Monday, January 24, 2011

Lost and found stories

Elizabeth Arrington Strickland -- the grandmother I never knew

Camp Connell, CA - I've been thinking about family a lot lately.

Not the ones close by, who are always on my mind, nor even the extended family spread across the country.

But about ancestors. You know, those people we Americans generally forget after two generations.

I never met my grandparents. All four were dead before I was born. I know one died of "childbirth fever" in her late 20s, two of heart attacks in their 60s, and one of old age -- in her 80s.

What were they like? How did they live? Did they have some characteristics that were passed down in the gene pool? And does it matter?

A lot of wonderful stories are lost that should be saved. And I believe stories from our history help shape our present, and our future.

Besides, there are so many great-great-great stories out there.

For example:

Robert Lamont was a teenager when he became one of the earliest Scots-Irish immigrants to North America. His brother beat him to it, according to the story passed down, because the older brother was forced onto a British ship by a press gang when he made a mistake and hung out on the Antrim docks on the north coast of Ireland. Next thing you know, the brother jumped ship in New York in 1745, liked it better than starving in Ireland, and sent for his mother and brothers. Robert became a weaver and part of a small group of Scots that moved into the heart of Dutch-controlled Upstate New York. They did not always get along with their rich neighbors, and once broke an uncle out of jail in a dispute over taxes.

Hardy Strickland, a namesake without the "Devil"
Devil Hardy Strickland was born into a farming family in North Carolina in 1776. That was his real name, though the story behind it is unclear. As an adult he made his way to north Georgia before the Cherokee were run off. Married his first cousin Priscilla, they had 12 children and he lived to the ripe old age of 96. Family rumor has it that he was too mean to die. He named a son Devil.

Hiram Barry was board in Tidewater Virginia in 1802, but moved on to Knoxville, Tennessee, where lived out his life as a well know printer. He probably knew President Andrew Jackson, since it was a small town, and Hiram lived into his 80s when his obituary praised his as "a venerable citizen." Think of the stories he would have to tell.

Thomas Pruitt was 20 years old when he landed on the Virgina shore from England in 1636. Ten years later he married and they had only six children. He died before the Revolution, still in Virginia, so we'll probably never know whose side he was on in the war between the upstart colonies and Mother England.

Thanks to my mother, who talked about her family, and my grandmother who wrote down the results of her research in the 1930s, I know some things about my grandparents that I never met.

Grandfather Roswell DeEstra LaMont (his father Frenchified the family names) left his New York birthplace, moved west to Michigan and then south to Alabama. He was a journeyman printer, a stout union man who could work almost anywhere, who wandered to pursue his craft and his taste for adventure. He ended up working with other printers, one named Barry and one named Pruitt, in a small town in Alabama after the Civil War. He met and married my grandmother, Mollie, daughter of a printer and a union member as well, who was a tad older. They had one child, and my grandfather stuck around till my father was grown and then hit the road again, staying in touch through letters. He worked in Florida and then Cuba for a few years, where the fishing was good and the sun warm. He had a heart attack in Cuba and came back to Miami to die. He was buried by the International Typographical Union and their symbol is on his headstone.

Mollie Barry's home at 508 Clayton Street, Montgomery
Grandmother Mary Earnest Barry LaMont, known as Mollie, was a child when the Civil War began, and witnessed missing families, orphaned cousins, troops camped in the front yard, and Yankees stealing the chickens when they swept through. Her younger brother John, 5 years old when the war ended, was terrified when the Yankees came by the gate and called him "Johnny Reb." He wondered how they knew his name. Her father re-appeared safely at the end of the war and they settled down in Montgomery.

Grandfather Fred Strickland was raised on a North Georgia farm, but in a family that believed in education and wanted to help him go to school. As a teenager, he spent some of his his spare time panning for gold in neighboring streams he knew as a boy. By the time he was ready to apply at Georgia Tech, he had a poke of gold that along with a football scholarship was enough to pay his way in 1899. he was an engineer, inventor, and eventually ran mills in the south. He put all of his children through college, or nursing schools. The Depression took away his job, and when his beloved oldest son died in an airplane crash in the 1930s, he had a heart attack and died soon after. He is buried near his son, not far from today's Atlanta International Airport.
Grandmother Elizabeth Arrington Strickland, pictured at the top, was a native of Alabama who moved slightly north. She met her husband when he was running a mill in Anderson, South Carolina, they were married and quickly had five children. She died of a fever after the birth of her youngest child, and is buried in Anderson. No is left alive who really knows anything about her.

And then there was Bina Mickle.
All I know about Bina Mickle is that the photograph was taken in 1931, apparently in or near Haneyville, Alabama, where my grandmother Barry was born.
And, there is letter surviving from the 1930s in which my grandmother wrote a family member to make sure that Bina was "properly taken care of" in her old age. A return letter assured my grandmother that she was, and there is no further correspondence.
Census records do not indicate the family owned slaves in 1860. Craftsmen and people who lived and worked in towns did not often have slaves, and the woman in the photo does not look 90 years old in any case.

But I will always wonder about her, and why my grandmother cared for her well being.
There has to be a story there.

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