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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.

Tell Me Thy Name

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!’”

Tell Me Thy Name

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.

 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. Nevertheles, within a year after returning they were married and posed for the photographs that captured my attention. (See the gallery above.)

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.

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!”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

As we grow, we draw our own maps of the world as we imagine it, gathering cartographic “facts” wherever we can, from what we are told and from what we see for ourselves on the journey.  At the end of the middle decade of the twentieth century—just as you might turn a calendar page or flip over a map leaf to discover hidden notes scribbled underneath—I turned over too.  In 1960 I began to understand for the first time that most issues of life and history are more subtle than they would have you believe who perennially view the world only in black and white and explain it all by a simple and comfortable paradigm and in a rigid stereotype.   The world is not peopled by identical copies of even a few types that are easily characterized as “good” or “evil.”

As I turned the calendar page to 1960, I began to suspect, as well, that ignorance was never an impediment to opinion, and uninformed opinion—no matter how emphatically affirmed or taught, or perhaps especially when it is chanted—is ignorance most blatant, most diabolical.  Moreover, ignorance is often chained in the darkness of its own shadow out back while prejudice hawks out front with midway barker shouts of “Hey! Rube!” but it is actually counterfeited knowledge and bogus light within.  I ultimately concluded that we do well to stand in humility before continents of human experience that are dimly known to us and reserve our judgment of those we do not understand.

 

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A map of Africa ca. 1960 source: http://www.timemaps.com

 

The decade that began when I entered the second year of junior high school was one of world-wide political upheaval.  Colonialism and Imperialism, that had flourished for centuries, were rapidly dying in a convulsion of nationalism.  No object better represents that turmoil in my memory than a giant map of the continent of Africa that hung on the wall of my social studies and geography classroom.  I entered eighth grade with an eager expectation of exploring Africa, at least from an ancient wooden school desk, if not from an armchair.  I, like Joseph Conrad’s Marlowe, had “a passion for maps . . . I would put my finger on [a place] and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.’”  In my imagination I already had been there.  I put out my finger and traced the boundaries of Africa, of its coastline, of its rivers, of its colorful countries.

 

In profile the continent reminded me of the brow ridge of a skull—somehow human—like that of a brooding silver back gorilla or of a millions-of-years-old Zinjanthropus, like that which Louis Leakey had just reported in National Geographic, the Atlas Mountains marking the hairline, the Gulf of Guinea the empty eye socket.  Or perhaps the shape was more like a Neolithic axe, a war club, wielded by a gigantic unseen hand submerged in the Indian Ocean.  “It looks like a question mark,” I decided at last, albeit a crudely drawn question mark, limned in blue by the Congo and the Nile, and punctuated by Madagascar.  Africa was a stage of eleven and a half million square miles, a macabre circus for a tragedy of European colonies to play that comprised a cast of hundreds of tongues and thousands of tribes and clans, millions of people and a drama of global exploitation.  It had been explored, “discovered” by Europeans of the last century.  I had heard of the great explorers:  David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, especially the latter who famously, nonchalantly posed the inane query after a grueling search for the famous physician, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”  There was, of course, a contemporary adventurer-missionary, even if he were a bit elderly by then: Dr. Albert Schweitzer

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Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) source:wikipedia

—physician, theologian, virtuoso organist, Nobel laureate, and humanitarian.  We knew after his capturing the Nobel Peace Prize that this “Reverencer of Life” had returned from France to somewhere in the heart of equatorial Africa—we were not quite sure where—to serve the medical and spiritual needs of his black “junior brothers.”  He was universally lionized in Europe, the United States, and Africa for his unselfish service to—in the European mindset—the hopeless and childlike natives of the “Dark Continent.”  He was regarded as a champion of the “colored races” even though he publicly supported the oppressive French Colonial Government of Equatorial Africa and regarded the indigenous population as inferior to the civilized European “race.”

 

We thought we knew Africa because we visited its jungles for half an hour every Saturday morning in the adventures of “Ramar of the Jungle” and in the film adventures of Tarzan the Ape Man.  I presumed that the entire continent was a dense tangle of vegetation crawling with snakes and crocodiles, ringing with the howl of monkeys and pocked with treacherous pools of quicksand.  In many ways the images suggested to me that Africa was very much like my back yard, my woods, and my swamp. Yet the human inhabitants of this alien world were both like and unlike those I saw in my country.

In the cinemagraphic jungle that I visited each Saturday, Jon Hal, also known by his other stage names of Charles Locher and Lloyd Crane, portrayed the intrepid Doctor Tom Reynolds in black and white reruns from the 1952 and ’53 seasons.  Ramar, whose name we understood to mean “Great White Medicine Man,” ever wearing a pith helmet, epaulet shirt, Bermuda shorts, and a stoic demeanor, weekly battled evil white poachers and thieves, as well as  black “jungle native” voodoo witch doctors.  He, like the real doctor Schweitzer, took care of his “child-like” patients with a benevolent patronage that demonstrated unequivocally the superiority of the European civilization to the savage “native” culture. Every show could be counted on for a leopard-skin-clad woman, some quicksand, or cuts of stock African wildlife photography—slithering snakes or snorting hippos.

The good doctor was assisted in his exploits in many episodes by his comical retainer and guide Willy-Willy played by Nick Stewart, a black actor who had given voice to the character “Lightnin’” on the Amos ‘n Andy radio show.  He was also the voice of B’rer Rabbit in Disney’s Song of the South.  It seems oddly ironic that Stewart would reach a measure of notoriety portraying such comically subservient and stereotyped roles, then spend the remainder of his career directing the Ebony Showcase Theater in Los Angeles where African-American actors performed serious drama and grand theater.  But much that I saw in popular culture regarding Africa, I now know, was a contradictory mixture of truth and fabrication, but that is the nature of entertainment.

Ramar and Willy-Willy did not actually move about the jungle, rather they performed their

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Left to Right: Nick Stewart (as Wiily-Willy), Juanita Moore , and Jon Hall (Ramar) in episode “Savage Challenge” source: it.wp.com/thebiggame hunter.com

exploits on a sound stage in downtown Hollywood, California.  Neither, to my knowledge, ever got within a thousand miles of the jungles.  The animal scenes were spliced in from “spec” shorts shot on location by freelance adventurers.  My more critical adult eye can discern today the different sources as obvious, but for us, the children, the television took us in reality to darkest Africa.  Every child was sure he knew the sounds of the jungle: “Bwana, listen to the drums.  I hear the drums . . .” and then a piercing “koo-koo-koo-kaw-kaw-kaw,” actually the song of the Kookaburra bird.  Unfortunately, the bird never existed in the wilds of the African bush, residing as it does in Australia.  Its sound was appropriated because it sounded “jungle-like” to an inventive sound engineer.  Curiously, truth and fiction melded everywhere.  Ramar, as well as Tarzan, was often called “Bwana,” a legitimate Swahili word meaning “Lord,” or “Sir” or just plain “Mister.”  Yet this appellation was often coupled to the interjection “Ungawa!”  The latter word is a fabrication reputed to have been the brainchild of screenwriter Cyril Hume, who was inspired by the sound of the answer to the question “Where is Paramount Studio?”  The answer: “On Gower”—Boulevard, that is.  Much of what I thought I knew of Africa was like that: a cauldron of dark ignorance containing much speculation, some fabrication, and a few craven lies, but with a pinch of truth just to make the brew palatable.

 

The map of Africa that hung on the classroom wall became an object of infinite irritation.   The multicolor rotogravure print of the “dark continent” was a continent of frustration to me and others who were trying to learn the political geography of the vast continent.  The inconsiderate Africans had begun, in earnest, the practice that they would continue for the rest of the century: continually changing the names; redrawing the boundaries of their countries; declaring their independence here; building a new nation there.  It was all too chaotic for a junior geographer to master.  Nothing seemed to be as tidy any more as the beautiful poster of colonial Africa would suggest.  If the nineteenth century had seemed a sweeping romantic symphony of discovery, then my century resounded with the melded syncopation of jungle drums and bar room jazz.  In a futile attempt at making sense of the splintering African political landscape, my teacher placed beside the brooding map a tack board headed: “Current Events.”   She awarded points for every relevant article we clipped from newspapers and magazines like the Mobile Press Register or Newsweek or Life.  As we entered the class room we would glance up to the board by the map.  “What is the name of the Congo, today?” I heard more than once.

Indeed, the names of the countries began to change that year, as did the geopolitical realities within the former colonies.  In particular, the Belgian Congo disappeared from the map and was replaced by the Republic of the Congo, or was it called the Congo-Brazzaville?  No, wait.  What about Katanga?  Was it a separate nation?  Was Kenya still a British colony or did it go independent over the weekend?   What about Nigeria?

“At least, they haven’t changed the rivers,” I whispered to myself and to anyone standing nearby as I ran my finger up the Nile from Lake Victoria.  Then I followed the blue, tortured track of the Congo west from the savannah near Lake Tanganyika below the heights of the Mitumba Mountains, crossing the equator twice before disgorging into the Atlantic Ocean.  This was then and is today Africa’s most powerful river and, only after the Amazon, the second most voluminous cataract in the world.

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River Congo, Africa source:africa-facts.org

If I had picked up a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I would have agreed with Marlowe, “There was in it a mighty river that you could see on the map resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country and its tail lost in the depths of the land.”  But Conrad’s masterpiece was not on our approved reading list, nor even in the school library.  Neither was Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy readily available.  We learned simply in our social studies text that King Leopold of Belgium had ruled the Free State of the Congo after the United States and thirteen European nations had met in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century and had agreed to permit him to become the protector and overseer of a territory larger than pre-world war Germany.  If we had read Twain’s scathing pamphlet as we can now via the Internet, we would have been scandalized at the atrocities perpetrated against the people of equatorial Africa—atrocities that rival in brutality those committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Particularly savage was the practice of severing the right hand of Congolese men, women, and children as punishment for failing to meet the quota of the rubber tax.   They were required to feed the army that terrorized them.  If they failed to cooperate, they were slaughtered wholesale.  Twain’s final words on Leopold are a bitter epitaph that he hoped would soon be appropriated for use: “Here under this gilded tomb lies rotting the body of one the smell of whose name will still offend the nostrils of men ages and ages [hence].”  When I learned of the exploitation, murder, cannibalism, and abject slavery that Leopold’s agents practiced on the hapless inhabitants of the Congo basin, much of it brokered initially by Henry Stanley, I thought that, if I were Congolese, I would forever despise Europeans and hate the white race implicitly and always mistrust anyone not of my tribe.

I was told nothing about the “unpleasantries” of the genocide for which Leopold was culpable.  The similarities to the exploitation of Kenya by the British should have been plain, but we were preoccupied with news of other atrocities.  The seven-year-long state of emergency in Kenya ended that year.  To our great relief, the Mau Mau Uprising was over.  The Mau Mau or the Muingi were primarily of the Kikuyu tribe of Kenya.  What made the Mau Mau seem so horrific and frightening was the “oath.”   It was a magic ritual in which the blood of an exsanguinated goat was blended with that of the adjurer who, standing before a fearsome idol of the old god Ngai, and the mingled flow was sprinkled over banana leaves and raw earth, recited a vow of obedience to the movement and an eternal, lethal hatred of the British.  Refusal to take the oath meant instant and fatal reprisal by the Mau Mau.  Consequently, it has been estimated that over half the indigenous population of Kenya had taken the oath by the end of the insurrection.  Oaths are not taken lightly in Kikuyu culture, and, despite the criminalization of the oath as a capital offense by the colonial government, the populace had little choice but to comply if forced to swear allegiance to the rebels.

Based on the lurid newspaper accounts, we imagined wild-eyed, dread-lock coiffed, machete-wielding butchers running amok from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi, slaughtering whites wherever they met them.  In actuality only thirty-two Europeans were killed by the insurrectionists in the seven year revolt, while 11,500 “Mau Maus” perished at the hands of the British often without trial; one thousand of them were hanged.  The colonial government’s practice of mutilation of the corpses by amputation of the right hand (“for finger print identification” was the official explanation) is bizarrely reminiscent of the Congo a half century before.

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.

(to be continued)

Ma Bertie in Dothan

Ma Bertie Moates (family photo)

Some would say I got religion early.  Some might even claim that I inherited it from Dad’s family, all the way back to Henry Matteson in the sixteen hundreds.  It is true that Henry was a follower of Roger Williams and a non-conformist believer who was run out of Massachusetts Bay Colony for his Baptist beliefs.  And it is true that there have been Baptists and Congregationalists in my father’s family for generations since then.  But I do not make any claim to prestige because of Henry’s presence in America in the seventeenth century, that he lived on this continent earlier rather than later, since everyone has to be somewhere and everybody has ancestors as ancient as Henry, even if they do not know of them by name.  Nor do I lay claim to any piety by association, not even from my saintly maternal grandmother Ma Bertie.

Rather, I think that there is a deep-seated need in every human to look up.  Awe is an emotion that is appropriate to man.  I felt it early when I looked out on the endless water of the Gulf of Mexico reaching from my feet, halfway to the heavens.  Then, I knew that I must always swim only in the shallow end and marvel, at a distance, at the secrets of the deeps.  I sensed God was at work in the mighty and marvelous things I saw. I knew God in the simplicity of a child’s trust.  The message I heard was plain: the Maker of all that is knew my address, knew who I was and loved me anyway.  We called Him “Father.”

My first memories of church are of singing.  I see myself sitting beside the piano in a white oak chair.  The handle of the piano is as high as my left ear.  Brother Mac, the choir director, is trying patiently to help his music makers to learn the melody of a simple song that we will sing in big church just before Christmas.  It is Dauphin Way Baptist Church. Mother is waiting for me in the parking lot while I practice; then it’s home to our house in Birdville.

I knew the Jesus script well.  He was a baby in December; by spring he was grown and the story grew gorier.  There were rumors of an unjust execution and the death of a perfect man who was, somehow, God inside.  Because God loved me, he took my place and my punishment.   But the full import of that was lost on me.  I knew too little of guilt and no shame at all to feel a need for God’s forgiveness.  But I knew God, not just things about Him.  And who could know God and not love Him?  I talked to Him, silently most often but out loud when I was otherwise alone.   And He talked to me.  Not in audible words but in impression and in peace.

Once, when I was six and after I had been very ill, and I was sure I would die with my father far away in Puerto Rico, I longed for my Daddy’s sure hand gripping mine. Years later, my mother told me what I had said and done.  I asked her, “Momma, when is Daddy coming home?”

To this she responded—exasperated and beat down by three sick children and a husband gone forever on TDY, “Temporary Duty,” that nevertheless seemed eternal –“Only God knows.”

“I’ll ask him, then.”  I agreed.

I left the house on Flamingo Drive and walked down the gray sidewalk between the gray clapboard-sided apartments to the gray and empty wading pool in the common field.  The structure was a square “fort” with a foot and a half high wall, twenty by twenty.  It was my special place, a place that was my thinking place, a special place where I talked to God.  In half an hour or so I returned and said to my Mother, “Daddy’s coming home.  I talked to God.  Daddy is coming home.”  I pronounced it with such conviction that she was shaken.  She called Brookley Field’s operations to see if indeed there was a chance.  But they reported that a hurricane was bearing down on Puerto Rico, and they doubted that anything would be leaving the airfields down there.  Mother was worried my faith would be shaken.  I was unconcerned.

That night Mother received a long-distance call from my father.  He would be arriving at 3:00 a.m. She woke me. “Daddy just called.  He is on his way home.  Let’s meet him at the airport.”  I was happy but not surprised.  I remember seeing my Dad descending the stairs from the Convair turboprop, he sporting a red goatee.  He was home.  He had flown out on one of the last planes to leave Puerto Rico before the storm hit.  He had flown out on a plane whose propellers he had serviced.  His was a faith in his own work.  Mine was a faith that must of necessity lie in something greater than me.  As a child, however, I felt my premonition unremarkable, but it was not the last time I had such an adventure.  Only sometimes the answer was not what I wanted or expected.

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Convair turboprop similar to that the author’s father returned from Puerto Rico. Phosot credit: http://www.goodall.com.au

My Grandmother, Ma Bertie, had a quiet faith that did not shout or boast of its strength.  Hers was like the rocks that lie at the edge of the sea whose strength is hidden deep beneath the surface and is only revealed when the storms crash against them, and they are unshaken.  This was her faith.  I have sat beside her at the harmonium, the pump organ, and listened to her sing in a high reedy soprano the melodies of the faith from the Sacred Harp Hymnal.  The mystic shapes of the notes were like the gamut of her life.  Married as a naive teenager to a straight and strong young man who was a good man at heart but was a lover of strong drink, she, nevertheless, stood faithful.  The notes sharpened as she learned of the struggle of rearing a family at the turn of the century.  During the Great Depression, like other Americans singing the blues in a minor key, she took solace in the hope of her faith despite the privations and the loss of their farm.  She was not perfect, this granddaughter of the circuit riding Pastor Thomas Dew, but she was genuine and strong.  When I knew her, she was already over seventy and had weathered many storms.  She seemed the epitome of resolute faith.

I recall sitting beside her in the Assembly of God church where she attended in Panama City.  I was a little frightened by the commotion that swirled around her when all prayed aloud.  She held a man’s handkerchief twisted in her left hand and whispered softly, “Sweet Jesus! Yes, Lord!” with her eyes clinched shut.  I knew that she asked God for more than she spoke aloud.  I was troubled by those who “spoke in tongues.”  One sister in particular shouted out at every meeting what sounded to me to be exactly the same babble every time she spoke.  Pastor Riddings translated her declaration for the congregation without hesitation.  It was always something on point with his sermon.  But I did not mind as much the show of their worship when I thought of how they loved “Sister Bertie.”  They loved her in warm appreciation and practical ways.  They loved Pa, too, even though he did not attend.   Perhaps the whole affair was lost on him due to his deafness.  I suppose it was to him like the distant incoherent roar of the sea, like the ecstatic tongues that never get translated.

It is told of my Ma Bertie that when a prayer meeting was called at the church to petition the Almighty for rain to end the drought, she was the only one to come to meeting with an umbrella under her arm. Such was her faith.

Ma Bertie’s favorable hymn was “Victory in Jesus.”   The affirmation of the words was like the steel bands of a stave barrel; she held together because of what she believed.  When she ultimately died of stomach cancer that followed throat cancer, all brought on by years of dipping snuff, she faced it bravely.  The scale was returning to “Do.”  She hummed the broken melodies of the hymns of faith with the little strength of her failing body.  But she was unafraid and was hopeful of an ultimate victory in Jesus.

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The author’s mother, in one of her most common poses: sewing. (family photo)

I have shared that faith for much of my life.  I sat in the pew at Hollinger’s Island Baptist Church, realizing that there was something between God and me that I had to get straight.  I saw that Jesus had paid the debt of my willfulness and disobedience.  My “sin,” Pastor Rusk called it, was getting in the way of my life-long friendship with God.  I told Mother after the service that when Brother Rusk told us to give our hearts to Jesus, I wanted to go to the front of the church, take out my heart and lay it on the altar.  She arranged for me to visit with the Pastor.  He quizzed me and declared that I was old enough and understood enough to make my own commitment.  I was nine years old.

I was “dunked” on November 5, 1956.  The baptismal pool was deep, and the water was cold.  The deacons had put a cinder block in the bottom for me to stand on, but I had to swim from the step to Brother Rusk.  “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost…” under the water; “rise to walk in the newness of life!”  I rose from the water shivering, but happy.  I was proud to show outside what had happened inside of me.

My subsequent adventures in the faith have been much like that icy pool of water.  Much of the time I cannot touch bottom and the water chills my soul; occasionally, I do get a toe touch of solid ground, but just for a moment.  Nevertheless, I am rarely afraid, since I grip a strong hand of One who has been here before me, just as I did that November night.

I have examined that faith repeatedly over the years.  Every time I found that it was indeed real and reasonable.  It may have been the faith of my fathers, it may have first belonged to Ma Bertie, then to my mother, but it is also mine.

Some would say I got religion early.  I say that I found God none too soon.  I found Him for myself and have been making sure of it ever since.  What I discovered in my search is that He does not hide when you really look for Him, and you will recognize Him instantly when you meet Him, even if you never saw Him before in your life.

A Pocket Memory

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Rain. Photo Credit: dehayf5MHWL7.cloudfront.net

The rain is beating against the window glazing with tiny, crystal-ball hands.  You can see your entire world reflected there if you look hard and long enough, only small and coiled up inside a minuscule globe.  Billowing sheets are down there hopscotching their round foot prints across the parking lot like some ghost of a lost tropical storm were puzzled to find herself in my neighborhood and she does not know where to turn next.  I start when I realize that I have been staring so long out the office window.  The light is failing; night is coming and I can begin to see myself, there in the window—like the portrait of a ghost, too, a framed specter sprinting through the gray hissing gauntlet.  Strange it seems to me, but when the light it is that rose and gray just before sunset or when some twist of the quotidian ordinary pricks loose some fragment of a memory or the smallest piece of a memory of a feeling that it flings up against the inside of my head or the backside of my eyes, I will wander off into a melancholy place.  That is where I am, now, and there I find my grandfather, Pa—Theodore Noah Webster Moates.

Pocket Contents

I do not recall not knowing him or when I first realized that this rock of a man was my ancestor and I, his progeny.  Yet my recollections are really few, much like the contents of a small boy’s pockets: in my right front I find a marble, a pebble, a penny from 1947-lincoln-wheat-pennies-value-78-13936425071947, the year of my birth; in the left, a jack knife with one of the grips missing—lost playing mumbly peg, and two bent rusting nails, one square, one round.  I lay the contents of my pocket memory on the sill beneath the window that never has opened before and I see a Mount Rushmore-ian figure.  I see his towering head with its craggy nose and high domed brow.

I did not think of his beginning until he died.  He seemed always to have been there, an ancient sun baked creature speaking slowly, wisely, steadily even as his calloused carpenter’s hands oscillated tremulously with “the palsy.”  He smelled of cigarettes—“I’d walk a mile for a Camel”—an exotic, dark tobacco aroma that hung on his clothes like an invisible mantle of virility.  And there was also that faint, strange sweet yeasty smell that was both the comfort and the curse of another Noah after the legendary flood.

 

Pa Moates

Theodore Noah Webster Moates ca.June 1969  Panama City Florida Photo credit: the author, his grandson

Pa was one of the oldest human beings that I knew as a child, though I doubted even then that he had been acquainted with the ark builder, even though my grandfather was builder too. I suspected they had more in common than I could understand, but I realize now that I did not really know him well, despite our times of tales on the screened porch, tales of the days before paved roads in Florida, when the Moates family traveled by buckboard wagon two days to visit Aunt Sadie.  I can see the pair of white sandy tracks of the trail when Pa speaks.  He smiles when he recounts how in a sudden thunderstorm they find shelter in an abandoned smokehouse—all that remained of a farm stead build before the war—the War Between the States, that is.  Settling back in his aluminum lawn chair, my grandfather paints a dark and mysterious still life study with his drawled words, a picture of close, black restless sleep in the ancient building, smelling of age and decay and hams.  Suddenly he leans forward, grabs my hand, and blurts out: “I snapped to when I felt something awful wet and hairy slam in my face.”

“What was it?” I demand breathlessly.

“Well, I couldn’t rightly say.” He is stalling. “Until the next flash of light’n showed up some wild goats go a-runnin’ out the door that was a-bangin’ in the wind.  They was as sceerd as we was, I reckon.”

We both laugh—I in my child’s high rattle, he in his deep rumble that sounds like the breakers of the gulf that slam against the shore.  Pa’s chuckle is powerful like thunder itself that makes you shake, laughing or not, in spite of yourself.

Amazing Camellias!

I see him now walking after the rain among his camellia bushes, and I remember the mischief in his eye.  Pa had found a mail order catalog that advertised growth hormone.  With a vial of the magic elixir he treats each bud of every plant in his garden.  He even secretly applies it one twilight evening to the camellias of his friend and neighbor, as well, across the sandy street.  Weeks later she brags to Pa about how green is her thumb.  Pa only chuckles mysteriously and never lets slip the truth of his evening rounds.  Now it makes me smile that for fifty years she never figured out what she had done that miraculous year to make such beautiful and grand blossoms.

There is so much that I do not know or have forgot.  I feel it all slipping away like the sand of a castle on the beach as the surf flings foaming salt water higher on the shore when the tide moves in.  I can cling to the few grains that volunteered on the back of my hand, but why did I not grab up whole handfuls and stuff them into my pockets?  But that I had been wiser than the child I was!  Pa, I am now a grandfather myself.  Now I wish I could know you; now perhaps I could understand.  But all I have is remembrances and faded photographs.

I can no more relive the past than I can return the rain to the sky.  I can only treasure the memories I hold in my pocket and, on occasional rainy days and in rare quiet moments take them out and amble among them.  This I will do and Pa, you will be remembered and loved again.

Beach

Beach after the rain, before night. Empty. Photo credit: the author

mesmer3

 

 

“This young woman is in urgent need of the assistance of Franz Anton Mesmer!”
–Franz Anton Mesmer

 

 

 

 

“I doubt that this will end well,” Sammy thought but did not say. Silently the high school mesmerist instructed himself: “It is essential that you project a confident demeanor to your subject,” reciting the admonition he had read in the paperback book where he had learned the essentials of hypnotism. The members of his high school choir crowded the hotel room near the All-State festival site and now leaned in, curious, to see Sammy put their classmate “under.”

In his hotel session, Sam began by following faithfully the patter he had learned off by heart. He had already used it successfully several times before with various subjects, to his surprise and delight. How amazing it was he concluded—to think that he, a naïve teen, could exert such control over another’s mind! But more than power drew him to this art; what a novel exploit into a dark world it presented! Sam felt the utter joy he imagined he shared with the first man to receive fire from the hand of Prometheus.

“Linda, fix your vision on this charm,” he had suggested as he held up the glinting bangle in a darkened room. And just as he had done before with other subjects, he continued in a practiced calm and confident voice, “You are getting sleepy. Your eye lids are growing heavy. Sooooo, heavy. You can hardly keep them open. It’s okay to let them close.” Linda had complied. “Relax. Just relax. Now imagine you see the charm. Do you see it, Linda?”

“Yes,” the slight brunette replied.

“Good. Imagine that it is moving away from you. Concentrate on the charm as it moves slowly away. See the charm and listen only to the sound of my voice, only to the sound of my voice, as it moves away into the darkness. You can see it shining and you can hear my voice. That is all you can see and hear,” Sam recited in his most reassuring intonation.

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Aunt Mary Benefited

Sammy remembered even now, how—at his mother’s insistence—he had “put Aunt Mary under.” The strange request came because of Mary’s terrible headache pain, and because of his mother’s desperation and kindness. She was aware, as well, of her son’s psychological adventures and, although wary and cautionary, she exhibited an indulgent tolerance of his latest exploration. The ritual proceeded flawlessly with his aunt. She progressed rapidly through the several stages of hypnosis. At last, the young hypnotist suggested that she relax, beginning with her toes then progressing upward. When he commanded her scalp to relax, his eyes widened in astonishment. He looked at his mother’s face. She saw it too. Her mouth was open in amazement. The hair on Mary’s head seemed to become a thing alive, crawling backward as the muscles in her scalp did indeed unclench, relieving the immediate cause of her tension headache.

After a minute of relaxation and post hypnotic suggestion that she would awaken refreshed as from a good nap, feeling no pain, her headache gone, Sam began the count down. “I will count backward. As I do, you will begin to wake up and you will awaken refreshed and alert. Three, you are beginning to awaken. Two, you are becoming aware of the world around you. One, you are waking up.” He snapped his fingers. “You are fully awake. . . . Aunt Mary, How do you feel?” he inquired.

“I feel fine. My headache’s gone! A good nap always makes you feel better,” she replied with a smile.

“That went well,” Sam thought to himself.

“Thank you, Sammy, dear,” his grateful aunt continued.

“You’re very welcome. Glad I could help,” the proud teenager pronounced. Inwardly, however, he shuddered with the excitement of a power to help another, a power that he had never known before, that also mingled with a concealed trepidation of what evil that power was capable of wreaking.

Back in the hotel room, Linda had passed the usual tests of the stages of suggestion: relaxation, obedience to simple suggestions, flinch suppression when pricked with a sharp pin. But she had not done well in the enhanced memory test that was the object of Sam’s experiment. Ever the would-be scientist, he concluded that at least in some people hypnotic suggestion does not enhance memory skills.

Post Hypnotic Suggestions?

Sam momentarily considered giving a post-hypnotic suggestion to Linda, has he had done several times before. Once to amuse her friends he had suggested to Jan, a subject with a distinctive and infectious laugh, that when someone used the word “peanuts” in conversation she would find it the most hilarious thing she had ever heard and she would laugh until she cried. But when she heard the word “popcorn,” she would feel such sadness that it would also make her cry. Sam decided that he must have an escape word, lest the emotional yo-yo go on forever. “When you hear the word ‘crackerjacks’ the post hypnotic suggestion will terminate, and you will return to normal. These words will be just words. Do you understand? If you understand, nod your head.” Jan obeyed.

When Sam had counted down. “Three, two, one. You’re awake!” Jan had complied. The small group of observers quizzed her about her experience. She had no awareness that she had been hypnotized. When someone mentioned the word “peanuts” she became “tickled” as she called it. Laughing uproariously, even to the point of embarrassment. She could not restrain her mirth, until another person pronounced the word “popcorn,” at which Jan’s demeanor instantly transformed to the mask of tragedy and she began to weep. The group of friends played with her emotions, jerking her back and forth from joy to sadness and back again, a few more times before Sam took pity on an exhausted Jan and used the terminal safe word. Sam began to doubt inwardly that it was a good thing to have such power in his inexpert hands, although it was a heady emotion to experience. Perhaps he was uneasy partly because of a lingering feeling of guilt for the abuse to which he had subjected Jan.

But Linda presented a very different scenario. She had not responded to his call to wake up after his count down. She had remained still, her eyes closed.

“What do I do, now?” Sam asked himself. “Don’t panic,” he counseled himself. He resolved to try again.

“Linda! I am going to count backward from ten this time. At each stage you will become more and more awake.” Then he began the count down. The room was hot with the breath of twenty teenagers. Their faces formed a horizon that made Sammy feel trapped. Many looked on concerned. Some wore curious looks. A few smiled broadly. Sam could feel each second ticking by as he labored to bring this catatonic mind back to reality.

When he reached zero this second time and snapped his fingers, Linda remained unmoved, her eyes closed. She did not wake up! Sam’s heart pounded in his chest. “What if she never awakens?” he thought. Instead, he improvised, “Take her back to her room and put her on her bed. She will awake in a few hours naturally.”

At this, Linda opened her eyes wide and looked into Sammy’s stunned face. She winked and laughed out loud. Her grinning confederates among the onlookers immediately bent double in glee. Everyone in the room finally realized that the sometime mesmerist had been pranked. Everybody laughed in relief, including Sammy, the mark.

A Narrow Escape?

Despite his embarrassment, Sammy did not feel humiliated. He laughed along with everyone else at his pretension and he forgave his clever classmates’ good natured con of a fake somnambulist. Instead, his anxiety was lifted and replaced with a vague but definite sense of relief. He had secretly feared his infatuation with his newly acquired hypnotic skills. Sammy imagined himself like a child playing with a box of matches who inadvertently sets fire to his neighbor’s house. The hoax only heightened this terror that Sammy had hidden beneath a mask of bravado and faked sophistication. Ultimately, he decided to suspend his experiments in the wilderness of the mind, since he felt that he had escaped a disaster, but might not be so fortunate next time. He resolved never to forget what happened, however, even if he would puzzle—forever—over all that it meant and what calamities he might have been spared.

QC-824

Photo credit: changingmydestiny.wordpress.com