Prologue – Imagine That

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By Walt Gabennesch

Genealogy was new to me, I thought it was just writing down who your grandparents were and who their parents were and their parents and on it went. So I asked my father and mother a few questions. My grandmothers and grandfathers were gone. I found out that sometimes relatives just did not know the answers to those questions, Sometimes the answers just didn’t sound right. Stories change, memories fade, Then a friend explained that you must find birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and papers that had names on them so you would be sure that you didn’t make mistakes and had the facts. He said wills are really good, if you could find one. He mentioned that you should really have a logical progression of documents into the past to prove these people were your ascendants.

Sounded easy enough to me. I decided to do it, to make a “Family Tree” and to be totally objective in my new hobby. I wanted to seek the truth, to get it right.                ·

Simply taking documents and citing them as proof of an event proved much harder than I expected. Some documents weren’t where they were suppose to be. I found some of the documents had been used before to prove exactly the opposite of what I was intending to prove, it was very perplexing. Also some of the documents were not copied accurately or else the original was not recorded properly. I was accumulating a lot of names. All of these people had the same surname and that was good. An awful lot of them also had the same given name and that was bad, very confusing. I worked hard, I went to libraries, courthouses, graveyards and any other place I could think of to get information. Time passed.

I kept looking and the list of names kept growing. I found some answers and some more questions. At the end of the day I always had found more questions than answers, I was getting involved in more surnames, now there were cousins of cousins who were cousins (or something like that). Time passed.

I was enjoying my hobby but I wanted more answers not more confusion. Where could I get those answers? Who could answer these questions? What specific relationship did these people have to each other? What happened to them? Time passed,

How can you be objective when you have to use your judgment to interpret a deed, a will, court minutes or a census? Judgment is the process of examining facts and arguments to ascertain propriety, justice and the truth. It then requires one to render an opinion. An opinion is a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind; what one thinks, judgment. At least that’s what the dictionary said. I had now gone the complete circle and was in deep trouble. Time passed.

Riding the lawn mower, painting benches, gardening, watching it rain or some other little chore is relaxing to the mind. You don’t have to think about what you are doing, you just do it. You can think about other things. Your mind just relaxes and meanders. It goes wherever it wants. It seeks out something and brings it to the brain’s “threshold of recall” then ponders on it. It seems my mind is being guided to “Ghostly Thoughts” people long gone from this Earth. At least I thought they had gone. When I start doing something that relaxes my mind the names I have in the family tree start running through it like credits for a cast in a movie. Only they don’t just run once and show the movie. The credits just run on and on, continually. They give the cast names but never identify the roll they are to play in the movie.

When was I to see the feature film? When would I see the story? Time passed.

One night it finally happened, or I thought it was going to happen would be more accurate. I thought I was going to see the main feature of this movie. I knew the names by heart now. Something was going on and it was distressing to me. Time passed.

I was beginning to know these names as people, The names became forms with personalities. They began materializing all around me. Have I now lost all objectivity and become truly subjective? They were here! They were with me! They are here now! Was now the time I have been waiting for? Was I going to see the main feature? Time passed.

There was a fine mist rising to meet the descending fog, you know like when you are near a river early in the morning and the weather is just right. Is that an outline of a church in the distance among those Pine Trees? Yes, I think that’s what it is. I know they are here now and I am amongst them. I am beginning to see them. They are all around me, I am talking to them and some are talking to me. Some of them I like very much and others I can’t seem to get near. Some come forward in a friendly fashion and introduce themselves; some lurk in the shadows, grin smugly and dare me to catch up with and identify them. A third group waves and shouts; “come over here” when I try to go I can’t find the way. I think it is the Thames family with their many cousins, to include some close friends and neighbors!

Martha was the first that I met. She is outgoing and open, full of self-confidence. Martha is very dignified, a down to earth lovely lady. Yes, she conducts herself like the “Grand Dame” she is. I am sure she is up to any task. Martha is strong willed, intelligent and is truly the family matriarch. She told me her grandfather Thomas Matthews and father John Newberry were two of the top men in Cumberland Co. for almost 40 years. She is very proud of them as well as her brother Jesse to whom she is very devoted. She told me that her son Joseph had done very well too. They all show great love and respect for Martha. I talked a long time with Martha about many things. Martha told me that her brothers-in-law Thomas, John and Amos went to South Carolina. In fact she told me a lot of interesting things. She promised me, as she walked away, that she would return and tell me the story of her life and a lot about other family members. She is a truly “The Mother Hen”.

Speaking of her son Joseph, he was in deep conversation with John Tolar when I saw him. They were talking “church business”. Joseph was also naming some of the overnight visitors he had at his large plantation on or near the Fayetteville – Wilmington Road. It must be quite a place. I wanted to ask John Tolar about Nancy, all three of them. I decided not to interrupt. I know where Martha’s son John is and have caught up with him a few times. He is a very canny fellow and looks you straight in the eye, a politician and land speculator you know. I think he tries to emulate his brother Joseph. He can turn a quick dollar when needed. He owns a “General Store” around the Fayetteville – Wilmington Road. When I asked him about the fifty acres and little Mary Hollingsworth “you mean my niece, ask John Keily” was his quick reply. He then changed the subject and tried to sell me 100 acres on the West Side of the Cape Fear River near Rockfish Creek. After that he moved over to Samuel his brother and whispered something into his ear. I caught the word Enoch. I wonder how John came to owe Kelly so much money? Was it land and timber speculation, probably.

Samuel and his brother Thomas are very evasive they are usually in the same general vicinity, but yet apart. I think they have traveled a lot together. Thomas sounded like he was talking about his inheritance. Thomas seems to have had two wives; I don’t know what to make of that. No matter how hard I try; I can’t catch up with them. Young Amos is approaching his uncles Samuel and Thomas. His cousin Joseph Beard is with him.

By the way, Stephen Gilmore is still trying to hang out with the Thames boys, not Joseph of course. Charles McAlester is running around mad as the Devil looking for Gilmore. It is whispered that Stephen still has some bad habits. He was talking to Robert McNabb who was complaining that his neck still hurt. Alexander McAlester was laughing. Alexander’s mother Elizabeth Thames McAlester chided him for that.

When I saw the Rev. William I was impressed. He seems to be “the real thing” and a very practical man. He isn’t the poor country preacher out chasing “Chicken Dinners” on Sunday afternoon. Rev. William does live well, but he is also very generous. He seems to be loved and respected by everyone here. Elizabeth Hollingsworth can’t contain her esteem and admiration ofRev. William and his brother Joseph. Rev. William has done a little land and timber business himself.

I was in awe when I saw the Reverends William Cooper, Stephen Hollingsworth and William Thames together deep in serious discussion of something, probably one of the Testaments.

As I look around the crowd it appears that at least half of the Bladen County, NC militia is here. I feel deeply honored to be among them. I don’t think one could find a more dedicated group of ”Patriots” then these. When they speak of General George Washington it is with deep reverence and respect. They all agree he was the best man for President. I’ll bet Joseph Thames and wife Sarah Gause met George Washington on his “Southern Tour” of 1791. You know he stopped at the William Gause plantation on the Carolina coast. I want to ask him about that if I can get his attention.

Jesse has been up to something, but I can’t figure it out. What did he do with the money from all of that land he sold? How about explaining the sheriff’s auction in 1797? He ignored me when I asked if Elizabeth his wife was a Beard. Martha, his mother, doesn’t seem too happy with him. All of Jesse’s children avoid him. They are very lucky Martha saw to it that they had the fifty acres and house for their mother Elizabeth.

There was George Washington Evans talking to George Washington Marsh, I wonder if they know they are cousins? Of course they must. At least now they do.

I forgot to ask Martha about Mary and Jonathan. I know that story but it would be nice to hear it from her. I’ll ask John or Mary Thames Beard if I see them. Their family seems to stick close to the Thames. They treat Martha as though she was really their grandmother. They also seem especially close to the family of Jesse and Elizabeth, I wonder why? Was Mary and Jonathan raised in the same household as Jesse? I think so.

There is a group over there of Thames, Beard’s and Newberry’s who seem to be planning something. I wonder what it is about? Are they going somewhere together, Georgia or Alabama perhaps?

Where was I? Had I regressed in time? Was time no longer passing? To what strange, eerie place had my mind taken me? How can I get out of here? Do I really want to leave now? Wasn’t this what I was really wanting? I think I want to stay for a moment or two longer. Time will soon start passing.

Elizabeth and her son Aaron were off to one side; everyone seemed to be cordial. I approached them and started a conversation. She said that actually the family had been very nice to them. She was living on Rev. David’s property and kept in contact with her family who moved to first Twiggs and then to Crawford counties, Georgia. She felt very close to her brother Thomas Jefferson Thames.

I proposed a family reunion at the Cape Fear Baptist Church in Gray’s Creek near the old Thames family homestead. The ones I knew agreed and the rest weren’t interested. Even the covered dish supper didn’t seem to interest them. One old fellow in the back that looked like a Quaker shouted to me asking if I had seen Prudence or Marcy. I replied that Marcy was with James Jackson. I hadn’t seen Prudence.

I again approached Elizabeth Hollingsworth, who was talking to Jonathan Thames, and she started telling me the story of her brothers and sisters. She said that they all felt very close because of the circumstances. Losing their homestead while growing up was very unfortunate. If Martha hadn’t stepped in with the rest of the family she doesn’t know what would have happened. Her mother Elizabeth remarried to Joseph Butler in 1810 at the age of sixty. Her marriage was a relief to all of her children.

Polly Snow told me she didn’t know, for sure. I looked at her mother Sara and she just stalked me down. I was a little embarrassed. I noticed Sara getting a sly nod and a wink from some of the men, not really a surprise. I wonder how Sara came to own that 200 acres of land?

There is Prudence; she seems to be consoling her son Samuel. Apparently they were both very sick around the same time. They were living with Cornelius and wife Mary Evans Thames when all four of them came down with it. I wonder if earlier Thomas, the husband of Prudence, died from it too? Could it have been Malaria?

It was just about that time when they started wandering off. “Where are you going!?” I shouted, “We haven’t finished our visit.” I yelled frantically, trying one more time, “How about the covered dish supper”. I shouted once more, “I want a picture of each one of you with your children.” One turned, looked back and replied, “We are going to bid farewell to some who are going west.” Then they were gone.

This is depressing! Just when I thought we were going to get to know them all better they are gone. What will I do now? I don’t think I can deal with all of this confusion much longer. My head is starting to spin and I am getting dizzy. What about the promise Martha made to return and tell me everything about her and her family? I must sit down.

My goodness it looks like someone is coming back. I’ll know who it is when they get a little closer. It looks like a lady wearing a Sunbonnet. This could be the day I have been waiting for. I hope it is Martha and she is coming back to tell me her story. So much time has passed!

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