A Life Well Lived

Columbus Augustus Stevens

I have written about my second great-grandfather on my paternal side, Columbus Augustus “Gus” Stevens, before.  However, I do not think I went through his biography, until today.  I came across his death certificate and thought you should know about the life he lived for 84 years.

Gus was born on 26 June 1844 in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.  His parents were Obadiah Stevens and Martha Patsy Watkins.  Gus was born and raised in Oglethorpe County.  His father was a Farmer in Oglethorpe.  When you are trying to research a person in our distant past, we lean on records to help build the frame of the person.  Oftentimes, researches only have the basic census data.  I am lucky enough to have had my ancestors that were our family historians.  These records can help sketch in the details of the character of that person.  I have been fortunate that some records came from the family homes directly.

Here is the story about Gus: Plantar, Veteran, Believer, and Citizen.

Upbringing

Columbus Augustus Stevens was born in rural Georgia (Oglethorpe County) with his three brothers and his parents.  Gus first appears on the 1850 Census.  Gus was 6 years old; he lived with his parents, and his three brothers.  His father was a farmer and had listed $3000 of real estate.  His family was like others in rural Georgia.  The family owned slaves.  According to the 1850 Census, Obadiah had about 15 slaves.

By the 1860 Census, Gus was sixteen.  He lived with his parents and his grandmother, Martha Stevens.  His father, Obadiah, had $5000 in real estate and $20,500 in Personal Estate Value.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on 20 December 1860. The following year, several other states joined, including Gus’s State of Georgia.  On 12 April 1861, the first shots at Fort Sumter indicated the beginning of the War Between the States.  Gus was just 16 years old at the beginning of the War Between the States.

Civil War

Records indicate that Gus enlisted March 1862 at Lexington, Georgia into Echols Artillery.  He was not quite eighteen years old.  He remained a soldier until the surrender in April 1865.  He went to war with his brother William and his cousin, John Cylvanus Gibson Stevens (JCG).  In fact, if you look at this regiments roster, you would see many familial names including Whitehead, Mathews, Faust, etc.

Martha Whitehead (Gus’s granddaughter) wrote short episodes of certain things she remembered or had heard.  We are fortunate enough that she shared them with her family.  She went to live with her Grandfather, Gus, when her mother became bedridden due to a serious case of rheumatoid arthritis.  [Below is an excerpt from her stories.  While this is a true story, it also reflects the time-period and is not politically correct by today standards.]

An Afro-American looks after a confederate soldier by Martha Whitehead Moore:

“As I said, Grandpa was just 18 when he enlisted. Obadiah thought he and Cousin John Stevens (JCG) needed someone to go along with them to look after them. So one of Cuz John’s freed Afros went with the two whites to SC. He was Ab (short for Abner) Stevens and was an excellent cook. He also did the laundry for Grandpa and Cuz. John. Most important of all, he was a “good chicken thief”. He made food available, even for the Yanks who were “prisoners of war.”

History tells us that the life of a Confederate Soldier was challenging at best.  Aside from the war itself, many Confederate soldiers were constantly hungry and sick.  Troops went months without pay.  Therefore, the fact that he came from a wealthy family meant he was able to get food and supplies.

Gus’s brother William Walter, died during the Civil War.  It is unclear if he was a casualty of a weapon or a disease.  Assigned to the Tiller’s Company, Georgia Light Artillery (Echols Light Artillery) like his brother and cousins.

According to the war records, Gus was paroled (surrender) at Greensboro, North Carolina on 28 April 1865.  According to North Carolina History, the troops assembled at Greensboro to disarm themselves and return home (Kickler, 2005).

statement of service

Statement of Service

I can only imagine the experiences that Gus had to endure during the War Between the States.  However, to have your older brother killed in battle and then to surrender to the Union must have unnerved a young man.

 

After the War

After the War, Gus returned home to Oglethorpe County. On 4 July 1867, Gus signed the Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Book.  This indicates that he is living in Election District 236 of Oglethorpe County and has signed his allegiance back to the United States of America.  I can only imagine what these men thought about signing this document after losing this War along with the bloodshed of their brethren.

 

According to the Ancestry website:

“The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 required Southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment, draft new state constitutions, and register voters, both black and white. In order to vote, men had to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States, and some were disqualified for their participation in Confederate government posts. This database contains books recording those oaths of allegiance and returns listing qualified voters registered in Georgia in 1867. It includes both black and white citizens (Ancestry).

 

CA stevens oath of allegiance

Oath of Allegiance

Gus married Martha Jane Witcher four years after the war on 29 April 1869.  They set up house in Oglethorpe County within his parents’ home.  He was 24 years old.  Gus would work with his father on the land as a plantar and farmer.

The following year, 1870, the United States held its Decennial Census.  The census indicated that Gus and his wife had a baby and the family of three are living with his parents.  Their first-born child Ambrose Pope was a listed as one month old.

In the 1880 Census, Gus and his growing family are still living with his parents.  According to the census, their children Ambrose, Luna, Asa, Cynnie and Pellie, are all under ten years old.

The infamous 1890 US Census was burned, so we do not have that information.  Nevertheless, we know that Gus’s father died in 1891.

According to the 1900 Census, Gus is Head of Household.  Gus lives with his wife, Martha, and their son Asa, and his wife Lester.  Asa is now helping to run the farm.  Gus’s daughters Cynnie, Pellie, Fannie and Martha Obie reside in the home.  His youngest son, Joe Augustus, 11 years old is living at home as well.

On 19 May 1909, Gus’s wife Martha Jane dies.  They had been married for more than forty years.

In the 1910 Census, Gus was Head of House, his daughters Cynnie and Pellie still live with him.  Martha Ann Whitehead is listed as a “Stevens” on this census.  However, we know the true family history of how little Martha went to live there because her mother was bedridden.  Martha’s mom, Luna May, had her two maiden sisters help care for little Martha.

Grandpa Gus and Martha v3

Martha Ann Whitehead with her grandfather Gus Stevens

By the 1920 Census, Gus is living with his two maiden daughters, Cynnie and Pellie, his grandson Joseph A Stevens (31 years old) and his granddaughter Martha Ann Whitehead (15 years old).

Marge Walter E Mae Pellie Gus or George W Cynnie Fred

L-R: Margaret Whitehead, Walter Whitehead, Mae (in arms) Cynnie or Pellie Stevens (in hat), Gus Stevens, Cynnie or Pellie, Fred Whitehead

Civic Life

After establishing himself as a plantar and merchant, Gus set his sights on public service.  According to the Oglethorpe Echo, Gus served one term as a Representative in the House of Representatives (1892-93).  He additionally served one term in the Georgia Senate (1902-1904) for the 30th District.  He was a member of the Masonic Order.  He was also on the County Board of Education for a few years (Oglethorpe Echo, 1929).

Merchant

Gus, his brother, John Reese and his first cousin, JCG Stevens along with Robert Huff, started a general store in 1885 in the Village of Sandy Cross, Stevens Huff and Company.  Additional stores and properties were added later.  In fact, at one point they had two stores and 5 cotton gins covering Madison and Oglethorpe County.  The company survived two World Wars and a Great Depression but ultimately dissolved voluntarily in 1963 (Stevens, 1973).  [I did a general post about it here: Mercantile Business]

stevensmartinstore

Circa 1903

Believer

Gus loved God and Country as we have seen.  Most community activities centered on the church in these days.  According to the obituary written in the Oglethorpe Echo, Gus joined Clouds Creek Baptist Church around the same time he married Martha, 1869.  He became an ordained deacon on 5 October 1877.  On 9 September 1906, a new Church was chartered in Oglethorpe County.  The church, Sandy Cross Baptist Church was established from members of both Clouds Creek and Bethany Baptist Church.  My second great grandfather was one of the founding members.  He was one of the Deacons.  I found an article written about the church and it lists several of my ancestors.  In death, he bequeathed a house and property (4 acres) to Sandy Cross Baptist Church.

ca stevens article in newspaper

Article about Sandy Cross Baptist Church written by family friend and Minister Faust

 

His Death Certificate indicates that he died of hypostatic pneumonia.  However, he had incurred a hip fracture just 5 days earlier when he fell.  The local newspaper, the Oglethorpe Echo, published a snippet this nice tribute following his death.

 

In May 2015, I took my sister and cousin Susan to Georgia for a genealogy trip.  Aunt Leah met us there and we were fortunate enough to visit Miss Kitty.  She still resides in the Steven’s family home.

While preparing for this piece, I wrote to my cousins for their input.  Cousin Lynn, daughter of Miss Kitty, shared this story:

The Stevenses killed a “hawg” on the first frozen day of the year, everyone who participated got a share of the meat.  There was a GIANT cement pit, like we would see now in an oil-change shop, where they did some part of the process.  And there were GIANT cast-iron pots, as large as a bathtub but semi-spherical, where (I think) they boiled water to help scrape the wiry hairs off the skin.

She also shared this about the main house:  I believe the Oglethorpe County Tax Assessor shows that the house was built in 1901.  But there are tales about the kitchen being a separate building during the Civil War, and it was eventually jacked onto logs and ROLLED up to the main house.  This certainly ties into the differing floor levels between the dining room, the butler’s pantry, and the kitchen itself!

Inside Stevens Homeplace7

There is so much more to say about Gus, but it will have to wait for another day.  If you have memories, please share them here!

Until later, I will be exploring backwards.

Source:

Ancestry.com. Georgia, Returns of Qualified Voters and Reconstruction Oath Books, 1867-1869 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.  Original data:  Georgia, Office of the Governor. Returns of qualified voters under the Reconstruction Act, 1867. Georgia State Archives, Morrow, Georgia.

Compiled Service Records of Conferate Soldiers who served in Organizations from the State of Georga., NARA, Publication Number M266.

NorthCarolinahistory.org: An Online Encyclopedia, “Lunsford Lane” (by Troy Kickler), http://northcarolina.org (accessed 5/31/2019).

Oglethorpe Echo, March 8, 1929. Article about CA Stevens Death

Stevens, Claude G., 1973.  The Stevens Family, John Stevens Line, Commercial Printing Company, Inc. Toccoa, Georgia.

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Decoration Day

The readers of this blog realize that most of my relatives derived from the states below the Mason Dixon Line.  My third great grandfather, Thomas Harrison Holt, was no different.  Thomas Harrison Holt was born between 1814-1818 in Campbell County, Virginia.  When I started this post, I held the belief that Thomas was a veteran of the War Between the States.  However, through further research, the Thomas Holt that I saw in War records was not my Thomas Harrison Holt.  I was going to do this post for Decoration Day.  Although I know that, he did not actually fight in the War between States, he and his family were impacted by this War.  How could any family not be?

When researching an ancestor, I always start with Census records.  These records usually give us the best opportunity of learning about the lives of our Ancestors.  The early years of the Census were difficult.  The main obstacle, trying to determine family members, is not easy with early census records because the US Census did not include names or ages until the 1850 census.  They used tic marks and age ranges.

However, if Thomas’s father was William H. Holt, and I believe he was, we can infer some family dynamics by looking at the census records of 1820, 1830, and 1840.  Unfortunately, the 1820 census for William H. Holt does not have a readable header as such the only thing I learned is the William H. Holt was living in Campbell County in the Lynchburg District.

In the 1830 Census, we see that Thomas was likely living with his parents and seven siblings.  This census shows that the Holt family did not own any slaves.

In the 1840 Census for William H. Holt, it shows a male that was between the ages of 15 and 20.  However, if we believe that Thomas was born about 1818, he would have been 22 years old.  I looked at the names around Thomas’s father and did not see Thomas’s name.  I know Census records are historically inaccurate for a variety of reasons.  Therefore, we will conclude that we do not have enough information to determine where Thomas lived in the 1840 Census.

On 2 October 1843, Thomas Harrison Holt married Elvira Hancock in Campbell County, Virginia (Ancestry, 1999).

The US Census changed formats in 1850 and began to show names and ages.  We meet Thomas’s family in this census and learn that his job is of an overseer.  Thomas is listed to be 31 years old, has zero dollars of real estate.  His children are Arvella, Leroy, Laura, and Elvira A D.  The family lives in Campbell County, Virginia.    He does not show any monetary value in the Real Estate column.

The 1860 Census indicates that Thomas and his wife are living in the Eastern District of Campbell County, Virginia with 7 children, Arvella, Leroy, Laura, Guilford Walker (my second great grandfather), Mary Agnes, Queen and Nannie.  We no longer see Elvira A D.  Thomas remained an overseer.  His real estate is listed at $1100 and his personal estate $432.  His eldest daughter, Arvella is 16 years old and is listed as a Domestic.  Leroy and Laura are attending school.  Guilford, Magdalia, Queen and Nannie are listed as living in the home.

The War Between the States began in April 1861 and did not conclude until four years later.  The War profoundly shaped our country and its citizens, our ancestors.  For example, Thomas’s son Leroy C Holt would have been 17 years old when the war broke out.  We do not see him in any family records after the war.  You have to wonder what happened to him.

In the 1870 Census, Thomas is a Farmer living in Campbell County, Virginia.  His value of real estate is listed as $600 and his value of his personal estate is $250.  His wife is listed as keeping house.  His twenty-one year old daughter Laura is working as a Seamstress.  His son Guilford Walker is working on the farm with him.  The younger four children, Magdalia, Queen, Mary Agnes and Earnest are listed as living at home.  There is a sixty-five year old Black Male living in the home that is working on the Farm.  His name is Lyman Stern.

I was able to locate the 1870 Non-Population Schedule for Campbell County, in which is shows what type of agriculture my ancestors took part in.  These records point toward the type of work he did.  According to this document, Thomas had 61 acres of land, 37 acres of which were woodland.  The cash value for his farm was $600 and the cash value for his farm implements was $15.  Thomas owned one milk cow, one working oxen, 10 sheep and 5 swine.  The total value of livestock was $305.  His farm produced about 33 bushels of winter wheat, 135 bushels Indian corn, and 50 bushels of Oats.  His farm produced approximately 1,800 pounds of tobacco.  Since I did not know what this means in terms of wealth, I looked at the other farms on the page.  It looks like Thomas had an average sized farm.

The 1880 Census represented a big change for the US Census; there were several more questions on this form.  Unfortunately, for some of us, the Census takers did not always complete the records entirely.  For example, the 1880 Census had a spot to write down the street and house number for each family.  Regrettably, the census taker for my ancestor did not write this down.  We do know that Thomas and his family lived in Campbell County, in Falling River District, 041 Enumeration District.

Thomas (62) and his wife, Elvira (52) have four children still living at home.  Guilford (28) is a farmer.  Queen, Mary Agnes and Earnest are still living with in the home.  The census no longer asks about income, but does ask about certain disabilities.  The ages documented over the various years varied so much.  In some documents, Thomas and Elvira are as close as 5 years in age of each other.  This is why you cannot rely just on census records.

The last record I have on him is from the Virginia, Deaths and Burial Index.  It indicates that he died on 12 March 1884 in Campbell County, Virginia in the Staunton River District.  He was 70 years old (Ancestry, 2011).  This would have made his year of birth 1814.  However, we might never know.

I have not been able to find a photo of his tombstone.  Nor do I have really any photos to share.

So, this weekend as you fire up the grill or you go out on the lake for the first time, remember those ancestors of ours that gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for something they believed in.

Until later, I will be exploring backwards.

 

 

Source:

“Virginia Deaths and Burials, 1853–1912.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010. Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled records.  Retrieved from Ancestry.com.

Virginia, Compiled Marriages, 1740-1850, Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. <i>Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850</i>. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.