NOTES ON FAMILY TREE
This family tree focuses on the parents of seven children: William Easley Whitson and Margaret Thomas Bond. It traces the origins of the male line of Will and Maggie's parents: the Whitsons, the Thompsons, the Bonds and the Harrisons. Its focus is on the family relationships in America although it notes records dating back to the mid-16th Century. The story of America's opening to the west, at least as far west as western Tennessee, is their story, which begins before the Jamestown Settlement and proceeds for the next three hundred and eighty years to the present time.
Someday, we will confirm a story of an even earlier history, which claims that the Whitsons originally came from Norway in Viking expeditions into Scotland in the 5th Century. There is also the unconfirmed story that a Whitson was Lord Mayor of Bristol, England, owned the Mayflower, and sent a pack of unruly Puritans off to the New World to get rid of them! We know that another Whitson owned 10,000 acres in the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County, California, only to gamble it all away in one night of poker in the late 19th Century!
Warriors, scholars, teachers, physicians, pioneers, farmers, gentry, ministers (and maybe a horse thief or two?), they migrated from Scotland and England to Long Island and Virginia. Then they spread across the south, preferring the climate around western Tennessee and helping to build a civilization that was swept away in four terrible years of war in the 1860's. Will and Margaret Thomas were children of that war. They were also children of the New World and all that it promised. Their children and grandchildren tried to fulfill that promise. Their great grandchildren will build on its achievements- as well as its failures.
1. Records suggest that William Whitson,Sr. was the son of Thomas Whitson and Deborah Feake, a Quaker family living at Bethpage or Westbury, Long Island, in the early 18th Century. They migrated to the New World at the time of the Quaker persecutions, following the 17th Century Puritan Revolution in England. It is worth remembering that it was not easy to be a Quaker during these times. Founded in the 17th century, the Religious Society of Friends believed that a person needed no spiritual intermediary but could find understanding and guidance through "inward light" supplied by Holy Spirit. They were called "Quakers" because they frequently trembled with emotion at their meetings. Because they refused to worship in established churches, take oaths or bear arms, they became the target of the Puritan followers of Oliver Cromwell. Perhaps because of continuing persecutions in New England in the late 17th Century, when William Penn established a colony for Quakers in Pennsylvania " (1682), Thomas and Deborah dropped out of the Quaker movement in 1720 before the birth of their second son, William Whitson, Sr.
2. According to records (Over The Misty Blue Hills: The Story of Cocke County by Ruth Webb O'Dell), William Whitson, Sr., moved from Long Island to Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1743 and settled near New Market on the south bank of the Shenandoah River. Around 1752, he moved again to Thorne's Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains with John Davis, Barnaby Eagan, Henry Netherton, and Elisha Jobe. The ford leading from Thorne's Gap to Front Royal was long known as Whitson's Ford. By 1775, Whitson Sr had a large family of fifteen children (Jesse, Sussannah, Lydia, Joseph, George, Charles, John, Leah, Jeremiah, James, Ann, Lezeann, Abraham, and Joshua. Jesse inherited the bulk of the elder Whitson's estate. Note that Whitson Sr and four of his sons apparently moved into North Carolina in 1786 into what would become Carter County when Tennessee became a state in 1793. (Charles, Jesse, Jeremiah and Thomas were taxpayers).
3. William Whitson, Jr. moved from the Shenandoah to the Big Pigeon River in Cocke County, Tennessee, in 1775. Apparently, his father, William, Sr., later joined him. Then in 1786, the elder Whitson moved on with four sons to Carter County, Tennessee, near Roan Mountain, east of present-day Johnson City. Whitson, Jr’s home became known as Whitson's Fort and was located near a spring known as Wilton. Devout Baptists, William and his wife, Elizabeth, were charter members of a new Primitive Baptist Church founded in 1787.
4. According to Maury County, Tennessee, records, William P. Whitson died in North Carolina sometime in 1817. In his will, he associated himself with Buncombe County, North Carolina; named his wife as executrix; and divided his property among his children: John, Thomas, Joseph, George, James (living in Alabama), Mary M.(who later sued for a greater share of the property), William, Jr., (living in Arkansas), Samuel (living in Hickman County, Tennessee, Sarah, and Rebecca. Ann died in the first two weeks of May, 1829. In her suit against the other heirs, Mary once referred to brother William as "Colonel."
5. Although the records are unclear, Samuel Whitson was probably born in the 1790's and, in his late 30s, came to Hickman County from Maury County in 1830-31. While still prominent at Shipp's Bend, Samuel was elected Trustee of the County in 1836. He was a Trustee of Centerville Academy and Circuit Court Clerk from 1848 to 1850. His brother, Major William P. Whitson, Jr., was a tanner (History of Hickman County, p. 287) and became a man of wealth. He married Nancy Wright, the daughter of Robert Wright, who had built a mill at the upper end of "Whitson's Bend." A minister and leading merchant of the county, Samuel bought a farm at Shipp's Bend on the west side of the Duck River and lived there for several years. He finally sold his farm and moved to Missouri. After his wife's death in Missouri, he returned to Hickman County but, finding few of his old friends, he moved to Texas where he died.
6. Both a physician and a Minister, William E. Whitson's name appears on the rolls of the Hickory Guards of Maury County, Tennessee, in 1846. [See his photograph at the age of 18 in the uniform of the Hickory Guards] He was murdered during the Civil War by Union Army guerrillas (jayhawkers) in 1863, perhaps because his murderers had learned that he frequently carried money in his saddle bags. He was so close to home that the family heard the shot. William Easley Whitson was several months from birth at the time of the incident. The Reverend was murdered on Indian Creek in Wayne County, just north of Lauderdale County, Alabama. His wife, Susan (nee Thompson), soon took the family to Hickman County to be near her family. William Easley was born in Centerville on August 19, 1863.
7. The Thompsons originally came from England, where a coat of arms had been granted to them during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1559 (five years before the birth of William Shakspeare). The French motto is "Je veux de bonne guerre," reflecting the pre-eminence of the French language for many generations after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. All of the Thompsons who were entitled to that coat of arms in the 1800's lived in York or Yorkshire. From History of Hickman County, Tennessee:First District (p.223),Thomas Thompson came to Hickman County from York District, South Carolina, in 1806, bringing his eight-year old son, Asa, with him. He settled thirteen miles south of Vernon, north of Bird's Creek. His children were Asa, William, John, James and Elisha.
8. Asa Thompson had already become a physician when he met and married Mary ("Polly") Carothers, the daughter of the Reverend Andrew Carothers. Asa lived with Polly near the old homestead most of his life until his death in 1877. Asa had come to Tennessee in 1806 as a child (from Spence's History of Hickman County, Tennessee) following his birth in 1798 in South Carolina. Two of Asa's sons, Andrew and Stuart, were killed in the Civil War. Other sons included Doctors Elisha Green Thompson and Thomas D. Thompson, prominent physicians of Hickman County. In addition to two other sons (William C. and John B) there were three daughters: Susan, Catherine and Elizabeth. As late as the 1870's, "Uncle Asa" and "Aunt Polly" lived in a two-story log building, near a large orchard producing almost every kind of fruit. Aunt Polly was described as a "grand old lady, much loved by everyone." She would smoke a clay pipe and entertain her grandchildren with tales about the Civil War.
9. William Easley Whitson was reared by his oldest brother, John, "Uncle John," after his mother Susan died when he was seven. Uncle John was a joint publisher of The Hickman Pioneer. Before writing his editorials for The Hickman Pioneer, John (Humble) Whitson began a teaching career at the age of sixteen. From 1885 to 1890, Uncle John operated a sawmill and gristmill on the farm Colonel John Parham on Wilson’s Creek. John married Annie Slater and had four children: Russell, Beth Slater, Laura and Alice ("Cousin Alice"). He moved to Nashville where his daughter, Beth, married George Whitson and wrote many love songs, including , "Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Alice married a Norton and became a gifted writer and, finally, Poet Laureate of the South!
Will Whitson's gratitude to and respect for his older brother must have had a profound impact on his entire outlook and his own self sense as he sought throughout his life to help others, to cultivate intellectuals and to serve his community as a thinker rather than a farmer, at which he was apparently unsuccessful. "Papa", as all his children called him, first came to Union City as a young farmhand, working on Robert Toncray Bond's farm. There he met Maggie, fell in love, and married. He bought a fifty acre farm adjacent to the Bond farm and built a log cabin, which later burned. While he owned what was known as the Beech Farm, he taught school to try to make ends meet for his growing family. In 1904, he had to give up his farm and descend a major notch into tenancy, taking up residence on the Hale Place, near Union City. But his skill as a farmer was inadequate and, after a man was killed in a work-related accident, he gave up farming and went into the sawmill business. Failing in this business, Will finally decided to move to Union City in 1911 to become Assistant County Court Clerk of Obion County, a position he retained until the year before he died. He was very disappointed that he was never elected to the position of County Court Clerk.
As a small child in the early 1930s I remember visiting him at his office in the Obion County Court House, the archetypical small town Court House of familiar memory in small towns scattered across the South. It smelled of cigar smoke and stale beer although my grandfather did not drink, as I recall. His office was a gathering place for all kinds of people who needed his help or simply liked to be near him.
According to my earliest discussions about him with some of his children, "Papa" was a disciplinarian in his own family to the a point of tyranny sometimes. For example, if Gay came home excessively late from a party, he would deliberately awaken her the next morning "at the proper time" although he would rarely awaken her on "normal" days. His concern with lofty issues, with debate of ideals and ideas found him impatient with technical details to the extent that he never seemed to be able to "follow through" with a good idea. For example, he once told Maggie that he would like to develop a machine to weave cloth from the pod of silkweed and thereby "make a million dollars." But nothing ever came of it because he was too impatient with the research required.
Nevertheless he loved machinery. Yet his education in engineering was so limited and his time for learning more so brief in his busy day devoted to supporting his family that he never seemed to be able to balance time, ideas and resources with available money for an enterpreneurial breakthrough. His friends were legion, perhaps beginning with the period when, while living at the Hale place, he would travel around the country with a threshing machine during the summer.
What little extra money he might scrounge he would immediately give to Maggie who would give it back little by little for the bare necessities; for they were very poor. As Gay recalled in a conversation with me many years ago after his death on February 24, 1934, his preoccupation with their poverty and his probable belief that he had failed his family sustained his natural propensity to introspection and an impression of somber, troubled emotional distance from his family. As if to remind himself that they were not his only judges, in later years he read aloud from the Bible. Although Maggie begged him to get a job paying a regular salary during the years of experimentation with farming, he held out because he preferred even poverty to "wearing another man's collar!" His acceptance of the Assistant County Court Clerkship was a final surrender and, in his own mind, a tacit admission of failure.
His sense of personal failure to measure up to his heritage had curious consequences. He constantly reminded his children that they were descended front a fine background and should live up to it. Seeing himself as a man of books, he provided his children with many books and many visitors who could discuss books. He urged the children to make top grades in school to prove that they came from "a better class of people." To that end, he would frequently gather the children around the table after supper and help them with their schoolwork.
In addition to itinerant preachers who would call upon him because of his reputation as a teacher, a well-educated man of ideas, musicians would also come by frequently with guitars, fiddles and banjos, entertaining the family with a musical. When those guests arrived, they might sometimes be astonished to see Papa's white hair tied with pink ribbons, a decoration that his daughter, Willa, liked to bestow upon him. Tall, broad shouldered, his Roman nose prominent and his dark eyes shining above a bushy mustache and strong jaw, he might have been a university professor, a great public speaker or a pure scientist. But he was enslaved by his impractical nature and the hard environment of rural western Tennessee. Despite his failure to find inner peace, Papa was generous to a fault with the rest of the world. He did not hesitate to give money to some stranger who needed it while his own children wore old clothes and shoes. In answer to Maggie's question about such bizarre behavior, he would say, "Well, the poor devil needed it more than we did." "Poor devil" became a byword in the family for the ne'er-do-wells that exploited Papa's need to be needed and to be recognized. Thus, his generosity became his consuming passion, the one way by which he might finally do something grand for his family, his community and all mankind. And yet, his star so far outreached his economic and personal capacity, his limitations were so impossible to overcome that he must have lived a life of confounding frustration.
At his funeral recognition finally came as hundreds of people from Obion and adjacent counties in Missouri and Kentucky, many of them total strangers to Maggie and the children, came to say goodbye to a man they had loved, a man who had helped the "poor devils" when his own failures had weighed so heavily on his mind.
During his final illness, relative strangers would come into the house and plead with Maggie to let them do something, anything fur a man to whom they wished to pay a final debt. Although it was winter, Papa missed the snow and expressed his great disappointment. Someone raced down to the icehouse and scraped the pipes to satisfy that last impossible request. People brought countless "little things." At the funeral, the preacher's theme was "As ye have done this to the least of these, so ye have done it to me."
10. Like the Thompsons, the Bonds came from England. There John Bond married Ann Paradise. Their son, John, came from Bidestone, Wiltshire, to Philadelphia in 1721. He married Sarah Cadwallader in 1725. His son, John, married Margaret Allen and moved from Philadelphia to Virginia in 1771. One of their sons married Elizabeth Saunders, to whom John Allen Bond was born in 1784 in Albelmarle County near Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1805, John Allen Bond married Harriet Murray, whose family also lived in Albemarle County.
11. The Murray family had been in America even longer than the Bonds. One branch of Harriet Murray’s ancestors antedated and therefore welcomed all Whitson ancestors to the New World. For one of her ancestors (and therefore ours) was Wahunsonacock, better known as "Powhatan, " the father of Pocahantas, the legendary Indian girl who persuaded her father to spare the life of John Smith of Jamestown, which had been founded only one year after another Whitson ancestor, Richard Harrison, had been killed by Indians. (See below Note 15).
In the spring of 1613, during the fighting between the Virginia settlers and the Indians, Pocahantas was captured by the settlers and held hostage. She and John Rolfe fell in love. John, born in 1585 in Heachum, England, had been wrecked in Bermuda and had settled in Jamestown in 1610. He discovered a method for curing tobacco which became the mainstay of Virginia's early economy. Pocahantas married Rolfe in 1614, converted to Christianity and sailed to England with John. They had one son, Thomas. John returned to the colonies, became a member of the Virginia Council, and was finally killed by Indians in 1622. His young son, Thomas, returned to England for his education. Thomas married and returned to Virginia, where one of his daughters married James Murray, probably in the 1660's.
“Colonel” Murray, an American Revolutionary War hero, was probably born in the 1740' s and was a grandson of James Murray. He had six daughters, including Harriet, probably born in the 1780's. John Allen Bond and Harriet moved to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1814. In 1824, they moved again to Shelby County, Tennessee, 18 miles from Memphis.
12. Robert Nicholas Bond was born sometimes before 1812 and grew up in Shelby County, Tennessee. He married Sarah Thomas Sandeford around 1840.
13. Sarah Thomas Sandeford was the granddaughter of Thomas Thomas, who came to Virginia from Bristol, England, in the 18th Century and married Sarah Henry, one of Patrick Henry's six sisters.
14. Robert Toncray Bond was born in 1841 into all already affluent family. He had a personal slave and was able to attend school until after the age of 20. On May 24, 1861, he and his slave went to Jackson, Tennessee, to enlist in the 9th Tennessee Regiment of Infantry. Toncray was badly wounded and left for dead at the Battle of Shiloh on April 7, 1862. Under cover of darkness, his slave crawled among the dead across that awful battlefield to find Toncray and bring him to a medical tent. Recovered, Toncray received six more wounds during the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, and one at the Battle of Atlanta. He was discharged and returned to Shelby County on July 22, 1864. In October of that year he married Elizabeth Prouty ("Bettie")Harrison.
15. The Harrison family descended from John Harrison of Cambridge, England. His son, Peter, had sons named Peter and Richard. Richard married Margaret Pillington in 1583. In July 1603, as Master's Mate of the ship "Bartholomew Gilberti", Richard visited the eastern shore of Virginia and became the first white man in the colony to be killed by Indians. His son, Benjamin, was probably born in the 1580's.
It was Benjamin who came to America to patent a land grant of some 600 acres on the James River on May 18, 1637. His land was in an area that became Surry County. Benjamin’ s descendants became known as the "James River Harrisons." Five more
generations of first sons named Benjamin followed Benjamin Sr. Benjamin III established a home on the north bank of the James River in the early 1690's. His father (Benjamin II) had bought the estate and had named it "Berkeley."
In 1720 the brother of Benjamin III, Nathaniel, Sr., bought “Brandon” on the south banks of the James River. Brandon had first been created by a land grant to a John Martin in 1616. However, Nathaniel, Sr. never lived at Brandon, perhaps because he already had an estate at Wakefield. (Hence his name, "Nathaniel of Wakefield.”)
16. Robert Harrison was probably the youngest son of Nathaniel of Wakefield and possibly the younger brother of Nathaniel, Jr. (born in 1723, died in 1791). Based on their father's precedent, Nathaniel, Jr. may have asked Robert to live at Brandon. We know that Robert Henry Harrison married at the age of a 16. If his father, Robert Harrison had married at a similar age, this would explain the brief period between Robert's estimated date of birth and, sixteen years later, his oldest son's estimated date of birth in 1740.
17. Robert Henry Harrison was probably born at “Brandon” in 1724. He remained there until around 1765. During the American Revolution, he was Wagon Master of Georgia Troops under General Nathaniel Greene, who took command of the American Army in the south in December, 1780. He may have been at Valley Forge under General Greene during the 1776-78 period. He probably accompanied the Donelson Expedition from Fort Patrick Henry into Georgia in 1779-80. He probably participated in the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, in January, 1781. At that time, his first wife had already died, survived by her husband and eleven sons.
Three months prior to the Battle of Cowpens, Colonel James Williams had been killed at the Battle of Kings Mountain, leaving a wife and two children. A year after the Colonel’s death, Robert Henry married Mary Wallace Williams (nee Towell) in South Carolina in 1782. Nine years later, Mary gave birth to Jesse J. Harrison in Greenville, South Carolina.
18. Charles Hulsey was another Revolutionary War soldier. His son, Elizah, was born in Chester County, South Carolina, in 1784. They moved to Georgia in time for the first land lottery of 1805. In that year, Elijah probably married Sara Naomi Choate of Emmanuel County, Georgia. Naomi was a relative of Rufus Choate. Their first child was Margaret Ann, born in Milledgeville on December 15, 1806. Major Elijah Hulsey was a veteran of the War of 1812, serving under Andrew Jackson. In gratitude for his wartime service, he received a land grant in either Obion or Shelby County, Tennessee. By 1848, he and Naomi were living in Obion County. Shortly before he died in 1865 at the age of 91, he held his great grand daughter, Margaret Bond (later Margaret Bond Whitson) in his arms. He was buried at Old Republican.
19. Jesse Harrison was born in Virginia. He began his adult life in South Carolina as a planter. His first wife was a Miss Wilson, who died after giving birth to two children. Jesse then moved to Hall County, Georgia, where he tried hishand at gold mining. There he met and married Margaret Ann Hulsey in 1825. In the late 1820s Jesse went to Columbus, Georgia, to study medicine. He set up practice in Sumner County, Tennessee, where his daughter, Elizabeth Prouty Harrison, was born in 1841. In September, 1845, Jesse moved his family to Tory in Obion County, Tennessee, where he practiced medicine for the remainder of his life.
20. Elizabeth (“Bettie”) Prouty Harrison received her schooling in Clarksville, Tennessee, at the Clarksville Ladies Seminary. In early 1862, two years before her father’s death and in the midst of a great war, her mother decided to move with her two children, Bettie and James, to Shelby County to be near her older brother, Robert. By this move, Bettie met her neighbor, Robert Toncray Bond. On October 25, 1864, after his discharge from the Confederate Army, Robert Toncray Bond married Bettie. Eight months later and three months after the ending of the Civil War, on July 19, 1865, they named their first child Margaret Thomas after Maggie’s two grandmothers.
21. Maggie, "Mama,” must have been a beautiful young woman. Perhaps 5'4" tall, with auburn hair, fair, clear complexion, generous eyes, lovely figure, delicate bone structure, she came from a wealthy Memphis family tracing their ancestry to the earliest settlers on the Virginia coast.
Her parents had been reduced to relative poverty by the Civil War, for which her mother constantly blamed her father. As a consequence, her home was not very happy, the spirit of blame eroding much of the trust of the children in the parents. Soon Maggie, the oldest daughter, took over the reins of household management and, learning to swim, shoot, ride and direct her brothers in manly tasks, became something of a tomboy, turned to for guidance in their personal decisions by her two sisters and five brothers. Although her personal education probably did not
extend beyond high school, her experience on her father's farm was excellent preparation for the years of responsibility ahead.
After she began her own family, she was a bundle of activity, always moving around at a terrific pace, performing some task for the family, mending clothes for the children, doing needlework, preparing meals, trying to keep the house clean. She took special joy in making a child's birthday something special: always a cake, always some little gift, always a sense of celebration.
By 1901, Maggie had given birth to seven children: Gay (b. October 24, 1885; d. July 26, 1966); Elizabeth Van ("Bess") born August 9, 1887; d. Nov 20, 1951); Ruth (b. October 29, 1889; d. January 12, 1981); Robert Kenneth (b. August 1, 1891; d.1983); Marguerite (b. September 19, 1893; d. 1984); Willa (b. May 15, 1898; d. June 7, 1972); and Wallace Evan (b. April 6, 1900; d. October 25, 1975).
She always seemed to have a little money set aside, tucked away in handkerchiefs or hidden in secluded spots. She would wait for her children to come home from parties and, like another sister with her daughters, would share their fun, listen to their stories and encourage them to joy, no matter how long her own day had been. More practical than Papa, she believed that her housework did not excuse her from helping her children make practical decisions.
Her generosity was a thing of the heart, like Papa's. Once, when a woman of questionable repute needed help when flu struck the city, Mama went to her with food. On the other hand, she had a temper and probably spanked her children when they were young.
I remember her as a sweet, frail woman on whom the years had imprinted their struggle for survival. She finally wore spectacles and exhausted herself in service to others. Despite the substantial support from Aunt Bess, she continued to work around the house almost until the day she died. Her death was reported to my father in Bogota, Colombia, on the eve of my departure for Sewanee in the spring of 1940. It was the first time I ever saw my father weep....