Sunday, September 28, 2014

Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr. - The “Southern Gentleman from Carroll County, Georgia”

Family lineage: Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr., Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.

1901 – 1978
Whitesburg house in early 1900s
He was born in a small Georgia town, the oldest of five children born to a bridge tender on the Flint Bridge crossing the ChatahoochieRiver and his "humorless" wife (according to stories told by her grandchildren who had lived in fear of her). He was the grandson of the “Snakeman” (Robert Hatten Copeland) and nephew of Civil War veterans, Asberry and Dickson Copeland, whose lives were featured in earlier posts. 

This slender man with dark hair and blue eyes was called “Charlie” before his marriage, and “Tom” in his later years.  He might have seemed fragile to those who didn't know better or had forgotten his story.  There were only a few in his inner circle who knew that he had:  

  • survived tuberculosis with only part of one lung;
  • been a union organizer for the printers union and served as vice president of his local union at one time;
  • attained several high offices in the Knights Templar Masonic order;
  • operated both domestic and foreign printing presses of every make and model, and had  plied his trade all over the country;
  • worked for 59 years in his trade, and was the only pressman who could run a one-of-a-kind press (after his retirement, the machine had to be shut down). 
It seems that children during the early 1900s, didn't always start school at age 5 or 6 – at least in Carrollton, Georgia. Tom was 9-1/2 years old when he started first grade and only completed 5 grades before he went out into the world. When he was only 11, he began working after school, first as an office boy and then an apprentice printer for the community newspaper. 

Four years later, at age 15, his formal education ended when he ran
away from home and got as far as La Grange, Georgia where he was able to  convince a local printer to take a chance on him.  However, with the help of a local sheriff, his worried father found him three days later. Of course his dad made it clear that he was expected to come home immediately. That was until Charlie convinced him that he was safe, well fed and strongly believed that this was the best way to learn his chosen trade. According to his autobiography which he wrote in 1978, his father eventually agreed to let him try to build his life in this way and shook hands with him, saying, "You are on your own. Be a good man and believe in God – the house is always open to you. Your mother is worried.” From that time on – until his mother died in 1950 - he returned home often, and wrote regularly. Although he never did finish his formal schooling, he was self-educated and an avid reader – especially of newspapers.

In January of 1920, 18 year old Charlie, by now an active member of the printers union, was working for the Red Cross when he contracted tuberculosis. Fortunately the printers union agreed to send him to a tuberculosis sanitarium in the mountains outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee where one lung and part of another were removed.  In a last ditch attempt to save his life, his doctors recommended that he run up and down the mountain every day in order to try to build up his lung capacity and strength. He did just that and a miracle happened!  After a year in the sanitarium he got a clean bill of health.  However, the doctors were still concerned and warned that he probably wouldn't live much longer than a year.  That death sentence factored in greatly to how he lived the rest of his life. Since he expected to die soon anyway, he went back to his Raleigh cigarettes (which he smoked well into his 70's) and got himself into some very dangerous situations as he traveled around the country.

After leaving the sanitarium he became a union organizer and traveled coast to coast, working his trade while recruiting for his union wherever he went. Some knew him as the “Southern Gentleman from Carroll County, Georgia” and at one point he served as Vice President of his local union. He told his son that whi1e recruiting members for the union around the country, the managers and owners of the printing companies were beginning to worry because union participation was growing steadily. As a result, there were threats made against his life and his union provided guards to protect him. One day, while in a small Texas town, tempers flared and violence broke out, so his guards surrounded him but lost their own lives and fell on top of him, which saved his life. It was only after he survived several reckless adventures that he started worrying about his health and got scared of dying.

Sometime between 1920 and 1930 he moved to Chicago where he met, married and divorced a young woman named Grace. Also during that time, he attended what he called the “World's Largest Trade School” in an effort to improve his skills. 

Following the tradition of his family, he joined a Masonic lodge and - for fun -  started roller skating. It was while skating that he met a red-head named Mae Finn, who was also skating in the Chicago Roller Derby. Before long, they fell in love as they danced on roller skates and discovered that they both had been born on September 6 but 13 years apart. It was no surprise, then, that September 6, 1935 was chosen for their wedding. 

A son and daughter were born to the couple and they continued to live in Chicago for the rest of their lives. Tom was honored as the oldest active printing pressman in the United States and was very proud to let friends know that he had worked at his trade until age 73, when he had to finally retire because of heart problems.

After having  survived tuberculosis in a time when few lived to tell the tale, he   took dangerous chances because he thought he had nothing to lose.  But when he looked around and realized he had come through it all, he became scared of dying and worried that it would happen any day. That day didn't happen until he was 77 years old and had lived to see both his son and daughter grow into adulthood and one of his grandsons graduate from high school.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lewis Bartram - a minister and a confederate soldier (maybe)

Family lineage: 1 Lewis Bartram , 2 Emarine Bartram, 3 Queen Dickerson, 4 Edna Franklin, 5 Judith Hayward

1818 – 1894

Over the last several months I have written stories about family soldiers who served in the Revolution, the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, and both sides of the Civil War.  And of course there were other tales about some very interesting people who lived extraordinary lives - without fighting in wars. But this story is about a man who seems to have supported both the Confederacy and the Union, while doing an amazing job of keeping both friends and family confused as to where he had placed his loyalties. 

Rev. and Mrs. Lewis Bartram - really!
Lewis Bartram was 21 when he married orphaned 16 year old Eliza Frances Walker (called Louisa by her family), with whom he had nine children.  The family also included a girl who - at age 6 -  had been neglected by her family until Lewis brought her into the Bartram home, where she lived until she married.

He was the grandson of a Cherokee Indian woman (Sarah Mounts) and was an ordained Missionary Baptist minister who twice had to expel his father (James Bartram) from the Greenbrier Baptist Church because of his unsuitable behavior (see my post detailing James Bartram's life which was published a few weeks ago).

He also owned about 1,000 acres of timberland in Wayne County, West Virginia, most of which had been acquired through grants and surveys he had made of unclaimed land in the general vicinity.  Lewis was entitled to be proud of his "free" land acquisitions, and had been heard to say that those properties “cost him only the price of a pocket knife”.  In his later years, he deeded 208 acres to his living  children and sold off most of the remaining acreage to relatives who lived nearby, thus reducing his holdings to 154 acres on Greenbrier Creek by the time he died.

Lewis was a 44 year old ordained minister when the war broke out. As such, he was presented with a heartbreaking dilemma: which side of the conflict could he philosophically support?  This decision was made even more difficult because he knew that no matter what he decided, it  was going to be extremely unpopular with many of the people he loved and had served as a pastor. After all, many of his neighbors and most of his family were Rebel-Democrats who lived on or near the ridge dividing the Union-Republicans and Rebel-Democrats in Wayne County.  One fact  seems obvious - the option of not fighting for what he believed was off the table – it just wasn't who he was!

He died more than 100 years ago, but the question regarding which side he supported during the war has continued to be discussed and argued throughout the  generations. All this disagreement arose because the documentation of his records and the family oral histories describing his actions during that time differ in every way.
In an effort to make at least some of the issues in the argument  easier to understand the following is a summary of the main points on either side of the argument.


  • Because of his age (44) and vocation (a Baptist minister), he could not serve in the regular army. On August 2, 1862, he was mustered into a Union-led Home Guards militia under the command of one of his relatives, Captain David Bartram.
  • In early 1863, his son, Enoch, joined the Confederate Army.  After Enoch's regiment returned to Wayne County in the Fall of 1863 and set up camp nearby, Lewis was again called into service with the Independent Scouts, a Union militia under the command of his first cousin, Captain William Bartram, under whom he served until May 9, 1864. 
  • He participated in the military action which captured a relative, Colonel Milton J. Ferguson and 42 of the  150 soldiers who had set up camp there (see my post on Hiram Dickerson and “The Battle of Murder Hollow". 

    (Despite the documentation of his militias service, many of his descendents (including his granddaughter/ my grandmother, Queen Franklin) have found the claim that Lewis was enlisted in a pro-Union militia and had actually participated in the Battle of Murder Hollow on the “wrong” side, impossible to believe.  It was even harder for Queen to wrap her head around since both of her grandfathers (Hiram Dickerson and Lewis Bartram) had fought in that battle - against each other.  No wonder it is such an emotional issue. )


  • It is a fact that he donated to the Confederacy war effort through a loan of $100 made on February 17, 1864, for which he received a registered bond promising it would be repaid “. . . with 4% interest . . . in 20 years”.  (Needless to say, there was no “Confederate States of America” in 1884 and the promissory note became simply a treasure of the family as shown here).

  • Oral history claims that when Lewis and Louisa's son, Enoch, came home on for a short respite from war activities, he was warmly welcomed and kept hidden.  A short time later the Home Guards discovered Lewis' deception and arrested him and two other men being sheltered in the home at the time. The story goes on to say that Lewis was soon released but the other two men who had been in the house were taken away on horseback and one was killed.

One of the oral histories came from Queen Franklin, who had probably heard it from her mother (Lewis' daughter) that when the Home Guards came into Lewis' home looking for Enoch and 2 other rebels, they even looked behind the clock faces in search of money.  She believed that the Guards wouldn't have done such a thing to Lewis if he was one of their own.

Even today some Bartrams strongly believe that Lewis was pro-union while others argue that he was a pro-rebel resistance fighter.   According to “The Bartram Branches” (which is an excellent resource written by Violet W. Bartam and D. Kent Bartram) one explanation is that he could have been afraid to express his real sentiments or he might have figured that the easiest way to keep an eye on the Home Guards was to be one.  Another possibility put forth was that his political beliefs may not have mattered when it came to his civic duties.  Instead, it has been claimed that he was actually a pro-Confederate sympathizer who had been victimized by the Union-supported Home Guard militias.

What we do know for sure is that he was extremely literate, and expected his children to be able to read the Bible at the very least.

Shortly after Eliza died in 1890, he married a neighbor, Mary Damron Dean, possibly because of a need for a companion and caregiver. Evidently none of the couple's grown children were thrilled about this marriage and let their parents know their feelings in no uncertain terms.

Lewis began to complain of stomach troubles in 1894, and it is assumed that he had an ulcer or stomach cancer. Although she was only three at the time, Queen Franklin vividly remembered that her grandfather's funeral was held under apple trees near his home.  His coffin was carried up a steep hill where he was buried next to Louisa in a grave marked with a simple rock but no longer visible.  

There were some family stories saying that his widow, Mary, fought hard to get a larger portion of the Bartram estate, and they finally “paid her off” so that it could be settled. Her family disagrees with that version.  It seems to be just another strange and confusing chapter in Lewis Bartram's story! 

Mary Bartram died 4 years later and was buried beside her first husband, John Wesley Dean, under the name “Mary-his wife”.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bird Nance - who fought for his young country in New Orleans

Family lineage: Bird Nance, a son of Reuben Nance 1, Sarah Nance 2, Enos Philpott 3, Rebecca Philpott 4, Lula Jane Johnson 5, Charles Mabry Copeland 6, Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr. 
Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.  8

1771 – 1815

Bird???   Really?  Yup, that was the name given to this fourth child of a huge family (22 to 27 siblings - depending on who did the research).  He was the son of a large plantation owner and veteran of the Revolutionary War, Reuben Nance, and his first wife, Amy Williamson.  

What a family that size would look like in a picture
Genealogists might disagree on the number of Nance children, but there is no doubt that it was an extremely large household!  We also don't know how well the children of the two wives  got along before Reuben's death in 1812.  What we do know is that “the first family” believed they had been short-changed in Reuben's will - with the "second family” supposedly receiving far more than their "fair share" of the estate. As a result, they contested the will.  In case you'd like to look at the proceedings yourself, all 182 pages can be found on the Virginia Chancery Court website. 

It may be that there was no place on the plantation for Bird's talents or of interest to him.  So he eventually looked elsewhere, especially after he'd married Polly Hannah in 1793. Their search led them eventually to Tennessee, where - in 1799 - he enlisted in the West Tennessee militia as an Ensign (Lieutenant).  It was only two years later that Polly died shortly after the birth of their fifth child.  Bird didn't marry again for seven years - this time to Sarah Mack, with whom he had six more children. In 1811, when the War of 1812 was on the horizon, Bird – now 39 years old - was commissioned as a Captain in the 2nd Regiment of the West Tennessee Militia. 

This regiment, commanded by General William Carroll (who was elected Governor of Tennessee twice after the war was over) was one of three West Tennessee militias under the command of General Andrew Jackson. There is no record of exactly where Captain Nance was from 1811 to 1814 but we do know that he served as co-Executor of his father's will in 1812 and probably didn't make himself very popular with either side of the dispute.  If he served under General Carroll during those years, he was fighting the Indians who had been incited by the British, in order to create havoc and dilute the energies of the American forces.

 After one of those battles, General Carroll returned to Nashville to recruit more troops for the defense of New Orleans. At the same time, Andrew Jackson resigned from the militia in order to accept a commission in the Federal Army and Carroll was elected Major-General of the Tennessee militia. 

As the battle lines formed up, the British leadership committed 9,000 British soldiers to taking over control of New Orleans and the whole Louisiana territory which America had recently  purchased. At the same time, 4,000 American soldiers, traveling in flotillas via the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, had a totally different goal.  

Major-General Carroll's newly recruited troops had arrived in New Orleans just prior to the British invasion, and were stationed near the center of General Andrew Jackson's army.   It was here that some of the most intense fighting occurred between December 23, 1814 and January 8, 1815. Victory was finally won by the Americans – but not without heavy casualties. 

Medal commemorating Battle of New Orleans
We don't know the severity of Bird's wounds or when he became one of the 173 soldiers hurt during the battle.  What we do know is that it would have taken him over four months to get home from New Orleans - and that 43 year old Captain Bird Nance never arrived.  On April 15, 1815, in a town near Natchez, Mississippi called Mitchell's Bluff, Captain Nance died of “Swamp Fever” - a common illness which affected wounded troops who had been stationed in New Orleans during February and March of 1815. 
President Andrew Jackson

Following this war and the recognition of Andrew Jackson's actions which helped to win it, he was considered a hero and elected President of the United States of America.

There's no way of knowing whether Bird was able to hold his newest son, Wiley Bird Nance, in his arms before he died or when Sarah was notified of his death. We do know that shortly after the war ended, Bird's widow applied for a pension based on the captain's service during the war. She was awarded five years of Bird's half pay.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Olof Persson Stille - The Swedish Connection

1Olof Persson Stille, 2 Ella Olofsdotter Stille, 3 Peter Petersson Yocum (aka Jochimsson), 4 Johann “Jonas” Yocum,  5 John Yocum, 6 Mary Yocum, 7 Margaret Bell, 8 Isaiah Custer, 9 John William Custer, 10 Corda Belle Custer, 11 William Frederick Franklin, 12 Edna Bethel Franklin, 13 Judith Ann Hayward
1610 - 1684

Penningsby Castle still standing
Penningsby Castle (shown above) was built in Roslagen, Sweden in the late 15th Century as a medieval fortress and, as you can see, it has survived through the centuries.

Olof Persson Stille was the son of Per Stille who managed the  Penningsby estate and - upon his retirement in 1627 -  was granted land on Humblö Island by the master of Penningsby.  It was on that island that Olof grew up and married in 1632.

Although young Olof was on good terms with Erik Bielke, the master of the estate, he could find nothing good to say about Bielke's wife, Catarina Fleming, and evidently she felt the same. Tensions between  them escalated until, while attending a fair in 1636, Olof voiced his not-so-pleasant opinion of Lady Catarina once too often.  Of course his words soon traveled back to the lady, who retaliated by prosecuting Olof for defamation and ordered him evicted from his island home.

Not surprisingly, Olof refused to leave the island peacefully, and ended up being thrown in jail - which turned out to be a life- changing event.  Since he had nothing else to occupy his thoughts while sitting in his cell, he finally admitted that he might have been at fault and  reached the conclusion that it would be wise to find someplace else to live that would not be under Lady Catarina's direct control.

After finally securing his freedom, he followed through on the decision he had made in jail, and the Stille family packed up and moved to another town, where they were joined by Anders, their former servant.  
But the lady of the castle, now a widow, was nothing if not vindictive, and obviously never forgot or forgave a perceived snub. After Olaf's move, Lady Fleming realized that she had nothing more she could hold over him. So she had Olof's friend and former servant, Anders, seized and imprisoned at Penningsby, claiming that he had broken a verbal agreement with the late Lord Bielke that he would be their servant.

On hearing the news, Olof sneaked into Penningsby Castle that very night by a secret door known to him since his childhood when he had roamed the castle freely. Using his axe, he broke the lock to the dungeon and then fled with Anders, who carried the axe while Olaf carried his own rapier. 

Needless to say, that was the last straw for Lady Fleming!  She immediately complained to the Governor who, in turn, issued an order for Olof Stille's arrest on March 28, 1638  (the same day that the first expedition to New Sweden was landing in America).  At his trial on April 13, 1638, Olof was convicted of burglary and sentenced to death by sword!  Lucky for his descendants, the appellate court modified the sentence to a fine of 100 daler silver money (the equivalent of 17 months pay for a New Sweden soldier).

It took three years to make all the arrangements and book passage to a new land and a new life.  But in 1641, when the “Charitas” departed for New Sweden, the passenger list included Olof, a mill maker, his wife, 7 year old daughter, 6 month old son, brother, Axel, and the Måns Svensson Lom family, whose wife appears to have been Olof's younger sister.  His older brother, Johan, who was studying to become a pastor, and his sister, Kerstin, remained in Sweden.

After a stormy voyage, during which two colonists and a number of cattle died, the ship arrived at Fort Christina (now Wilmington, Delaware) in November 1641. There they were greeted by a handful of settlers who had preceded them to Sweden's three-year-old colony on the "South" (Delaware) River just outside of Philadelphia, PA.

Shortly after their arrival, Olof Stille settled in as a freeman in a plantation soon named “Techoherassi” by the Indians because of his heavy black beard which they considered a monstrosity.  This settlement consisted of three plantations, each with 12 "morgens" (25 acres) of cultivated land.  With him were his brother, Axel, and his sister's family. The Indians were frequent visitors to Techoherassi and liked Olof Stille well enough, despite the beard.

As the only known mill-maker in the colony, Olof  was probably in charge of building the first Swedish gristmill on Mill Creek (now known as Cobb Creek).  

But his tendency to express strong opinions obviously had traveled over the sea with him and got him into trouble again. As a leader among the freemen, he played a key role in promoting the July 1653 list of grievances which was presented to Governor Johan
Printz and signed by Olof and 21 other freemen. This document protested Printz's dictatorial rule and the hanging of one or more vocal dissidents.  Printz did not take these criticisms well and considered those questioning his leadership as mutineers. His behavior seems to have been what would be considered today as passive-aggressive, since instead of dealing directly with the situation, he  promptly packed up and returned to his native Sweden.  

To Olof, however, these settlers had done nothing more than simply exercise their right of free speech. When the new governor finally arrived, Olof asked for a prompt trial to clear up the matter. Fortunately, Governor Rising took a more kindly view of the freemen and let the matter drop.

In 1655, New Sweden was conquered by the Dutch. After their surrender, the Dutch governor, Petrus Stuyvesant, agreed to allow the Swedes and Finns living north of the Christina River to govern themselves, which was fortunate indeed.

The first Swedish court, organized in 1656, had Olof Stille as its chief justice (yes - that man who constantly was in trouble because of his strongly voiced opinions!). During his eight years as chief justice of the Swedes' court, there were frequent policy clashes between the Swedes and the Dutch. Olof proved himself to be an able defender of the Swedes' position and usually prevailed.  

After retiring as chief justice in 1664, Olof moved to Moyamensing (later called South  Philadelphia) with several family members. Even in retirement, he was called upon to arbitrate disputes among the settlers and his service was honored on both of these plaques. He died about 1684. 

This story was an unexpected treasure for my sisters and me.   Finally, after years of believing that our family legends had their beginnings in the British Isles or Germany, a hidden treasure was discovered which proved that previously unknown Swedish ancestors had married into our German/American Custer line.  It was especially meaningful because after their marriage, our parents had settled in a Swedish neighborhood in Chicago where we attended a Swedish church, celebrated Swedish customs and my name was usually pronounced “Yu-dee” instead of “Judy”. We  were sure we didn't have a drop of Swedish blood in us. What did we know??

I am grateful to Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig, a Fellow in the American Society of Genealogists and a Historian studying Swedish Colonial Society, who published much of this paraphrased story in “Swedish Colonial News, Volume 1, Number 16 (Fall 1997).