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Archive for August, 2020

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.”

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