When Cotton Was King

“When Cotton Was King” is the title to a painting by Jack Deloney. This painting hangs with pride in the Carlton home.  This should also be the title to my father’s paternal lineage.  Having southern ancestors I have learned about the historical times in which they lived.  But to truly understand a family you have to understand the occupations and the stories of them as individuals as well.  My family not only farmed they ran successful mercantile businesses and cotton gins.

 

When Cotton was King

When Cotton was King

 

My Cousin Sara encouraged me to look at the price of cotton in a historical sense to gain an understanding of the life and times of our ancestors. The image below is a time from the website Tradingeconomics.com. I just wanted to focus on the period 1912-1940. You can tell by this graph that cotton was about $35.00/pound in 1919 and at $5.66 at its historical low in 1931. Think about all the money it takes to farm a crop and you are getting less than six dollars a pound!

 

Cotton Prices 1912-1940

Cotton Prices 1912-1940

 

What does mean? Well, there are a few things we need to understand about this time period. Share cropping became the business model for many large land owners after the Civil War throughout the south. Share cropping was essentially the system in which “black families would rent small plots of land, or shares, to work themselves; in return, they would give a portion of their crop to the landowner at the end of the year (“Sharecropping”, 2010). While this system was not what the recently freed slaves would have wanted, it was the way things were.  Many of the newly freedman expected more in return from the Federal government, but it did not happen.

 

Though the system (sharecropping) developed from immediate postwar contingencies, it defined the agricultural system in rural Georgia for close to 100 years. By 1880, 32 percent of the state’s farms were operated by sharecroppers; this figure would increase in the fifty years following. By 1910 sharecroppers operated 37 percent of the state’s 291,027 farms (Giesen, 2007).

I have found some property Tax Records for my ancestors. George Wiley Whitehead and Columbus Augustus Stevens two of my great-grandfathers and they both owned quite a bit of land. I have been able to locate some of the older land records as they have been made available on-line. The records that they kept for taxes were pretty basic. Number of polls for a poll tax, how many workers were employed (Hands); acres owned; value of acres; value of household furniture, livestock, and agriculture “crops” value. These records are very interesting but hard to determine the time period.

Property Tax Digests, 1793-1892

Roughly, George Wiley had between 500-1500 acres during the 1870’s. He also reported between 9-20 “hands” that worked his property. These “hands” would be what we call sharecroppers. Cousin Charlie told us during our most recent visit that the sharecroppers in our family were provided all the tools and live stock and they would work the land. The families would go to the Stevens & Martin store and make necessary purchases on credit until the crops came in. Miss Kitty recollected that the Stevens’ family had 2 white families that were sharecroppers.

 

Through the course of my blogs, I have “met” online a person who has a familial connection to mine. I will call her Ms. Sheila. She wrote on blog many years ago that her family was owned by my family. This statement gave me pause. I know slavery is part of our historical past. Many times as I explore backwards, I find myself bewildered by our country’s past mistakes. But then I realize country’s make mistakes like people do, so I can only hope that we learn from our past mistakes. So, if you have these blemishes in your family, it is better to acknowledge it straight on and focus on how your family dealt with them. In my case, Ms. Sheila stated that our family did not employ overseers. I didn’t quite know what to make of this at first. I have come to realize that since our family lived on or near the property they were farming, they did not have to employ others to be the supervisors. Ms. Sheila and I have exchanged a few emails and she later told me that some of her family then became sharecroppers. I plan to talk to them so I can get more information.

 

Until later, I will be exploring backwards

 


 

Resources:

Cotton Chart, Trading Economics, retrieved 6/2/15 from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/commodity/cotton

James, Giesen, “Sharecropping” Georgia Encyclopedia, retrieved on 6/19/15 from http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/sharecropping

Sharecropping, 2010, History.com, retrieved on 6/19/15 from http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sharecropping

 

The Family Mercantile Business

My sister, cousin and I recently visited one of the old mercantile buildings that my family operated for many, many years. We visited the building that once housed the Stevens, Martin and Company Store in Carlton, Madison County. It was hard to see the store through all of the junk that was in there now. It is now an antique/junk store.

When my great-grandfather Walter joined the firm in Sandy Cross, Oglethorpe County, he was a junior partner and given a store manager position (Sara Baldwin, 2015). At some point, Walter and Ambrose Pope Stevens were sent to Carlton to open that branch. It is believed that both men were bachelors and lived above the store. Both Walter and Ambrose Pope built homes in the Carlton area to be close to the store. In 1894, Walter married Luna May Stevens (Ambrose’s older sister) and Ambrose Pope married Sally Hartsfield. “Ambrose P. Stevens was the bookkeeper for the firm and of course there were no adding machines in those days so he had to total figures in his head (Stevens, 1973, p.61).”

Circa 1903

Circa 1903

The original building in Carlton (above) burned down (date unknown). The firm purchased the brick building below and used this until the company dissolved. This is the building we visited. The two buildings were inter-connected by a large door. The second building was previously a bank as there was a safe built within.  Cousin Sara stated that in Carlton’s prime there were 3 banks in town.  Cousin Charlie stated there was even a car dealership.  It is hard to imagine a sleepy little town like Carlton once was ever a bustling place.

Circa 1940

Circa 1940

Walter Joe decided to join the family business, sometime after WWI, and he became an integral part of its operation. He took over the book-keeping responsibilities. According to Cousin Sara, the family used the company like a bank. They would shop or spend money in Athens and elsewhere, but the bills would show up at the store for Joe to pay. Ultimately, Joe shut down the corporation part and paid off the shareholders.

Cousin Jim recalls there were a lot of cool things for an 8 year-old to mess with, but he was scared of getting locked in the vault!

Cousin Sara recalls that there was a pot belly stove in the store and her “Joe Daddy and Uncle Pope” would gather around it and tell stories.

Cousin Lynn recalls the Carlton store. She stated “it was so DIM inside …and it smelled like a library-that musty, vaguely sweet smell of old books and papers.”

Here is a rough timeline of the business as best I can determine. I owe a huge debt to my late 1st cousin 2x removed, Claude Gibson Stevens whose book The Stevens Family John Stevens Line is an invaluable resource.

Partners: C.A. Stevens (Columbus Augustus), R.W. Huff (Robert Washington), John C. G. Stevens (Cylvanus Gibson), A.P. Stevens (Ambrose Pope), J.E. Stevens, J.C. Martin and W.E. Whitehead (Walter Everett)

  • 1885-   Stevens and Company established. “Gus” Stevens and his brother J.R Stevens along with first cousin Robert Huff started the general store, cotton gin and grist mill in the Village of Sandy Cross. John C.G. Stevens already had a store, but took on partners and expanded. (p. 59).
  • Unknown Date:           Name was changed to Stevens, Huff and Company
  • 1887-   30 December, name change-Stevens, Martin and Company (p. 78)
  • 1892-   Ambrose Pope Stevens became a partner (p.61)
  • 1897-   Assets of Stevens, Huff and Company were merged with the new store Stevens, Martin and Company. (p. 61)
  • 1908-   JCG Stevens sold his interest in the store and land to Walter M. Martin (brother of J.C. Martin). (p. 78)
  • 1917-   Walter Joe “Joe Daddy” Whitehead joined the firm and remained until its closure.
  • 1963-   Voluntary dissolution of company and assets. (p.59)
June 2015

June 2015

5-IMG_1019

Inside Bank Vault

View from second level

View from second level

Inside Store

If you have any additional memories, please feel free to share them here.

Memorial Day 2015

Memorial Day was not always Memorial Day. It started out as Decoration Day. A day dedicated to decorating the graves of the civil war dead.

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

– James A. Garfield, May 30, 1868 Arlington National Cemetery

(Source: http://www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert/memorial-day/history/)

At least three of my Great-Grandfathers fought in the Civil War, George Wiley Whitehead, Columbus Augustus Stevens and George Bland Sublett. Two other Great Grandfathers were German and not in the US at the time. I still have to do some research on the other three, but since they lived in Virginia during the Civil War, I am thinking maybe they did as well. However, I will try to refrain from searching for that now, and focus on this blog. I had several others fight in both the Great World Wars.

My Grand Uncle, George Stevens Whitehead, was a Rhodes Scholar, and left the United States in 1916 for Balliol College, in Oxford England. He and many others left school in 1917 in order to join cause. In fact, when we were visiting our Georgia relatives last week, we read a series of letters written to Papa (Walter Everett) by George. One of them included a message from King George V, about the great duty they had to their country.

While thinking about the great sacrifices my ancestors made so that we could live in a free and democratic society, I am engulfed in patriotism. I am deeply humbled by their acts of courage. I honor them by paying tribute to these brave individuals. Today, we raised our flag and bowed our heads for those brave soldiers and their families that made the ultimate sacrifice. I write this blog and think about the individuals in my family that have given so freely of themselves so that I can be free.

Therefore, whether you raised a flag, run in a Memorial Day run, or wear poppy red, we will remember the valor of the dead. 

Below are the men in my family that have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Larry Whitehead

Larry Whitehead


Fred Whitehead

Fred Whitehead


Walter E. Whitehead

Walter E. Whitehead

 

 

Traveling to the past

 

If you think about it “exploring backwards” day after day is akin to traveling. I am traveling back in time as I research my ancestors. I take you, the reader, along for the ride. Recently, I have spent a good portion of my time focusing on my paternal side. The reason for this concentration has been in preparation of my upcoming travels to Georgia. I want to be sure that I use this time wisely. Is there something online that I do not need to focus on? Is there something in Georgia that I can only do in Georgia? These are the questions that I have had to answer.

You see, I have gathered my Aunt, a cousin and my sister and we are going to explore the homeland. Well, it is not the original homeland of the family, it is rural Georgia. When I think of it, I think of red clay, Swamp Guinea and the old white homeplace with the separate staircase. This is the place where my family has been since my fourth great grand-father; Samuel Whitehead (1760-1844) migrated from North Carolina to Oglethorpe County about 1785-1789.

I am super excited because I will meet in person some distant cousins that have become more tangible in recent years. Over the course of my explorations, I have made contact and corresponded with them. My cousin Sara, she and her brother own some of the key pieces of family property. Miss Kitty, my distant cousin’s mother still lives in the Steven’s family home. My other second cousin Charles seems to know where everyone is buried. I will write more when I return.

 

Until then, I will be exploring backwards.

 

 

 

 

 

George Stevens Whitehead (Part 2)

In honor of Veteran’s Day 2014.

George Stevens Whitehead, Part II

I have been pondering something for a while. I discussed in an earlier post that George Stevens was a recipient of the Rhodes scholarship. My second cousin, Joe, recently sent me an email about some research he had discovered about George’s time at Oxford. So, I thought I would look into it a bit further.

The Scholarship was formed in 1903 by the will of Cecil Rhodes for the education of “future leaders for the world who would be committed to service in the public good, and whose interactions in Oxford would promote international understanding.” Since its inception, there have only been 7,603 Rhodes scholarship recipients (Rhodeshouse, 2014). This low number makes this award one of the most prestigious collegiate award in history.

George Stevens Whitehead (passport picture)

George Stevens Whitehead (passport picture)

Essentially, George Stevens was admitted to Balliol College in Oxford, England in 1916. However, shortly after arriving, the United States of America joins the war (WWI). George sails home to join in the conflict. I found his name on the Baltic’s ship manifest. He departs Liverpool and arrives home to the United States at Ellis Island on July 1, 1917. George was making his passage alongside passengers that were immigrating to the United States. I wonder what was going through his young brilliant mind, as he traveled back to the United States to take up arms, like his father and his ancestors did. Was he angry that this conflict was interrupting his studies? Was he glad to have a chance to fight? Did he feel pressure from his father? (Walter Everett was such a patriotic man having fought in the Spanish-American War previously and also served his country in both World Wars.)

George returned home on the Baltic

George returned home on the Baltic

George joined the United States Army and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 313rd Field Artillery with the 80th Division. His service card also indicates that he started with the 87th Division and 335th Machine Gun Artillery. He served overseas from 24 August 1918 to 13th July 1919.  He fought at Argonne and St. Mihiel to name a few.

 

When the war was over, he went back to Oxford to finish his studies. He took a special short degree in Literature and Humanities. After graduating he returned to the United States. He went to California for his health. Apparently he suffered from the same debilitating arthritis that claimed his mother. He was an associate professor at the University of California in the Public Speaking department from 1922-1926. He then became a lawyer and practiced law in San Mateo County California.

In 1942, George was treated at the US Veteran’s Facility in Whipple, Arizona. In fact, his World War II draft card indicates he was a patient at the facility. He was listed as 5’ 9” tall and only 108 pounds. According to the record, George was too ill to contact. The facility completed the document on 28 April 1942.

In July 1944 he moved to a military hospital in Bay Pines, Florida. He subsequently died on 24 January 1946. I wanted to know what he died of at such an early age. I sent away to the Florida Department of Vital Statistics. I was shocked to see that he spent 551 days at the Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital.

The cause of death was listed as Myocardial degeneration with dilation, Arthritis deformans with secondary anemia (Florida Vital Records).

Essentially he died from a dilated weakened heart muscle. The hospital had performed a surgery on his sinuses but they were unable to control the bleeding afterwards. George also suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis like his mother, however back in the 1940’s they called it Arthritis Deformans.

His body was removed and sent home to Georgia to be buried with the family in the Stevens Family Cemetery at Sandy Cross, Oglethorpe County, Georgia.

Below is the obituary that was published:

Danielsville Monitor, 1 February 1946

SERVICES HELD LAST FRIDAY FOR GEORGE S. WHITEHEAD

 George Stevens Whitehead, 50, former resident of Carlton, died last Thursday

at the Veterans Facility in Bay Pines, Florida. Services were conducted from

the Carlton Baptist Church last Sunday afternoon at 2:00 o’clock.

 Mr. Whitehead is survived by his father, Walter E. Whitehead; two brothers,

Joe Whitehead, Chicago, IL; sister, Miss Martha Whitehead, Carlton; five

nieces and nephews.  (You notice that the obituary has errors.  His brother Fred was from Chicago, and his brother Walter Joe was from Carlton).

    He was born January 26, 1896 and attended Gordon Institute in Barnesville

before entering the University of Georgia in 1912, where he was such a

brilliant student it is doubtful if his scholastic achievements have ever been

equaled. He completed the Bachelor of Arts degree course in three years and

graduated in 1915. The next year he completed work for, and received his

Master of Arts degree.

  While at the University he was a leader, not only in scholastic attainments

but also in various campus and student activities, being especially

outstanding in public speaking.

    He was one of the most popular students in his class. Mr. Whitehead was a

member of Phi Beta Kappa national honorary scholastic fraternity, and went to

England as a Rhodes Scholar, studying at Balliol College, Oxford University.

    He also held a teachers diploma from the University of California and an

LLB from LaSalle Extension University.

    During 1917 – 1919 he served in the armed forces of the nation in the First

World War with distinction as a Second Lieutenant. Later he was an Associate

in the Department of Public Speaking at the University of California and in

1927 took up the practice of law in Burlingame California, where he resided at

the time he became ill (Usgwarchives).

 

 

George Stevens Whitehead (Stevens Cemetery at Sandy Cross)

George Stevens Whitehead (Stevens Cemetery at Sandy Cross)

 

Sources:

Rhodeshouse, 2014 retrieved on 10/25/14 at http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk

Florida Vital Records

US Archives, retrieved on 8/21/2009 at http://files.usgwarchives.net/ga/madison/obits/w/whitehea5570gob.txt

Cousins and more cousins

 

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Cousin “as a child of your uncle or aunt or a person who is related to you but not in a close or direct way”.

Since I started to explore backwards I have been amazed at the number and kinds of cousins I have met (via the internet). It is truly remarkable.

The first cousins I met on my journey were my mother’s cousins. I met them when I was a little girl, but after I started exploring my genealogical roots, I got to meet them and get to know them as adults. I previously wrote about them, see my July 2013 post.

Another cousin I met while exploring backwards was Mary Stevens.  She is my second cousin 1x removed.  Her father carries the Steven’s name and as such we have many familiar names in our line.  We met via Ancestry.com and have shared a lot of information with each other.  She and I have even shared our online family tree.

Recently I met Anne Moore Vaught, my first cousin 1x removed. Her mother, Martha Ann Whitehead was my grand-aunt. Anita stumbled onto my blog in search of a Facebook page about growing up in Oglethorpe. After we reconnected and exchanged emails, I found out more about her and her parents. She in turn introduced me to her daughter, my second cousin. It was through the connection with Anita and her happy accident that I went to find this Facebook page and met more cousins. I have not placed them all yet, but several of them seem to be doing similar research.

Another cousin I met recently was Father Ronald Crewe, who is my second cousin 2x removed. His mother’s maiden name was Kersten. I took a chance and contacted him blindly through his work email. I am so glad I did. Since then, I have learned much more about the Kersten’s in Wisconsin and Cicero as well as the homestead in Belgium.

Another cousin I met online was through the website, Ancestry.com. Billie Jean is my second cousin 1x removed. We share a history from the Hicks side of my family tree.

Each of these individuals have been so generous with their time and resources. I want to thank them for their friendship that has evolved. It is with their resources that I have been able to add to the family tree, this blog and eventually, a book (I hope).

So here is to cousins! They provide a whole different connection to your past.

 

 

 

 

 

Obadiah Stevens

Happy New Year everybody.  I hope yours is getting of to a great start.  As a start another year of my genealogy, I am reminded of the roadblocks, obstacles and other adventures one faces while research the past.  I am so glad you have chosen to explore backwards with me.  Please feel free to make comments, suggestions or give me additional facts.

Here is the story of Obadiah.

Obadiah Stevens was my third great-grandfather.  His name was spelled Obediah and Obadiah on various documents, so it is unclear as to which was accurate.  I really like that name.  It is a name of substance.  It is a biblical name, meaning servant to God.

Obadiah was born 7 May 1809 in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.  He was the eldest of ten children.  His parents Joseph and Martha Carter Stevens raised their children in Oglethorpe County.

I thought for a long time that he had later became the Commissioner of Agriculture for Georgia.  However, as genealogy goes, you really have to scrutinize the person.  Therefore, needless to say, I did a lot of research on a relative that was not mine.  It is a good lesson though.  Regardless, I have an electronic book that I found on Google entitled Georgia: Historical and Industrial that I thought was written by him in 1901.  It still has some very interesting tidbits.

The book was written in response to the growing demands of resources and possibilities available in Georgia (Stevens & Wright, 1901).  The book is very lengthy, but one of the things I learned was that James Edward Oglethorpe was sent from England to manage a colony that was to be a refuge for the “poor and other persecuted sects” (Stevens & Wright, 1901, p. 15).  Georgia was named after King Georgia.  This colony was planned as a model colony, one that prohibited both slavery and rum.  John and Charles Wesley (founders of the Methodist Church) were among the inhabitants of this new colony.  While Oglethorpe remained in Georgia, liquor and slavery were prohibited.  Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743 and a few short years later the laws regarding liquor and slavery were abolished (Stevens & Wright, 1901).

Obadiah married Martha “Patsy” Watkins on 18 July 1832 in Oglethorpe County.  Obadiah was 23 years old and Martha was 17.  They owned several hundred acres on Grove Creek.  In The Stevens Family book, written by Claude Gibson Stevens in 1973, Claude inserted a letter from Obadiah to his wife when he went to visit his second son, Walter W. Stevens at the front line of the Civil War.  This is interesting on several fronts.  First, I have never heard of anyone “visiting” someone while he was a soldier in the war.  Second, aside from giving an account of the wounded and injured, he asks to have his low grounds worked and his hogs kept in the pasture (Stevens, 1973).

Obadiah was a slave owner, like most of the landowners of the time.  According to the 1850, Slave Schedule, he had 15 slaves.  However, if you look closer at the records, about 10 of them were under 15 years old (“United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12880-33218-98?cc=1420440&wc=6145828: accessed 01 Jan 2014), Georgia > Oglethorpe > image 50 of 95).

Obadiah and Patsy had three sons:  Joseph Reese Stevens, William Walter Stevens and Columbus Augustus “Gus” Stevens.  All three sons, fought for the Confederacy.  Walter did not survive the Civil War.  According to the Steven’s book, he died as a result of injuries suffered (Stevens, 1973).

I do not know about you, but I find it extremely gratifying to place my ancestors in their historical context.  It helps me know more about them.

Tombstone Obadiah Stevens-Sandy Cross, Oglethorpe, Georgia

Tombstone Obadiah Stevens-Sandy Cross, Oglethorpe, Georgia