The Levi Weaver Family
Clinton Courier News
September 8, 1983.
BY KATEHRINE B. HOSKINS
Known as hard worker
Levi Weaver was a friend to all men
Joel Chandler Harris wrote about black folklore. His several collections of tales were published from about 1880 to 1907.
His fictional character, Uncle Remus, was an old plantation worker, with a great store of tales and songs illustrative of black folklore, and dealing mainly with Br’er Rabbit and other animal characters. These tales usually brought out something to remember about human traits and characteristics.
Anderson County’s Levi Weaver, many times in his life, by his actions and words, also emphasized human characteristics and traits. His understanding of human nature was almost unbelievable, and the tales he would tell of his experiences were true stories of what actually happened.
Many people in Clinton and Anderson County remember Levi with love and appreciation. It is in this vein that a portion of his biography is presented here. It is interlaced with his characteristic sayings. Many are humorous, some are serious, while others show his high regard for religion and the right way of life.
Levi was born in 1863. His mother was a slave, so of course Levi was born a slave, but freedom came while he was still an infant. He died in 1932.
It was about 1876, when Levi was 13-years-old, that his mother took him to Arvel Taylor’s large home on Hind’s Creek, knocked on the front door, and asked for Mr. Taylor. “Here’s that little black boy I promised you,” she told him. “Take him, raise him, and see if you can make anything out of him, ’cause I wouldn’t want to try to work this boy again.”
It is now history that Arvel Taylor took Levi into his home, gave him a room of his own, raised him and made a good man our of him. But Arvel Taylor could not have made a good man out of Levi, unless Levi had some inherent good qualities upon which to build. He became a person many people were proud to call friend.
Levi lived with the Taylor family a good many years, and grew up with the Taylor sons. He made himself useful both inside the house and outside on the farm. He loved horses. The Taylor farm was quite large and there were some fine horses there all the time.
In 1919, Mr. Taylor bought a blooded Morgan mare, which he named Maud; also a Percheron colt he name Prince. Prince was a highly strung colt, headstrong and sometimes hard to handle. Levi broke him in and he became an excellent farm horse. He was especially good in the plow, but one thing about it, Levi said , that horse knew when to quit. When it began to get close to the noon dinner hour, Levi said Prince would flop his ears, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Then when the dinner bell rang, Prince would condescend to finish the row he was on, but no more. When that row was finished Prince would turn his head toward the barn, and you’d better hang on ’cause there was no stopping that horse. Levi would say, “Ole Prince got sense-more than any black and some white men.”
Levi would say he helped raise Mr. Taylor’s sons, and one grandson. After Arvel Taylor died, on of his sons, George, bought the farm and moved there with his family. When he thought George Taylor’s son, William, was old enough, Levi would take him around on the farm with him. He took a great liking to the boy, and sometimes would let him hold the plow handle for a short distance. When William’s mother, “Miss Roxie,” found out she confronted Levi, but Levi said he “got her straightened out.” He said, “Now you don’t want that boy to grow up and be an ignoramus and not know how to do anything around here.”
Levi would go to Clinton on Saturdays to see and talk with friends, both black and white. A favorite place in Clinton for men to gather and talk was on Depot St. (now Market) in front of the J.W. Hill Grocery store. Levi enjoyed talking with them and they liked to talk with him. It was just the everyday talk of friends, and occasionally laughter could be heard. When some of Levi’s little friends (of which he had many) would happen to pass by where the men were talking, one or more would push their way through the group and speak to Levi. Levi would stop in the middle of a sentence, pat the boys on the head and say, “Hello, Billy, or Johnny” or whatever the boys’ names were, and then he would finish his sentence to his grown friends with hardly a pause.
Levi was deeply religious and observed some things about the Sabbath that many people did not. For instance, he never ate certain foods, such as fat meat, or onions, or some highly seasoned foods, on a Saturday or Monday. He said “it was too nigh Sunday to eat those things.”
Clinton Courier News
September 15, 1983.
BY KATHERINE B. HOSKINS
Tells of meeting ‘Devil’
Levi’s mules outpull the fancy white horses
Levi bought himself a team of mules. He frequently adorned the mules’ harness with small bells. You could hear him coming, driving very slow so he could speak to people along the way. Children and grown-ups alike would stop whatever they were doing and rush to the front door so they could holler at him as he went by.
Levi loved his mules. He was good to them and talked to them a lot. And they liked Levi, because sometimes when their load was heavy and they were pulling with all their might but was having trouble getting over a rough place, Levi would get down out of the wagon and turn a wheel to get it going. One mule was quite a bit smaller than the other, but they made a good team.
Levi and his team of mules hauled coal quite often for people in the Clinton vicinity, from the mines in the Briceville and Beech Grove area. Many times something out of the ordinary would happen on Levi’s hauling trips to the mines. Of course, with his outgoing disposition, Levi could turn a bad experience into something amusing, but also with a lesson.
His favorite, which he loved to tell, was about the time that just as he had finished loading his wagon with coal, this big wagon from Knoxville, pulled by two big fine white horses, had pulled up alongside him and was being loaded. The driver of the fine white horses yelled to Levi, “Don’t you pull out in front of me. Your little mules won’t be able to pull that load of coal out of there and over bad places, and you will be in my way and delay me in getting back to Knoxville, and besides I have further to go than you have.”
Levi pulled back very respectfully and let him go first. The big fine wagon and two white horses with their fancy harness were the very picture of wealth. But the fine horses could not pull the wagon, loaded with coal, out of a low and difficult place in the road. The wagon bogged down and stalled.
The driver called to Levi and told him to tie on to the big wagon’s tongue and help pull him out. Levi said, “No, but if you will get your fine horses out, I will hitch my little mules in, and pull you out.” The Knoxville driver argued, but finally gave in and took his horses out. Levi hitched his mules in to the big wagon and pulled it on to level ground.
All the other driver knew was that when Levi took hold of the wheel spokes and talked real soft to his mules, the wagon was pulling out on the low place. What the driver didn’t know was that Levi pulled the wagon right along with his mules. People who knew him said he could pull as much as one of his mules could. And that is how he got the nickname of Wheel-Horse.
As he grew up, Levi worked occasionally for Sam Moore, and at times would sleep in the Moore barn. One year, Mr. Moore set up a Halloween party for Levi and some of his friends. He told Levi that if he and his friends would congregate at the forks of the road and build a fire under a big iron kettle full of water, and each bring a musical instrument and play music while marching around the kettle, the Devil would come exactly at midnight, and would grant each boy one request.
Well, Levi took his “cordial” (accordian), little Esau had a banjo, and the other boys had various musical instruments. Midnight found the boys playing music and dancing around the kettle, while Mr. Moore and some others were off in the corner of a fence a little distance away. Mr. Moore had dressed himself up like the devil. He put a rocking chair on his shoulders, with the rockers sticking up like horns. He put a sheet over himself and the chair, and carried a lighted lantern under the sheet. He went slowly walking over toward the boys.
Little Esau saw Moore first and started running with his banjo. He fell into a mud hole and couldn’t get up. As each one ran over him his banjo sounded off, while with every step Levi took, his accordian went woop-woop, woop-woop.
The others apparently scattered, but Levi was so scared he ran straight for the Moore residence. He knocked the swinging gate off its hinges as he went through, and slammed the kitchen door flat down on the floor, then crawled under the kitchen table.
Mrs. Moore came along and saw him under the table. “Levi! what happened. What are you doing down there?” All Levi could say was “Oh, the Devil! Oh, the Devil!”
Mrs. Moore started out to look for Mr. Moore, but it is not known just what she said to him.
While Levi got a lesson he always remembered: “Never believe the Devil’s promises.”
Part III – Conclusion
Clinton Courier News
September 22, 1983.
BY KATHERINE B. HOSKINS
Had a mule trick
Weaver, man of muscle, loved by black and white
Levi Weaver possessed almost unbelievable physical strength. Not only was this proven by his pulling on the wagon sometimes to help his mules, but it was rumored around town that he could actually lift one of his mules off the ground.
So, one year, shortly before time for the annual Anderson County Fair to be held in Clinton, some of Levi’s friends got after him to demonstrate his strength at the fair by picking up his mule. One of his team was a rather small or medium size mule, which was the one he would lift off the ground.
The story has been told around Clinton by different people who have heard it from some of their family, that one year Levi did demonstrate his strength at the fair by picking up his mule and balancing it on his shoulder. He had trained the mule to let him do the balancing act.
Not only did Levi have unusual physical strength, but he had strength of character, was intelligent in a common sense way, and always kept his feet on the ground. He had a strong feeling of right and wrong, which was apparent to all who knew him, regardless of the little jokes and pranks which he enjoyed as much as anyone, provided they were not harmful pranks. He also liked to fish, but would never neglect his work in order to go fishing.
Arvel Taylor, who raised Levi, was a member of the Tennessee State Legislature for several years during the time Levi was growing up. Sometimes, when Mr. Taylor was away, Levi would get his friend, Little Esau, to help him get his work finished earlier, then the two of them would go fishing in the late afternoon. But the work always came first.
When Levi became a young man, he was very popular with the young ladies. One Sunday afternoon he borrowed a rubber tired buggy, with a high stepping team, from Sam Moore to escort a school teacher to the “festibal” (festival) over in Heavenly Hollow. She wanted to drive, and gave Levi her “muffin” (muff) to keep his hands warm. Somewhere along the way there was a branch to ford, and a fellow driving a buckboard was stuck fast in the mud. But Levi just sailed right on through “I’se glad I got through safe,” Levi said, “just call me ‘Safety’.
Now Levi mispronounced a good many words on purpose. He knew the correct way to say them, but he liked to make people laugh now and then.
Levi was married twice. By his first wife, Mary, his children were Albert and Rose. Mary had a son named Sanford, who became Levi’s stepson.
Levi’s second wife was Victoria Burch. She and Levi raised eight children: Lois, Bessie, Sterling, Alphonso, Hun, Gladys, Beatrice, and Rena Bell.
Victoria loved everybody. She liked to have company in her home, and there was nearly always company there. She would just bed them down on the floor when necessary.
One time Levi’s home burned and he and his family moved to an abandoned building which had been combined school house and church. Levi purchased the property and remolded and made additions, turning it into a residence. Some time later his barn and contents burned. The barn contained a sizable amount of hay and corn, three mules, two cows and his son Alphonso’s Ford automobile.
Levi died in December 1932, and was buried on a Christmas Sunday afternoon, in the Weaver Cemetery on Lewallen Road. His funeral was arranged by a white man, Jim Graham, who received permission to do so from Levi’s wife, Victoria. She said she thought it was appropriate the white folks did this because Levi lived with white folks a long time, and talked with white folks on the street and around town as much or more than he did with black people. Frank Moore, Brice Wallace, Mike Miller and a Mr. Overton were other white men who helped with arrangements and asked to be pall bearers. The said they were proud to have served as pall bearers for their friend, Levi.
Everything considered, there seems to be no question but that Levi Weaver was “one of a kind.”
Note: Credit and thanks for most of the information about Levi Weaver go to Levi’s daughter and son, Mr. George (Gladys) Iker and Alphonso Weaver; and to William Taylor, who has many cherished memories of his growing up on the farm, and his association with his friend Levi.