Friday, August 19, 2011

1816 - The Arrival - Part 2 - When

It took a little detective work to figure out what I think is the date of the arrival of our first settlers on Blackberry. The method of figuring it out was this: take the children of Joseph and Valentine and Ferrell and follow them through later censuses, all the way to 1880 if they lived that long (several of them did). Since I think we can safely assume that people knew the state in which they were born, it was just a matter of seeing what state they listed as their state of birth, then coming up with the most reasonable estimate of their year of birth (that tended to fluctuate from census to census, so it wasn't unusual for someone to be 45 in 1870 and then, 10 years later in 1880, be only 53).

So, it looks as if Joseph and Martha's daughter, Phoebe, was born in 1815 in Virginia. Their next child, John, was born in 1817 in Kentucky. Valentine and Mattie had a daughter Virginia Anne who was born in 1813 in Virginia. Their next child, Thomas W., was born in 1817 in Kentucky. Ferrell Evans and Phoebe had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1815 in Virginia, then another daughter, Mary, who was born in 1817 in Kentucky.

It is clear, then, that they were on Blackberry Creek by 1817, and were well established enough to start adding to their families. The absence of any children born in 1816, coupled with children who were born in Virginia in 1815, strongly suggests that they all came in the spring of 1816. I say spring because it was common at the time for new settlers to leave in the early spring, after the ground had thawed and the trails dried out, but early enough to have time to clear some land, begin construction of cabins, and possibly start small household gardens. There was a lot of work to be done before winter. At least by coming together, there would be three adult men to clear the land and build the first cabins.

1816 - The Arrival - Part 1 - Who

It's hard to prove a negative, but so far I have seen no evidence of anyone living on Blackberry Creek before the sons of Ephraim Hatfield settle there in the spring of 1816. There are certainly families nearby, possibly on Peter Creek or Pond Creek or on the West Virginia side (Obediah Blankenship is here early, as is Henry Runyon, Moses Ball, and others), but the arrival of Joseph and Valentine Hatfield and Ferrell Evans and their families seems to mark the beginning of permanent settlement on Blackberry Creek. So let me go back to 1816 and see what there is to know about that initial act of settlement.

Joseph B. Hatfield was the eldest child of Ephraim and his first wife, Polly Smith or Goff. He was born in 1785, so at the time of his arrival on Blackberry he would have been around 30 years old. His wife, Martha "Patsy" Evans, was also 30 years old. They were married in 1808, and by 1815 they had four children: William, Ferrell Marion, Ephraim, and Phoebe. Martha Evans was the daughter of William Harmon Evans and Martha Thompson. Martha Thompson's parents, John and Mary Thompson, were from Ulster, Ireland and, if the work I have seen is correct, Martha was the first of their children born in America (in 1746). Martha Thompson's first husband, William Ferrell, was also born in Ireland. He was killed by Indians in 1778 at the New Garden Settlement in what would eventually become Russell County, Virginia. Two of Martha's children with William Ferrell, John Ferrell and Richard Ferrell, also came to the Tug Valley, settling on the West Virginia side of the river.

Valentine "Wall" Hatfield, born in 1789, was the fourth child of Ephraim and Mary Hatfield (the two sons between Joseph and Valentine - Aly and Ericus - were both dead by 1810). He and his wife, Martha "Mattie" Weddington, had 6 children by 1815 - Joseph B., Andrew, John, Ali, Ephraim, and Virginia Jane. I have seen it written that Valentine was a veteran of the War of 1812 and that he received 50 acres in Kentucky as compensation for his services, but I have not actually seen any documentation to prove this assertion. He and Mattie had no children born between 1813 and 1817, so it's certainly possible that he could have been in the army during the final year of the war (1814), and it's also true that soldiers were frequently given tracts of land in lieu of monetary payment. I can at least say that Valentine may have served in the army during the War of 1812.

Ferrell Hammon Evans was the brother of Joseph Hatfield's wife Martha Evans. He and his wife, Phoebe Musick, came to Blackberry Creek with four children, all of them girls. They were Nancy, Anna, Martha and Sarah. Nancy, Anna and Sarah would eventually marry three of the sons of Valentine and Mattie, while Martha would marry Garbriel Rife Jr. Phoebe Musick was the daughter of David and Annie Musick, and thus the stepdaughter of Ephraim Hatfield and step-sister of Joseph and Valentine. When her father, David, was killed by Indians in 1792 and her mother and brothers kidnapped, Phoebe was a newborn.

So there you have it. Three families with 14 children under the age of 11 leave the only home they have ever known and head out into what at that point is still very much the wilderness.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marker for Ephraim and Annie

Photo courtesy of Ron Blackburn.

Click on photo to enlarge. Click on photo a second time if you're over 40 and need to enlarge even more!

Eph of All

When it comes to family history, there are things we know and things we think we know. There are things we know we don't know and things we don't know that we don't know. There are things that are true and things that we wish were true and things that probably aren't true but sound good anyway, so we hang onto them. There are also things that, no matter how hard we try and how diligently we search, we will never know, and that's just the sad fact of the matter. At that point, I guess we just have to make things up.

Let me start out with something we know. Ephraim Hatfield is the ancestor of almost all of the Hatfields of the Tug River Valley, and of a good portion of everyone else who lives there as well. They don't call him "Eph of All" for nothing. It was the sons and, eventually, daughters of Ephraim Hatfield who originally settled Blackberry Creek sometime around 1816 (we'll get around to that later) and who raised large and, I suppose, troublesome families, some branches of which crossed the mighty Tug into Virginia (eventually to become West Virginia) and started their own troublesome families there.

We don't know (in the sense of having documents to prove it) a lot about Ephraim Hatfield. He may or may not have been the son of Joseph Hatfield, a Revolutionary War veteran who was apparently known as "the best Indian spy and woodsman on the Western frontier." He may have been married first to Mary "Polly" Smith or Mary "Polly" Goff, but no one is quite sure which (although some researchers seem to have created a combination wife - Mary "Polly" Goff Smith). I'm not sure, for my purposes, that it matters, since Ephraim and one or the other of these Mary's had two children that interest me - Joseph (born about 1785) and Valentine (born about 1789). They interest me because the two of them, along with their wives and children, were the first settlers on Blackberry Creek. We also know that Ephraim was part of the rescue party that tracked down Annie Musick and her children after they were captured by Indians in 1792 and that, several years later, Ephraim and Annie began to co-habitate (though they were not married until many years later, after they had followed their children to Blackberry Creek). Annie had several children of her own to raise after the death of her husband at the hands of those same Indians in 1792. They were Elexious, Abraham, Elijah, Samuel, and Phoebe. (Phoebe was also among that first group of settlers on Blackberry Creek - she and her husband, Ferrell Evans, came along with Joseph and Valentine. Ferrell, by the way, was the brother of Joseph Hatfield's wife Martha Evans.) Ephraim and Annie then had several children together - Mary and George and Margaret and Jeremiah, all of whom eventually moved to Blackberry Creek as well, thus making sure there would be plenty of prime Hatfield genes to fill the entire Tug Valley and more troublesome families than you could shake a hickory stick at.

We know, too, that Ephraim and Annie came to Blackberry Creek some time before 1830, were finally married (at the insistence, it seems, of their children), and lived the rest of their lives surrounded by their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Eph of All died around 1847 and Annie died in 1859. They were buried in what came to be known as the Anderson Hatfield Memorial Cemetery, just above the spot where, 30 years later, Ellison Hatfield would be killed by Tolbert, Pharmer and Bud McCoy and our little patch of otherwise unspectacular ground thrust out of obscurity and into something like myth.

Up The Hill

The black jeep roared into life and began its treacherous journey up the step, muddy road that led to our family cemetery at the top of the hill. I could see Uncle Jim's bald head near the back window, and beside him sat my weeping mother, her hands over her eyes. I couldn't make out any of the other people from this distance, though I knew they were all relatives, riding up the hill for my grandmother's funeral. I watched the jeep for several seconds, until it turned a corner and disappeared behind a clump of pines.

"Come on, boy," my grandfather said, placing his broad, weathered hand on my shoulder. "Let's go up and say goodbye to your grandma." I grabbed his hand and we began the long climb to the cemetery. We had gone only a few yards along the narrow, muddy road when I began my usual stream of questions.

"Why didn't we ride up, Grandpa?" I asked, staring up into his wrinkled face.

"It didn't seem proper," he answered. He paused for a moment, leaning against an old elm tree. I could tell he was tired because he was breathing hard. "Ever since I was a little boy, we carried our people up this mountain. Somehow it don't seem right to take somebody up in a truck. They ought to be carried, the way most everybody up there was carried, by the people who cared the most. It seems to me that's the least you can do for a person who's gone."

We started walking again, our feet crunching through the thick covering of dead leaves and sinking into the mud beneath them. It became steeper here, just above the old elm tree, and I had to struggle to keep moving. I wondered how grandpa could walk so fast as old as he was. Maybe he was just used to it.

"I've walked this old road many times," Grandpa said, as if he'd read my thought, "and it never gets any easier." We paused for a few minutes. He pulled a ragged yellow handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped his forehead. "You know how we used to take people up?" he asked, cramming the handkerchief back into his pocket.

"No," I lied, "how did you take people up?"

"We had to carry them casket and all clear to the top. It took eight, sometimes ten men to carry somebody up this mule trail, and it was even worse in those days. We didn't have none of this ridin' up in trucks and such. We used our own strength to carry our loved ones home.

He sounded as though he were finished, so I started walking, using the branch I had snapped from the elm as a walking stick. We were almost at the top now, and I could see the black jeep sitting on the hillside, its knobby tires deep in the mud. I could see the grandfather oak standing by the gate, guarding the entrance to the cemetery. I could see my darkly clad family standing in a circle, praying softly. And I could see the shiny black casket sitting on the ground. Suddenly, everyone began singing, filling the cold air with an eerie, mournful sound that caused my knees to tremble and my skin to crawl.

"Did you carry up a lot of people, Grandpa?" I asked, needing the reassurance of my voice to drown out the fear.

"I sure did," he said. He wiped his forehead again, only this time he used the back of his hand. "I helped carry up my papa, right after I got married. It was a day almost like today, only colder. I remember we slipped in the mud and almost let him slide over the hill. My two uncles brought Momma up that day, chair and all, because she was sick and couldn't walk on her own. A few months later I helped carry up Momma, only this time she didn't need the chair. I helped carry up your grandma's mother, two uncles, and a few good friends." His voice sounded funny now, and I realized he was crying. I walked on ahead and stood beside the grandfather oak, watching as they lowered grandma into the cold, damp ground. Everyone was crying, and I think maybe I cried a little too. Then it was over and time to go home.

As I walked back down, I started thinking about Grandpa. He had carried people up this hill lots of times. It must have hurt as he watched his friends and family die and be carried up the hill. I wondered if he thought about the day when he would be carried up and if he was afraid. Then I thought about myself, a grown man, carrying Momma up the hill like that. And I saw myself.

I ran all the way down, my eyes filled with tears and my clothes covered with mud. I caught up with Grandpa, grabbed his hand, and let him brush away my tears.

I'll hold your hand, Grandpa, I thought, until it's your turn to go. Then, if I'm lucky, somebody will hold my hand until it's my turn. And I want them to carry me up. None of this riding up in trucks and such.

As the Crow Flies

One widely recognized, if unofficial, unit of measurement is this one: As the crow flies. The distance between point A and point B is, let's say, 12 miles "as the crow flies" but maybe 20 miles as us poor humans are forced to go. The phrase makes implicit the distinction between abstract distance and practical distance (similar to the difference between Plato's perfect spheres and the poor replicas we have to work with here in shadowland). It recognizes, in a way, some of the inherent difficulties of being human. In a perfect world, I guess, the distance "as the crow flies" and the distance people need to travel would be equal, but down here in the nitty gritty world where people do their living, the crow has it made. We muddle along and do the best we can with what we have, and, while the route may be longer, sooner or later, like the crow, we get where we want to go.

Few places, I think, have such a great discrepancy between "as the crow flies" and how people go as the hills and hollows of Eastern Kentucky. There's no easy way to anywhere, and the hollows meander and take their time, turning this way and that, following the sloped contour of the earth down to the river bottoms that lead, sooner or later, to the sea. And that's a long, non-crow-flying way of getting to my point - that this story will not go "as the crow flies." I won't be following a linear progression. There's no straight line, chronological or otherwise, to where I'm going, only a winding back and forth, this way and that, here there and yonder, in a slow progression toward whatever it is that we're heading toward.

Hopefully, through the gradual accumulation of detail, an interesting story or set of stories will appear. Sooner or later, we'll get somewhere. You'll just have to bear with me. You'll have to take the long way around.


I often ask myself, when the work of the day has settled down and things grow quiet and still, how did I get there? How did any of us get there, to that river valley in eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia, scattered along those creeks and streams like so many seeds, sprouting wildly in the deep shadows of hollows that for centuries knew only the footfall of bear and fox and mountain lion, and for more centuries after that the occasional band of Shawnee hunters, passing through, building fires in the shelter of overhanging rocks? Perhaps as they slept they dreamed of their homes, along the Ohio River near Portsmouth, or west, in Clark County, the village they called Eskippakithiki, the Place of Blue Licks. They had other names that hide behind the places we know: Eskalapia, Tywhapita, Tyewhappety. Or the name they gave, when asked by English explorers, to the Kanawha River - Chinotahishetha, which means, roughly "He, the Shawnee, is guarding that which is his."

Then they were gone, defeated at the Battle of Point Pleasant, overwhelmed by history. Soon the land itself was neatly divided into tracts by Thomas Jefferson's Land Ordinance of 1785 and sold for as little as $1 an acre. After that, my ancestors came, Hatfield and Ball and Blankenship, Farley and Evans and Dotson, Runyon and May, McCoy and Smith, beginning, timidly, around 1810 and gaining momentum in the second decade of the new century. Hungry for land and, I can only assume, space, primal emptiness, they came, clearing back the virgin forest, building homes, planting things, naming things. By 1820, they had established themselves in the hollows of Pike County, from Buskirk on the banks of the Tug River, all along Blackberry Creek, Bluespring, Left Fork, Smith Fork, Calf Branch, Pond Creek, Pinsonfork, McVeigh. And there, despite the steep hillsides and narrow hollows, the thin soil, the difficulty of getting anywhere, the isolation, they survive. One might say, looking at the census rolls from 1820, 1830, 1840, seeing the number of children in their homes grow to 6,8,10,12, that they even prospered. Certainly, as William Faulkner might say, they endured.

From that point on, I can trace their comings and goings by way of census rolls, church records, the occasional deed or court document. I can watch them intermarry and mingle, see how their children spread out along the hollows, each generation carving the land into smaller (and less productive) portions, but at the same time note how the family networks grow more complex and intertwined. I don't really know anything about these people. They didn't leave much in the way of documents or artifacts. They are little more than names, dates scribbled in census books, birth records, death records, but something of them survived in their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren; in the songs my great grandmother might have sung to herself as she weeded her garden, in the stories she told about her great grandfather, in the knowledge my grandfather had of the hillsides around his house - where to find gingseng, which tree the squirrels came to feed at early in the morning, where the chestnut trees had been before the blight in 1933.

I know a few things for certain, though. They came and they stayed. They changed the land and the land changed them, individually and collectively, until at times it is difficult for me to tell which side, human or natural, was more profoundly altered by the other. I honestly can't say that I understand the forces that drove them to make the choices they made. What makes a man and woman load their children and all of their worldly belongings onto rickety old wagons and head out into a wilderness that only a decade before had been the hunting grounds of the Cherokee and Shawnee? I know that they came to Blackberry Creek and, after over 100 years of moving from place to place, from the Maryland coast to the wilds of Western Virginia, they stayed. It is common among outsiders, historians and cultural scholars, to see Appalachia as a kind of trap, a place where people came but were too poor or too stubborn or too stupid to leave. But as I look at the land records from the 1830s and 1840s and watch these original settlers and their adult children buy up every scrap of land on Blackberry Creek they can get their hands on, 50 and 100 acres at a time, I don't get the sense that these were people who wanted to leave. I get the sense, hard to prove but impossible to shake, that these were people who, after more than a century of roaming, had finally found a home.

So, no, I have no way, really, of knowing what drove their choices, but I can say without exaggeration that I am to a large extent the result of those choices. I cannot reach back across time to know for sure who they were or what they wanted or how they felt when they sat on their porches and looked out at the same Blackberry Creek where I grew up, or what they thought when they climbed to the same ridge tops that I've walked dozens of times and looked out across a seemingly endless stretch of blue-tinged hills. All I have of them are my own personal memories, the more tenuous memory of historical research, and, perhaps most importantly, the bone-deep memory of culture, which molds us the way the contours of the hillsides direct the path of the streams. But this memory, whether personal or historical or cultural, is important, since it is the one way that we can keep faith with them, with the Shawnee who were here before them, with the land itself - we too, in our stories and our songs and our boxes of old photographs and faded documents, guard that which is ours.  We tell and retell our stories, some new, some older than we have any way of knowing, and in those acts of retelling we define ourselves, we find ourselves, we come into our future by way of our collective past. 

Beginnings - Always Start Here!

Let me start with an explanation of what I am not, or, to go back to the old Appalachian way of phrasing it, with what I ain't. What I ain't is an historian. I have always had a love of history, read a lot of history, took a lot of history classes in school and just basically spent a good amount of mental time thinking about days gone by. Some of my best friends are historians. As a result, I have a pretty good sense of how the academic side of historical research works, and that's how I know with a great deal of certainty that I'm no historian. I also ain't no genealogist, though I dabble in it and rely heavily on the work of local genealogists to make sense of the complex web of family relationships that precede me.

Okay, so now that I've explained what I'm not, maybe I should try to clarify what it is that I think I am, or at least what it is that I think I'm doing. Basically, I consider myself to be a storyteller, or, in this case, a story re-teller. My task, self-appointed to be sure, is that of taking the work of historians and genealogists and whomever else I can find to throw into the mix and trying to fashion a coherent tale out of it all. The heart of my tale, I think, is a series of questions that nag at me in search of some kind of answer. Who were those people who came before me? What were they thinking and feeling when they came to Kentucky? What motivated them? What did they think of their new home? What were their lives like, day to day, year to year? How did the place (Blackberry Creek) influence the people who made their homes there and, conversely, how did those people influence the geophysical place? What, in short, are we to make of all that history as we struggle, both individually and collectively, to create a future?

So this won't be academic history (which means everything may not necessarily be 100% accurate), and it won't be genealogy, but it will draw on both of those disciplines in an effort to construct a convincing, realistic narrative about who our ancestors were and how the intersection of people and place, over time, constructed the present. Who we are. Where we are. Why we are. And, if I get lucky, maybe I can begin to hint at an answer to this one: what do we do next?