Martin and Williams Families of Lauderdale County
Richard Martin married Nancy Massingill on March 20, 1804, in Tennessee. Of their several children, one was a son named William Zebulon, and by 1810 they were all living in Stewart County, Tennessee. Historically the family had wandered through Maryland and Virginia to get there, long after Richard’s father had fought in the American Revolution. There was a Scottish settlement there at Erin, but routinely the settlers were plagued by a “Milk Death”, a peculiar disease brought on by the ingestion of milk given by cows that had eaten a poisonous weed. Not only did this kill the human consumers, but also it eventually killed all of the livestock, and the settlement began to disperse.
Also around that time, in 1812, there was a catastrophic earthquake all along the banks of the Mississippi River, including western Tennessee, so strong, in fact, that the mighty river actually flowed backwards for a great time creating huge lakes, one now called Reelfoot Lake. In the aftermath of the great flood, the river bottom lands, which had been so inundated, were swept clean of trees and underbrush in the water’s subsidence, making the land, once again, very rich, level, fertile and conducive to superior farming. It had also scattered the many Indian tribes living on and near the river’s edge, making it seem safer for settlement even after the Treaty with the Chickasaws had been signed. Soon there was an army of immigrants laying claim to the precious, fertile bottomland. A sound living could be made by merely chopping the fallen and abundant timber, and supplying the steamboats that continually plied up and down the treacherous waters. Wild game of pheasant, duck, deer, and turkeys abounded there. Pelt animals of beaver, wolf, wildcat, panther and bear were prolific. It was also determined that apple and peach trees would thrive. Cultivation of honey became a successful venture, as well, and the riverboats made shipping of all these goods and services extremely convenient. Sawmills, and gristmills sprang up, followed by corn, wheat, tobacco, feed crops, sheep and especially cotton, which was planted by the imported slaves, brought in to tend to it all.
By whatever means or reasons, Zebulon’s family had made their way west across the state by 1850, and along the way son Zebulon had somehow met and married Miss Lucinda Shoemake on Christmas Eve of 1850 in Lauderdale County, Tennessee at the far western tip of the state on the banks of the Mississippi River. In earlier 1850 Lucinda had been living in Lauderdale County with her mother, Martha Shoemake, brother Michael and sisters Nancy A. and Amanda Shoemake. Sister Phoebe lived nearby in her own home. Mother Martha had migrated restlessly from Tennessee, where she had been born in 1799, to St. Francois County, Missouri with her husband, William Shoemake, Jr. There Nancy was born in 1823, and baby Michael just two years later, in 1825, and finally Lucinda in 1831. But Missouri was soon left behind for Virginia where young Amanda was born in 1840, when her mother was 41. Virginia, however, was then abandoned for West Tennessee once again upon the death of her husband, before the decade was over.
By 19 years of age, her daughter, Lucinda, had her own son, whom she had named Elijah Zebulon Martin, born January 17, 1851, oddly in Arkansas, the son of Zebulon Martin, an older planter and horse breeder, whom she had married in 1850. We do not know how she came to be in Arkansas for certain or how or where she met Zebulon. Six years later, in 1857 she gave birth to a daughter she named Martha Elizabeth. We do not know the fate of first husband Zebulon, whether he died, disappeared or divorced Lucinda, but ten years after her marriage to Zebulon, by 1860, she was married to a Mr. William A. Mahan, who had been born in 1833 in Kentucky and had migrated to Arkansas for the Indian lands made available to settlers, and she remained across the Mississippi River with her nine year-old son, Eli, whose name she then listed as Eli Mahan in the 1860 Census of Mississippi County Arkansas and her three year-old daughter she listed as Martha Elizabeth Mahan. We can only assume that Zebulon had died, as no divorce papers were ever found and William A. had apparently adopted her children and changed their last name to Mahan.
In 1860 Lucinda and W. A. Mahan, son Eli, and daughter Martha Elizabeth were living in Hickman’s Bend, Canadian Township, Arkansas, where she had also moved her similarly transient mother, Martha Shoemake, in with them. Also living in their Hickman’s Bend home were their domestic servants, Henry, Alex and Sarah Oakley, ages 13, 14 and 16.
The late Zebulon Martin had had previous children as well; John T., William C., Emma E., and Richard Martin, but who their mother was is unknown. Zebulon also had a brother named Clark L. Martin, who had married Nancy W. Carson on February 15, 1858, ten months before his own wedding to Lucinda, and others named Charles L. who had married Melissa F. Ryland January 14, 1865, another named Louis R. who had married Elizabeth A. Currie May 6, of 1869, and another named John W. Martin who had married Kisey E. Boren on February 26, 1867. William C. married Nannie Jenkins, and Emma Martin married Elijah F. Williams on February 2, 1871, all of these in Lauderdale County, Tennessee. The recent Civil War had been an unimaginable catastrophe. Fort Pillow had been built on Lauderdale County land, directly on the river, and was the scene of much intense fighting for its control. No one’s lives had gone unscarred by the inconceivable carnage that had played out upon their farmlands. But with the end of the horrendous war and its great interruption of the bustling Mississippi River society, Reconstruction was soon underway; there soon was a flurry of marriages in Lauderdale County, Tennessee once more. Zebulon’s son John T. Martin had married Eliza V.Williams February 15, 1870. Eliza was a sister to Ellen Louise Williams, who would marry his other son, Eli Zebulon Martin, on May Day 1878. Sisters marrying brothers was not all that uncommon in those remote, new and sparsely populated places and times.
Both born in Virginia in the 1770’s, William Absalom Williams and Mary Hudson married on Christmas Day of 1798 in Virginia. Mary soon bore seven sons they thought destined to be blacksmiths, as had the many generations of sons before them. But son, David, born in 1811, and son Edwin W. Williams were determined to pursue a different path. After the family relocated to Montgomery County, Tennessee, in 1825, their sons, Edwin, John Thomas, Wilson, David, Freeman, Benjamin, and Anderson decidedly became woodmen and planters instead. W. A. and Mary were also parents to four daughters, Eliza, Jane Brooks, Martha and Sarah. Edwin would marry Bersheba Davis, daughter of David Davis, in 1828. Sarah married to James McCutchion McGuire in 1850. Eliza married John Davis in 1823, and they had two children, William and Mary Jane. Son David married Elvyann Mannery Walker, and Anderson married Harriett Cullins in 1844. Several others married and settled Williamson County in what is now middle Tennessee.
For those who pushed further to the western part of Tennessee, the dense hardwood forests offered a seemingly endless supply of raw materials, and within a short time E. W. and David Williams had established several thriving wood, gin and sawmills as far west in the state as Lauderdale County, Tennessee by 1839. Tiring of the wood and ginning mills, however, David eventually resumed his role as planter/farmer, helping out at the mills only as necessary. E. W. had nine children along the way, the second, a son, that they named John Thomas, born 6/30/1833 in Montgomery County, who eventually married a Miss Martha Whitson, daughter of James Whitson of Missouri on 6/15/1854 and there were seven children born to their marriage and eventually 22 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. The Whitsons were responsible for building the many roads in the area. John Thomas Williams built many sawmills, ginning houses, ice houses and homes for all of his many employees. He also built a company store. He built a church, and a hotel to put his guests up in during his planned “revivals”, at what he called his tabernacle. His heavily insulated ice houses, stocked in winter when the ponds froze over, provided all the ice for the whole of western Tennessee and huge blocks were shipped down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, on insulated flatboats.
After several western counties were redistricted, Lauderdale was formed, and early settler John Brown (father of William C. Brown who one day would marry Mary Jane Williams) donated 50 acres to found the county seat, Ripley, in 1836, which was 52 miles north of Memphis, and 185 miles west of Nashville, on the highest point between Memphis and Paducah Kentucky on the Mississippi bluffs. John T. Martin was one of the earliest settlers to the southern part of the new county, and would eventually marry Mary Jane’s sister, Eliza V. Williams.
The Martins, Williams, Woods, Burks and so many others in the area were decidedly Methodists, or Methodist Episcopal, as they were often thought of since John Wesley, an Episcopal priest, founded the Methodist religion. As early as 1839, at a place called Hurricane Hill, (later called Brownsville District) there had been regular church meetings. It got its name from the terrible storm that had killed so many and done such enormous destruction several years prior. Hurricane Hill stands at the intersection of the old Covington-Ripley Road with the ridge road from Brownsville to Fulton, the bustling Mississippi port at the mouth of the Hatchie River, and was settled in 1820. This ridge road was an early wagon road crossing the western tip of Tennessee, and paralleling an old Indian trail following the high country between the Chickasaw Bluffs at Fort Prudhomme in Fulton, through that now called Durhamville and Brownsville on the Indian mound city called Cisco, or Mount Pinson, in Madison County along the heights between the Hatchie and the Forked Deer River. By 1829 there were several “meeting grounds” and lay preachers sent there were busily staking out their territory, namely the Methodist, Baptists and the Cumberland Presbyterian. The Wood, Williams, and Martin families were instrumental in helping establish the religious community there. The old, historic Wood Cemetery is still located here, at Bethlehem community. Theirs was an intensely religious community and local settlers were extremely devoted to their particular faith. Church meetings, revivals, and camp meetings were frequent and devoutly attended and formed the basis of local society. In 1835 a Methodist circuit rider came through in a large covered wagon. He had come to meet with the Williams and others to help build what would soon become the Asbury Methodist Church and to freely distribute copies of the 1829 edition of the New Testament to every family, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. One of these was eventually given to David Williams, and remains in the family to this day. In it were begun inscriptions of every birth, death, and marriage of the family for over 150 years, and is a remarkable instrument of genealogical study.
Large landowners Absalom Williams, his sons, David and Edwin W. Williams, and grandson, Thomas, all mentioned earlier, and Reason L. “Reek” Wood, the first Sheriff, began development of the area, helping in the construction of a general store, and a single cell jail building, made of heavy timbers, to hold any prisoners that the Sheriff deemed necessary. A circuit court was soon established. The Martin family helped build Alston and Martin General Merchandise, and the Williams built Williams and Sons General Mercantile, Williams Wood Mills and several more wood and lumber mills and factories. By mid-century there was a post office, and several other establishments operated by Reek Wood, Seaton Burks, J. T. Burks, Bill Wood, and Billy Martin, all in some way related to the large, extended family of this story. Ripley boasted the Ripley Female Academy in 1853, a school attended by the Martin and Williams girls. The school burned in 1872, and was never rebuilt. But over in Henning, Tennessee, just six miles from Ripley, the Lauderdale Institute was founded in 1882, destroyed by fire in 1886, and subsequently rebuilt.
Absalom’s son, David Williams, would marry the lovely Elvyann “Van” Mannery Walker 2/10/1842, and they would eventually have nine children and a great number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well, making their surname Williams among the most common in western Tennessee. The Williams families, who came to settle along what was called Williams Switch Road, in what was once called Williamstown, were also philanthropists, building several schools, a church, a medical clinic and the Williams Opera House in Ripley, site of the first Public School Commencement 6/8/1894, in which Miss Daisy Williams was Valedictorian. Richard H. McGaughey, M. D., was Ripley’s physician, and ran the medical clinic beginning in 1844. His brother, John R. McGaughey would marry Martha Harriett Williams in 1870.
“Van” Walker’s family had been very early pioneers to Tennessee, and had married into the Sabret and Mary E. (Thompson) Wood family, who were also among the first settlers to Lauderdale County, having migrated west from North Carolina in 1827. The Williams, Walkers and Woods were old guard Whigs until after the War, and then became Democrats. They also continued to be loyal members of the Methodist Church.
E.W., David, and John Thomas Williams owned hundreds of acres of land in and around Ripley, much of it eventually lying on the Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railroad’s planned lines, insuring their prosperity for generations to come. John Thomas, and his sons as well, would continue in E. W.’s footsteps in the wood and mill business. David would remain a farmer and planter. John Thomas, always heavily involved and a large financial contributor to the Asbury Methodist Church, would eventually donate land for the Williams Tabernacle, at Williams Camp Grounds, on land he had donated for the purpose, six miles west of Ripley.
Martha Elizabeth Martin/Mahan, Eli Martin’s sister, for whatever reason, changed her last name to Shoemake, her mother’s name, and Eli changed his back to Martin. She then first married a Mr. Tucker, and secondly married William Henry Cox. They had the following children: Martha Anne Cox, born 1874, George W. Cox, born 1877, William T. Cox, born 1875, Mary Jane Cox, born 1878 and Matilda Catherine Cox, born 1880. (See separate articles on Cox family members).
After the glorious May Day 1878 garden wedding of Martha Elizabeth’s brother, Eli Zebulon Martin to his bride, Ellen Louise Williams Martin, the Martins took up housekeeping in Ripley, Tennessee. Eli built them a large, rambling 2-story white clapboard Victorian house, the wood no doubt provided by Ellen’s uncle John’s thriving mills. Eli also designed and built extensive gardens and planted dozens of Ellen’s favorites trees. The Martin home had nine rooms, high ceilings, two chimneys housing four fireplaces and heart pine floors. It boasted two front entranceways, and two porches, one on either side. One front door led to the parlor, where Ellen served afternoon tea to friends and family and the lovely piano was located. Ellen had chosen floral damask print wallpaper, and the interior wood trim was dark stained, as was fashionable at the time. White lace-edged curtains hung at all the windows, and tatted doilies were scattered about the backs and arms of upholstered pieces. Gilt framed paintings and large oval photographs of family members hung from the picture molding by gold roping. The inherited bookcases from the Williams family lined the wall opposite the glider chair, a velvet settee and tea table that sat upon an Oriental rug. The opposite parlor became a smoking parlor for the gentlemen friends of Eli’s who came to call, and could be closed off with a pair of large, paneled gliding doors. A dining room and kitchen lay behind the parlors. Outside the house were a barn, a hen house, a privy, a smoke house, a vegetable garden, and a work shed and well, where the laundry was usually done. A central stairway led to four bedrooms and a bath upstairs. The home was conveniently near to town and the railroad, and the couple settled in to raising their large family. Father Zebulon had seen to it that his sons would not be tied to the difficult and uncertain life as a planter/farmer, as he had been, and so the boys were schooled in business affairs, as well, Eli becoming a haberdasher and dry goods merchant, and John becoming a salesman.
Ellen Louise was the seventh of David Williams’s nine surviving children, and a cousin of Reason L. “Reek” Wood, son of Sabret Wood, then, one of the oldest and most influential citizens of Lauderdale County. Ellen was close to her siblings, Mary Jane, born in 1842 (who married William C. Brown 2/4/1863), Benjamin W., born in 1844 (who was sadly killed in the Civil war in 1863 along with cousins William and Robert Walker), Francis A., born in 1846 (who married James R. Jenkins 11/13/1866), Eliza V., born in 1848 - who had married Ellen’s brother-in law, John T. Martin 2/15/1870) - Phredonia W. “Phe” born in 1850 (who married Robert W. Burks in 1872), Martha Harriett “Mattie” born in 1852 (who married John R. McGaughey 11/22/1870), handsome brother Robert A., born in 1858 (who married the beautiful Emily E. Pitts Christmas Day 1876), and Cornelia B. “Neelie” born in 1864 (who married William Cornelius Burks 11/28/1882, brother to sister Phe’s husband, Robert) . (See separate articles on Wood and Walker families)
Eli changed merchant jobs often, always improving his status. He moved from Ripley, to Henning, just a couple of miles away, then to Halls and Brownsville, to Promised Land, and even briefly to Memphis, as job offers were forthcoming. Ellen always remained loyally behind, tending the children and the home fires, though she wasn’t always glad to do so. She spent her days gardening, baking, doing laundry, sewing, tending house, and managing her daily correspondence. The many letters that survive, that Eli and Ellen sent back and forth to each other and to family and friends in those years, give a rich and informative peek into the daily routines and activities of 19th century daily life. One letter dated in 1880 told of their joy at cousins Reason “Reek” L. Wood and Miss Sarah A. Burks marrying, after the death the year before of Reek’s first wife of nearly 30 years and with whom he had nine children. Other letters spell out the daily hardships of grappling potatoes, treating cows, the hazards of soap making, treating children with rashes, and news about church events, local trials, children’s recitals, births, deaths, and neighbors suffering from “grippe”, “hemorrhages”, “dropsy” “typhoid” and “the fevers”.
One important letter to a friend in Barfield, announced the birth of Ellen and Eli’s first child, a daughter they named Beulah Zebulon on 2/28/1879, nine months after their wedding. Shortly thereafter, a baby boy named William Walker was born, but sadly, he died 8 months later in December 1881. Also, 1881 brought the untimely death of Ellen’s beloved sister Eliza, who had married Ellen’s own brother-in-law John. She had died of complications from childbirth. She was only 33 years old. The sadness was unbearable for both Ellen, who lost her favorite sister, and Eli, whose brother John was so devastated, by the loss of his beautiful and young wife and unborn child. All three families struggled to find answers.
In 1883 Ellen suffered a miscarriage. The great joy of the next birth of baby Lillias Gertrude, born 1/9/1884, was soon overshadowed by the death of Ellen’s cherished father, David, in August of the same year. In 1886 another sad miscarriage occurred, but to the delight of the family the healthy birth of baby Albertha Williams occurred 1/26/1888. Two years later, however, the joy was once again shattered by the death of Ellen’s mother, Elvyann (“Van”) in 1890.
A large funeral procession made its way to Asbury. Elvyann, “Van”, as she was called, was laid to rest next to her husband, Ellen’s father David, beneath a large maple tree. The cemetery had been in use since before the War, and already contained the remains other family members who were all so devoted to the Methodist church and its community there since its beginning. Scattered about were so many other historic founders and family members that Ellen felt as though her parents were merely dwelling among old friends, and that somehow seemed of some comfort.
Shortly afterwards, Ellen was pregnant again with her only surviving son who she named Eli Van Louis, in honor of both her father and mother as well as herself (Ellen’s middle name was Louise), born 6/4/1891, and he quickly became the apple of his family’s eye, with his blue-gray eyes, and shock of dark, curly hair. With Eli now nearly a full-time absentee husband, traveling as district merchant/salesman for a dry goods business, four years passed without pregnancies or miscarriages. Then in spring of 1895, baby Juanita was born May 18, but as she learned to walk and climb as a toddler, she sadly suffered a bad fall and permanently injured her spine, dwarfing her growth as an adult.
Ellen saw to it that the children were taught to play piano, as her mother had done, and several became accomplished enough to perform in local recitals. Son Van Louis played and wrote original pieces for the lovely piano that graced the front parlor of the Martin home, and was a surprisingly talented poet, as well. The children also studied bookkeeping, art, the Bible, and were avid readers and good students. The Martins were well respected in their community. They were charitable, hospitable, and hardworking. They were avid church-goers, attending several times a week, and Ellen regularly made the rounds to her neighbor’s homes bringing covered dishes to those down on their luck, as well as sitting up with the infirmed. They were known and loved universally as “Mama and Papa Martin” to all.
Uncle William “Billy” Martin’s family lived right down the way, as did many of Ellen’s siblings and their children, so the Martin children were always blessed with many cousins with which to share their days. Ellen’s sister Mattie had married a man named John R. McGaughey, and their lovely daughters Maude, Eva, Mary, Myra and Louise and sons Robert and Walker and four others were constant companions. Ellen’s neice, Mary McGaughey, was talked about as the most beautiful girl in Lauderdale County, and had no shortage of suitors. Ellen’s sister Neelie had married a man named William Cornelius Burks, and their children were also usually close-by, including Gertrude “Gurrie”, Linnie, Guy, Annie and Eddie Burks. Sisters Francis’s, Mary Jane’s and late sister Eliza’s children were older, and less involved with Ellen’s younger ones, though Ellen’s sisters and brother were always her most constant and devoted friends and companions. (For Burks and McGaughey family history texts, charts, and photos, see separate individual and family articles)
In 1897 Ellen and Eli eagerly prepared for the exciting first wedding of their daughter, Beulah, to John Wesley Blythe, of the historically important Blythes of Blytheville, Arkansas. It was a fall wedding, and the entire family was astir with planning the events. (See separate History of the Blythes) The wedding was a lovely affair, and daughter Beulah relocated across the river with her new husband. Though Ellen was lonely at first, she decided to pay frequent visits until she became used to the idea of “losing” a daughter. She was soon thrilled with anticipation of the birth of a first grandchild, a daughter Beulah and John would name Opie Agatha, born in October of 1899.
As the century turned to 1900, things could not have been brighter for the family. Eli was now managing dry goods stores in Ripley, Henning, and Brownsville, the children were healthy and growing into fine adults and pursuing their studies. Ellen’s brother, Robert, had resigned from the firm Palmer and Williams, editors and owners of The Lauderdale County Enterprise Newspaper, to campaigned for, and was unanimously elected, Mayor of Ripley. As Mayor, a post he was elected to three times, he became famous for his waterworks systems installed during his administrations. He then had resigned from the Mayor’s office to become an elected member of the Tennessee Legislature from Lauderdale County. In a continuing whirl of good fortune was subsequently appointed Clerk and Master of the Chancery Court. Now, at the turn of the century, he had resigned that position to establish the Lauderdale County Bank, and become its Chief Cashier. He became a member of the Lauderdale County Court, Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, a state delegate to the district elections, and an alternate delegate to the Chicago National Convention the same year. He was next appointed as President of the Board of Education. He married the beautiful Emily E. Pitts two years before Ellen had married Eli, and Robert’s three sons and four daughters were also faithful playmates to the Martin brood.
In 1901 Beulah gave birth to a beautiful, healthy boy she named Carl Wallace Blythe. The family was again thrilled to welcome a new member.
In August of 1903, Ellen’s beloved sister Mattie, passed away. It was a particularly painful loss for Ellen’s sister Neelie, as she was the very closest to her sister Mattie both in age and affection, and the two had been inseparable throughout their lives. They had raised their many children together, and their children always thought of themselves as best friends. Old photographs often show the Burks children and the McGaughey children together. Mattie’s 10 children were devastated at the loss of their mother. A large funeral was held, and Mattie was laid to rest under the shady trees of Maplewood, with all the others. But as had always been the case, tragedy was soon followed by the great joy of another birth, as daughter Beulah delivered young Henry Thomas Blythe to the family four months later. They would call him “ H. T.”
In 1904, Ellen’s daughter Lillias married the dashing and very successful Mr. Charles Carson Ford. Once again, Ellen and the family threw themselves into another wonderful wedding celebration. After the beautiful wedding, Lillias, too, relocated away to Fulton, Kentucky with her new husband. Mother Ellen sighed, and busied herself with her new grandchildren, to ease the emptiness. The next year daughter Beulah gave birth to a second daughter, Lilla Joy in 1905. But, unimaginably, by the next year, baby Opie and baby Lilla would both be dead, dying a month apart in 1906. Everyone in the family was devastated.
By 1907 Beulah had given birth to yet another daughter, Agnes Martin, and joy was once again returning to the family. But the typhoid epidemic was still rampant throughout the river counties on both sides of the Mississippi. Then, inexplicably, Ellen’s cherished only brother, Robert, suddenly succumbed to Bright’s Disease, complicated by the associated dreaded typhoid of which he also had fallen victim. He died on May 15, 1908 at the age of 51. A devastated Emily struggled to bury her husband in the family cemetery at Maplewood surrounded by her seven children and hundreds of mourners. Son Max C. was by then prominent in the firm Williams, Dunavant and Rice, and son L. A. was now assistant Cashier of his father’s bank. The entire town closed down for the funeral of Robert A. Williams. Schools were dismissed. He was buried with full Odd Fellows honors. He had been a member of the Knights of Pythias, and the Maccabees. Maplewood was again filled with Martins and Williams laying to rest one more of their finest.
Beulah and her family came from Blytheville, Arkansas, and Lillias and her family came from Kentucky to attend Robert’s funeral. Sadly, Lillias returned still another time, in August, as sister Beulah’s third daughter Agnes, was laid to rest at the age of two in 1909 in the Blytheville cemetery that already held daughter Agnes’s two baby sisters. No words could convey the sense of loss and despair that the Blythes and the rest of the families must have felt. Ironically, just the month before, Beulah had given birth to a beautiful baby daughter she had named Ruth Elaine Blythe. Before she was fully recovered from the birth of one daughter, she had suffered through the inexplicable death and burial of yet another daughter.
In 1908 Van Louis was sent off to Memphis to attend boarding school, and master his business skills at Nelson’s Business College, at 292 Madison Avenue, next to Loeb’s Laundry. He was 16 years old. Besides studying hard and making good grades, he took excursions on the many riverboats that left from the wharves in Memphis. He also joined the Y. M. C. A., where he worked out and swam regularly, belonged to the Thespian Society, and attended the Methodist Church, where he sang in the choir. He was a popular young man, with many friends, many of them girls who were taken with his handsome good looks. Four years later, Juanita, too, would be sent to attend a women’s business college, and board there, preparing her for an exciting life she would come to have in Washington, D. C. working for the federal government, a position she would hold all her adult life, until her death in 1940.
November 11, 1911 was a wonderful time in the life of Ellen’s daughter, Lillias, as well. Husband Charles had been offered a promotion with the successful meat business, Swift and Company, and she gave birth to their first child, a beautiful daughter that they named Dorothy.
Van Louis spent four years in college, graduating in 1912 with a business degree. He returned to Ripley and worked for a while in the dry good business, as his father had done. But he was restless, and hated the confining career he had chosen. He then took a job as a carpenter and common laborer, working on construction sites. He was a well-built young man, five feet, nine inches tall, with luminescent blue-gray eyes and thick brown hair. He had the movie star good looks of the men he emulated upon the silver screen, a pastime he pursued with great enthusiasm. In his job with Allen Davis Construction, he developed calloused hands, a deep tan, and a strong muscular physique. His one complaint was his eyesight, and refusing glasses, as to not mar his good looks, never saw really well. It almost kept him from the Army five years later. Van Louis stayed five years, until 1917, with Allen Davis Construction, much to his father’s
disapproval, and then the news of an impending war began to circulate. In 1914 Beulah and John brought another child into the family - a son they named John Wesley Blythe, Jr. Eli and Ellen could not have been more doting grandparents to their darling grandchildren, and eagerly anticipated their frequent visits from their Blytheville home just across the Mississippi River ferry.
Eli eventually took a higher paying mercantile manager’s job in Memphis, at Y. A. Yancy and Co. He was paid each week, and promptly sent his paycheck home to Ellen. He boarded in a men’s dormitory, and returned to Ripley at least once a month for a few days. Ellen was forced to find domestic and farm help wherever she could. For a while she took in boarders to provide the extra help. The war in Europe was having a profound effect upon the economy in America already. Businesses were failing due to high interest rates and the uncertainties of Wall Street. By 1915, a deep recession had hit Ripley, and many were out of work, and desperate for relief. Ellen bought and began milking her own cow, raising her own chickens, and planting and tending her own vegetable garden. Bertha and Juanita spent their time continuing their education, music classes, and practicing their business skills, but spent evenings helping out baking, sewing, tatting, knitting and lace-making, making quilts and soap, churning, and tending the gardens. Letters the girls wrote to father Eli indicated their lack of enthusiasm for attending to such matters. Ellen insisted that the girls still prepare for their piano recital, each afternoon, under the stern watch of Miss Sudie, the piano instructor, which young Nita, as she was affectionately called, went on to win first place in. The prize was a book about music and musicians by Howard Baxter Perry and a tiny ivory bust of Mozart. Mother Ellen gave Juanita a pair of silk stockings as a reward for delighting the audience with her musical expertise.
By 1915 Beulah’s boys, Carl and H. T., Jr. were frequent visitors to their grandparents, riding the ferry back and forth across the river to “Mama and Papa” Martin’s home. They were a particular favorite of young Nita’s. Lillias and Charles brought baby Dorothy as often as possible from St. Louis where they had relocated. There were lots of other nieces and nephews always coming and going, as well. Beulah and John, now with so many children to care for at home, often struggled in those lean times to provide for their family. As the boys grew older, they took various odd jobs to help out. Beulah taught piano lessons, as well, to help supplement the family’s income, but oftentimes, she wrote to her mother, she was being paid in butter and eggs, and sometimes even not at all. Still she continued on teaching as much as for the love of music as the money.
Mama Martin could be counted on to always have a kitchen full of cakes, pies and cookies, and always took out time to have afternoon tea with plenty of finger sandwiches for her growing brood. Papa Martin kept two riding horses and a pony for the children and grandchildren and the others to trot around on, and built a rope swing from the huge oak tree to swing on. There was also a frigid swimming hole nearby that the children made good use of in the warmer times. Mama Martin would make homemade vanilla ice cream that Papa Martin would sit and churn on the side porch in the summertime, after his long, hot haul from the William’s Ice House down near the river.
Christmas time was always a time of family gatherings, a kitchen laden with holiday food, pallets spread on the floor for all the children to sleep, a tree hunt and chopping expedition, followed by hot apple cider, decorating the tree, and Mama Martin, Van Louis and Juanita playing hymns on the family piano in the front parlor. Children would take turns stoking the fireplaces with sticks of wood from the huge woodpile on the porch that Eli had accumulated from the mills of his in-laws. In the fireplace they popped corn, roasted chestnuts, and above it, they hung their stockings, which would always be filled with fruit, nuts and treats on Christmas morning. The younger children would string popcorn and berries on long strings and link pasted loops of colored paper together to make garlands for the tree. Tiny candles would be lit each evening in their tiny holders sitting perched on the tips of the Christmas tree. All of the ornaments were made by hand, and new ones were added each year. Some were made from doilies, some from decorated pinecones, others were bells, small toys, paper-cut snowflakes, ribbons, gingerbread cookies and decorated postcards. A porcelain-faced angel doll in billowing white organdy always adorned the top of the tree. Eli always sat near the fireplace cracking pecan hulls and tossing them into the roaring fire, after putting the shelled nutmeats into a wooden nut bowl in his lap. The bowl was made from a beautifully finished cross section of a pine tree that brother Billy had made. The whole pecans would later appear atop Ellen’s famous pecan chess pies.
Ellen, as always, scrambled to check and double-check her list to be sure no one’s wish list was overlooked for Christmas morning, and trying to entice all the children to an early bedtime. Always on the Christmas menu was Ellen’s best eggnog that she called “boiled custard”- being careful not to use the word “nog”, that little dash of “spirits” that she knew would get added -and rich buttermilk pound cake, and a baked, crosshatched and maple glazed ham, studded with cloves and cherries, baked sweet potatoes from the root cellar, and fruits and vegetables that Ellen had canned earlier in the season. There were also always the assorted breads, jams and goodies that Ellen and her neighbors and family members swapped or dropped by and delivered on Christmas Eve.
Ellen’s older sister, Mary Jane, had married a Mr. William Brown, and the Browns, and their children after them, continued to keep homes in both Ripley and Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast, where many of the Martin and Williams family members were often invited to gather for holidays, to vacation and to escape the Tennessee winters. H. T. Blythe, brother of Beulah’s husband, John, often drove down with sister Mary Jane’s son, Bob, Ellen’s nephew, in the Brown’s new Ford Touring car, ferrying various people to and from the coast, allegedly for the healing properties of the salt air and sunshine. In 1913 and 1914 Ellen and Eli had made 3 trips down to the coast with Bob and H. T., as Ellen tried to recover her “loss of strength” as she put it in letters to her daughters.
Then Ellen began to suffer from debilitating headaches, and conditions she called “hemorrhages”. She called upon the town doctors Lusk and Miller more and more often. She often became dizzy and sick, and had to lie down for a time, until they passed. She told herself it was just the strain of Eli’s chronic absences, Van Louis’s under-achieving his father’s dreams for him, the failing economy, and all of the children growing up and moving away, the so many ups and downs, leaving her feeling lonely and a little melancholy. But the medicines were not helping ease the symptoms. Eli took Ellen to Biloxi once more for a much needed vacation at the beach. But even in Biloxi, the nagging headaches plagued Ellen, and they returned home to Tennessee earlier than planned.
In January of 1915, daughter Albertha announced that she, now, had intentions of marrying her new beau. He was a charming young man who owned a smoke shop and billiards hall over in Blytheville, across the river, and, she beamed, he’s a Methodist. His name was Albert Carroll Cheatham, and he came from a lovely old Southern family. She had met him at a church social while staying with sister Beulah, whom she teasingly called Bubba. Bertha had gone for an extended visit to Bubba’s after the Christmas holidays to spend time with her adored nephews and nieces. Ellen tried to muster the energy to plan another lovely engagement celebration for her middle daughter, but the headaches had just become too intense to concentrate. She wondered if she was up to another large wedding right then, at all. Bertha, as she was called, did what she could to ease the pain her mother was in, but it was clear that Ellen was seriously ailing.
In October, just a few months prior, the family had held a large birthday celebration for Ellen’s 60th birthday. The whole family had gathered at the Martin home for the weekend affair, as all the daughters worked out details for the huge feast they spread for the occasion. Daughter Juanita baked the 4-layer coconut birthday cake, and Eli announced plans to purchase a Ford car of their own in the coming year, as well as presenting Ellen with a beautiful cameo brooch for the occasion. Ellen had somehow thankfully made it through all that, and through the hustle and cleanup of the holidays, but by the time of Bertha’s announcement over New Year’s Eve, Ellen’s condition worsened, though she only mentioned it in passing to Eli, in her last letter to him in Memphis, in January. Sadly, however, just a month later, on February 21, 1915, Ellen suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and died.
Everyone was devastated beyond comprehension, especially Bertha. What should have been the most joyous time in her life was now her most painful. The engagement celebration would have to be postponed indefinitely. And what would become of Papa, she wondered. How could he survive the death of his cherished wife? Who would care for him? And what would become of Van Louis and Juanita? There was so much to consider.
Ellen’s funeral was attended by an immense gathering of neighbors, friends, and her large extended family. There were so many flowers left by the Maplewood cemetery gravesite, that they spilled over onto neighboring gravesites and lined the walkways. Daughter Bertha had snipped a long lock of her mother’s hair for safekeeping, before the coffin had been finally closed, and carefully tucked it in her handkerchief and put it in her pocket. Later she would press that lock into the center of the Martin family Bible, where it still remains to this day. Daughter Lillias tenderly removed her mother’s wedding ring, in order to return it to their father, Eli, for posterity. A long procession followed the mourners to the gravesite, where she was laid to rest among the many Williams and Martins who had preceded her there.
Eli managed to continue to run the household for a while, with young Bertha, Van Louis and Juanita’s help, taking in boarders as necessary in his absence, but eventually, nearing age 65, he was no longer, himself, in the best of health. He was longing to simply retire to his Ripley homestead, and live out his years simply gardening and tending his home and playing with his grandchildren.
The next year, 1916, brought the death of Ellen’s sister Phe’s husband, Robert W. Burks. Son, Robert, Jr., struggled to support his mother, as the sad procession made its way, once again to Maplewood. Among the many Williams and Martins in attendance, was Ellen’s sister-in-law, Emily Williams, along with her family, but Emily herself was not feeling well those days. By December of the next year, she too, would be dead. Emily was just 41 years old. The ever-constant pilgrimages to Maplewood were taking their tolls, but Bertha was determined to have a wedding, in spite of the many recent tragic events.
She called upon her sister, Beulah, in Blytheville, where she, Van Louis and Juanita had been staying after Eli’s brief return to work in Memphis, to help her plan the glorious affair. Beulah, above all others, needed some happiness to come back into her life. Beulah’s life lay in strong contrast to the seemingly successful and uncomplicated life of her sister, Lillias’s, upon whom fortune seemed to be forever smiling. But even Lillias would come to have her own burdens to bear. Her only son, Charles, Jr., contracted polio and suffered grave, permanent physical and mental complications for the remainder of his life. Moving from Kentucky to St. Louis, farther and farther from her Tennessee family, was also a difficult time for Lillias, and she felt suddenly unavailable to care for her ailing and aging father, and distant from the close loop of her siblings.
In the coming months, the family took turns going across the river regularly to see about Eli, who shortly had quit working, and lived quietly alone in the once bustling house in Ripley, often kept company by son Van Louis. Being able to give his daughter, Bertha, away at her wedding, to a man whose company he truly enjoyed, made for a happy diversion and something that he looked forward to, as much as his daughter did. It would be an intimate wedding, candle-lighted, at Beulah and John’s Blytheville home, and the girls would make the bride’s dress and the decorations themselves. Eli designed and had ordered the announcements.
It was a joyous time for all concerned. Albert spent his entire life savings furnishing a lovely apartment nearby for his beautiful new bride at 210 Cherry Street, just two blocks from Beulah and her family at 214 Sycamore Street. Brother Van Louis added his carpentry skills. Juanita, Beulah, and ladies from the church catered the affair. It was a wonderful Wednesday evening wedding on September 27, 1916, and after a short honeymoon trip to Biloxi, the couple settled into their new life together there in Blytheville, where Al continued to operate the Smoke Shoppe, and the billiards parlor in Blytheville. One year later, he was offered a job as bookkeeper for the bank, with a substantial raise in salary, which he happily accepted.
Van Louis, however, was growing restless and bored alone so much and floating back and forth from Blytheville to Ripley. He had taken the death of his mother the hardest, and sank into a deep depression. He had begun working as a carpenter and doing day labor and hating it more and more. He continued in his obsession of attending the movies every evening, something he had done since movies were first introduced. When news of war hit the papers, Van Louis was quick to sign up. Any escape from the depression, boredom and loneliness was better than a job he hated. In June of 1917 Van Louis and several of his friends went to the enlistment office and joined the Army. Eli was torn between admiring his son’s valor, and fear of losing yet another family member. Still, Van Louis was determined to take his place among the legions of soldiers now shipping out for the trenches of France. He could not know the horrors that would await him there.
Van Louis sent letters to his father and sisters from the Y. M. C. A. in New York, explaining his excitement, nervousness and enthusiasm for experiencing all the new places and people. He detailed every single moment of his adventures in letters to his father, sisters, and friends back home. The mood of those letters would change radically, however, once he landed in France, and was driven deep into the trenches of the battle zone. No one could have prepared him for the experiences of violent combat, cruel nerve gas exposure, and the inhumanity he would come to witness. For Van Louis, and all the young men, it was a life-altering experience that many never recovered from.
Van Louis served his time, and was honorably discharged. But, he returned from France a totally changed person. He was now a hard-drinking, shell-shocked, veteran of an inhuman war. Instead of returning to construction, or business, he began to write for newspapers and magazines and traveled aimlessly. Some of his articles were quite inflammatory, and he perhaps pried into places that he should not have. Juanita was now working in Washington, D. C., for the F.B.I, and he sent her several of the articles that had been published. Van L. began to talk of “leaving for California” in his letters. Everyone assumed he was again pursuing his youthful dreams of becoming a movie star. At one point he mentioned that it would be a chance to seek his fame and fortune, and to hide from any dangers. It was all very cryptic, and little was made of it. So many young men returned from battle with severe emotional problems. But when he disappeared to Hollywood, changed his name to Glenn Martin Watson, and broke off contact with his family, the family began to worry in earnest. Even Juanita, though living and working in Washington D. C., was still very close to her brother. But even she was forbidden to know his whereabouts or his assumed name. Correspondence came clandestinely and incognito. Beulah, Bertha and Juanita didn’t know what to make of things, and wrote many letters of concern to each other over “Brother” as they called him. When he suddenly contracted meningitis and died at age 44, his secret location in Hollywood under an assumed alias was at last revealed to his confused family. On his death certificate was listed that he was born in Missouri, and was 35 years old, and was a laborer. Nothing at all was listed as having been otherwise known of him - no family members, no witnesses, no informant’s or friend’s signatures, no personal history - and what was recorded was entirely wrong. The autopsy report Bertha sent for had somehow mysteriously vanished from the coroner’s files. Bertha wrote to his last known address at 1306 Ohio Street, in Los Angeles, desperately seeking answers from neighbors or acquaintances, but it was as if he had never existed. No one either knew or remembered him. It was all too much to consider for Bertha, and she sank into a deep depression when she learned that they had cremated him, buried his ashes in Hollywood City Cemetery, and there would be no body returning to even bury. The family struggled to find answers and closure to a most bizarre and unexplainable family episode. No answers were ever found. It all remains a great Martin mystery. Juanita Martin never married, and lived out her life in Washington D. C. with her adorable terrier dog, Toodles, working for the F. B. I., and died in 1940. She was at her death, of course, sent home and buried in Maplewood Cemetery along with the rest of her family. She was known and loved by many neighbors, colleagues and friends in Washington, D. C., where a touching memorial was held for her.
By summer of 1918, Eli’s condition worsened to the point that he finally had to move in with a greatly pregnant Beulah and her family. It soon became apparent that the now vacant home place would have to be sold, what with Beulah, Lillias and Bertha now all married and on their own, Van Louis in France at the time, and Juanita living in Washington, D. C. Sentimentally, Uncle Billy Martin offered to buy it, just to keep it in the family, and the family agreed to the sale. Bertha and Albert and John Blythe arranged the parceling out of the family’s furniture and heirlooms, and sadly oversaw the final sale of the Martin home. Bertha wrote that the only sadder thing imaginable, other than seeing her father grow old and ill, was to lose their childhood home forever.
Albert and Bertha returned to their home at 210 Cherry Street, in Blytheville, and tried to make room for their newly acquired family furniture. Sister Beulah, two blocks over, had given birth to another daughter, Audley Louise, in September of 1918, all the while still caring for their ailing father, Eli. Then, as was so often the case, death came calling once more five months later, as Eli’s health began gradually worsening during the Christmas holidays. Beulah’s husband John had transported him frantically to Baptist Hospital in Memphis, trying to get him better and more sophisticated treatment, but it was of no use. He had developed gangrene of the intestine, and it was rapidly taking his life. The day after New Year’s, 1919, Eli Martin finally passed away. Once again, there would be a huge crowd gathered around the ever-increasing gravesites of Maplewood, as Papa Martin was now laid to rest next to his wife, and near to so many others he had loved in his life.
As if a divine blessing sent to distract her from the intolerable pain of so much loss, Bertha immediately became pregnant. Joy, once more, gradually crept back into her life, and she busily filled her waiting hours crocheting, knitting, and decorating her nursery. On September 17, 1919, she gave birth to their first-born, a son she named Albert Carroll Cheatham, Jr. Beulah, with her year-old daughter Audley, and Bertha with her newborn son Albert, often strolled their babies together along the shady streets between their houses. Then husband Al was offered a large promotion to relocate to Shreveport, Louisiana. With some reservation, the young family packed up and moved away. The same year, 1921, sister Beulah gave birth to her final child, a beautiful daughter she named Eloise.
Once settled into a Shreveport apartment, Al was soon able to contract to build a lovely home for his new family on Columbia Street, near the streetcar line to town, which he took to his job at the bank. Al continued in the banking business several years, then later took another promotion in the gas business, and eventually became president of the Chamber of Commerce. The family also became very active in the First Methodist Church. They built a lovely home at 315 Columbia across the street from Centenary College where their son would one day attend classes. They eventually had 2 more children besides Albert, a son, Gordon Martin Cheatham, and a daughter, Verlie Louise Cheatham. Albertha named her daughter in honor of her brother, Eli Van Louis and her late mother, Ellen Louise, combining Van and Ellen, somehow making “Verlie”, which was also an old family name, as was Louise. Gordon was named for George Gordon, Lord Byron, a favorite poet. Albert, Jr., married 7/31/1939 in Dallas, Texas to Lucy Rosemary Robertson, born 10/26/1918 of Marion County, Mississippi, a young woman who played basketball for Meadows-Draughn College, and later went on to play professional basketball, in what became the first Women’s Professional Basketball League, which disbanded at the outbreak of WWII. She retired from the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture after 30 years where she was awarded Secretary of the Year in 1970.
Gordon married a woman he met while in the Army, in Virginia, named Barbara. They were shipped out to Germany during the Korean War, for training, and there they had a daughter named Anne. Gordon then developed testicular cancer, and knowing this, they then adopted some German twins, but his life was soon cut short, and he died in Walter Reed Hospital of that same cancer in 1959. Barbara remarried to a man she met while in the hospital nursing Gordon, whose wife had also died at the same time. He was an Army Chaplain named Reverend Paxson. After her remarriage, she became estranged from Gordon’s family, and lives somewhere in Virginia. Daughter Anne married and lived for a time in Missoula, Montana, had two boys, became a nurse then divorced and moved to Denver, Colorado. Nothing more is known of her at this writing. Verlie Louise married a man named Col. Richard Francis when she was just 17 years old. A career Air Force man, they moved all over the globe, and never had any children. Verlie Louise, who became a general housing contractor for the government, died June 30, 1994 of breast cancer, and is buried in Apple Valley, California, next to her husband, who had died of a heart attack in his 40’s. Upon the death of her mother Albertha, the Martin family Bible and the many historic family letters and photographs, were placed in her possession. Upon her death, they were passed on to her niece, Cheryll Anne Cheatham Haile.
Albert, Jr., became a refrigeration and air conditioning engineer, and had three children: Cheryll Anne Cheatham, born 1/7/1947, a son who died in infancy, and Pamela Jean Cheatham, born 10/26/53. Cheryll married Kenneth Lee Haile, Jr., M. D. on 3/27/1971 in New Orleans, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where her husband is Director of Radiation Oncology, and she is an architect and writer. They had three children: Jason Alexander Haile, born 9/25/1973, Sara “Sally” Elizabeth Haile, born 11/19/1976, and Morgan Cheatham Haile born 6/19/1980. None are married at this writing. (January 2001) Pamela Jean married Daniel Paul Estevez, R. N. in New Orleans, and they had two boys: Daniel Paul, Jr., born in 12/7/1986 and Spencer Aaron Estevez born in 11/22/1988. They reside in New Orleans. They are now divorced. Albert Carroll Cheatham, Jr., died suddenly from a heart attack, March 12, 1993 at home in New Orleans. He is buried in Metairie, Louisiana. He was buried with full Masonic honors, and having been a Captain in the U. S. Army during World War II in the Pacific, full VFW honors as well. He was Commander of the VFW at the time of his death. An avid sportsman, stamp and coin collector, talented draftsman and carpenter, member of many clubs and organizations, and the Methodist Church, he was also a cherished husband, father and grandfather. A very large crowd attended his funeral, as he was a man very active, well known and loved in his community.
Lillias Martin Ford and husband Charles had moved from Fulton, Kentucky to St. Louis, Missouri, where he enjoyed a successful career with Swift and Company, and they raised children Charles Carson Ford, Jr., and Dorothy Ford. Dorothy Ford married Frank Ferlic and they lived in Illinois, where Frank became a successful attorney in Cook County, Illinois. They had the following children: Judith (Loboy), Barbara (Buck), Donald Ferlic, M. D., Joyce (O’Keefe), and David Ferlic. Seventeen grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren survive of these children. Dorothy Ford Ferlic was a member of St. Paul’s of the Cross Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She was a member of Friends of American Writers, the League of Women Voter’s, the 20th Century Club, and the Catholic Women’s Club. She was a great lover of the opera. She died 10/4/1997 in Park Ridge, Illinois at the age of 86. Charles Ford, Jr., as mentioned earlier, suffered many ill effects from polio as a child, and never married.
Beulah Martin Blythe and John Wesley Blythe lived out their lives in Blytheville, Arkansas, and had the following children survive into adulthood: Carl Wallace Blythe, born 9/9/1901 in Blytheville, married Ruth Etta Fisher 5/9/1926 Marion, Arkansas, died 10/26/1973 at Tucson, Arizona (children: Betty Ellen, Blanche, John Carl, Mary Louise); Henry Thomas, born 12/15/1903 in Blytheville, married 1/4/1926 to Frances Hardwick, Marion, Arkansas, died 11/6/1971 in Iulca, Tennessee (one child: William Hardwick Blythe); Ruth Elaine born 7/4/1909 in Blytheville, married William I. Malin 9/23/1939 (no children), died 11/10/1979 in Blytheville; John W., Jr. born 1914, married Beulah Felt, 1935, (no children); Audley Louise, born 9/22/1918 Blytheville, died 2/16/1991, Blytheville, married Frank Aquilla Greer 4/9/1939, (children: Selwyn Blythe, Franklin Aquilla, Jr., John Lester); and Eloise St. John born in 2/12/1921, married Floyd Edward Taylor 6/26/1938, (children: Anita Louise (Farina), and Robert Lee).
The work on this family history was done by no less than four generations of the Martin family and descendants over the course of nearly the whole of the 20th century. It was a monumental work of collaboration and correspondence. There are many Williams, Martins, Burks, Woods, Walkers, McGaugheys, Blythes, Ferlics, and Cheathams that are descendants of this large and proud family that still maintain an active correspondence as of the turn of the new millenium. They are far-flung from Virginia to California and all points in between. But, it is our sincere hope that as each family member receives this incomplete History of the Martins and Williams, that they will continue to add their own branches and histories to this impressive family tree for many generations to come.
© 2002 by Cher Haile
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