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Ex-Slave, Glasglow's Oldest Resident? "Babe" Recalls the Civil War


Courtesy Barren Black’s Roots, Volume 3, Michaelle Gorin Burris, Gorin Genealogical Publishing, (c) May 1993. By permission. Original source unknown, likely the Glasgow Times.


                “At the age of a hundred and some odd years, J. T. “Babe” Franklin was starting out in the mid-afternoon heat of Friday afternoon, September 8, to harvest his tobacco crop.


                “However, Franklin, who probably is Barren County’s oldest citizen, bowed to request of interviewers and seated on the front porch of his Honeysuckle Lane home told of people, places and incidents he recalls during his long life since the days when he was born in slavery in Macon County, Tennessee.


“Franklin, who says his mother never gave him a name but just called him “Baby”. (a cognomen he retained untill well into boyhood when Major James Tompkins instructed her to give him his name), James Tompkins Franklin, later shortened to “J. T.”, admits he isn’t sure exactly how old he is, but is sure he well over a hundred.


“One of his earliest memories, he declared, is hearing the rumble of distant artillery during one of the Civil War campaigns, and he says he was at that time “old enough to pick up chips for the fire and to carry a water bucket.” But, he added, “I just have to guess at my age; the records are all burnt up.”


“At any rate, the undeniable very aged man is in remarkably good physical condition, though he shuffles as he walks due to a “misery” in his legs. His “second eyesight” came to him two years ago, he states, and his hearing appears excellent. However, prolonged conversation does tend to cause nervousness, and an occasional fainting spell, his wife states. But this year, in addition to helping in his tobacco patch, he has cultivated his own garden.


“His memory for names, especially of the long ago, is so tenacious that a listener soon becomes a trifle confused by the outpouring of family names and family histories.


“Briefly, when he was a boy, in the Civil War era he and his mother and an older brother lived on the John Bratton farm near Akersville, while his father was owned by Sam Franklin and lived on a farm some miles away. His owner gave him permission each two weeks to visit his wife and sons, Franklin said. “Babe” appeared to have been quite fond and rather proud of his older brother, who he says was a school teacher, lawyer (well enough versed that other attorneys asked his advice) and singing teacher. The brother died of lockjaw while working in Indianapolis, many years ago.


His Civil War memories, and his slightly unusual interpretation of some of the politics involved in that conflict, are subjects to which he recurs repeatedly in his conversation. He heard the sound of cannon twice, he says, adding one time it was at the battle of Chattanooga, the other than of the battle of Nashville. He also recalls that during his very early boyhood he saw groups of Negro slaves being marched down Tennessee roads by buyers en-route to new homes, and that the feet of some were bloody from long marching over the rocky roads.


“During the war, he adds, Confederate soldiers often passed in “big droves” and “used to put up in our (Bratton’s) place.”


“Babe” says he and his parents lived on the Franklin farm three years after the war, building a cabin there, and that Franklin gave his former slaves a share-cropper status. He can recite each successive move of the family through the following decades of farming: to the “Major Seay” place 300 yards from Franklin’s; to the Bart Stone place on the road to Glasgow; then to a Celsor farm; thence to another Celsor’s; then to Flippin area where his father bought land from the “Harrison Heirs” because the farmer on whose land they had been living attempted to dictate to his sharecroppers how they should vote in the Grover Cleveland election. On this 50 acres of timberland, he recalls, there was a huge Indian mound area composed of mussel shells, bones and other debris at an old Indian camping ground on “Goodman Branch” where “Indian spikes” were everywhere. The family built a cabin near this camp site. However, the Franklin family were frequent movers, averaging about three years at a location, though at one place they lived with a man whose wife had died and helped him raise his children till they were near grown.” Finally, after a last period of farming on a Sam Hudson’s farm near Puncheon, “Babe’s” father gave up agriculture and went into blacksmithing, and worked at that trade the rest of his life.


“Babe” remained with his parents until he was “about 32”, he says, and was married about 1889 (though he was very vague on this date, confessing that a “whole lot of things I’ve done clean forgot and can’t remember”) to Miss Lizzie Ellen Brown. However, he says he distinctly remembers they were married “in the Lafayette courthouse door” and that he financed the wedding with ten dollars loaned him by a Mr. Ed Gillenwater. His bride, he says, was 14 years old, and “we’ve been together ever since.” Mrs. Franklin, listening inside the door of their residence while her husband told his story, also said she was uncertain of the date. As a sidelight on this marriage Franklin states he still possesses a bedstead he purchased when he and his bride set up housekeeping.


“Franklin was a farmer on various farms until 1922 when he moved to Glasgow, and continued farming for several years after that, and “I worked at everything.”


“He is the father of five children, “two boys and three girls” but they all gone from home and they are getting pretty agey now, too, and they all work.”


“He added that he had eight brothers and sisters, but only two of them survive, both in bad health, and both in Indianapolis.


“Upon request, he brought forth (attached to his big gold-cased railroad watch which was in the trousers he’d removed when dressing in work clothes for his tobacco patch chores), and displayed a lengthy fob made of hand-carved mother of pearl medallions. These, he explained, he carved from big mussell shells, adding that his best sample, a fish “with all the scales on it”, had been lost while he was fishing in Barren River. The pearl medallions are mostly in the form of profile human heads and are very artistically shaped.


“At this point, the strain of attempting to bring into focus the memories and dates of more than a century of living apparently became too great a strain on his nerves and Franklin began to sob softly while tears ran down his cheeks. The interview was immediately terminated, and Franklin was left, an old, old man seated on his porch, fingering his carvings and lost in his memories.”


Copyright © 2004 - 2010 C. Harvey