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Archive for October, 2020

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!’”

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