {a prominent plantation-owning family) all appear in contemporaneous census documents for Burke County, Georgia.
Note documenting birth of Thomas and Elizabeth’s first child, Sarah Ann Dew born 10 June 1842 (at 2 o’clock in the afternoon), presumably while the Dew family was still resident in Burke County, Georgia. Four years later (17 June 1846) Ruth Ann Dew, my great grandmother joined her older sister in the Dew household.

The decade of the 1840s is a time period in the Dew Family’s life about which I hope soon to learn more by examining the minutes of the Little Buck Head Church. These records reside in the Special Collections (Baptist and University Archives) of the Jack Tarver Library at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. I plan to report on what I uncover in these records in a subsequent post. The church minutes for the period 1835-1855 for the precursor of Millen Baptist Church can be found on microfilm in the archives. The Dews must have been active members of this fledgling church born during the time of the second Great Awakening for on 9 May 1847 Thomas was ordained a minister of the gospel by the congregation.  The church house survives near Millen in what is now Jenkins County, Georgia. (See photograph from the end of the 19th century below). The document (presently in the care of his descendant and my brother Dale W. Matteson) reads in part “[F]inding him orthodox in the faith we now as the presbytery called upon have laid our hands upon our beloved brother commending him to [G]od and to the word of his grace and unto every community or vicinity where ever his lot may be cast.”  Rev. Dew dutifully recorded his credentials in the court of probate in the Dale County, Alabama upon his arrival in that vicinity in 1850, as documented by a notation on the outside of the letter of ordination and probate records available on-line.

Pastor Dew of Alabama (1850-1860)

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” [Matthew 9:38]

Thus the trail of clues resumes in Ozark, Dale County, Alabama in 1850 where the Dew family seems to have joined Rev. Leroy R. Sims, who hailed from Georgia himself, in serving the small but vibrant Baptist Church in the Wiregrass region of southeastern Alabama.


Little Buckhead Church (ca. 1890) location near Millen, Georgia site of Thomas S. Dew’s ordination 9 May 1847.

The history of the Baptist Congregation at Ozark is recounted in a series of feature articles by W. L. Andrews appearing in th Little Buckhead Church (ca. 1890) location near Millen, Georgia site of Thomas S. Dew’s ordination 9 May 1847.e newspaper the Southern Star Ozark, Alabama May-June 1899 that served as source material for a small book History of Ozark Baptist Church by L. Don Miley, who coincidentally is a descendant of William G. Miley the father of James Marion (Miley) Moates, who would become Rev. Dew’s beloved son-in-law. A transcription and compilation was made of the newspaper articles by Eustus Howard Haynes of Ozark and is available on-line. From these documents we learn that “T.S. Due” became a member of the Union Baptist Church (later Ozark Baptist Church) and later pastor of the congregation in November of 1857, serving until he “removed to Florida” in March 1860. Today his name appears on a historical commemorative plaque outside the church house. According to the 1850 census Thomas and Elizabeth had added a third child, Martha Ann (“Ann“ of course) in 1849, she being born shortly after the family’s relocation to Dale County. They occupied a farm near the estate of the regionally prominent planter Moses Matthews, who was instrumental in providing materials and the manpower of his many slaves to build the church house. While Pastor Dew and family labored in the fields of the Lord, a fourth daughter, Mary Ann Dew, completed the growing circle of women who surrounded Thomas, who was the lone male in the house except for a nine-year-old enslaved “house boy”  whose name is lost to history.

The Florida Interlude (1860-1883)

“Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” [Job 14:1]

In the spring of 1860 an exodus from Alabama commenced when the Dew household resettled in Eucheeanna, the bustling county seat of Walton County, Florida, 75 miles south, where they joined their friend and fellow pastor L.R. Sims. They arrived in time for the family to appear in the 1860 Census taken in June. They moved in down the road from the Noah Moates family that included my great grandfather, James Marion Moates, listed as “James Junior” in the ennumeration. Without doubt the arrival of the young women of the Dew family (ages 18, 13, 11, and 8) did not escape the young (age 16) James Marion’s attention. Seven years later, after Jim had served in the CSA infantry, been wounded at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, helped bury his uncle Jonathan, and been captured at Nashville, Tennessee, he and Ruth would be married on 7 Feb 1867, as is noted in the family Bible. Ruthie was the second of the Dew girls to wed. Sarah Ann had married Lieutenant Robert Douglas McSween before his enlistment in 1862. Sarah Ann and Robert had two chilldren, the second born while he was away in the war. It is amusing to speculate whether Reverend Dew performed the ceremonies for his daughters or deferred to Rev Sims. No record of the details of the ceremonies exist, however, to inform us.

Much sadness visited the Eucheeanna Valley during the war and soon afterward. In 1864 word came of Lt McSween’s death at the military hospital in Columbiana, Alabama. Thus, he probably never saw his second child. The war came to the town itself on 23 September 1864. The Union forces under the command of Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth surprised a small detachment of Confederate Cavalry camped at the courthouse. During the raid the blue coats pillaged the farms in the area. Nine “political prisoners” were captured but were soon released according to contemporary newspaper accounts up north. It is quite possible that Rev Dew (age 56) may have been among those apprehended, while Noah Moates, James’ Grandfather, was not present, since he had died earlier in February of that year (1864) according to genealogical reports. A History of Florida (Floripedia, https://fcit.usf.edu/florida/docs/c/civatmar.htm) recounts the events from the confederate point of view in more bitter terms:

At Eucheeanna, Asboth had all the old men arrested. Only old men could be found, as others were in the army. He locked these prisoners up in the old jail. Here they kept without food a night and a day and part of a second day. To their other sufferings was added great anxiety for their families and homes. When the town had been robbed of all worth having, the prisoners were released, and the general and his men rode on to Marianna. All were mounted on horses taken in the neighborhood.

In addition, Gen. Asboth enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and all of the enslaved people of the village were released from bondage, including the unnamed manservant in the Dew household who was age 25 by this time. Dispatches claimed that in Asboth’s West Florida campaign over 400 “contrabands” were freed. It is possible that Dew’s man was recruited and enlisted in the 82nd or 86th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops that participated in the raid. His identity is another mystery that remains elusive. Whatever the fate of the pastor’s man-servant, I find it a matter of great disappointment for me to learn that Thomas Spenser Dew, a man of God—but like so many of his age—promoted and participated in the enslavement of his fellow human, supposedly created in the image of the God whom he worshiped. I wish I had more knowledge of what transpired between Rev Dew and his servant. I will try not to pass judgement without understanding, for I do not know how I would have stood against injustice in the antebellum South had I been there. I am reminded of the words of Jesus “judge not that you be not judged.” Still I am sadden at the knowledge of my slave-holding ancestor’s complicity in what I consider a mockery of Christianity.

The Eucheeanna Valley, The Valley of Death

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” [Psalm 23:4]

Sometime between June 1860 and May1869, Elizabeth, Thomas’ beloved wife of nearly thirty years, died. We infer this fact from her absence in the 1870 census (as well as in the Mortality Schedule for the year preceding the census covering June 1869-June 1870) where in the former I found Thomas hidden in Washington County, Florida under the mis-transcribed name “Thomas Dur” along with his (apparently) unmarried daughter Mary Ann “Dur.”  Interestingly, the father-daughter household lived only a few houses away from Mary’s future husband Ransom T. Sowell. Moreover, two families Peel (possibly part of Thomas’ mother’s greater family) also resided nearby.  In addition, Caroline Slay, Thomas’ future wife also lived in the community with her widowed mother Mrs. Selimea Slay. (I found from the 1860 Mortality Schedule that William Slay, Selimea’s husband, had died in Oct 1859 of Cancer.) It seems Thomas Dew the new pastor of the Union Baptist Church of Orange Hill married Caroline some (short) time before mid-November 1871 (computed from the probably date of Lizzie’s conception). What is more, it appears that Caroline may have died on 23 January 1872 giving birth to her first and only child, the woman who stands in the rear in the photo at the top of this essay. Thomas’ bereavement is confirmed by the 1880 Census where he appears alone with Lizzie in a house adjacent to the home of her Uncle James Marion and Ruth Ann Moates. For the rest of his life Thomas lived near the James Marion Moates family. Meanwhile, Thomas’ other daughter Sarah Ann Dew McSween lived with the elder sister of her battle-slain husband. Moreover, Martha Ann Dew (born in 1849) cannot be found in any subsequent records. We presume that she also expired sometime shortly after the 1860 census, probably in 1868 while her sister Ruth Ann was carrying her niece Martha Ann Moates. But adding anguish to sorrow, Thomas lost his grandchild little Martha Ann Moates, the child of Jim and Ruth who was named in memory of her aunt. The child Martha A was born in January of 1869 but died only 14 months later, shortly before the 1860 census, according to an annotation in the Dew-Moates family Bible. Many in the family are thus unaware that my great grandparents had three, not two, daughters, the first child dying in infancy.

During the period from 1870 to early in 1878, Rev. Dew served the congregation of Union Baptist. Also known as Orange Hill Baptist Church, sharing intermittently pastoral duties with T. E. Langley.  At age 70, Thomas retired at last from the pastorate, apparently to devote himself to farming and grandfathering his offspring. Ever, it seems, cursed with itchy feet, Thomas was to move once again. In about 1883, perhaps influenced by his deceased wife’s Slay family connections in Dale and Henry County Alabama, the Moates-Dew clan migrated one last time to the area north of Dothan in Dale, that later became Houston County Alabama, and on 26 Jan 1884 Thomas Dew at the incredibly mature age of 76 (two years older than I) filed a homestead application that was finally granted five years later. During that time he—probably with the help of family—built a house and worked the farm. The house in the photo at the head of this essay may have been the very house that satisfied the requirements of the Homestead Act four years earlier. We can deduce the approximate time of the relocation from the date of the birth (30 May 1883) and location (Alabama) of Grover C. Moates as listed in the 1890 census for Dale County, Alabama.

It seems that it was on this site a photographer snapped the picture. By then the James M. Moates family had also homesteaded a place nearby and established my mother’s “home place.” Rev. Thomas lived another five years after the photo, succumbing in the end to death in his 91st year. As the Dew-Moates family Bible records in Ruth A. Moates’ hand “Our Father T. S. Dew departed this life Alabama 2 April 1899.”  She might have added quoting I Chronicles 29:28 “He [King David] died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour.” Her father remained active in the church that Ruth and son-in-law Jim helped establish at Midway. He even preached there the year before his demise, according to the church minutes that are in my possession. Thomas S. Dew was buried in the Beulah Cemetery in Dothan.

Summing Up a Life (1808-1899)

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” [Proverbs 16:9]

During this investigation grandfather Thomas has transformed in my imagination from a mysterious ghost into an actual person. His life spanned the majority of the 19th century. I discern from the evidence that he was a man of his time and place, subject to all the influences of the age, both noble and vile. He loved the Lord and his family, but embraced a wicked institution. He spent his childhood in the Piedmont region of North Carolina while the war of 1812 and the Indian wars raged. He was apparently initially unschooled in his early manhood since he could not sign his name. Despite his humble birth and mean circumstances he prospered, ultimately acquiring literacy enough to cipher and read. I detect his perseverance in the face of the loss of three wives, Penny Bailey, Elizabeth Williams, and Caroline Slay. He overcame (with new wife Elizabeth’s help) a devastating fire in January 1840 in which he lost everything he owned.  I see his devotion to his physical family of two step children, five daughters and 24 biological grandchildren, tenderly arranging homes for his orphaned step-children as best he could, providing a livelihood for his three wives, and four girls as a bi-vocational pastor, staying true to his extended family. He loved both his blood-kin and his faith family, moving again and again to be close to them and to serve them. Moreover, he seems to have served humbly as a “Barnabas” to younger “Pauls,” like his fellow pastors Leroy R. Sims and Bro. Lisenby. In the photograph there is a look of quiet resolution on his face: a mouth that neither frowns nor grins. He seems at peace. His gaze is forthright, even if he looks at us through wireless spectacles. His gnarled hands hold the Word of God with a reverent familiarity. It also appears that he has chosen to pose with the Bible open to the beginning of the New Testament with its promise of eternal life in Jesus and the hope of ultimate reunion with departed loved ones as appropriate to the occasion of the family portrait: Easter tide.

I imagine that as he looked back upon his life, Rev Thomas took comfort in the words of the Psalmist: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” [Psalm 127:4,5]

I listened to Andy Patinkin in his appearance on an episode of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr’s PBS series “Finding Your Roots” share a quote from the musical Carousel. He affirmed that As long as there’s one person on earth who remembers you, it isn’t over.” Such is the sentiment cherished both by the Judaic and ancient Egyptian faith traditions, among others. And if true, then I hope that this inquiry will help keep alive in our hearts—both mine and yours—a now-more-accurately-apprehended memory of Thomas Spenser Dew.  Perhaps, then, the story of Thomas S. Dew will not be over, indeed.

Acknowledgment

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the help and hard work of Katie Beauchamp our Moates family historian and faithful cousin. My brother Dale Matteson is also due my appreciation for sharing family artifacts and memories that are in his care. Yet, in a family all are custodians of the history of our people and their memory. If any have artifacts or stories to share I would appreciate seeing a photo of the item or hearing about them. I have shared all I have with the world via Ancestry.com.

March 2, 1966 my grandmother died. She was the person in whom I first met death. I regret that my memories of her passing are fragmentary, in fact so much so that, without documentary evidence, I would doubt my recollections.

Katie Robert “Bertia” (pronounced approximately “Birdy”) Holland Moates (1888-1966) Author’s grandmother

 I do cling to some shards of memory: the phone call to my dorm from my mother telling me that the family had been called to Ma Bertia’s deathbed; the mental image of me standing alone afterward, stunned in my darkened college bedroom room; the sense of being plucked by impending calamity from the routine of my second semester freshman year by the proverbial dying grandmother. I do not recall the over twelve hour road trip from Texas to Alabama-Georgia. I retrieve next views of sitting in an alien never-before-visited apartment where my only grandmother lay dying down the hall. I remember the hushed way that everybody spoke as if their voices wore black crepe. Little of substance remains, only the incidental. The image of the apartment (that today I would call a walk-out mid-century basement) is vivid, as is the bright red and white striped KFC buckets of fried chicken my Uncle “Doc” ordered in for the grief-hungered relatives. I had never before sampled the Colonel’s 11 secret herbed and spiced product. I suppose that is why the memory persists.

I regret that I was incapable of committing to memory my last meeting with my only and dear grandmother. Surely I touched her hand and told her I loved here. But that has escaped me.

I recall some of the funeral and burial. I know that I was there. I see faces not seen for years and hear “My, how you have grown” echoing from people I only vaguely recognize as consanguineous.

The Ole Home Place

But then the next day or the day after, Mother organized for our five-member nuclear family an excursion out to the edge of town to see “The Ole Home Place.” On that exceptional spring day we pulled onto the shoulder of the road beside an almost empty field. A ruined chimney and a large live oak were the only memorable landmarks. As we strolled through the waist-high grass my mother reminisced about her childhood. She shared stories I had heard before and others that the sights prompted her to utter to her children for the first time. Then stopping suddenly, she bend at the waist and picked up a tiny chip of china from between two clumps of wiregrass. She showed me and identified it as belonging to her mother and to her memory.  Soon we left to return to our lives out west.

Bertia (or Vestia) Bell (renamed Audrey) Moates (1926-1998) pictured at about age 10.

Years later the events come to mind again and I try to make sense of it all, connecting the dots, the stories, the few letters, the photos, the memories. I draft a poem and return to it periodically to revise it. I hope someday to get it right.  I share the latest iteration here to assure that the story and the point of it all is not lost.

Pieces
Son and Mother join together
Over blue and shattered pieces
Left from “Granny’s Sunday china.”
“The house is gone but it was here.
At least the chimney still stands tall
To mark the spot and testify
To us and all we were and loved.
Deserted now, ‘twas home to me
Back when . . . I forget . . . Oh! I was
Such a tomboy then with pocket
Knives, overalls, and wild exploits.
Look there! That oak’s the place I jumped
Down upon the cow’s brown back to
Lope around the pasture ‘til she,
Poor thing, would not let down her milk.”
Mom breathes two sighs that muss my hair
Then reaches out her palm to me
With Delftware shards and memories . . .
“Just these and we survive,” She says,
“Pieces . . . Pieces are all we have . . .
Left . . . at last.”

(Revised: 15 Aug 2020) 

Indeed, we hold only pieces, but precious and treasured still—fragments though they be.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Genetic Genealogy

I came to this investigation of my ancestors as a complete novice in the areas of genealogy and genetics. Now after a few months of study and effort, I am better informed—although still not an expert. Fortunately, there are services available to help which are at the same time accessible and powerful. The two that I have most successfully employed are 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com. These applications are complementary and provide slightly different information at a modest price (approximately $100 for the basic DNA analysis).

The former (23andMe) is focused primarily on health and general ancestral origins with only a few tools for genealogical research. Nevertheless, I was able to identify common ancestors with many individuals with their gracious help. In particular, I was able to identify specific genetic markers that suggest an Estimated Recent Shared Ancestor (ERSAs) among various subgroups of the nearly 1500 individuals (in each application) with whom I share significant lengths of DNA. Likewise using Ancestry.com, I identified relatives near and distant whose existence has helped answer genealogical questions that have been mysteries for decades.  But more about that later. First I must provide a simple primer on the essentials of genetic science for a general audience. If readers are already familiar with the topic he or she may wish to skip ahead to the subsequent sections. But they will miss the fun of what I have learned in recent days.

Electron micrograph of human chromosomes. Photo borrowed from https://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~frist/PLNT3140/index.html  University of Manitoba, PLNT 3140 Introductory Cytogenetics – 2020 ; Authors: Dr. B. Fristensky and N. Brie

How We Become Who We Are

I, like most folk, came to the topic of genetics with a vague appreciation that the “blueprint” of how to assemble a human is stored in the genetic molecule DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). What I did not appreciate is how this very long double helical molecule (approximately two meters long if unraveled) is managed and stuffed into a tiny cell by the machinery of life. I learned that the DNA of humans is divided into 46 separate bundles bound up in 23 pairs. These pieces are the chromosomes. In the micrograph above we can see the image of some chromosomes. They are of different lengths and are “diploid,” that is, they exist in pairs that are held together at a point on their length so that they resemble microscopic “exes.”

Humans are eukaryotic creatures; that is, all their DNA is lumped in pieces of various length inside the nuclei of their cells.  More specifically, the nuclei of human cells contain 22 so-called autosomal chromosome pairs (numbered 1 to 22), and one pair of sex chromatids (designated X and Y and normally paired XX in females or XY in males). In the process of producing offspring, the gametes—the sperm and ovum—combine to pass on DNA derived from the parents. The 22 autosomal chromosomes and the sex chromosome are thus a 50%-50% combination of DNA derived from Mom and from Dad.

The process must be a little more complicated than this, of course, or there would be an accumulation of genetic material in each successive generation. In a process called meiosis, the chromosome pairs split in half before the formation of each “haploid” gamete, containing half the number of chromosomes of the normal cell. Thus, only half of the genetic material from each parent is inserted, respectively, into the sperm or ovum and then passed down to the next generation in the fertilized zygote. Problem solved.

But wait, there’s more—of course. Prior to meiosis the paired chromatids (that originated in the generation of the grandparents, the respective parents of mother and father) have undergone a mixing process called recombination by crossover. While the autosomal chromatids are still joined by a bundle of fibers called the centromere, the chromosomes in Mom and in Dad, prior to conception and prior to meiosis, can do some microscopic genetic acrobatics and flip to the other half so that when the chromosome ultimately splits into two halves, the genetic information becomes a mixture of the previous generation.

Ultimately the fertilized zygote will inherit half of its DNA from father and half from mother. Therefore, in the foregoing marvelous mechanism of biological engineering a mixture of traits inherited by our parents from their parents (our grandparents) gets passed on to us in a fleshly lottery. Because of the random sorting we share about (but rarely exactly) 25% of our DNA with each of our four grandparents and 50% of our parental DNA. On average the contribution to our genetic identity from each ancestor is diluted by a factor about ½ in each generation. This kind of delightful combinatorics arithmetic delights my physicist’s mind but leaves most folk cold. Considering a graphic representation (see figure 2) however may help communicate the beauty of this reality.

A schematic presentation of the ‘cloud of ancestors’ who contribute to our identity by descent.  In each antecedent generation the number of ancestors is doubled. Each person has 2 parents with 50% DNA from each, 4 grandparents with approximately 25% inherited from each the next circle. Great grandparents number 8 and contribute approximately 12% each to our genetic identity. We derive from the 16 Great-great (2x great) grandparents who contribute approximately 6% to our individual genetic uniqueness.

Suffice it to say that we can estimate (with increasing uncertainty the more distant the relation) the relatedness of two individuals just from the amount of DNA that they share (See a plot of the experimentally determined fraction of shared DNA in unique segments as derived from the Shared CM Project, https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4. Check out a detailed explanation at  https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/centimorgan-chart-understanding-dna/ ). The fewer the generations since we have a common ERSA (Estimated Recent Shared Ancestor) the greater will be (on average) the amount of our shared DNA.




A logarithmic plot of the experimentally-determined fraction of the unique 6800 cM (or 7400 cM in some analyses) segments of DNA that are shared between related individuals. (A cM or centiMorgan is a measure of the length of shared DNA.). The Degree of Relatedness is computed by counting up a family tree to the ERSA (Estimated Recent Shared Ancestor) and then down to the relative. If there are two common ancestors the degree is reduced by one. Thus, half third cousins (who share a single 2x great-grandparent) have a degree of relatedness of 8, four generations each to the ERSA. These half third cousins (½ -3C), on average, share about 0.7% or about 48 cM of their DNA. The amount can vary, however, from zero to over twice that amount.

 I should point out that all humans share 99.9% of the same DNA, that is, we are 1000 times more alike than we are different. In contrast consider that our most closely related primate cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos, each share only 98.7% of the base pair sequences (the amino acids abbreviated ATGC, for adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) found in humans, albeit the apes have 24 chromosome pairs, one more than humans. Even though we humans differ by such a minuscule fraction of the 3 billion base pairs in our personal genome, 30 million disparate bases pairs are sufficient to distinguish us and make us genetically uniquely individual.

A Little Practice in Genetic Genealogy

Population geneticists have identified DNA sequences that are characteristic of various people groups. These sequences permit classification of human DNA sample by what are called “haplogroups” and allow an admixture analysis. For example, I descend—via my paternal line running through Henry Matteson (1642) who immigrated to Rhode Island in about 1666—from a gentleman who lived in Europe about 10,000 years ago. The web site 23andMe informs me that one in about 140 of their male subscribers have this haplotype, namely R-L48.

Despite the relative commonality of this haplotype, I discovered a male relative whose surname differed from that shared by me and my brother (who also bears the R-L48 haplotype).  Documentary genealogical research revealed, however, that my genetic cousin’s great grandfather changed his name during the Civil War from Tobias S. Matteson to the name of a disabled comrade of his Pennsylvania regiment, possibly to avoid being conscripted a second time after his discharge due to wounds. Tracing his pedigree back further uncovered that indeed my cousin is a descendant of the very same 7x great grandfather the patriarch Henry Matteson, called “The Immigrant.” Our families diverged about 360 years ago, but was exposed by a persistent genetic marker.

The combination of genetics and documentary genealogy is a powerful duo. In the interim since I last posted I have also helped my future son-in-law find the identity of his birth parents. While treasuring his deceased but beloved adoptive parents, he hoped to learn more about his physical heritage that he could share with his own biological children. In a relatively straightforward and surprisingly rapid investigation, I identified one of his DNA matches as a half-brother. Moreover, my son-in-law shared DNA with other descendants of a woman whose maiden name appeared on his birth record. By good fortune, another close match with a half-niece suggested the identity of his biological father. Using the method of genetic “triangulation” in which one identifies the individuals who share DNA segments with two other individuals we were able to build up a detailed family tree many generations deep. The code in Ancestry.com then matches up potential cousins from their crowd-shared family trees. In the process I was able to identify scores of living relatives and help him and his children connect with his previously unknown family. It was “straightforward” because the relationships were close. In contrast, in the case of our Miley investigation only third or fourth cousins who are independently descended from the mysterious 2x Great Grandfather Miley remain alive after about 180 years. We anticipate that we will share about 0.5% – 0.7% DNA with any surviving cousins.

The first issue we chose to address was the veracity of the family story that a “Miley” was James Marion Moates’ father. Of course, Rachel appears in the 1850 census next door to the Noah Moates family in Eucheanna, Florida and is listed as “Rachel Miley,” Head of Household. So the documentary evidence proves that she claimed Mr. Miley as her spouse, although no known record of a marriage exists. Originally, I submitted my sputum sample to 23andMe as did my brother and sister. Within a few months we had over a thousand DNA matches. Among those there were three whose last name was “Miley.” I contacted these individuals and with their help reconstructed their family trees back through sons of Robert David Miley (1762) and Elizabeth Goodman (1761) of Barnwell County, South Carolina. The closest relative of these was a descendant of William Goodman Miley (1812), an Alabama pioneer planter who lived down the road from the Moates clan in the period 1840-1847. The DNA match was consistent with a third cousin relationship, the sharing of a 2x great grandfather. Further genetic triangulation identified individuals who appear to share William Goodman Miley as an ERSA, consistent with his position as a 2x great grandfather of me and my siblings. What is more, over time I was able to identify over 100 other individuals who share Miley DNA who are not descended from the Moates line.

Therefore, the DNA evidence is compelling that my Great-great granddaddy is indeed a Miley-Goodman, a son of Robert and Elizabeth.

23andMe Miley Segment

What I learned from 23andMe was that I had inherited (presumably from my mother) a rather long segment of DNA on my 12th Chromosome that is shared by many descendants of Robert Miley (1762). In the figure below we see the segments shared by me and my siblings with a descendant of William Goodman Miley. One should note that my brother does not share the Chromosome 12 marker. In the genetic lottery he did not inherit this part of my grandfather’s Miley segment. This observation suggests that this present day and generation are our last best chance of solving the mystery of the Miley. Before the last few years accessible DNA analyses were unavailable. Moreover, the amount of DNA also becomes diluted in each successive generation and the difficulty of identifying relatives becomes more problematic. So the time is ripe for this study.


A partial map of the shared genealogically relevant DNA between a descendant TM (half third cousin one removed) of William Goodman Miley, her 2x great grandfather and me (Sam) and my siblings (Cindy and Dale). Note that we all share a short segment of chromosome 9 but my sister and I only have a marker on chromosome 12.

Not wanting to stake such a definitive claim on only one single DNA test, I also submitted a sample to AncestryDNA.com. The results were consistent with the 23andMe data. Among my matches were those of my aunt, my mother’s sister, granddaughter of James Marion Moates.  Using the family tree builder in Ancestry.com I was able to confirm that nearly 200 DNA-matched individuals are descended from Robert Miley and Elizabeth Goodman and are thus third to fourth cousins. Over twenty of the cousins are directly descended from William Goodman Miley.  In the next figure a so-called ancestry.com “Thruline” graphic shows seven of the children of Robert Miley (1762) and the number of identified matches in each line.

Therefore, the genetic genealogical results are unequivocal: I am descended from Robert Miley (as is my Aunt Ann Rowley). What is more, it is highly likely that my great grandfather is indeed William Goodman Miley.

Curiously, I have found no match in my DNA with any descendant of Samuel Miley or Robert Z, Miley, two contemporaries and neighbors of Rachel Moates Miley. While it is possible that the segment(s) that I (and my siblings) inherited from our mother’s Moates family was not inherited any of Sam or Bob Miley’s offspring, it strains credibility.

Pedigree chart for the author, highlighting his identity by descent from Robert Miley (1762)

Conclusion

The DNA evidence is conclusive that the father of James Marion (Miley) Moates was a son of Robert Miley (1762) and was probably William Goodman Miley (1802).

In the next post we will pull together all the evidence to make a compelling case that William is my ancestor and we will attempt to reconstruct the events surrounding Grandfather Jim’s birth. Stay tuned.

Part The Second: Setting the Stage

The narrative that has captivated my imagination is not only the story of two people, namely Rachel Moates (1823) and an as-yet-unverified partner reputed to bear the surname “Miley,” but also it is a saga about family. Actually, it is a tale of two families: the Moates tribe and the Miley Clan. The stage for this drama is a swath of farm land near the often-shifting border between Pike County to the south and east and southern Montgomery County, far from any major city such as Montgomery or Troy. It was the 1840s, less than a decade after my European-American ancestors had dispossessed and evicted the indigenous Muscogee Creek people, removing most of them from the landscape to reservations west of the Mississippi River. Today, like those days of nearly two centuries ago, the landscape was a woodland with fields hacked out that grew subsistence gardens and cash crops of cotton. Transportation was crude, either on horseback, by wagon or buggy, or by “shank’s mare,” that is, on foot. Thus, a trip of eight miles was an investment of about half a day for the round trip at an average speed of four miles per hours. Therefore, longer trips such as 20-50 miles required overnight lodging or a trail camp before returning.  Thus the sections of land of Little Sandy Creek area is the stage for the interaction between the Moates and the Miley families and between Rachel Moates (1823) and Mr. Miley.

1853 Alabama and Georgia map with southern Montgomery County and northern Pike County encircled in red where our story unfolds.

The Moates Clan

Into this wildness the Moates family, led by Noah Moates (1793) and his father William Moates (1760), ventured with their families, immigrating from South Carolina where their Scottish parents had landed in the new world in the century before. [In this narrative I will identify the various characters in this history with their name followed by the year of their birth, since names were frequently recycled in a family, generation upon generation. By this device I hope to minimize one potential pitfall of personal history, anachronistically scrambled genealogies.] William’s (1760) forbears had sailed to the Royal Colony of the Carolinas with hundreds of thousands of other Scots, fleeing the British oppression of the Scots following the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion of “forty-five.”  Subsequently, escaping the ever-more crowded early 19th century Carolinas, William (1760) pushed westward, ultimately settling a half-quarter section (about 80 acres) in the Sandy Creek area in 1828. Over the next seven years the Moates clan, notably Noah, along with his kinsmen from South Carolina, son, William C. Moates (1815), and John T. “Motes” (1796), added to this homestead to build a contiguous enclave comprising the southern three fourths of Township 13 Range 20 Section 6.

Page 207 of the Land Receipt Book for Montgomery County, Alabama recording the receipt of $105.41 cash (equivalent to about $3,125 in 2020 dollars with a current land appraisal of approximately $184,000) from Noah “Moats” for the Southern ½ of the Northeast Quarter of Section Number 6 Township No 13 Range 20 dated January 1, 1833. Also appearing is the record of the purchase of the adjacent 80 acres (the N½ of the NE Quarter) by Mr. Armstrong Mitchell later in the month.

Much of that original property is owned today by the descendant of one of the near neighbors, the Massingill family, who owned the NE quarter of NE quarter of section 6 and other nearby holdings by 1850. Below is an aerial photograph of the land with the boundaries of the Moates holdings superimposed.  Note that there remain tantalizing clearings among the hardwood trees where houses may have stood in the antebellum age.

The identity of the neighbors who held contiguous homestead allows us to locate with more precision where the family lived in the various census lists by comparing the names of the neighbors and the locations of their homesteads. It also gives a sense of the immediate community. A Township consisted of thirty sections each a square one mile by one mile, so that these neighbors in the section were a short walk away if one had a practical need or a desire for

Correspondence between modern parcel owned by JRB Holdings LLC and original homestead of Moates enclave. The small creek is known as Little Sandy Creek. It appears in the 1848 land survey.

company. Looking at contemporaneous land surveys (see below) gives me a strange sense of immediacy that dry facts cannot convey. For example, I note with an inward satisfaction that the tract of US Highway 231 (The Troy Highway) follows the same path cutting diagonally across section 6 as did the dirt road that is documented in the 1848 survey. Many field borders still align with the ancient borders of quarter sections.

Noah (1793) had a younger brother, younger by a decade, Jonathan (1803) who also relocated from South Carolina to the Alabama frontier (in the mid-1820s) soon after the state of Alabama was organized in 1819. He married Miss Urquhart, the daughter of one of the Moates’ Sandy Creek neighbors. Jonathan settled forty-five miles east in Barbour County between the

1848 Land Survey of Township 13 Range 20. Note the cleared fields, the track of the “Troy Road” and Sandy Creek.

forks of the Choctawhatchee River, about 13 miles east of the Pea River. At that time settlers in Barbour County were still vulnerable to Indian attack, which may explain why Jonathan volunteered for the Alabama militia to fight in the Second Creek War of 1836-37. The conflict terminated at the Battle of Hodby Bridge on the Pea River just a few miles from his farm where the Muscogee Creek insurrectionists were decimated.

The Miley Brothers

            The Miley family also held lands in the area in the 1840s. Three brothers had moved to the Alabama frontier after the final subjugation of the Muscogee Confederation in the area in the victory of the European-Americans in the Second Creek War.  Three sons of Robert Miley (1762), of South Carolina— elder brother Samuel Miley (1792), William Goodman Miley (1802), and younger brother Robert Z. Miley (1815)—all of whom were born in Barnwell County, South Carolina to Robert (1762) and his first wife Mary Goodman Miley—acquired property in the area, Samuel and William near each other in Montgomery County and Robert a few miles away in Pike County.  Later they were joined in Dale/Coffee (the latter county organized in 1841) and Covington County by their half-brother Andrew Barnwell Miley (1818) where William also held a forty acre aliquot of a section near Elba, Alabama. The Miley brothers purchased land near one another and the Moates enclave. Below is an aerial view of the larger area (Google Earth) near the Montgomery County/Pike County border. Several important landmarks are labelled. Notably you will find the farms of Samuel (1792), William G. (1802) and Robert (1815) with the dates of purchase in parentheses in the figure.  Other prominent landmarks to notice are Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church founded in 1842.   A handsome historical marker stands outside the 1931 structure interpreting the site. It reads in part:

Constituted on August 27, 1842 on this site with six charter members including Moses and Sarah Rushton, Susannah Rushton, William and Emily Miley, and James Gardner. First structure built of logs by master carpenter Jesse Yon on land given by Moses Rushton, who moved to Montgomery County from Orangeburg District S.C.

Thus, William (1802) and his wife “Emily” Emmaline Oentz (aka “Owens”) apparently resided in the Sandy Creek area in about 1842.  Also note the identification of Briar Hill, Alabama which may have been mis-recalled or misheard to be “Briarville,” a place name unknown in the state. The historic Urquhart family cemetery is the final resting place of several of the Urquhart tribe, some in unmarked graves. Perhaps the body of Jonathan’s first wife lies beneath the trees there.

The major landmarks in the Miley-Moates incident of 1840. The Moates property is located on the west side of US 231/ AL53 about 27 miles north of Troy near the Athey Rd exit (MM 101) now owned by the Massingill family.      

  

One addition area is relevant to our story. It is metaphorically speaking the “wings” of the stage of our drama.  William Goodman Miley (1802) purchased a forty acre tract in what was then Dale County in 1841 (the year the county was established), after appearing in the fifth decennial population census in 1840. His neighbors William Luker and Adam Hardy who both owned homestead near the Miley Coffee County “Elba Place” also appear in the census as nearby households, and therefore confirm his residence near the county seat of Elba. Moreover, the Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in which church records both brother and sister Miley appear.  In addition, Andrew (1818) was briefly moderator of the congregation in the 1850s before settling in the Andalusia, Alabama area as long-time pastor of the Bethel Primitive Baptist Church in Babbie, Alabama near Adalusia.

A larger view of the region where our story transpires shows the location of the “Outparcel” of William G. Miley (1802) and family where he was in residence in 1840, the location of Bethany and Bethel Primitive Baptist Churches, and the home of Andrew Miley (1818) and various neighbors.

            Now the stage is set. The players are in place. A Miley 2x great grandfather is a possibility for me and my two siblings. In fact, there are many possibilities: Samuel (1792), William Goodman (1802), Robert (1815), or Andrew (1818)—all Mileys. In addition, we must not rule out prematurely other male members of the Miley family, such as eldest sons. But these four are the prime suspects, if indeed the family lore is accurate as far as it goes. Thus, the region was thick with Mileys, as “ticks on a hound” as the saying goes. For progress in resolving this mystery we must turn to other evidence, namely DNA autosomal genetic statistics and a forensic style inquiry that considers means, motive, opportunity, and any other circumstantial evidence. In this way we can identify who is the most likely candidate for our anonymous ancestor and then we will be better equipped to imagine the scenario of James Marion Miley Moates’ (1843) nativity.  The mystery lies before us. Indeed, quoting Sir Arthur William Conan Doyle’s most famous of detectives created in the 1880s we can say, “Let us waste no more time. ’The game is afoot!’”

A Historical Inquiry into the Life of James Marion Moates
Part the First

As I walk down the hallway in my Brother Dale’s house, a pair of pictures in ornate Victorian frames captures my attention. I examine the Ambrotype of a man. The face that gazes back at me is that of a young groom who at age 23 has already seen much suffering and hardship. As I learn from the notes typed by my mother and affixed to the rear of the frames, this is James Marion (Miley) Moates, my great grandfather. He does not smile, perhaps because of the customary formality of the 1866 wedding portrait, or perhaps it might be more than that. He had seen too much. He was born 3 November 1843 under dubious circumstances. His mother claimed the name “Miley,” as documented by the 1850 census of Walton County, Florida, where he is listed as “James Miley,” living with his mother Rachel, the head of the household. They appear in the enumeration adjacent to the family next door, the Noah Moates clan. Apparently she went by “Miley” even though there has never been any evidence of a legal marriage nor a legitimate spouse.

So who was his father? That has been a mystery for generations in the Moates family. Family stories are generous, suggesting that she was abandoned by an abusive husband. But I wonder. At the same time, I am intrigued. I must also agree with the declaration of my eldest daughter that “somehow knowing more about my ancestor tells me more about who I am.” I am possessed by an overwhelming desire to learn more. I suspect that he was born a bastard child of an illicit union with an unknown Miley. “In ‘the old days’ if children were born outside of marriage their legal surname was that of their mother, not their father” according to professional genealogists. (http://braswellgenealogy.blogspot.com/2007/10/bastardy-bonds.html) Illegitimate births were so common that “Bastardy Bonds” were issued routinely as an early form of child support.

 A Sketch of a Life

But how can I be sure? Are we really related to the Miley tribe? We do not want to impugn anyone’s reputation—even centuries late—without adequate evidence. James Marion later took the name of his grandfather Noah Moates, a respected farmer and Justice of the Peace, repudiating his father Miley. We in my family treasure a document that is a penmanship practice that reads, copied out several times in lovely nineteenth century script, “Tell me thy name and tell me now, James Marion Moates.” Indeed, he is listed in the 1860 census in his grandfather’s household as “James Jr. Moates, age 16, son, born Alabama.”

The clues of his journey are subtle and sometimes misleading. For example, James wears the uniform of a confederate soldier in the portrait, but it must be an affection borrowed for the occasion, since it is a new dress frock coat of a sergeant showing no wear. Jim Moates never ascended above the rank of private in his less-than-illustrious military career, and the sartorially splendid attire in the wedding portrait exceeded—by far—anything he ever owned. He was a typical volunteer: an untrained and sometimes undisciplined private soldier, owing more allegiance to family that to “The Cause.” Indeed, he and Uncle Francis Marion Miley were both reported AWOL, then as deserters. Their unauthorized leave occurred when Grandpa Noah’s Brother Jonathan Moates, a man in his fifties who had also enlisted with the younger men in the 1st Florida Infantry (Confederate Army), lay mortally ill in hospital in Chattanooga. He ultimately died on 22 December 1862 after months of being listed “Absent, sick” on the muster rolls. “Noah Moates, bro.”—according to the muster cards—claimed his body in the early spring. Subsequently, Junior and Uncle Frank must have accompanied Grandfather Noah in carrying their Uncle’s body home to Euchee Anna, Walton County, Florida, a three hundred and fifty mile journey. “Uncle Jon-A” (as I imagine his affectionate nickname) was a tragic figure. He had fought in the Second Creek war in 1837 and had not originally declared his intention to join up due to his age, but ultimately did so, perhaps in part to look after Noah’s “boys.” He was recently divorced from his second wife and living with his brother’s family in 1860. The irony is stark that the old soldier was felled by illness (dysentery and measles were epidemic among the rebel troops) rather than in combat. The two infantrymen did finally return from their desertion and did rejoin their units without any apparent disciplinary action, just in time to participate in the ill-fated battle of Missionary Ridge, Tennessee. Calamity piled atop disaster. On the slopes of the ridge James Marion broke his leg during the battle on November 25, 1863. (Curiously, the next day was the first official federal observation of Thanksgiving Day according to President Lincoln’s decree. I wonder if the fact was of any import to Jim, even though he surely was thankful to be alive and to have survived without losing his limb, since the removal of a limb was the most common surgical procedure in battlefield hospitals according to historians of such things.  He evaded capture, however, unlike his namesake uncle and comrade-in-arms Francis Marion Moates, who—after capture—was shipped to Louisville, Kentucky and then on to Rock Island, Maryland where he was released after “taking the pledge” of allegiance to the Union and after volunteering for duty on the frontier, a commitment he apparently never fulfilled.

Meanwhile, after several months of convalescence James recovered in time to fight in the battles of Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee where he also was ultimately captured in December 1864, yet another incidence of hardship. In a strange cycle of history, I and my children now reside near where his military career ended. Later in life Jim would recount that he was “captured at Nashville and held under guard for five months,” that is, until the end of hostilities.  Time and time again I have passed the spot along Harding Pike where young James (He was 21 year old at the time.) was apprehended. Reports of the battle that broke the back of the Confederate Army of Tennessee are gory and devastating. Ultimately, James returned to Euchee Anna, near modern Defuniak Springs, Florida and began or resumed courting Miss Ruth Ann Dew, preacher Thomas Spencer Dew’s daughter. But he surely carried memories of death and defeat with him. Nevertheless, within a year after returning they were married and posed for the photographs that captured my attention. (See the gallery above.)

Where was James Born?

But the questions keep coming: Where was he born? From time to time J. M. Moates would answer alternatively “Montgomery County” or “Pike County, Alabama” when he was asked his birthplace. In one census of veterans he reported the site of his nativity as “Briarville, Alabama.”  There has never been a Briarville in Alabama. However, a Briar Hill in Pike County is still identified by a place name on maps; it is located near (less than 15 miles from) the several aliquots of land in Section 6, Township 13, Range 20 in Montgomery County east of Ramah that his grandfather and other kinsmen had purchased beginning in about 1825, nearly twenty years before his birth. We can put this mis-identification off to a faulty childhood memory, since he departed Alabama at age of four, or to the surveyor’s mishearing. In the next post I will explore how we can deduce the precise location of his infancy and toddlerhood.

We will also examine in the next post the identity of four Miley men who are potential candidates for Rachel Moates’ partner. These individuals are all the sons of Robert Miley (1762) and his wives Mary Goodman and Elizabeth Smoak of South Carolina. It is no spoiler to name these men: Samuel Miley (1790), William Goodman Miley (1802) and Robert Z. (or G.) Miley (1816), sons of Robert and Mary Goodman. In addition, Andrew Barnwell Miley (1818) son of the union of Robert and Elizabeth S. Miley lived in the neighboring county and we should not dismiss him without examination. I will adopt the practice of adding the year of the individual’s birth after his name as a means of helping identify the player, since often family names are shared and recycled in succeeding generations. In this investigation, I have run upon the difficulties common to genealogical research, struggles that plague every inquiry. These stumbling blocks range from misspellings of names and faulty transcriptions of manuscript, as for example in “Robert Z.” being confused with “Robert G.” to illogical mistakes of prior genealogical researchers, such as confusing a daughter in a census list with a wife.  Reconstructing family trees sometimes requires guess work and deduction, but hopefully not fabrication. We are indeed “connecting the dots” of often sparely available information. Nevertheless, there are facts that drive the conclusions.

But in addition, we have at our disposal a tool unavailable to prior generations, namely, DNA and genetic tracing. I and my two siblings submitted samples to 23andMe™ for DNA testing. Our DNA was compared with the thousands of genomes stored in their data base. They have discovered at this writing 1425 genetic data matches. These are my DNA cousins. Among those are 198 who share DNA segments with me and known descendants of the Miley family of Robert Miley (1762) of Barnwell County, South Carolina. So, “Yes, Virginia,” we are cousins to the Mileys. As an assurance of the conclusion, however, I have submitted a sample to AncestryDNA™ for independent testing and am awaiting the results. In a subsequent post we will examine the details of the analysis of our genetic linkage to the Miley clan that includes determining the heritage of individuals who share Miley genetic markers and in recruiting known Miley descendants to submit samples for DNA analysis. Lest the reader grow too impatient allow me to disclose that the early indications are that the descendants of James Marion Moates are also descendants of the Robert Miley and Mary Goodman family.

The Plan

In a final post we will assemble all the evidence in the style of a criminal investigation. The case will examine the means, motive, opportunity, any exculpatory or incriminating evidence as well as a theory of the “crime” for all the potential “suspects.” Hopefully a single individual will emerge whom the evidence implicates. Thus, while not an air-tight case, we will be able with some confidence to establish his identity.

As Sherlock Holmes famously stated “We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I began the decade regarding Colonialism with modestly high regard, but I grew uneasy about what little I heard about Africa and its colonial history.

Meanwhile, in English class, Mrs. Thelma Vanderweiss (not her real name) subjected us to a regimen of daily reading of verse in the sincere hope that “culture” would take root in our juvenile minds.  We read and committed to memory sections of “Annabell Lee” by the tintinnabulating poet Edgar Allen Poe and other “classics” of nineteenth century American literature.  She furthermore inflicted upon us one of her favorite “modern” compositions, Vachel Lindsay’s “The Congo.”  Mrs. Vanderwiess , a tiny woman with a tyrannical air, was the whitest woman that I ever met.  Her skin was pale, her pallor accentuated by her fashionably powdered cheeks.  She was, indeed, fair skinned from her high forehead to her diminutive feet, but I intend more than that; her air epitomized to me the aristocratic pretension that I thought Mobile’s white society espoused.  She always wore large diamond rings on her fingers, white pearls and a demur dress or business suit; and black pumps after Labor Day.   She seemed perpetually offended that she must attempt to instruct such uncultivated pupils as we.   She rarely smiled in my presence.  I recall how she drilled the class daily in the recitation of “The Congo” for weeks.  It was to be the centerpiece of a school-wide assembly.  The sound of her more than her image haunts me still; it is her pointed-toe shoe stomping the rhythm on the worn pine floors of the now razed Robert E. Lee High School building where we were holding classes.   “Stomp—THEN I SAW THE CONGO—stomp—CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK—stomp— . . . .   Do you feel the beat?  All together now! Stomp— CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST—stomp— WITH A GOLDEN  TRACK—stomp. . . .  That’s it!  You’re getting it!”

nicholas_vachel_lindsay_1913

Vachel Lindsay source: Unknown-Modern American Poetry website, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

The rhythm was exciting and, despite my aversion to the manner of Mrs. Vanderweiss, I fell in love with the power and music of the poetry.   Lindsay’s rhythms were intoxicating.  There was jazz in the meter.  I suspect that the poet was sympathetic to the plight of the inhabitants of the Congo, but his voice was not the voice of a black man even though it had the power of the beat of the human heart.  His verse was a minstrel voice dressed up in black-face chanting a white man’s song.  It was only pretending to be in the Style Africaine.  Even a young teen such as I could discern the patronizing and denigrating tone of the poem entitled “The Congo, A Study of the Negro Race” with stanzas named “Their Basic Savagery,”  and “Their Irrepressible High Spirits,” and “The Hope of their Religion.”    I was embarrassed but could not explain why when we chanted lines like, “Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room,” and “A good old negro in the slums of the town/ Preached at a sister for her velvet gown….”  I did not know any Africans nor did I really know any “colored people” in my town, and thus, I had no way to test my misgivings.  But something seemed odd to me about the characterizations and words I was chanting.

I might have marveled then, as I do now, if I had known of the African community around the corner. In a curious and ignored twist of history a transplanted African village existed for a century less than ten miles from where our map hung in my school room.  I might have felt more connected to Africa and to history if I had known of Africatown.  As it happened, in 1860, in the year before Alabama’s secession from the union and the subsequent “War between the States,” a swaggering Mobile ship builder, Captain Timothy Meaker, bragged that, although the importation of slaves had been illegal in the United States since 1808 and had been declared a capital offense equivalent to piracy in 1820, he had built a sloop fast enough to out run any Yankee gunboat.   He could defy the jack-leg Feds and meddling abolitionists.  He made good on his boast when he handed the Clotilde over to a Captain William Foster of Maine for the purpose of acquiring a cargo of humans.

Foster had no difficulty in securing the “merchandize.”  The Dahomey tribesmen who resided in what is present day Benin happily sold their Tarkbar captives to the captain for $100 per head.  Unfortunately for Meaker, when the Clotilde reached Mobile, the Federal troops were waiting.  He sailed the sloop up the Mobile River, herded most of his human cargo onto a barge, and shipped them to Montgomery.    Then he ran the ship aground and burned it.   Later the thirty-two Africans that he had reserved for his own use were cut loose and settled on his property, freed presumably to avoid his being caught red-handed.  When the war broke out, the displaced African nucleus was joined by others who had escaped their captivity up state.  Together, they established a discrete community with a distinctly African culture just three miles from downtown Mobile.  Known locally as

cudjoe_abache

Abache’ and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis at Africatown. Mobile, Alabama in the 1910s. Source: Emma Langdon Roche, Histroic Sketches of the South (Knickerboker Press, 1914) Public Domain

“Africatown,” it persisted until World War II as an identifiable community.  This was the last instance in US history of the importation of slaves into North America.  It seemed so long ago, but the last survivor of the Clotilde “passed” only thirteen years before I was born.  Meaker was apprehended but was never convicted, the Civil War intervening.  African history happened next door and I never knew it.  Perhaps those who taught me did not know it either, or perhaps they ignored it since they thought it irrelevant.  I realize now that I really knew nothing about Africa or Africans until I met Duke Badejogbin in college.

Duke was a Nigerian.  He was a Yoruba.  He was my brother in Christ.  When we met in my second year of college, I began to learn something of what was Africa.  He was one of the first missionaries from the Nigerian Baptist Convention to the country of Sierra Leon, more than a thousand miles up the coast of West Africa.

“I realized that I needed more education if I were to minister to the people the way our Father wanted me to,” he said, pronouncing “education” with a precision that inspired in me a new appreciation for the word.  “But when I wrote to the mission board to ask to return home, they cut us off completely.  There was no more support.  We were marooned without enough money to buy food or a ticket for the boat home.  We sold everything we had, down to the pans as small as this,” he showed me the pink palm of his left hand as he made a slicing motion at his wrist with his right. “But God is good.  He brought us home and now He has brought me here to study.”

I learned from Duke how he had reluctantly left his children and pregnant wife in the care of his family and ventured to the United States.  I agonized with him and prayed with him when word came of the coup back home and how Elizabeth, his wife, had fled with their children to the bush.  Then I rejoiced with him when he learned of the birth of his son Ayo and at the news of their safety.  Soon Elizabeth and Ayo joined him while the older children remained with his parents.

yoruba_language1

Yoruba Ceremony Nigeria. Source: heartmendersmagazine.blogspot,com

He taught me rudimentary elements of his Yoruba culture, how his family name was a badge of honor signifying that his ancestor was the friend and advisor of the tribal ruler who danced the Jogbin dance with the chief, how his family did actually live in a mud hut with a thatched roof and no door.  Thus, I learned of the custom of clapping your hands at the doorway instead of knocking on the nonexistent panel.  He taught me that sanitized running water, air conditioning, electricity and automobiles that effortlessly rode on paved streets were luxuries that I took for granted without thinking.  It was no stereotyped lie; many Nigerians did not enjoy these amenities.  I found nothing to belittle him about.  Instead, I admired this short wiry man, his courage and resilience.

From Duke, I heard of Schweitzer’s philosophy and ethic: that all life was sacred and we must exercise a grand reverence for life.  When a visitor was about to swat a mosquito, the Nobel laureate is reported to have cautioned, “Take thought!  Remember that you are a guest in this country.”  One Sunday afternoon, my fiancé and I were visiting Duke and Elizabeth in their apartment on Second Street near the black church that was sponsoring their stay in Waco.  Suddenly, Duke pulled off his slipper and flung it across the room.  I turned just in time to see a cockroach skitter behind a bookcase.  I asked him, “What would Dr. Schweitzer say?” He replied sheepishly, “That is philosophy. This is different.  I must think about Ayo now.”  Then he smiled.  His look reminded me of what he had told me, “Ayo means ‘joy’.  As Isaac means ‘laughter’ because Sarah and Abraham laughed when he was born, so we called our son ‘Ayo’ because he brought joy to Elizabeth’s and to my heart.”  At that moment we were not Yoruba and Alabamian, Nigerian and American; we were brothers.  I began better to understand Africa.  The inhabitants of the continent were people as we are, grown from a different soil but of the same seed, cherishing a different history and culture but with the same needs and longings.

A curious word “stereotype.”  We use a stereoscope to see things in the round.  We listen to stereophonic music to be immersed in the sound.  In stereo we better understand the reality of a thing and it seems more “solid.” But when we harbor a stereotype of a person or place, we substitute a counterfeit death-rigored lie for the living, breathing reality.   I have grown to distrust statements like “All _____ are _____.”

I still despair sometimes.  We cling so jealously to our tribalism and distrust of others not of our clan. “We belong to the European tribe, the Anglo-Irish clan, the Italian family, the French enclave, the Cherokee Nation,” I think I hear us mutter.  “They” are the Africans or the Indians; they are the Whites or the Hispanics, the Asians or the Arabian; they are all a different tribe.

I hear African voices, “We are Tarkbar; they are Dahomey. They killed our ancestors; they sold us to Captain Foster of the tribe of Maine who was just the agent of Captain Timothy Meaker of the clan of Alabama. . . .  We are ‘Kikuyu;’ we are Muingiki, the second Mau Mau; death to the European exploiters.”
I worry that the tyranny of the tribe survives too strong in our breast. Yet, opposing the rule of the clan, of the tribe, of the race, opposing “us or them” stands the Family of Man.  It affirms that we are one species, one humanity.  It is not “us or them,” rather, it is only “us,” or it is nothing.

Nasa Earth rise

Earthrise: a view of the earth from the moon NASA photo

The real shape of the Earth is a sphere, and its net of latitude and longitude begins in the Atlantic Ocean near the mouth of the Congo.  This is an appropriate convention of geography.   “Appropriate,” I call it because anthropologists tell us that humanity—Adam and his bride—began their pilgrimage somewhere in east Africa.  Thus, there is ultimately “home.”  Thus the proper map of Africa and of its place in the world would show it at the center of our view of a globe.  On the other hand, anywhere could be the center, for this planet is round.  In spherical geometry one place is as good as another.  What is more, when we look at it aright, we see that the coast of Africa is the complement of North and South America; West Africa fits neatly into the Gulf of Mexico, while the Gulf of Guinea cups Brazil comfortably.  This remarkable fact exists because once, as children are now taught, the whole of all the land was one great Pangean continent.  Later the waters and our history came between us, but the Earth still has no edge, no real border—no border at all, except that which we have drawn between us and the others—except of course for the great oceans and the rivers, like the Congo that yet spills blue across the map and into the sea of our imaginations.