Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Queen Dickerson Franklin - Part III - memories of a very long life

Part III 
(Family lineage: Queen Rebecca Dickerson1; Edna Bethel Franklin2; Judith Ann Hayward3)
1891 – 1998

Nellie Ferguson Baker, Oliver Baker and Queen Dickerson 
1910 in West Fork, AR

As noted in the two previous posts detailing her life,  this woman could not be crammed into only one post (actually this is the third of 3 parts and was previously published in April of 2014). Her natural talents were many, including oil painting, poetry, a  prestigious memory and story-telling ability.

Some of those memories were captured in her autobiography written on September 23, 1985 when she was "only" 94 years old  and entitled “Life as lived on Greenbrier Creek – My West Virginia Childhood Home”.   

A year later, she recruited one of her granddaughters to help her move from Indianapolis to Venice, Florida so she could be closer to her adult  “kids”. She never regretted that move.  For the rest of her long life she was surrounded by her family, enjoyed the warm Florida weather, and loved to watch the oranges grow from seedlings on her daughter's fruit trees.

It is impossible to include all the poems and stories she wrote over the years or show even a small percentage of her paintings.  But the following is  a sampling of her artistic talents before she became what she called “too old to remember” (that never happened!).  

The following poem set the stage for her  autobiography:

Summer is past, October's here; the loveliest month of all the year.
Bumblebees, daubers and other pests – - like weeds and grasshoppers have gone to rest.
Likewise, Spring, Summer, and gorgeous Fall - must come to each of us – one and all;

Spring season, to me, is like childhood - with tears and laughter, bad and good.
Summer, like youth, unresponsive and gay - with Fall, we've traveled three-fourths of the way.
Have our lives been - as Winter draws nigh – useless like weeds which live and die?

May we live as seasons come and go – lives useful and clean, like pure white snow.
We cannot travel this way "a-gain" -  let us leave a “mark but not a stain”.
Queen R. Franklin 

 She continued to philosophize as she described the reason for her various paintings.

"Boys only" swimming hole in a hollow tree
"The idea for my painting of a fire in a hollow tree came from memories of my childhood when the boys would go 'possum hunting and build fires in trees – as hunters of earlier times had done. The technique of girding or burning  trees was taught by the Indians and involved cutting a shallow ring around the tree with an ax.  After the sap was cut off, the tree would die. I have linked  imagination with love and a paint brush, which works wonders!"
Queen's painting of the family farm
When I was a small child, most of our neighbors would let their livestock run free. Fencing was only erected around the fields which were tilled. The cows and sheep wore bells and knew where to go for milking or feeding. We children had the task of rounding up our particular family's cows by listening for different bell tones."
Queen's painting of a sorghum mill with mother Emarine and children working
"Threshing machines were hauled from one farm to another on flat-bed wagons drawn by horses or mules, as were sorghum mills.  After processing the cane, the machines were moved over mountains, with the men walking on the ground above while holding rope rings to prevent the equipment from flipping over. The roads zigzagged up the steep mountain-sides, always climbing upward until the summit of the mountain was reached or crossed.  Then the men changed sides as they started back downhill.  If a farm couldn't be reached by this method, the grain was hauled by sled to a pen which was made of poles or logs. Underneath the floor was placed canvas to catch the grain as it fell through the cracks."
I have one horrible memory of sorghum making.  I was only six years old when I heard
my ten year old brother, Boyd, who was feeding cane into the grinder, cry out in pain. Men ran to him and backed the horse up to reverse the mill and free Boyd's hand. The men carried him to the house; and his twin, Floyd, jumped onto a horse and rode across two mountains to get the doctor.  His hand was saved but Boyd's thumb remained stiff at the joint for the rest of his life."
"After my sister and one of my brothers bought some sheep and brought them home, my mother sheared them of their wool.  Later that year, we all sat around the fire in the evening with papers on our laps to catch the falling dirt and burrs as we picked the wool apart little by little - until it was free of loose dirt.

Then Mother carefully washed the wool in warm sudsy water to make it white and fluffy, followed by gently combing the fibers until they were straightened. The wool was then shaped into rolls which were piled into a huge basket.  The rolls were spun into yarn threads about the size of a course sewing thread and wound onto “shuttles” ready to be woven into blankets."
Emarine Bartram Dickerson
"I was 13 when I was finally allowed to sit on the rear of the loom and hand Mother threads one by one, until there were enough to make blanket material one-yard wide. I still have one of the blankets. I treasure it more than I did when I was so tired from handling those threads. Some of the wool was spun into heavier threads which Mother knitted into stockings and mittens. Knitting was always done at night or while resting from heavier work.”
Queen's autobiography continued to tell the stories of her life, including her life after meeting and marrying Fred Franklin. 

She lived fully and well, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. She may have been tiny but she was strong - so strong in fact that she bowled until she was 103 and lived 107 years before dying in Venice, Florida with her daughter, Edna, and sons Evert, Paul and Carthel around her bed.

Sadly there is no record of the person who typed up Queen's story as she dictated it, but my thanks to whomever you are - it was quite a project, but well worth the effort and very much appreciated!


If you'd like to learn more about the Dickerson family you might enjoy reading the Legends of the Family posts featuring Hiram Dickerson, William Smith Dickerson, Emarine Bartram Dickerson,  Sarah Mounts, Anne Sapcote, William David Stewart and two more stories about Queen Rebecca Dickerson's life

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mary Ramage Dillard - wife, mother and soldier in the Revolution


1757 - 1795

Granddaughter of Joseph Adair, Sr. (featured in earlier post), daughter of Jean Adair Ramage, wife of James Dillard
"Sarah Dillard's Ride: A Story of the Carolinas in 1780" by James Otis
     According to stories passed from generation to generation,  Mary Ramage Dillard was petite, beautiful - and very brave.  Not only did she live up to everything expected of a woman of that time (i.e. raising her children and tending the home), but she could well have won an award for persistence and bravery even today.  

     By the time she reached the age of 23 in 1780, she had been married for six years to James Dillard, a captain in the Little River Militia Regiment, whose duties often took him away from home, and was the mother of two toddlers (the oldest of whom was 4 year old John who usually accompanied his mother wherever she went).  Her answer to dealing with her husband's frequent absences was to join him on almost every campaign, bivouac, drill and battle including King's Mountain, Cowpens and the Siege of Ninety Six.
     Despite their travels, James and Mary somehow managed to find time to  build a large home, across the Enoree River from the Musgrove Mill Plantation where British troops under the command of General Banastre Tarleton were bivouacked and preparing for war. 

       Little did she know that on November 18, 1780,  her life would change forever, thanks to being unable to accompany James on his mission for some reason. 

Colonel Elijah Clark
      Early that day, Colonel Elijah Clark and his troops had stopped by the Dillard's home on their way to Blackstock's Plantation.  It wasn't a social call!  His troops had left their homes before dawn and badly needed something to eat and a little rest before continuing on their way Mary welcomed them but explained she could only feed them milk and potatoes, which they gladly accepted.  A short time later they were on their way again.
     But her day had only just begun!  Before she could clean up the dregs of the previous meal, General Tarleton, the dreaded commander of the British Light Cavalry, and his officers, Commanders Ferguson and Dunlop, spotted the large house with its expansive grounds and thought it would be an ideal place for their troops to take a break before attacking General Thomas Sumter at Blackstock's. 

   As they barged into the house, they couldn't help but notice the telltale signs of recent guests and demanded that she tell them exactly how many she had fed, who they were, when they had left and where they were going. 

     Understanding that she could easily get caught out in a lie if she denied having had visitors, she explained that she had indeed fed some folks who had stopped by the house earlier.  However, they hadn't stayed very long and she had been too busy cooking and taking care of her children to listen to their talk.

     She must have been a good actress because, after hearing her report, the British commanders decided it would be safe to stop off there for a brief rest and a meal.  During the next few hours, the officers made themselves comfortable in the house and ate whatever food she had left, even giving the remaining slabs of bacon she had been saving for her family to their soldiers.

      While discussing their plans, they didn't worry about being overheard.  After all, Mary was “just a woman” who, they were sure, wouldn't understand anything they were discussing.  And even if she did, what difference would it make since they "knew" that a mother would never leave her children  at home alone, and even if she did, she wouldn't be able to handle a fast moving horse on rough roads in the dead of night.  
     They couldn't have been more wrong!   Mary might have been
physically small, but nobody had ever said she was dumb or cowardly!  While moving among the diners, she had been absorbing everything being said,  and had come to the reluctant realization that she was probably the only American who could stop the massacre scheduled to take place before dawn the next day.  But she had to act quickly!

     One of her biggest challenges was figuring out what to do with her children. She was pretty sure that the worse thing that could happen to the baby would be a nasty diaper, but her little boy, John, was a whole different story since she knew she could neither take him with her nor trust that he would be OK alone in the house.   

Her remedy was creative, to say the least. After placing the sleeping child on the floor, she managed somehow to lift up her bed and then lowered one of the heavy bedposts onto  her son's nightgown, thus guaranteeing that even if he awoke, he wouldn't be able to get hurt or into mischief while she was gone.

     With night rapidly approaching, her uninvited guests finally left the house – taking their plans and secrets with them. Now that she knew what devastation was awaiting the patriots who were planning for the upcoming battle to be waged at the wrong time, she slipped into the stable, bridled a young horse (but was in too much of a hurry to lift and strap a saddle onto his back) and managed to mount up.
     After checking to make sure the road was clear, Mary and her steed raced the 20 miles to Blackstock's Plantation without being spotted. Her arrival must have shocked General Thomas Sumter and his aide, Colonel Clark, who had been preparing for the battle they erroneously believed wouldn't begin until the next day.

It wasn't until after the war ended that Mary admitted that despite the

action she took that night, she had been very sure that the
enemy would be too strong for her friends and they would lose badly.  She had simply hoped that her warning would give enough time to General Sumter and Colonel Clark to get their soldiers into hiding  before the enemy struck. 
      You can imagine how she must have felt when she saw 200 mounted English soldiers approaching the plantation under cover of darkness that night.  Thankfully she had already informed General Sumter of the British plans she had overheard, one of which was to use mounted soldiers as decoys in order to keep the Americans distracted until the rest of Tarleton's troops arrived by foot. 
     Early in the battle, General Sumter had been badly injured by a musket ball which passed through his right shoulder and into his backbone. 

     But instead of giving up after their commander was injured, his troops seemed to gain new life and energy.  As a result, the English troops not only suffered serious physical injuries but their morale was severely wounded as well, since they could no longer justify their belief that the British army had a firm hold on South Carolina.

      Interestingly, not long after the battle ended, previously unbeaten General Tarleton was heard to comment  that he had seen "a woman on horseback riding among the trees bordering his march and he believed she had reported him to Sumter." Perhaps the most bitter pill Tarleton was forced to swallow was that he wasn't omnipotent after all.

       Ironically, General Sumter was given the title "Carolina Gamecock" because of his fierce fighting tactics which weren't affected by his injuries.  As a matter of fact, even General Tarleton was heard to comment that Sumter "fought like a gamecock" and, years later, General Cornwallis commented that the "Gamecock was his greatest plague". 

     But Mary Dillard's bravery didn't end with her long ride that night. As the battle heated up, the British were forced to concentrate their efforts on fighting and beating the Americans - not on the young woman who was calming down their horses which  had been tethered to a long rope strung between two tall trees.  

     They certainly didn't notice until it was too late that she had somehow managed to slice the rope and was boldly leading her charges across the river and into the eager hands of a Virginia militia unit, most of whom - until then - had to fight the enemy on foot. As a result, after the British soldiers lost both the battle and most of their horses, they were forced to retreat on foot, leaving behind their canons, supply and munitions wagons, tents, etc. - all of which proved to be treasures for the previously under-equipped Americans.   

   Mary's family also had to pay a price for her actions. Before she had returned home, the retreating angry soldiers broke into her house and - after freeing screaming little John from under the bedpost - took the children to the neighbors and then set fire to the house. One can only imagine the horror Mary felt when she first saw that her lovely home was no more. But - even worse - until she was assured that they were safe, believed that she had also lost her children. 

      But the story of Mary's bravery didn't end there. A few months later, after having settled into their second home, the young wife and mother couldn't help but notice all the British activity taking place on the road running in front of her house. So, being Mary, she immediately started counting how many units of soldiers were passing and then figured how many soldiers there were in each unit. Not surprisingly the troops didn't pay much attention to the little woman who was perhaps even waving at them as they passed by.
      As soon as she had all the information she needed,  she managed to get it to James, who immediately took it to the commander of his local militia.  Thanks to learning exactly how many enemy soldiers were heading his way, the commander was then able to plan his counter-attack much more accurately. 

  The only "reward" the Dillards received for that action was having their second home burned to the ground by the angry, frustrated Tories!  (But her efforts did earn her a special place in history.  In fact, she is listed in the South Carolina Archives as having received seven pay stubs which verified that she had earned a private's salary during the war.)

      Mary Ramage Dillard was only 38 years old in 1795 when - after giving birth to her 7th child - a daughter - she died shortly thereafter.  Three years later, her widower, who had been promoted to a major in his militia, married another Mary, with whom he had seven more children.

     Documentation of Mary's adventures even after death has been both interesting and confusing.  First, the date of death carved on her headstone is 1797, but should have been 1795.  However, that pales when compared to the fact that her headstone was placed in the Pleasant Hill Baptist Cemetery in Pickens County, SC over the grave of James' second wife, Mary Puckett Dillard, who had died 45 years later in 1842.

    Possibly the confusion arose because James did not differentiate between the two Marys when telling stories.  Or perhaps few people even realized  he had been married before, and assumed that the Mary they knew was the woman who  had fought beside him during the Revolution.


    And there is the possibility that Mary Ramage Dillard's headstone memorializing her service wasn't engraved until long after the war ended because there were so many that had to be carved and placed. More troubling was the fact that after the discovery was made of the mix-up, the hero soldier's casket was never found.

          After discovering the mix-up,  James' children (including the ones raised by Mary Puckett after their mother died) agreed to have Mary Ramage Dillard's headstone moved to its proper place in the Duncan Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Laurens County, SC.  It was there where she was finally honored for her service to her country as she joined her fellow Revolutionary soldiers (and many relatives named Copeland, Blakely,Adair and Ramage).   
James and Mary Puckett Dillard graves
     At the same time, the correct tombstones for Mary Puckett Dillard and James Dillard and Mary Puckett were placed next to each other in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery where - altough somewhat tilted - they remain to this day.

       Although Mary Ramage's  coffin has never been discovered, her  monument honoring her life and service to her country still stand with the inscription reading: 

"Mary Ramage D'illard hero of  Blackstock's Plantation 
and a lady of grace from a grateful nation."

   Duncan Creek Presbyterian 
Cemetery,  Clinton, SC

For more information on this fascinating woman be sure to check out:

"Genealogy of Mary Ramage Dillard's Family (Life Story)"  https//familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/2626680"
"Honoring a Revolutionary War Heroine", Stanley A. Evans, Sr., Former Vice President General, South Atlantic District (1996-97) SAR Magazine  https://www.sar.org/SAR Magazine
 "Adair: History and Genealogy, Chapter XVI, page 267, American Adairs, Mrs. Adair", Ancestry.com

If you'd like to know more about the fascinating Adair family, you might enjoy reading the Family Legends featuring Joseph Alexander Adair, Sr. and Patrick Adair