Saturday, January 24, 2015

Francis Eppes - one of Virginia's settlers

1597 - 1674

Until now, I have been able to balance out the family lines when writing up legends which have been passed down through the centuries.  But that balance went askew when I discovered that Lt. Colonel Francis Eppes, an early Virginia Colony settler, was possibly an ancestor of both my husband's line (through the Nance family) and mine (through the Dickersons (Should I call my husband "honey" or "cuz", I wonder).

The first documented story of an Eppes family ancestor was Alan Epes (yes - the spelling changes from person to person and generation to generation).  Alan was the grandfather of Francis Eppes and had raised his family in the town of Lydds in Kent County, England  during the mid-1500s. Through the years, the Eppes family made an indelible mark on the world around them and provided many legends which I am hoping to feature in some of my later blogs.

It's likely that Francis' incentive for leaving England was the crowning of Charles I, the terrible son of a terrible king, James.  It soon became apparent that Charles had a penchant for making decisions which simultaneously alienated both his subjects and Parliament, thus prompting a series of events which ultimately led to civil war, his own beheading in 1649 and the abolition of the English monarchy.

 Sometime before I625 Francis recognized that life in England wasn't going to improve any time soon under the leadership of the king and saw the opportunity to make his fortune in America where there was more land than people to work it. 

He proved to be adept at recruiting desperate folks who were anxious to try their luck in a new country. There is no record of how he was able to pay the 6 pounds per person cost for his and their passage on the Hopewell, but he obviously figured it out. 

Upon landing in America, the immigrants would be sold to the landowners and required to work for a defined period of time - usually 3 to 7 years in order to pay off their debt.  

Besides re-cooping his costs by selling the contracts for the indentured servants usually to plantation owners, his profit came through being granted one “headright”, or parcel of land, per laborer.  At that time, parcels of 50 acres were granted to a person new to the area, while 100 acres were granted to those already living there.  Once the headright was granted, it was treated like a commodity and could be bought, sold, or traded.  It also could be saved indefinitely and used at a later date.

Now that he had his first venture under his belt, Francis headed back to England for a short visit with his family and an opportunity to recruit and arrange for another shipload of laborers.  He didn't learn until he returned to America that the first group of people he had transported had been killed by Indians shortly after landing. 

After successfully completing his second round trip and receiving  more headrights,  Francis now owned enough land to build a spacious home for his family.  So while his household prepared to make this giant move, he arranged for a ship and  recruited more people desperate to start fresh in a new land. 

After safely completing this trip, he claimed himself, his wife, three young men (either his sons or brothers) and 30 servants as headrights (not a bad deal since his costs for their passage could be recovered by using or selling those headrights).  It is believed that he made the round trip between his former and new  countries six times, and that his wife, Marie, traveled with him at least once and gave birth to their son, Thomas, in London.

In 1625, he was elected to sit in the Assembly at James City (often referred to as the “Convention”) and was more than happy to add his signature to a petition being sent to England. As a signer, he was finally able to safely express his “extreme discouragement” over the change in the British government, and specifically King Charles I, whose decisions and method of ruling England would sow the seeds for the American Revolution.

An early version of the house including the original kitchen
Finally, on August 26, 1635,  Captain Francis Epes was granted 1,700 acres on  Appomattox Manor (located at the confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers).  It was a perfect place for his new home which he originally named Hopewell after the ship on which he'd sailed so often and then City Point.   Eventually it was named Appomattox and completed in 1679. During those years he was a respected leader in the community and served as Commander of forces which fought  the Weyanoke and Appomattox Indians.  

This energetic, courageous Kentish man,  died sometime between 1668 and 1774.  He held many offices during his lifetime, including serving as a member of the House of Burgess (a model  of representative government).  He was also one of four men named "Resident in Virginia and Fit to be Called to the Council There."  

Appomattox as it looks today

The house, which underwent several modifications over the years  has many stories of its own to tell, and remained in the Eppes family for 344 years until, in 1979, it was purchased by the Petersburg National Battlefield and is open for visitors. 

Even though Francis and his wife, Marie, had what would be considered a small family at that time (4 sons and perhaps some daughters who were not documented), his legend has lived on through the tales and deeds of his family. 

Martha Wales Jefferson

Two of Francis' older sons filled places in their communities similar to the positions Francis had hewed out for himself in early Virginia. Another  Eppes  descendent was Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow who was married to the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, from 1772 until her death in 1782. 

For further information you are welcome to check out:
Find A Grave

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

John Nance Garner III, Vice-president of the United States

1868 – 1966
(a descendant of William Nance, the founder of the Nance family in the United States)

A story always has to start somewhere, and John Nance Garner III's story as a well known American in his time began before his birth when William Nance arrived in America in the mid 1600s.  After settling in Virginia, William met and married Margaret Tinsley, with whom he built a strong family tradition of loyalty to country, a tradition  which has been passed from generation to generation for more than three centuries.

Living up to the family tradition, William and Margaret's grandson, Reuben Nance, fought in the Revolution; and Reuben's son, Bird Nance, lost his life from wounds incurred in the War of 1812. If you'd like to know more about these two men, they were each  featured in this blog a few months ago.  

John was born to a Confederate veteran, John Nance Garner II, and his wife, Sarah, on November 22, 1868 in Red River County,Texas. 

His earliest years aren't recorded, so we pick up his story after he returned home after completing only one semester at Vanderbilt University.  Although it seems that formal schooling was not for him, he continued to study law on his own and successfully passed the Texas Bar exam.  

After being admitted to the Bar, he realized that  he couldn't make a living in the rural area where he had grown up and soon moved to Uvald, Texas.  It was there that he met and eventually married Mariette “Ettie” Rheiner, a strong young woman in her own right who had openly expressed her opposition to his candidacy for Uvalde county judge. In an age when few women expressed their political opinions, Ettie opposed his candidacy because of his reputation for drinking and poker-playing and, despite their marriage, he retained that reputation for the rest of his life.

Cactus Flower

Bluebonnet Flower
In 1898, at age 30, John made his first successful political foray into State politics when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and earned the nickname "Cactus Jack" after unsuccessfully proposing the cactus as the state flower. The bluebonnet prevailed, but the moniker "Cactus Jack" lasted a lifetime.

Always moving upward in the political arena, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives four years later.  Even though he was no longer in Texas, he was still known as a salty character who brought many “pork barrel” projects to his district. But even when fighting to bring home "the bacon" to his state, he remained popular with both parties, making him a very effective Speaker of the House in 1931.

Based on his popularity and recognized abilities, it's not surprising that in 1932, John was encouraged by his wife and supporters to make a run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  There was a big problem with that plan, however.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had the same dream and an even stronger base.

After winning the nomination, Roosevelt asked John to be his running mate. Together, they were unbeatable and won both the 1932 and 1936 elections to the highest offices in the land. Not bad for a Texas boy who didn't finish college!

But "Cactus John" did not take well to being in the largely decorative position of Vice President. In typical John Garner style, he was heard to describe it as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”, a version that was cleaned up by the press to read “not worth a bucket of warm spit”.

It was during Roosevelt's second term that John could no longer hold his tongue and often disagreed strongly with the President.  As the warm relationship started to cool off, some Democratic party leaders urged him to run against Roosevelt in 1940, which he agreed to do.  But once more, Roosevelt proved himself the stronger candidate and was elected to an unprecedented third term. 

By this time John Nance Garner, who was 72 years old and had served the public for 46 years, decided to leave the race, stepping  down in 1941, which resulted in Harry S. Truman eventually becoming the Vice President who stepped into the presidency after Roosevelt's death.

Although he neither lived nor worked in Washington any longer, he continued to have close friendships with many of the insiders, including President Harry Truman; and, on November 22, 1963, President Jack Kennedy called to wish him a happy birthday just before traveling to Dallas.  

He lived to age 98, and was one of only two vice presidents who served both as Speaker of the House and Vice President of the United States.

He was not forgotten by the people of the State of Texas, whom he had served so well and so long.  In order to honor his many years of service and keep his name alive, a state park just north of his home in Uvalde, Texas was re-named the Garner State Park.

Special thanks to one of the Nance/Philpott family historians, Sheila Oliver Coupland, who graciously called my attention to the story of John Nance Garner, who made his mark in national politics long after his ancestor had planted the seeds of service and devotion to this country.  Suffice it to say, the details of this man's genealogy reside on one of the many branches of the Nance family tree, but in order to avoid confusion or boredom, we'll just say that his place on the tree is several generations removed from his ancestors, William and Margaret Nance.
Garner  State Park, Uvalde, TX

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christian Peters - one of many family soldiers

(Family lineage:  Brother of Elizabeth Peters, 1  Charles Walker, Jr  2Eliza Frances Walker 3,   Emarine Bartram 4, 
Queen Rebecca Dickerson  5,  Edna Bethel Franklin  6 ,  Judith Ann Hayward  7 )

1760 - 1837 

Since researching and writing about the Revolutionary soldier, John Copeland, I've discovered that the Copelands, Philpotts and Nances created several new branches on their family trees through intermarriage.  At the same time, the  Walkers, Callaways and Peters not only intermarried but - after fighting in the Revolution - packed up their families and moved together to Peterstown in New River, Virginia. 

Until now, only the Peters women who had married Walker men early in our country's history have been mentioned in family legends about their husbands/brothers/sons.  So now it's time to concentrate on the Peters men whose parents had migrated from Germany in 1737 and settled in Virginia where they raised their family.  Three of their sons (John, Christian and Jacob) fought with distinction in the Revolution; but for no good reason, I decided to focus on Christian who, at age 19, was finally old enough to join the fight four years after it began in 1775. 

Christian's involvement began when the Governor of South Carolina offered 1,000 pounds of tobacco ($33.33) to any man volunteering to fight with the militia against marauding Indians attacking settlers along the South Carolina/North Carolina border. 

Although he was a Virginia boy, Christian seized the opportunity to get paid while experiencing adventure away from home and hearth.  Grabbing his rifle, tomahawk and butcher knife, he joined his brothers and fellow Virginians in the fight and attained the rank of Corporal.  

It wasn't long, however, before his militia was absorbed into the "Virginia Line" which - with militias from the 12 other colonies -  fell under the umbrella of the Continental Army. This action was especially important to commissioned officers under the rank of Brigadier General who, before that time, couldn't be promoted except in their particular colony's  line.

Christian, known by this time as an expert marksman, quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant and was heavily involved in some of the more famous southern battles, including Cowpens on the South Carolina/North Carolina line, Hot Water, Jamestown and eventually Yorktown.  

Col. Daniel Morgan
Under the leadership of  Colonel Daniel Morgan, the infamous Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his 1,000 troops were defeated at Cowpens, which led to 600 British soldiers being captured.  During the battle, most of the Virginia men, including Christian, depended on  their personal long rifles, with which they shot down so many British officers that proper control of the British line was destroyed.  

 After helping to deliver those British prisoners, Christian received his discharge papers and a bounty for his service, which he traded to another soldier for a horse. It was a good deal for them both.  Christian could now get around on horseback instead of by foot and the former horse owner could return home with a little money and  an official discharge - even if it took a little longer to get there.

Now that he was officially back in the war, Sgt. Christian Peters  traveled with his
General "Mad" Anthony Wayne
regiment to Hot Water, six miles from Williamsburg, Va.  The hard-fought battle, which lasted only two hours and ten minutes, didn't go well.  The Americans were soundly defeated, which forced the survivors to fall back to Jamestown, where they joined General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's regiment in another bloody battle.  Luckily for Christian, he was assigned a position in an area far less dangerous and came out of the battle unscathed.  

Finally, in 1781, he re-connected with his brother, John, and brother-in-law, Charles Walker, in Yorktown where they participated in the battle and witnessed Cornwallis' surrender which finally brought an end to the long devastating war. 

Amazingly, the Peters, Walker and Callaway families came through the war pretty much intact and after being awarded bounties for their service, decided to build their post-war lives on New River, a tributary of the Kanawha River, in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.  In 1785, Christian married his sweetheart, Anna Catherine Fudge who had only been 13 years old when he had left for war, and with whom he had nine children.  

As the years went by, Christian, a man of energy and drive, built a home which stood for many years. Among his enterprises were the building of the first grist mills in the community.  These mills would be considered very crude and rough affairs in today's world but of course they were built on the technology existing at the time and served their purpose.

Christian was awarded a pension for service to his country in 1833 and died four years later at age 77. In honor of his service, the U.S. Government furnished a war memorial tablet which was placed on his grave and unveiled with great ceremony.  

http://www.Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War:McAllister's Data