Wednesday, January 8, 2014

An Ancestral Dinner The Book of Me Prompt #14

Collage representing ancestors

The Guests:

Lily Martin 

You died much too young when Tuberculosis swept the country in 1920. I look at your beautiful face and wonder what made you smile? What songs melted your heart? And what was your goal in life? I also want to know about you and your siblings, Uncle Leonard, Uncle Lem, and Aunt Viola.  Did Grandma Harriet tell you stories when you were a child and did you ever get to meet Amanda or Aunt Alice?

Council Martin
Ah, you are the silent mystery of that Martin line. You were the quiet neighbor who went courting the young lady Harriet next door whom you eventually married. What stories of the Martins did you pass to the family? Did Uncle Leonard's love of music come from you? And were you possibly a member one of the Mosaic Templars?

Sephus Bass
We almost did not find you. We heard you ran away to Texas, but thank goodness on a whim I decided to see if you were a soldier. You left so much in that pension file! You are my hero in so many ways--and your story of your escape from Nathan Bedford Forrest has amazed so many of us. And Uncle Sephus---would you believe it---I have found some of your descendants! Yes, your daughter Mary, had a daughter Josephine, and though they moved to Chicago---I later found the family living not too far away from me, in Washington DC. You would be so proud of them. One is an actor, and another one used to work for the President. Your legacy is far and wide, and we all embrace you for your courage, your sense of family, and your determination! It has defined us!

Braxton Bass
You are not forgotten. During the Civil War they saw something in you that promoted you to Sergeant. And you, like Uncle Sephus, escaped from N.B. Forrest. I am so sorry that you did not live very long, but I know that you had amazing skills as a blacksmith. And I know that your widow Fanny kept much of your own story alive as well. Because of you and Uncle Sephus and your nephews Henry and Emmanuel, a rich legacy remains.

Kitty Perry
Ah my matriarch from the Choctaw Perrys! I know you had a hard life, when they brought you from Mississippi, arriving with the Perry clan from Mississippi in 1831.  Did you ever speak about the time that the journey began? History says that the journey was made during the winter and I can imagine your heartbreak as you left those you loved and who loved you.

Did you stay with the Perrys after freedom? I guess there was not any place to go, as the old ones were long gone back in Mississippi, so Skullyville remained your home. And I suspect that you were one of those three ladies in the cabin when they came for your son, Jackson Crow. And I know that by that time, in your latter years, "Old Kit" as they sometimes called you, the heartbreak of watching the loss of your son, you eventually left this world shortly thereafter. I have looked for you in the census of 1885, and I found your daughter, but I did not see you, and know you were gone. I hope you and Jackson and Indiana, and Amanda and now Sallie and Davis are all together again, and watching over the rest of us.

Sallie Walton
Ahh the only one at this dinner whom I have actually met. I knew you and loved you, and though you left when I was a little girl, you were my heart and you are my heart still and even today I miss you. I only ask that you direct me to find some of the answers that lie buried in Skullyville, and other parts of LeFlore county Oklahoma. Just know that your imprint on my heart is still there.

Berry Young
Oh Berry---where did you go?

Amanda searched for you for so many years, and I have been looking among the soldiers for you as well. Is that your name on the Civil War monument? I know you had to leave Tippah County quickly, and could not return. I know you left right after the Yankees made their raid from Corinth. Did you join the army with the other men?

Or did you become a contraband like the others? I understand a measles outbreak took place in Corinth that year. Were you affected? I am glad that you had the courage to leave when the time came. Did father John make it back to you with warm clothes? And did son John find his way and his place? Your sacrifice did bring freedom and Amanda did manage to hold the family together after all. I wish I knew more and shall continue to search. And I know that some stories will possibly be told when I find your brother Henry Suggs. Your life made a difference and for that I am grateful.

Pleasant Barr
Ah dear sir--in spite of your own heartache, never seeing your son Bill Reed anymore, you found some solace in the last years of your life.

I can imagine how you felt looking back at your son Bill when that wagon pulled you away from Abbeyville, never to return. And being of mature age, you could not go back after freedom, but your eventual marriage to my Amanda soon after freedom helped to bring some stability to a family whose fabric had been ripped apart by war. You stepped in, and your sense of faith and your role in helping to establish St. Paul's Methodist Church in Ripley made a difference. And the church still stands today! You and Amanda and others became leaders in that small community of former slaves. And through faith you marched to a new life. Your son Elijah's story is the part still missing and but you can be glad sir, as your gr. gr. gr. grandson Melvin Collier and I both still search for Elijah's children, and are determined to find them.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Ripley Mississippi

Amanda Young Barr
What can be said, about the oldest ancestor I had continually heard of from childhood? My mother said many times how her grandma Harriet always spoke about "Mandy Young" of Ripley, Mississippi.

You know one day, my mom and I were at the library and she almost fainted when she picked up a book about Tippah County and saw the old slave master's name in it. She called me over, and was almost out of breath!! She heard her grandmother always talk about Tandy Young---and there his name was in a book, about Ripley Mississippi, mentioning his name! I most appreciate it that you never let the story of what happened to you, ever die. You told the story to your children and grandchildren, and they listened.

I found out that  you were the only one in all of Tippah county whose claim with the Southern Claims Commission, was approved! And you continued to work find out what happened to Berry. Because of your never ending search, I learned so much. And of course because you always told the stories, be glad that your granddaughter Frances is the one who told me about your memories of the "Night the Stars Fell". I see you now, not the slave in Mississippi, but the little girl in Tennessee awe stricken as the stars fell around her. I see your parents John and Martha, probably thinking about their own loved ones they were forced to leave behind in Virginia, when slave holders took them away. I know they were wondering if their own loved ones saw those stars falling too.

Thank you Amanda, for your steadfastness has taken me back the farthest in family history. There is still so much to learn, and know that the footprints you left behind are leading the way.

These are the guests at my ancestral dinner.

The Collage

The image at the top is a representation of the ancestors described in this piece. Some are true portraits and others are placed there symbolically. 

In the upper left corner Lily Martin appears above in an actual portrait of her made a year before she died. She is a maternal grandmother born in Mississippi who died in Arkansas. To her right is an image representing Council Martin. Born a slave in Tippah County, he died in Arkansas in the early 1900s. The next sketch represents Sephus Bass who was a Civil War soldier, and who later defended the family when attacked by night riders in Giles County Tennessee. He fled to Texas where he lived the remainder of his life. The next sketch of the Civil War soldier represents Braxton Bass, brother to Sephus. He was with the group that was captured by N.B. Forrest and who later escaped. The face of the elder lady, though unknown, represents a 4th gr. grandmother, Kitty Perry, enslaved by Choctaws, and taken to Indian Territory in 1831. Her granddaughter, was Sallie Walton,, whose actual portrait appears in the next image. Sallie, was also born a slave in the Choctaw nation, but was freed when a small child. Her life was spent mostly between Skullyville and western Arkansas where she is now buried. Berry Young was my gr. gr. grandfather. He was enlsaved by W. Tandy Young in Ripley Mississippi, and he left Ripley, when dozens of other slaves did . He left to join the Union army, but never returned, and his fate remains a mystery, but the image of the man leaving on the road with other self-emancipated slaves represents him. Pleasant Barr, was a man taken from his loved ones in South Carolina, who ended up in Mississippi. After the war, he found a new life, married my gr. gr. grandmother Amanda, and established a church that still stands today in Ripley Mississippi. The photo is an actual image of that historic church. The photo to the right of all of the others is a photo of a gr. gr. Aunt Frances Young Nelson. Her photo is there as she was a daughter to Amanda Young Barr, and some said she closely resembled her mother Amanda. So it is her face that was chosen to represent, Amanda. My Amanda was first married to Berry Kirk  Young, then to Pleasant Barr. Her search for her husband left a thick paper trail and through Amanda's telling the story of her life before and after freedom, I learned so much about this part of the family narrative. For Amanda, I am grateful that she told her story, and am honored that I have been so fortunate to have listened.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

This is so beautifully told. It's inspiring too. Inspiring me to write my dinner story.