Friday, February 25, 2011

You Can't Kill a Bradford: Paternal G3 Grandpa Alford Middletown Bradford (1830-1908)

 A 6th generation American, Alford Middleton Bradford was born September 30th, 1830 to John Bradford (1801-1875) and Matilda Wray (1798-1888) in Henderson County, Tennessee. He was my great-great-great-grandfather.

Alford married Nancy J. Anderson, daughter of Jordan Anderson (1800-1850) and Rebecca D. Hamlett (1810-1883).  Alford and Nancy lived not far from Alford's parents, John and Matilda. According to census records, neither Nancy or Alford could read or write. They began having children in 1850, with the birth of their oldest child, Mary Emiline, who would become my great-great-grandmother. Then they had Martha J four years later, then Jordan a year after that. In the 1860 census, there was a boy named B.B. who was 3, but there's no record of him in the 1870 census. The 1870 census is too light and cannot be read. (I will have to try to find the original when I make a research trip to the Archives in Nashville.) According to an 1862 tax record, Alford own 80 acres, valued at 204 dollars. Daughter Laura Elizabeth would be born in 1863. It looks like she was the last child Nancy and Alford would have, and perhaps the Civil War had something to do with that.

Alford's War Record: 

Alford joined the Confederate Army at the age of 31. He was a part of the 6th Infantry regiment, which was heavily engaged at the Battle of Shiloh in Corinth, Mississippi April 6-7, 1862. After that, the regiment moved to Tupelo, Mississippi and eventually to Chattanooga to participate in the invasion of Kentucky that fall. 

The 6th Infantry then fought in the Battle of Chickamuanga. They went into the battle with 335 men, and lost half their men in that fight. The 6th Infantry participated in numerous skirmishes throughout Tennessee and Georgia, including the "Dead Angle" at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, for the remainder of the war. 

They zig-zagged across the south the entire war, one time marching 60 hours from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee to their winter quarters in Dalton, Georgia and were only given 5 hours rest. At war's end, the infantry was paroled in Greensboro, North Carolina on May 1, 1865. The 6th Infantry only had 100 men left in it at that time, the rest having defected or died.

A family legend:
After the war, Alford returned to Henderson County to plant corn and he had one horse to work with.   His nephews came to see him and asked if they could have his horse.  He told them that was the only horse he had and he needed it to get his crop in.  Then he asked them what they needed it for and they said for the war, they had lost their horse fighting.  Well Bradford said the war is over, you need to get over and help your folks with their crop and let the war be.  They said we want to help keep it going and proceeded to shoot  Alford Bradford several times, broke his leg, and took off with his horse.  (It's unknown which nephews these were.)

He was taken to the doctor who treated his wounds and gave him a bottle of laudanum (an opiate-based pain killer). He did not set the leg. Apparently, the doctor did not believe Alford would last the night and thought there was no need to go through the work of setting the leg of a dying man.  Alford's wife was allowed to take him home.

At home, he ran a high fever but she nursed him through it. A week later, she sent for another bottle of laudanum.   He recovered but his leg was badly crippled.  When he got well, he went to see that old doctor and said, "I ought to shoot you! Why didn't you set my leg?" The doctor is reported to have replied, "Well, I didn't think you would make it through the night with those injuries..."  Alford retorted, "You should know that you can't kill a Bradford!"

Daughter Mary Emiline:

Alfred M. Bradford surrounded by his wife Nancy (left) daughter Mary Emiline (Right) and Mary's sons

Mary Emiline married Thomas E. Sellers. They farmed land nearby in Henderson County and had 11 children, though not all would live.

Daughter Martha J.:

Martha J. married Robert Martin. They also farmed land nearby. They had at least 3 daughters.

Son Jordan:

According to census records, his son, Jordan, was an inmate in the Western Hospital for the Insane in 1900, but in 1880 when he was 21 he was still living at home helping his parents with the farm. It's unknown at this time when Jordan was committed to the hospital, but it might have been some time after it opened, which was 1889. It's not known where he lived between the time his mother died in 1882 and 1900. I would imagine that he lived at home with Alford, but needed to be hospitalized once Alford became elderly.

Here's a link to photos of the asylum taken in 2004:

Link to photo of asylum

Local Bolivar legend has it that Western is haunted by the souls of the tortured. Murders and suicides were committed there. Some say patients would wander into the maze of tunnels below the building and die of starvation. In its early days, the days in which Jordan would have been a patient there, the hospital was most definitely a place where early "medical" experiments would have been performed.  Most of the early patients of the hospital did not need to be there. The patients were often mentally disabled, promiscuous, or homeless. It's unknown at this time why Jordan was committed there. According to the 1880 census, he could read and write by the age of 21, so it might have been a psychological illness. Most of the patients lived there until they died.

Daughter Laura Elizabeth:

Alford and Nancy's daughter, Laura Elizabeth, was married to James Monroe Wilson in 1887. They lived nearby in Henderson County, and had five children.   

Nancy's grave

His wife Nancy died in 1882. She was only 52. The cause of death isn't known at this time.

In 1900, Alford was still head of his own household at the age of 69. His grandchildren, a young married couple: John and Mollie Jordan (19 and 17 years old, respectively) were living with him. This took some time to puzzle out, but I have found that Alford's daughter Martha J. and her husband Robert Martin had at least three daughters: Ida, Virginia, and Mollie B. Mollie B, at the ripe old age of 15, married Needham Carroll Jordan's (father of my great-grandmother Ollie Jordan) son John Taylor Jordan. This is the John and Mollie who lived with Alford in 1900. It's unknown when John and Mollie moved to Madison county, but I imagine it was some time after Alford died in 1908. At the next census, 1910, they are living in Madison County, Tennessee. Whew! That was difficult to figure out because Mollie was born after the 1880 census was taken, and the 1890 census isn't available on, and Mollie was married and gone from her parents house by the time the 1900 census rolled around. I learned Mollie's maiden name by finding her marriage certificate.

This Jordan/Bradford connection is particularly interesting because it proves that the Sellers/Jordan/Bradford clan were joined in more ways than one. Remember, Ollie Jordan, my great-grandmother, would marry John Lee Sellers (son of Mary Emiline and Thomas E. Sellers) in 1905. 

The 1900 census proves that Alford did learn to read at some point in his life, but he could not write. His children and grandchildren were educated.

Alford's grave

Alford died at the age of 78 at his own home in Henderson County in 1908, from what I imagine was old age. I can't help but think about his earlier statement, "You can't kill a Bradford." I like to think this bearded, leathery farmer only succumbed to death when he felt he was ready.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Aged Confederate: G3 Grandpa Thomas E. Sellers (1844-1918) and Mary Emiline Bradford (1850-1928)

G2 Grandpa Thomas E. Sellers (1844-1918) & Mary Emiline Bradford (1850-1928)

Thomas E. Sellers was born October 1, 1844 to Noah Sellers (1821-1894) and Timney Ellen Parsons (1819-?) in South Carolina. Between 1847-1848, the Sellers family drifted from South Carolina, ferried across the wide and flat Tennessee River, and settled in Carroll County, Tennessee. By 1860, the family would be living in Henderson County, Tennessee near the town of Juno. The land of Henderson County is made up of natural springs and creeks, pink oak and elm forests and high ridges. Cotton was the principle crop and most of the original forests were cleared for farming.

At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas would have been 17. According to Christine Waters, a local Henderson County genealogist, this area was mostly sympathetic to the Union cause, but when the war began its fidelity went with the rest of the South. Thomas signed up to fight soon after her was 18. In the Confederate Army, he was a Private in the Company K, 9th TN Cavalry, which was also called Biffle's 19th Cavalry.  His dates of military service are July 1, 1863 to Feb 29, 1865.


TE Sellers' Confederate Card
According to Civil War Tales of the Tennessee Valley, by William Lindsey McDonald, Biffle's Cavalry "quickly gained a reputation as a hard-riding and fierce-fighting regiment...[which was] more of a commando force than an actual cavalry." This particular regiment was nick-named the "Southern Guerillas" and were targeted by the Union Army. If members of Biffle's Cavalry were caught, they were often tortured or murdered, says McDonald. 

In his book, McDonald quotes Dr. Young, a fellow soldier in Thomas's regiment:

During all of my war experience I was fairly well-clothed. Sometimes we had tents, but mostly we lived out in the open, slept on the ground, frequently in sleet, rain, and snow. Generally, we were right fortunate in having plenty to eat. When we ran out of food we made raids on the nearby neighbors, capturing what we could.

In 1865, Thomas was wounded and discharged in Gainesville, Alabama when the rest of his battalion surrendered. This is a bit of the speech Gen. Forrest gave the day of the surrender:

The armies of Generals Lee and Johnson having surrendered. you are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army east of the Mississippi River to lay down your arms. The Cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations, and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate, is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms -- submit to the “powers that be” -- and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land...

Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men. 

From my research, it seems as though Thomas and men like him particularly needed this talking-to from the General. Whether they took it to heart is unknown, though from Thomas's obituary one can gather he loved to relive the "glory days" of the Old South, as he took part in Civil War reunions. I would imagine that if he were part of such an exciting and tough band of Rebels, it might have been difficult for him to just give up and let it go. But give up he did.

He made his way back home, and a year later, on October 17, 1866, he married Tennessee-native, Mary Emiline Bradford.  Mary Emiline was born on March 10, 1850, so she would have been 17 when they married. Her parents were Alford Middleton Bradford and Nancy J. Anderson. Their post is located here.

Mary Emiline Bradford
By 1880, Thomas was living in Henderson County, Tennessee with Mary Emiline, and children: Andrew (13), Alzonzo (9), Jennie (7), Dora (5), and baby John Lee (1) and who would become my great-grandfather. Thomas was a farmer. Mary Emiline kept house. They could both read and write. In 1882, daughter Dora would die at the age of 7. Five years later, in 1887, his oldest child, Andrew, would die at the age of 20 from an unknown cause. In 1890, daughter Florence would be born, but would live less than a month.

In 1900, they were still farming in Henderon County, though Thomas's older sons and daughters had left home. John Lee, Fred S., Thomas, and Larvis still lived at home and worked on the farm.

In May of 1908, his beloved son and my great-grandfather, John Lee, would be killed by a mule at the age of 29. More about John Lee Sellers here.

In 1910, Thomas and Mary were still farming in Henderson County. Their children Arbie (17) and Alonzo (36) lived with them, as well as two granddaughters, Alonzo's children, Gladys (14) and Vider Mae (11). Their mother, Tabitha Jordan, must have died as she did not live with them. I can imagine the happy laughter of their granddaughters eased the sense of loss and grief they must have felt in recent years. 

Thomas died on 6 Jan., 1918. His obituary in The Lexington Progress on January 11, 1918 reads:

Thomas E. Sellers, aged seventy-eight years, died at his home very close to Bargerton last Sunday and is survived by his wife, four sons and one daughter. Mr. Sellers was an ex-Confederate soldier and for many years enjoyed no greater pleasure than attending the annual Confederate reunions. The surviving sons are Alonzo, Fred S., Cleveland, and Arbie, and his daughter Jennie (Mrs. George Wilson). Mr. and Mrs. Sellers lived with their youngest son, Arbie.

He is buried in Caffey Cemetery in Henderson County, Tennessee, not far from the fertile, orange land on which he spent his life.

Mary Emiline was a housekeeper late in life. She died of liver cancer on November 28, 1928, exactly 50 years before I would be born.

Grave in Caffey Cemetery, Henderson County, Tennessee

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!: Paternal Great-Grandmother Frances Ollie Jordan

Me, my baby sister Alesha, my dad and Ollie

Frances Ollie Jordan was my great-grandmother. I met her once when I was about two years old at her home in Steele, Missouri the June of 1981. I and a gaggle of her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren made a road trip across the river from Jackson, Tennessee to Missouri. We showed up at her house unannounced and found her home, dressed to the nines as she was every day. One granddaughter remembers that when she saw us piling out of the station wagon, she clapped her hands together and squealed, "Oh, this is the best day of my life!" (I can imagine having the opposite reaction to 10+ people showing up at my house unexpectedly!) The photo above remembers that event. In it, Ollie is the red-headed, peach blouse-and-long-necklace-wearing spitfire, who already at that time was 91. She would live to be 102.

Ollie was born June 15th, 1890 in Henderson County, Tennessee to Needham Carroll Jordan (1841-1924) and Mary Ann Adams (1857-1940), and was one of ten children. Not much is known about her early life. Her father Needham was a farmer who could not read or write, according to census records. They lived simply in post-Civil War Tennessee near a clan of other Jordans. At one point, their house caught fire while everyone was out in the fields. It burned to the ground, and they lost everything.

Henderson County, Tennessee
Ollie and John Lee Sellers, (my great-grandfather) were married on July 14th, 1905 in Henderson County, Tennessee, apparently much to the dislike of the Sellers family.

Marriage license of Ollie and John Lee
When John Lee Sellers (1879-1908) was dragged to his death by a mule in 1908, she was left with one small son, Larvous Leone, or L.L. as he liked to be called, (my grandfather), and was about 4 months pregnant with Lessie Mae. It is not known what Ollie did immediately after John Lee's death, but according to the 1910 census, Ollie and the kids lived with Ollie's brother Albert Jordan, who wasn't married and didn't have any children at the time. Her daughter, Lessie Mae, would die at 2 years old.

As Larvous remembered it, via his daughter: "Sister and I were playing in the yard where there were some grapes that weren't yet ripe. Lessie ate a 'bait' of those grapes and a few days later we buried her."  She developed colitis, or flux, and died from dehydration. The grapes probably had nothing to do with it, though Larvous might have lived with some sense of guilt--he would have only been about 4 years old when this happened.

Lessie Mae's death certificate

Headstone for Lessie Mae. Note: the dates are wrong. She was born 1908 and died 1910.

Pemiscott County, Missouri
Ollie remarried Atlas Williams on Dec. 24, 1911. She left her son Larvous with her brothers in Henderson County and moved with Atlas to Juno, Tennessee, where their daughter Ruby Dee would be born in 1912. The three of them would eventually settle in Steele, Missouri.


Ollie and Atlas marriage license
According to Ollie and Atlas's grandson:

When Ollie and Atlas Williams moved to Steele, Missouri is unknown, but it was for less than honorable conditions.  He thought that Atlas was run out of the state of Tennessee for moonshining and who knows what else.  After moving to Steele, he set up a reputable welding and machine shop and rented houses that he built. His name is on the cornerstone of the First Baptist Church  where he was a deacon, and where his daughter-in-law Earline was church secretary. It seems that if his reputation was marred early in life, he worked hard to turn it around.

In 1923, Ollie and Atlas had a son, J.C.Williams. (The initials did not stand for anything, that was his legal name.)

Ollie and her two sons: Larvous on her left, J.C. on her right.

 Her reasoning for leaving Larvous behind isn't known. Since the Sellers clan didn't approve of Ollie, it makes sense that she'd leave him with her brothers instead of her former in-laws. Because of the strong disapproval the Sellers had for the Jordans, Larvous never really knew his paternal family. According to a great-granddaughter, Larvous said his upbringing with his Jordan uncles was hard and not all that happy. Ollie missed Larvous a great deal, and that he would visit and even lived with them in Missouri from time to time. It's a mystery as to why he didn't live with them all the time. Ollie, however, did more than her share of child-rearing, raising her children Ruby Dee and J. C., and even taking in Ruby Dee's daughter for a time.

From one of Ollie's granddaughters: Grandma Ollie was a red-haired, blue-eyed, snazzy dresser. She always wore her lipstick, powder and "ear bobs". She was finicky about her house...was way ahead of her time in decorating. She had the only maroon-colored bath fixtures I've ever seen...tub, sink, commode. She was a good cook and her house always smelled of bath powder and was immaculately clean. A great-granddaughter says she remembers Ollie's rouged cheeks, and as a child thought she must have been rich.

Ollie at her home in Steele, Missouri

According to Ollie's sister Ida's granddaughter, Ollie and Ida, liked to catch catfish. A great-granddaughter fondly remembers Ollie's fried chicken, purple hull peas, cornbread, and coconut cake. Others remember her chicken and dressing. One great-grandchild loved it so much that at five years old she offered Ollie her brand new doll because in exchange for a plate of it.

Ollie, left, and sister Ida
Of Atlas, Ollie's granddaughter says, "I loved Grandpa Atlas. I never knew him to be anything but kind. He was the only Grandfather I knew. He always held me in his lap in his big recliner. I adored him. His hands shook from what they called "palsy". I loved to watch him eat peas. He would, with shaking hand, scoop peas along a table knife and get them into his mouth without dropping a pea...shaking hand and all. I thought that was the coolest thing and I would try to do it, too... He had a metal shop and obviously made a decent living because Ollie sure knew how to spend it. Whatever Ollie wanted, Atlas made sure she got it," even though they were not what anyone would call rich.

Another one of Ollie's granddaughters remembers Atlas as being quite generous with his money, freely giving them change for "the show" and even nickels for popcorn. This would be particularly nice since technically they weren't blood relation to him. 

Atlas died on 23 Oct., 1967 of a massive heart attack at the Blytheville, Arkansas hospital. He was 75.

Ollie was able to stay independent at home until she was in her late 90's. Her granddaughters say that even when she lived in the nursing home, she maintained her good looks, and was never seen without her red lipstick and ear bobs. She had  many suitors at the home who attended her. She only let her red hair turn white the last few years of her life. Many family sources say that Ollie would never own up to her actual age. Her son, Larvous, often teased that she would one day be younger than him, as she was notorious for fudging her birth date. She outlived Larvous by twenty years. Her other children, J.C. and Ruby Dee, would live until 2004.She had fifteen grandchildren, and at least forty great and great-great-grandchildren.

Ollie at age 100, seated, with her sister Ida, who was 90. Taken December, 1990

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Fearful Tragedy: G2 Grandfather John Lee Sellers

John Lee is the tall boy in the back row. He is surrounded by his younger brothers, mother Mary Emiline, and maternal grandparents Nancy and Alford Bradford. The date of this photo would be about 1895.

John Lee Sellers (1879-1908) was my great-grandfather. Not much is known about him because he only lived 29 years. He was married to a young red-head named Ollie, he had one young son, Larvous Lee, and a baby on the way. He was a farmer. He made his home in the countryside near Lexington, Tennessee, not too far from the Mississippi state line.

Marriage license of John Lee and Ollie

Unfortunately, the most interesting thing known about John Lee is the manner in which he died. His obituary in The Lexington Progress, dated May 29, 1908, states:

Lee Sellers, a young married man of about 29 years, son of Tom E. Sellers, an aged confederate veteran, was dragged to death by a runaway mule. Mr. Sellers lived near Bargerton, 8 miles NW of Lexington, and, we hear was plowing in the field until about 11 o'clock when he took out to go to dinner. Mounting the mule, the animal became frightened and ran away, partially throwing off the unfortunate man who became entangled in the gear and was dragged to death. When discovered, Sellers was much disfigured. He left a wife and child and an aged father with whom we deeply sympathize.

In an effort to not only discover my ancestors, but understand them, I find myself wondering about his last moments. Specifically, the moment in which he felt hunger and decided to break for a hot lunch he knew Ollie, that good lookin' good cook, would have ready for him, even though she was probably ill with first-trimester nausea. And then the moment the mule spooked. What could have done it in May of 1908? A hunter after a squirrel? The unfamiliar engine of a lone car on the road to Lexington? And then the moment John Lee knew his foot was caught in the gear, the tangle of ground and sky, and the burn of it across his skin. What he must have thought in those last moments: the clean, powder smell of Ollie, the sweet gowns and baby fat thighs of his son Larvous, the child he'd never see, how he was not even 30 yet, and who would plow that field after he was gone.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Search Begins

I didn't set out to become an amateur genealogist, though I've always been interested in history. I even minored in it as an undergraduate at the University of Texas.  I've always been fascinated by old photos, by the stories my family told around the dining room table, how the names of ancestors roll off the tongue, but for years I've lived disillusioned or confused about my family's history.

On a cold afternoon in January, having not begun any of the resolutions I set for myself before the year began: losing weight, artisan bread-making, travel to a new destination, a cousin on my father's side of the family posted fading photos of ancestors taken in the early part of the 19th century. Photos I didn't know existed, of people I'd heard of vaguely, but people who were collectively responsible for my existence. It began then.

I signed up for, and was immediately sucked in. A few family members from each branch had already spent years researching various aspects of the tree. I got in touch with them via email, some were family members I never knew existed, and they've been unbelievably generous with their time, sharing stories, documents, and photos. Guiding me through. Already I feel more open and connected to the world than ever before. I came from somewhere. These people lived real lives. They thrived in precarious situations, or didn't. They made and lost fortunes, broke their bodies against the land, and struggled to understand themselves and the changing world. They died, some very forgotten. I will discover and remember them here.