Sunday, November 25, 2007

Don't Forget Historical Newspapers in Your Itawamba County Research

In historical and genealogical research, newspapers play an important role in gathering information. Old newspapers offer the researcher a glimpse of daily life contemporary to the times being studied. Such old newspapers offer so much more than obituaries and the like. They offer a narrative of the happenings of the times and such narratives includes tremendous historical and genealogical information.

Itawamba County newspapers are available on microfilm from around 1903 to the present are found in the Itawamba Historical Society’s Gaither Spradling Library and bound Itawamba newspapers by year from 1950 to the present are located in the Itawamba County courthouse. However, it is important to remember that a great deal of Itawamba County information can found in newspapers outside the county. For instance, the Tupelo Journal on microfilm contains a great deal of Itawamba County information. These newspapers go back to the 1870’s. Then there are historical newspapers from all across the United States that have articles making reference to Itawamba people and events. One example is the following article that appeared in an 1861 edition of the Macon Daily Telegraph of Macon, Georgia:

Troops Still Arriving from Mississippi

The train this morning, brought down five companies from Mississippi, numbering near 500 men. Three of these companies are from Marshall, one from Itawamba and one from Lafayette county.

The Marshall companies are –

Home Guards – Capt. T.W. Harris; 1st Lieut. W.A.P. Jones; 2d do., J.B. Matterson; 2d do., J.L. Autry. There are 100 men; comprising among them many of the first men of education and refinement about Holly Springs. For example there is thirteen lawyers and three doctors, and a number of young men of education with leisure to engage in active enterprise that promises excitement and glory. Their cry is, “Pickens!”

Quitman Rifles – Capt. R. McGowan; 1st Lieut. A.J. Wooten; 2d A. Balfour; 3d J.L. McGowan; 87 men

Jeff Davis Rifles – Capt. Sam Benton; 1st Lieut. H.W. Walter; 2d R.L. Watson; 3d B. Mickle; 100 men.

The Captain of this company is a nephew of the late Thos. H. Benton, the elebrated Missouri Senator. Their name, the Jeff Davis Rifles, is a remembrancer of the glorious deeds of the Mississippi Rifles of Mexico, and will be a perpetual stimulant to emulate them upon the battle field.

The company from Lafayette county is the Lafayette Guards – Capt. W. DeLay; 1st Lieut. Jno. Grace; 2d do, T.H. Lyman; 3d d0. J. Henry; 92 men.

Capt. Delay was with the Mississippians in Mexico and knows what Mississippians can do and dare do on the battle field.

The company from Itawamba is Ben. Bullard’s Rifles – Capt. Jas. C. Bullard; 1st Lieut. Jas. L. Finlay; 2d do., H.H. Smith; 3d do., M.M. Shelley; 93 rank and file. These troops are quartered at Hitchcock’s Press. – Mobile Mercury

The above is an article that was copied from the Mobile Mercury in Mobile, Alabama by the Macon Daily Telegraph in Macon, Georgia during 1861 giving information about Itawamba County, Mississippi residents. This is one example of the importance of historic newspapers in historical and genealogical research.

Newspaper article source: The Macon Daily Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, April 5, 1861

Genealogical Notes:

1860 Itawamba County US Federal Census

Page 139 Fulton
Arthur B. Bullard: 38, Cumberland Presbyterian Minister, $63,000, born TN
Rachael: 29, MS
Clarence B.: 10, MS
Laura: 5, MS
Elizabeth: 3, MS
Emma: 1, MS
Nancy J. Webb, 11, MS

Page 81
James Bullard: 40, Farmer, $1,606, TN
Annis: 41, AL
Arthur: 17, MS
Lafayette: 16, MS
James: 11, MS
Daniel: 9, MS
Bennett: 3, MS

J.L. Findley enumerated in the Eli Phillips household in the town of Fulton
William Shelly enumerated in the Richard Borum household at Van Buren, listed as age 36, merchant, born in NC

Friday, November 23, 2007

Christmas Store Advertisement in Fulton from 1925

With the biggest shopping day of the year upon us, here is a look at a Fulton store advertisement that appeared in the Itawamba County News in an edition immediately following Thanksgiving during 1925. From looking at the advertisement for Fulton Drug Store, gift items for mothers and sweethearts were cameras, manicure sets, boxed candy, dresser sets, Bibles, testaments, toilet articles, glassware, stationery and silverware. Items for men and boys included military sets, shaving sets, razors, fountain pens and pocket books. In addition to toys for the children, the store also sold Christmas bells and decorations. The Fulton Drug Store building is at the corner of North Gaither and Main Street on the town square in Fulton.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Vintage Thanksgiving Greeting

An embossed vintage postcard from 1908 for Thanksgiving Greetings, printed in Germany shows a Victorian holiday scene. During the Turn of the Century era, postcards were widely used and commemorated such holidays as Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloweeen, Valentine's Day and personal events such as birthdays, weddings and the like.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Itawamba County Thanksgiving Feast

Growing up in the hills of northeastern Mississippi, the best two meals of the year were the Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas dinner. My family usually held our annual Thanksgiving feast down on my elderly aunt and uncle’s farm in the lower part of the county and Thanksgiving Day was definitely a treat for the children of all the families. On the farm were chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, horses, a big barn, chicken coops, and of course the big old tin-roofed whitewashed farmhouse with a spacious verandah along the front complete with a porch swing and rocking chairs.

I remember a favorite spot for me was the old wooden smokehouse and to this day still remember the earthy hickory smell of the heavy cloth-covered hams hanging from the rafters. There was a long forgotten salt box in the corner, wooden primitive shelves filled with discarded bric-a-brac from the farm house and years worth of old Progressive Farmer magazines stacked in a corner. My elderly aunt and uncle were evidently thrifty folks who didn’t throw anything away.

The cousins, aunts and uncles would all gather at the large old tin-roofed farm house by mid morning and the house would already be pleasantly warmed by the cooking in the kitchen and the popping fire in the front parlor fireplace. The heavenly aroma already permeating from the kitchen into the front of the house was an aromatic gift for the senses.

The men and older boys would leave for the corn and cotton fields shortly after arriving at the farm for their Thanksgiving quail hunt, and the women would congregate in the kitchen busy with their culinary chores and catching up on all the family news while the younger children would play outside around the farm house.

During the afternoon, the feast usually began with the Thanksgiving prayer, and what followed was truthfully a culinary sight to behold. Most all the ingredients for the enormous feast were produced right there on the farm. We always had a big deep pan of moist chicken and cornbread dressing slowly baked forming a crispy crust in the old stove’s oven with giblet gravy waiting in a stew pot and a big baked ham that had been slow-cured in the smokehouse.

To compliment this we had home canned snap beans cooked down with fatback meat in a black iron skillet, buttery golden yellow corn, purple hull peas, and a big bowl of speckled butter beans. Also on the fare were sweet and fruity ambrosia, spiced peaches and cranberry salad. A cut glass tray of home-canned pickled beets and crispy sweet pickles would be passed around the table and a big black skillet of corn bread and large tray of yeast rolls made from scratch complimented the banquet.

And after the feast there were pies, cakes and custards on the ancient sideboard waiting to be savored. The Thanksgiving feast most always featured sweet potato pies, a fresh and moist three-layer coconut cake and if we were lucky, an amalgamation cake, all made with farm fresh eggs, milk and butter.

The week of Thanksgiving always brings back memories of the savory annual family feast on an Itawamba County farm remembered from my childhood days -a feast that was accentuated with a bountiful meal, a loving family and simply giving thanks.

Photograph: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [LC-USF34-042703-D DLC (b&w film neg.)]

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Itawamba Agricultural High School: Educating Students Since 1921

The beginnings of the Itawamba Agricultural High School can be traced back to shortly after 1910 when a fund amounting to $1,354.67 was raised by a county tax levy for the purpose of “maintaining an Agricultural High School.” However it was not until more than ten years later that actual construction began on the facility.

During 1919, the trustees of The Itawamba Agricultural High School began acquiring the property for the new school to be located west of the town square of Fulton under the hill. During June of 1919 the trustees received properties from the W.L. Gaither estate, Isaac Lewis Sheffield, J.A. Senter, and W.G. Orr. Later in December of the same year properties were received from Mrs. Annie Gaither and M.C. Benson for a total school acreage of nearly one hundred acres.

The first contractor who signed a contract to build the school backed down, so a new contract was let. By May of 1921, construction was underway and on May 19th of that year a cornerstone ceremony was held at the Administration Building site where thousands of Itawambians attended.

Only two buildings were completed before the school opened during September of 1921 – the Administration Building and Dormitory. The Itawamba Agricultural High school officially opened at 10 a.m. September 19th, 1921 with registration and opening exercises with nearly 150 students.

The Administration Building housed the class rooms and the second floor was used as a dormitory for the male students, as the boy's dormitory wasn't completed until later in the 1921-22 school session. The dining room, kitchen, parlors and female students were housed in the two-story dormitory building. Many of the first male students were housed in private homes in Fulton. The Itawamba County News posted a plea from the county superintendent of education for the people of the town to rent rooms to the young men who wanted to attend the school, as there was not enough room in the Administration Building to house them. It is interesting to note that from the beginning, the school was a boarding school. Since there were no paved roads and very few graveled roads in the county, daily transportation was difficult for those students in outlying areas of the county, in order to attend school in Fulton.

The first school catalog shows the main purpose of the school at the time seemed to fit the students for better farmers and farm home-makers. A note from the catalog reads in part: “Since a large percent of our pupils will come from the farm and will probably return to the farm, it becomes our duty to teach them how to make the most of their farms, how to improve the farm home and how to make country life more enjoyable, more profitable and a better place in which to live. There will be a few of our graduates, and we hope they may be many, who will desire to continue their training in the college and university.”

The Itawamba Agricultural High School was available free to any student in Itawamba County, but those from outside the county were charged $10 per session. Board in the dormitory was on the cooperative plan, with costs being split among the number of pupils and teachers at the end of the month. Each boarding student was required to keep a board deposit of $15, on deposit. Each pupil was also required to do 5 to 10 hours practical labor each week. Additional labor was paid for at the rate of eight cents to twelve cents per hour, depending on the quality of work.

The first school play was presented on October 21, 1921. “The Sweet Family” was presented by the ladies of the faculty and several of the female students. The admission price of 15 cents and 25 cents raised funds “for the benefit of the new piano.”
The November 3, 1921 edition of the Itawamba County News reported that Congressman John E. Rankin had sent the new school fifty young trees to be planted on the campus and he had suggested that a tree be planted in memory of each Itawamba County soldier who lost his life during the recent war (World War I). It was also suggested that others could plant trees in memory of loved ones.

The first board of trustees of the Itawamba Agricultural High School were: James T. Page, Phillip Orr Stovall, Houston L. Gillespie, Willie G. Crouch and Benjamin Chilcoat. Jasper R. Newell was the first school principal who removed from Tate County to take the post. Members of the first faculty were: R.A. Scott (agriculture), Juanita Ray (home science and arts), Minnie Mobberly (English and Latin), Mrs. J.R. Fewell (history and English), T.A. Oliphant (science and athletics), A.B. Johnson (mathematics and commercial work), Irene McMullan (music) and Kate C. Taylor (matron). Professor Lansford joined the faculty in October of 1921.

The first graduation was held on May 10, 1922 with a total of nine students receiving diplomas. It is interesting to note that, contrary to the 1921-22 school catalog philosophy, none of the graduating students immediately returned to the farm, and most of them continued their education in college.

Events of 1921, the beginning year of the Itawamba Agricultural High School:
The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey
Warren G. Harding inaugurated President
Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics
Flappers and Philosophers was published by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published songs included The Sheik Of Araby and Ain't We Got Fun?
Second Hand Rose was sung by Fannie Brice
The Kid, starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan was released to movie goers.

Photograph: Laying of the Cornerstone in the Itawamba County Agricultural High School Building May 19th, 1921 at Fulton, Mississippi

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Itawamba County's Elected Officials: Circa 1900

This photograph of Itawamba County elected officials was taken around 1900. During that era, Itawamba County had a justice of the peace and constable for each of the five supervisor's districts, as well as a circuit court clerk, chancery court clerk, sheriff/tax collector, county surveyor and county ranger. The photograph was taken against one of the side walls of the Itawamba County courthouse.

Old Fulton Town Square Retail Building Hosts New Business

The historic A.J. Mattox store building on the town square in Fulton has come alive again with the opening of Curly Willow, a retail establishment featuring unique gifts and home décor items. Curly Willow Designs features a unique retro Christmas display in the front window (photo above) reminiscent of the 1940’s and 1950’s. The old A.J. Mattox building was built during the 1920’s serving as a general merchandise store. The business was later owned by Cecil Whitesides and the business was known as Whitesides where the customer could buy everything from garden seeds and overalls to shoes and household items. Today the old store building has many unique features including the old oiled wooden floors, 1940’s style lighting the ambience of a retail establishment from Fulton’s past. The Itawamba Historical society applauds Curly Willow Designs, for moving the gift and home décor business to Fulton’s historic town square

Parade on the Fulton Town Square: 1952

Pictured is the Itawamba Junior College and Agricultural High School's homecoming parade on a Saturday afternoon during October of 1952. The parade is heading west on Main Street toward the school under the hill. The parade marched down Cummings Street turning east onto Wiygul Street to Clifton Street, making it's way to Main Street, then headed west. The school's annual homecoming parade was a popular event attended by students and local citizens as well. Fulton always had two parades each year. The homecoming parade and the annual Christmas parade.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Working in the Cotton Field

The John Hare farm was located south of Fulton in the Tilden-New Salem community. Pictured in the cotton field are John Hare (left holding hoe), Preacher Moody (man with suspenders, probably Ed D. Moody listed in the 1910 Itawamba County Federal census in District 5, Fulton Precinct), R.C. Hare, son of John (little boy) and Belva Hare, wife of John. John Hare was the son of John W. (born 1829 in Wilcox County, Alabama, the son of Andrew and Dicy Tyler Hare) and Martha E. Wadkins Hare (born 1849 in Clarke County, Alabama, the daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Wilson Wadkins). Identification of subjects was written on the photograph.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Sturdy Little Red Wagon

Growing up during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s many times a young boy improvised with self-made toys including kites made from newspapers, sling shots made from a forked tree branch and the rubber from an inner tube off an automobile tire, bows and arrows or a fort made from small tree saplings. However when birthdays and Christmas passed around, finding store-bought toys wrapped in pretty birthday paper or waking at dawn and running to the living room and finding toys under the Christmas tree left by Santa brought much excitement.

Some of my favorite store-bought Christmas and birthday gifts from childhood included a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun (and yes, like little Ralphie’s mom in the movie, A Christmas Story, my mom protested to high heaven over that particular gift, insisting to no avail that I would shoot my eye out), a Davy Crocket coonskin cap, and a pocket transistor radio. However, my most memorable toy received from childhood was a shiny new red Radio Flyer wagon (photo above).

My brother and I shared the Radio Flyer and that little red wagon was the source for many wild adventures in the hills and hollows of Itawamba County. From western wagon trains to World War II soldiers and race car drivers, that sturdy little Radio Flyer provided the catalyst for a rural youngster’s vivid imagination. Besides being a favorite toy, the wagon was also used for household moving chores. I remember once my mom using it to haul canned fruits and vegetables from the storm cellar. That little red wagon literally lasted for years and years and served a dual purpose of both a play toy and a pull-wagon for moving household items around.

An American Icon

The Radio Flyer has a rich history and heritage spanning 90 years and is the story of an Italian immigrant coming to the shores of America – the land of opportunity, simply following the great American dream. Antonio Pasin was a sixteen year old living in northern Italy. He longed to leave his town to make a new start in life in America. His family backed his dream, selling their family mule to raise the funds for Antonio's journey.

According to records at Ellis Island, Antonio left his home near Venice in Italy sailing on the ship Cleveland from the port of Naples. On April 19, 1914, the ship arrived at Ellis Island carrying the young Pasin. With only $30 in his pockets, Antonio left New York and headed for Chicago.

In Chicago, coming from generations of woodworkers in Italy, Antonio hoped to find employment as a cabinet maker, but at first could only find unskilled work as a water boy for a sewer digging crew. Finally he found a job finishing pianos in a piano factory that made use of his skills. After three years he had saved enough money to buy his own wood working tools and he then rented a room for a shop in Chicago’s Northwest Side.

In the evenings, Antonio worked alone in the one-room shop, crafting children's wooden wagons and during the day, he would walk the city streets peddling his samples from a suitcase. During 1923 his wagon business had grown enough that he was able to hire helpers and he incorporated the business as the Liberty Coaster Company – named for the towering Statue of Liberty that greeted him in 1914 upon entering New York harbor.

By the late 1920’s, Pasin had refitted his factory for metal stamping, and the Liberty Coaster Company began manufacturing stamped steel wagons. He named a 1927 model the 'Radio Flyer,' capturing the excitement of the new and growing radio industry and the wonders of flight. By 1930, his company operated under the new name of Radio Steel & Manufacturing, and was already the world's largest producer of coaster wagons. Even through The Great Depression, Radio Steel & Manufacturing was producing a massive quantity of wagons on a daily basis and during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the Radio Flyer exhibit was a definite hit. And the rest is history.

The Radio Flyer has been more than just a favorite toy for generations of American children. It is truly an American icon and the story of a young 16 year old immigrant coming to America through the doors of Ellis Island with not much more than a dream in his heart and a strong-willed determination. And with hard work and that solid determination, his dream was fulfilled.


The Offical Radio Flyer Site Radio Flyer Entry
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

Photograph by Cleveland Franks, 1957

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

It’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It’s the time set aside to honor the brave men and women who have served their country well in times of need. My dad was a member of what has been called “The Greatest Generation.” During World War II he left a young bride, mother, father and siblings here in Itawamba County to serve his country. Growing up, I would sit with full attention listening to him tell stories of his service time and reminiscing about his fellow soldiers – always wondering what happened to them after the war. During the war, he wrote letters and his cheap camera he bought at Fulton Drug Company seemed to be quite a constant companion every where he went. On occasion, I sit down and read old letters he wrote home and thumb through old yellowed photographs he took of friends and fellow soldiers during World War II.

When reading the old letters and looking though the aged photographs, the opening line of Walt Whitman’s Come Up From the Fields, Father comes to mind:

Come up from the fields, father, here's a letter from our Pete;
And come to the front door, mother--here's a letter from thy dear

On this special day set aside by our Congress, let us not forget the American veteran. Whether it’s a simple thanks, a handshake, pat on the back or a hug – honor those brave men and women who have served their country well.

The Veterans History Project
The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project is a most excellent online resource. Here the visitor will find letters, narratives, photographs, personal diaries, post cards, audio and video taped interviews and much more relating to the American veteran. Take time to discover this worthwhile project. The Veterans History Project relies on volunteers to collect and preserve wartime stories from the American veteran. Please consider helping the Library of Congress with this worthwhile endeavor.

World War II Photographs by Cleveland Franks

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Little Silver Molasses Pitcher

When I was a child, I would visit my aunt and uncle on their farm in the southwestern part of the county with my parents. My uncle, Samuel Feemster Riley came from an old Itawamba County pioneer family. His grandfather, John Thomas Riley was born during 1807 in Edgefield District, South Carolina and brought his family to Itawamba County during 1839 settling on English and Shoaf creeks in southwestern Itawamba County. Here the Riley family created a most productive cotton farm.

The highlight of my visits with my uncle and aunt was the two-mile trip from their farm house to the old Riley homeplace. Situated well off the county road, we would drive down a shaded private country lane along the old Riley land in my uncle’s green 1947 Chevrolet pickup. The shaded lane opened up into a clearing where the old Riley homestead was situated, and where his two elderly bachelor brothers lived. The homestead consisted of the main house, a blacksmith shop, barns, a wash house, tenant house and other farm buildings. It was like a journey into the past visiting the old ancestral homestead.

The old main house was a treasure trove for a young boy. The big rooms with fourteen foot ceilings contained a plethora of old Itawamba County furnishings, many shipped up from Aberdeen on the Tombigbee river. I will always remember the large kitchen always displayed an 1897 wall calendar. I once asked my uncle why they didn’t change the calendar and he said “because that one has such a pretty picture.”

In the kitchen was a long oak dining table darkened with age where a bakers’ dozen could easily sit and upon the center of the table there was a little silver molasses pitcher. That shiny pitcher always fascinated me. My uncle once told me that his mother, Amelia Rankin Riley, purchased the pitcher around 1905 from a catalog and since it arrived, had always held its position on the old table. In Itawamba County, since pioneer days, sorghum molasses was a staple in every household. However most hill country molasses pitchers were manufactured of glass. But the one at the old Riley homestead was plated with silver which was most unusual.

During childhood, on every Christmas visit, my aunt and uncle would give me a special present of 100 pennies they had saved up, neatly tied up in white wrapping tissue paper with shiny red and green ribbons. But one special Christmas after receiving my 100 pennies, my elderly uncle went into the front parlor of the old farm house and returned with a little brown box and said “Merry Christmas.” Upon opening the box, I found that shiny silver molasses pitcher from the old pioneer home place. I was so excited to receive such a treasure from the old Riley homestead and even today, many years later, looking at that pitcher on my own table always brings back childhood memories of magical visits to the old 1839 Riley farm.

About the Molasses Pitcher

The silver-plated pitcher is numbered and stamped with the wording “Homan Mfg. Company” and “Special Metal.” The Homan Manufacturing Company was organized during 1847 in Cincinnati, Ohio by Henry Homan and Asa F. Flagg. They began work in pewter wares. After Henry Homan died, his widow and sons operated the firm until 1887 and it was during this era that they changed over much of their production to electroplating with silver and became known for ecclesiastical designs including chalices, beakers and tankards and had several commissions from Ohio and Mississippi river boats for equipment including swivel lamps and water pitchers. During 1896 the company went under the name of Homan Silver Plate Co. and between 1904 and 1915 became known as the Homan Mfg. Co. The company ceased business by 1941.

Photograph of Riley farm taken during the 1930's

Friday, November 9, 2007

An Itawamba County Sunset

The sun has set below a ridge west of Mantachie Creek, illuminating the remnant clouds of a passing cold front on a chilly Itawamba County night.

Photography by Bob Franks

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Horseshoe on the College Campus in Fulton

For more than 58 years, Itawamba Community College in Fulton has educated thousands of young people from Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe and Pontotoc counties in the hill country of northeast Mississippi. For many years, a favorite gathering spot for students on the Fulton campus was “the horseshoe” – a horseshoe shaped island consisting of concrete benches and the school flag pole, landscaped with junipers and a spruce tree in the middle of the intersection in front of the school’s cafeteria and recreation hall. This spot was most always busy with laughter, talking and sometimes even cramming for exams for many years. Although long gone, this spot is probably in the memories of many former students from days gone by. The above scenes of “the horseshoe” were photographed during 1957.

Let our voices loudly ringing,
Echo far and near;
Songs of praise dear Itawamba,
To thy mem’ry dear;

From the Itawamba Community College Alma Mater
Words arranged by Allen Gregory, Class of 1951

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Old Monuments in Keyes Cemetery Memorialize Many Early Itawamba Families

While visiting the old historic Keyes Cemetery last Friday I visited the gravesites of several of my early Itawamba ancestors. Numerous members of my ancestral lines are buried in that old cemetery including members of the Gillentine, Stovall, Sheffield and Franks families. One such gravesite I visited was that of Richard Leake Gillentine.

Richard Leake Gillentine, my fourth great grandfather, was born January 29, 1806 in Sparta, Tennessee, the son of Nicholas and Jane Terry Gillentine and great great grandson of the immigrant Nicholas Girlington (born 1676 Thurland Castle near Tunstall, England, died 1774 Amelia County, Virginia). On November 18, 1826 he married Sidney Leana Stovall in Morgan County, Alabama. She was the daughter of Benjamin and Margaret Stovall and great great granddaughter of the immigrant Barthalomew Stovall (born August 24, 1665, Albury, Surrey County, England, died about 1721, Deep Creek, Henrico County, Virginia). The family came to Itawamba County during the founding years of the county settling in the Hopewell-Keyes area west of Tombigbee River.

Richard Leake Gillentine’s son, William Throckmorton (my third great grandfather) was born during 1828 in Morgan County, Alabama and came with his family to Itawamba County at a young age. On January 28, 1849 he married Mary Rhyne, daughter of Jacob and Sarah Hope Rhyne. During the Civil War William enlisted with Company F (Davis' Brigade) known as the Saltillo Rangers of Davidson's Mississippi Infantry (Army of 10,000, 2nd Regiment) on November 29, 1861 and was later sent to Kentucky along with his company.

The men during the service in Kentucky had no opportunity for hostilities, but suffered intensely from the very severe winter. Snow lay on the ground for weeks and the men were unaccustomed and unprepared for such exposure. Most of them came down with measles and many died from this serious camp disease and pneumonia. The regiments were disbanded at the expiration of the term of enlistment. The regiments were back at their organization camps in February, 1862.

While in service, William’s wife died in Itawamba County and William returned home to Itawamba County to his children where he married the widow Anna Nanney Mullins (widow of John T. Mullins) on February 19, 1862. Shortly thereafter William died, probably of measles contacted while serving in Kentucky.

At this time, William and Mary Rhyne Gillentine's orphan children were split up. Elizabeth (my great grandmother) and Penelope were sent to live with their uncle and aunt - William Carlisle and Elizabeth White Rhyne on their Patch Creek farm, northwest of Mantachie in Itawamba County. The male children (Jacob and Jesse) were sent to live with their grandparents, Richard Leake and Sidney Stovall Gillentine at their Hopewell farm.

Today, the old pottery Richard Leake Gillentine monument (pictured above) is just one such monument of many in the old Keyes Cemetery memorializing the progenitor of an early Itawamba County family.

Richard Leake Gillentine Pottery Monument Photograph by Bob Franks

Monday, November 5, 2007

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood....

Driving along the rural countryside of northeastern Itawamba County last autumn, I came upon a scene where the narrow paved road made a sharp bend into the colorful woods with another less traveled leaf-covered lane back in the shadows leading off to the west up a steep hill. I immediately thought of the great American poet, Robert Lee Frost.

I remember Frost from early childhood. My introduction to the poet was when I watched the television as the elderly white-haired poet recited his work, “The Gift Outright” at the Inauguration of President Kennedy on a windy January day in 1961. Then later in school, all the way through college, I was introduced to more and more of his works. His works always struck a special personal chord with me being that many of his poems depicted the farms, fields, hills and valleys of his rural surroundings – not unlike my own surroundings in the beautiful hills of northeastern Mississippi.

While viewing this bucolic peaceful scene in northeastern Itawamba County last autumn on that chilly morning, the following words from the mind and pen of Frost came to my mind:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken, from the book Mountain Interval, Robert Lee Frost, 1916, H. Holt and Co.

Photograph of Fairview Church Road by Bob Franks

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Itawamba County Biographies: Rev. Benjamin R. East

Benjamin R. East was a Methodist minister in Itawamba County having pastored several county churches. He was born March 28, 1848 in Talledega County, Alabama, the son of Benjamin (born 1805 in South Carolina, the son of Stephen and Theresa Ray East) and Margaret Griggs East (born 1807 in Georgia). Benjamin R. married Eliza Jane Cockrell during 1868 in Alabama. She was the daughter of Elum (born May 16, 1822 in Johnston County, North Carolina) and Caroline Devaughn Cockrell (born 1824 in Georgia).

Benjamin and wife, Eliza Jane with their three year old daughter, came to Itawamba County during 1872 with the Elum Cockrell family where they first settled the New Home Church community east of Fulton. Shortly thereafter, Benjamin moved to Mantachie where he pastored the Methodist Church there. Later he owned and operated a general store near Centerville, north of Mantachie. Benjamin and his wife Eliza Jane also owned and operated the Mantachie Boarding House (bottom photo) and was elected and served as a member of the board of aldermen of the newly incorporated town of Mantachie during 1902.

Benjamin R. East died in Mantachie on June 4, 1928 and Eliza Jane died on November 14, 1933. Both are buried in the old Center Star Cemetery in Mantachie. They were the parents of one child, Sarah Ann Valula (born November 1, 1869 in Alabama, married John Isaac Beene, son of Wiley Hopkins and Julia Gantt Beene, on December 16, 1885 in Itawamba County and died June 7, 1958).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Southern Claims Commission Records Offer Interesting Information

In genealogical and historical research, it is fascinating to come upon documents giving first-hand accounts of events in history as told by our ancestors. One such class of records is the Southern Claims Commission records.

During the Civil War, the U.S. government started to officially recognize claims by its citizens for reimbursement of necessities taken by the military forces, but it was not until 1871 that the government addressed the numerous requests from citizens of the south.

Through an act of Congress on March 3, 1871, the Southern Claims Commission, also known as the Commissioners of Claims, was created. Three commissioners were appointed by the president and were required to "receive, examine, and consider the claims of those citizens who remained loyal adherents to the cause and the government of the United States during the war, for stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion."

Most of the taken items where compensation was asked for included horses, mules, corn, fodder and other such farm items. In some instances, I have seen where household items used for hospital purposes were taken, and in one case I researched, a family’s home was torn down and the lumber was used to build barracks.

More than 20,000 claims were filed before the March 3, 1873 deadline. Included in these claims are invaluable first-hand accounts of life during the Civil War. These claims contains not only testimony from the claimant, but testimony from relatives, friends and neighbors.

Some of the testimony given in the files were both for and against the claimant and some very interesting family stories are revealed in such testimony. Many of the claims files contain many pages – some as many as twenty or thirty pages. In researching your southern ancestors, don’t forget this invaluable source. Below is a transcript from Thomas Copeland’s file. Thomas Copeland owned a plantation in northeastern Itawamba County during the Civil War. This transcription is taken from a portion of the testimony of Alice, wife of Thomas Copeland:

“I was present when the articles specified in the claimant’s petition were taken, and I saw there the federal soldiers take all the articles specified in the petition and many others not charged. I saw them take four horses and one mule, two yoke of oxen, twenty-four pork hogs out of the pen, 60 gallons of molasses, the corn, fodder, one saddle, one bridle, 3,000 pounds bacon and seven head of cattle, one grey horse, one sorrel horse, and one dark mule were taken from Dr. Copeland’s house in Itawamba County about fourteen miles north of Fulton in the State of Mississippi.

These articles were taken by Capt. Summer who said he belonged to the First Alabama Cavalry. All the other articles were taken from Dr. Copeland’s house on the Blue Water in Lauderdale County about twenty-eight miles southeast of Pulaski. They were taken during the latter part of December 1864. The cavalry division of Gen. Hatch took them. That is what I was told. The command was camped there for two or three days I think. There were also several infantry regiments camped in the vicinity for four or five days. I objected to the soldiers taking all the doctor had…

None of the property was taken during the night time or secretly. Generally my provisions were taken in the early part of the day. The army was encamped all around. It stayed only a few days waiting as I was told for the supply wagons. They had been engaged in fighting Hood steadily for ten or twelve days. I knew none of the quartermasters or other officers.

The stock hogs were killed about the mill and place. I saw a great many killed. I cannot say how many. I heard and believe there were over fifty killed. The cattle killed were young. Some of them were cows with young calves. The calves were also killed. There were seven grown cattle killed in the yard and the beef conveyed away by the soldiers. They told me they had nothing to eat and needed food. There were officers present when the articles were taken. I did not know them. They told me that Gen. Thomas had ordered them to subsist upon the country until supplies overtook them. I have no doubt this was so. My husband, Dr. Copeland had moved to Tennessee because he dared not stay any longer in Mississippi.”

Digital images of the Southern Claims Commission records are available online at Although searching the images is free, the actual images can be viewed and downloaded for a fee. For more information, visit the Southern Claims Commission records section at Footnote. is an excellent resource for obtaining digital images of source material at a very reasonable cost.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Hicker Nuts and Sassyfras Are Ablaze With Color in Itawamba County

This morning I took a drive down to the old Keyes graveyard west of the Tombigbee River to photograph some tombstones for a researcher in Texas and along the eight-mile drive I noticed the leaves in the hills and hollows of Itawamba County were starting to show their autumn colors.

In Itawamba County, two of the spectacular showoff trees during autumn are the sassafras and hickory. Sassafras displays various shades of crimson and the majestic hickory offers us a vivid show of mustards and browns.

Nature’s palette will soon be fully ablaze with its colorful display in Itawamba County. Take some time to discover this beautiful show. It’s the perfect time to take a leisurely drive through the countryside to enjoy the beautiful rural scenery that Itawamba County offers the visitor and resident alike.

Photographs by Bob Franks

A Visit to Historic Keyes Cemetery

The old Keyes Graveyard west of the Tombigbee River in Itawamba County is perhaps the county's largest historic cemetery. Early Itawamba County pioneers were buried here including many of the old Itawamba planter families and residents of the old river port town of Van Buren.

The old cemetery began as the Keyes plantation cemetery around 1840. Judge William Keyes was a prominent citizen of early Itawamba County. He and his family lived part of the year in the town of Fulton at his Greek Revival style townhouse on Cummings Street (present-day Fulton City Police Department lot). Part of the year he lived on his extensive farm west of the Tombigbee River on the lands surrounding the old Keyes Cemetery. The Keyes family tied into many of the old Tombigbee River planter families of Itawamba County including the Whitesides and Thomas families.

Today the old cemetery has become one of the largest in Itawamba County and features many ornate monuments from early Itawamba County as well as an old pall bell. It has been said that during past times, when someone in the community died,the community would be summoned to the cemetery by the ringing bell.

Photographs by Bob Franks