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A Higdon History

This is a wonderful history written by a cousin of Michael Millers.  It is full of information on families in Madison County in the early days.

Submitted by Michael Miller



This amazing document was written by the great-grandson of Hiram Berry & Mary Amelia Lincoln, Ulysses Sidney Higdon.

He wrote this in 1955, shortly before his death, and was SO accurate about these past events, it is astounding. He speaks of these long dead pioneers and brings Hiram to life, as well as his great-grandmother Sarah White. This is a living history of Castor Township, the Higdon, and Underwood Communities.

There is one thing I want to clear up, some people have mistakenly listed Matilda Caroline Berry, as Matilda Marguerite, from the misinformation listed in this article, however HER family bible clearly states her name as, "MATILDA CAROLINE BERRY".

The slaves he speaks of in here were, Richard White (1814 N.C.-Jan. 1901), Madison County, MO., Dick White lived with his family in the Castor Township, and part of his land was the farm of my Grandfather, there is a large pink granite mountain on the back of the farm, which in the old days was known as "Dick's Mountain", named after "Uncle" Dick White. There were two colored communities on Castor, and a cemetery which is located off J Highway. Richard White, his sister Hannah, (who married Frank Villars), were brought to Madison County by George and Sarah White. The cemetery is located on what was known as the Stumbaugh Farm. Hannah White married Frank Villars on 11 Mar. 1866, in the presence of their seven children at the Madison County Courthouse. For further information on the White family, see the "White Family History", by Geraldine

Sanders Smith.


11 May 1955

Dear Children,

In the past some of you have asked me to make a memorandum of the origin of our family as far back as I have any information. I am not able to trace the Higdon branch of the family back past, your great grandfather, Samuel Higdon. The time and place of his birth are rather vague. The best information that I have is that he was born and spent part of his younger days in Kentucky, near Lexington the family later moved to Tennessee.

I remember father and Uncle Hans had a letter from a Frank Higdon, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, saying that his father and Samuel Higdon were brothers. He also spoke of them having lived in Kentucky and later Tennessee. When the Higdon Christian Church was organized the "Christian Evangelist", a church papers published an account of the organization. The paper had a large circulation in the south. Later, Uncle Hans had a letter from a Mrs. Nancy Hale, I don't remember the address but it was somewhere in Texas. She said she was very young when two of her brothers, Samuel and Thomas Higdon, left their home in Tennessee and she also heard that they had located in southeast Missouri and wanted to know if the name of the church was in any way connected with them or their families. Uncle Hans answered her letter, but never heard more from her; she evidently was very old and had possibly passed away.

When I was employed at the air base at Halls and Dyersburg, Tenn. I met a number of Higdons who lived in that vicinity. I remember two merchants in Dyersburg and a farmer at Halls. They said they had been told that they had relatives in Missouri. They also said that there is a settlement largely composed of Higdons located on the Forked Deer River near Dyersburg.

We know that Grandfather Higdon and an older brother Thomas came to Missouri some time in the 1830's and settled on Castor. Thomas Higdon was a millwright and rebuilt and operated the old McMurtry mill located where the Hahn or Skaggs mill stood. Thomas married and lived on what we know as the Menteer Farm. He died at an early age leaving one son, John R Higdon, father of the John H Higdon you knew who lived in St. Louis.

Grandfather Samuel homesteaded and bought all the land that our old farm and Uncle Hans farm consisted of; he built his home where Uncle Hans home now stands. I remember well the old house, a two -story frame, three rooms downstairs and two large ones upstairs, and a one story ell for the kitchen, The frame work was as heavy as any barn, and had the same stone chimney that serves the present house. The old house was torn down in 1884.

Sometime in the late 1830's he wed Alia White (pronounced Aylya), whose father, William White owned the land adjoining our old farm on the south. They had five children; W H (Uncle Hans), Nancy Jane, Mary who died when her parents did, James Taylor your grandfather and an infant who also died when its parents did.

In 1853 Grandfather, Grandmother, and the two children died of what was then said to be a mysterious throat and tongue infection. I suppose the medical profession of today would have no trouble classifying it. It seemed to be very contagious. Uncle Hans, Aunt Jane, and your Grandfather survived, and four died. I hear Uncle Hans say that there was a funeral in their home every Sunday for a month. At the time of their parents death Uncle Hans was 13 years old, Aunt Jane about 10, and Father five.

After Grandfather's death the personal property was sold, and the children went to live with their Grandfather, William White, Grandmother's father. Just before Uncle Joshua White died, I spent the night with him. We talked most of the night and he told me more about Grandfather Higdon than anyone else. He was 18 years old when they died (and was Grandmother's brother). He said that my father resembled Grandfather in many ways, he said that he had breeding stock from Kentucky and raised and sold some fine horses. I heard father say he remembered his father letting him ride a stallion while he led it. He also said that he bought and sold land.

I remember when I was a surveyor for Madison County I was looking up some old records and found a deed in an old record book, it was in an envelope. It was a deed made to Samuel Higdon for 80 acres, the King farm at Rhodes Chapel on Castor, On the back the deed was a note saying, "I convey my title to the property described in this deed to Berry Poor.", and it was signed Samuel Higdon. It didn't say for how much it was sold and wasn't even witnessed. I wish I had kept it.

It seems strange to us today that families separated such a short distance as Grandfather and his should lose trace of each other, but the postal service then was not as we know it today.

Well I have been writing some personal observations and memories that may not be of much interest to you. As I said the three children went to live with their Grandfather White. Later at the age of 18 or 20 years Uncle Hans went to California, joined two of his uncles, David and Harrison White at Gold Run and worked in the mines there until the Civil War started when he joined one of the early volunteer Union regiments and was made captain of his company. He told me that they hopes to be shipped back east, but instead they were sent by ship from San Francisco to San Diego, then over to Ft Yuma, then to a central post in eastern Arizona, and finally to Ft Stanton in central New Mexico where they relieved regular soldiers and spent their entire time (almost 6 years) chasing Apache Indians. Their headquarters were at Santa Fe and their commanding general was the famous Kit Carson. Uncle Hans was discharged at Ft Bliss, El Paso, Texas and went home by stagecoach to the rail head then at Ft Riley, Kansas.

Grandfather White passed away in 1858, (Father was ten years old at the time). Later Aunt Jane, married W D Whitworth, (Uncle Bill) and Father went to live with them. They lived on the old Higdon Farm, (Uncle Hans place). At the age of 16 Father joined the Union Army, served with Co I 3rd Mo Cavalry, and was discharged in 1866. After the war he and Uncle Hans bought Aunt Janes' interest in the place and divided just as you knew it. Your grandfather built our old home and in 1871 at the age of 23, married Cordelia Berry.

They had two children, myself born on 30 September 1872, and Lulu E., who was born in January of 1880 and died in 1892 of that then dread disease, typhoid fever. She died 23rd of October in one month, my mother died November 26th from the same disease. From here on in you know the rest, your grandfather died in April 1918 at the age of 70.

Grandmother Higdon's father, William White moved from Georgia to Missouri some time before 1820. I think that Grandmother and some of the older children were born in Georgia. I don't know what part of the state they lived, but I am sure it was in the East Coastal area. I heard Great-grandmother and one of their old slaves say that they had their own oyster beds. Great-grandmother's maiden name was Sarah Crawford.

They homesteaded and bought all the south of our old place to the McMurtry or Hahn and Skaggs farm. Their home was on the Shelton farm. You remember the old house. I recollect when the old slave quarters was standing. Great-grandfather brought two young Negro slaves with him, old Uncle Dick, and his brother Jim. They cleared fenced, and built their home. Uncle Josh White said the older boys and the old man and the two slaves worked hard. He said they raised practically all their food and wove the cloth and made their clothing. The nearest trading point was Chester, Illinois on the Mississippi River, about 60 miles from the farm.

They raised a large family of seven sons and three daughters. Some times you have asked me, "In what way are we related to so and so?" In naming them I will also name some of their children whom you know. The sons were; JAMES WHITE, father of Gid, Nick, and Sarah(White) Bess; LUKE WHITE, father of Luke Jr., Russell, and Lum, JOSHUA WHITE, father of Harrison and Wint, JOHN (CHEROKEE) WHITE, father of Jim and Charles, DAVID WHITE, HARRISON WHITE, GEORGE WHITE, father of Cora and youngest of all the children. The daughters were; NANCY WHITE, who married Caleb Berry, my grandfather's brother, and is Henry, Charles, and Lum Berry's grandmother; ALIA WHITE HIGDON, my grandmother; LOUISA WHITE BOLLINGER, Ed Bollingers mother. She married Chris Bollinger, owned and lived on a ranch near Lodi, California and died about 1920.

David and Harrison went to California in the early gold rush days and located at Gold Run where they mined. Later they engaged in the banking and mercantile business. David was killed when delivering supplies to a mining camp in either 1869 or 1870. It is thought he was accidentally pushed from the trail by his pack train, as his money and valuable were on him when found and the pack train was found with all their load intact. Harrison ran the business until the boom began to die and then sold out and moved to Santa Rosa where de died about 1924. Val Schlessinger, the old merchant at Fredericktown, told me he did his first work in a store for Uncle Harrison at Gold Run.

Great-grandfather White passed away in 1858. He left all his personal property, slaves, and the home to Great-grandmother. In his will two of the old slaves were to be freed at her death, Uncle Dick and Aunt Hannah, but they all were freed several years before her death. The old man would not sell a slave, and years before he died he bought his last one; consequently, there were eight or ten there when they were freed. He had a system that was not very popular with the other slave owners. He allowed them to have their own team, cows, chickens, their own garden, allotted them land they could tend in spare time and Sundays if they wished and said they could raise anything for their own use.

I was six years old when Great-grandmother White passed away. My mother and I often visited her; I liked to go. She seemed to always have an endless supply of ginger cakes and cookies. She gave the homeplace to Uncle George White, the youngest child. Hemarried a short time before his she died and lived on the farm with her, dying himself shortly after she did. He had one daughter, Cora who sold the farm to Joseph Shelton This practically ends all the information I have in regard to the Higdon side of our family.

I will next give what information I have of Mother's family, the Berrys. I have more first hand knowledge of them than I do have of my father's family. Hiram Berry, my great-grandfather, was born in North Carolina in the year 1779, ten years before the Constitution of the United States was adopted and George Washington was elected president. I don't know what town is near where he was born, but it was close to the line between North and South Carolina. He married Nellie Lincoln whose home was across the line in South Carolina. Sometime between 1812 and 1820 he moved to Missouri, and located on a farm we knew as the Hick Martin and part of the Stevenson farm, just north of the Perryville Road, three miles east of Fredericktown. Some of the older children were born in North Carolina. They had a family of five sons and four daughters.

The sons were; CALEB BERRY, who was married to my great-aunt, Nancy White, and owned and lived on the Lum Berry, Henry Berry, and Frank Duncan farms, and was grandfather of Henry, Charles, and Lum Berry, WILLIAM BERRY, father of Dr Pinkney Berry, and Jake Berry who owned a farm and general store at Glen Allen, Missouri. JOHN J BERRY, my grandfather, who owned and lived on the farm you know as the Stotlar farm, HIRAM BERRY II, who owned and lived on a farm at Marquand, Missouri, and FRANK BERRY, who owned and lived on a farm near Bessville, Missouri. The daughters were LOUISA BERRY WATTS, Reuben Watts mother, LYDIA BERRY KELLEY, LAVINA BERRY POTTER, and MARGUERITE BERRY WHETSTINE.

My grandfather, John J Berry, was born on the farm east of Fredericktown in 1821, the year Missouri was admitted to the Union. He grew to manhood there, attended a school located near the John Anthony home. I remember seeing the ruins of the old chimney and the foundation. He married Amy Belmire, daughter of the Belimre that was grantee of the Belmire special land grant located on the St. Francois River south of Fredericktown. One child was born to them, Amelia (Berry) Rhodes. The mother died in childbirth or immediately after. Grandfather bought and homesteaded the land near Higdon; the Stotlar farm is part of it. He cleared, fenced and built all the buildings. He was a good carpenter. You remember the old house; I was born there. He also built our old home on the farm at Higdon. His second marriage was to Elizabeth (Bess) Shaw, then a widow with two children, Joshua Shaw, and Mary Ann Shaw Gamblin. Of course you remember, Uncle "Buck" Gamblin. Grandmother was first married to Gideon Shaw. He was a blacksmith, and was killed by a gun supposed not to be loaded. He had the barrel in the forge heating it so as to remove the breech block when it fired and killed him. Later she married Grandfather. The had nine children, three sons and six daughters.

The sons were, HIRAM BERRY III, none of his family are living; WILLIAM, who passed away at the age of ten years, and JOHN P who married my first cousin Cora Whitworth, and passed away recently in Los Angeles. The daughters were; MATILDA (BERRY) WHITENER, mother of Lum Whitener and Jennie (Whitener) Bess, CORDELIA (BERRY) HIGDON, my mother, JULIA, who died at the age of 16, ELIZABETH (BERRY) BALDWIN, MARY JANE (BERRY) WILLIAMS, and MARGUERITE (BERRY) WOMACK.

Grandfather Berry was held in high esteem by all his neighbors, a devout Christian. At an early age he joined the old Antioch Christian Church, which was the mother church of the Fredericktown Christian Church. The old church stood in a grove of large oak trees on the Josiah Anthony (later the Nifong) farm, two miles east of town; you remember the brick building that replaced the old log one of Grandfather's day. Later, he was a member of the White Water Christian Church, built the present church building there and was an elder for many years. He was a charter member of the Higdon Christian Church, supervised the building of the church house and served as an elder there until his death. He was a strong, rugged man physically, but hard work and exposure to bad weather brought on rheumatism and he was confined to his chair for three or four years before he died. He passed away in April 1893 at the age of 72 years. Grandmother died in 1896 just three years after Grandfather passed away.

Back to Great-grandfather Hiram Berry; a millwright and miller by trade, he built the Village Creek Mill, near Fredericktown, and the Mill Creek Mill. After his children were grown and had homes of their own he sold his farm and built and operated a mill on his son Caleb's farm. I remember the old mill with its large undershot water wheel; it stood near the house on the Henry Berry farm. After Great-grandmother died, he went to live with my grandfather, John J Berry. I was nine years old when he left there. I was with him often and remember the stories he told me, especially his war experiences. He spoke as casually of things or events that took place during the administrations of John Adams, Tom Jefferson, or Andy Jackson, as we do of Roosevelt or Truman.

He was with General Jackson in the Creek Indian Wars and his regiment of militia was called to help defend New Orleans in 1812. The British fleet that was sent to capture New Orleans entered Lake Borgne, which is a bay with a very narrow entrance on the Gulf Coast twelve miles south of New Orleans. General Jackson built fortifications on the site of Ft Jackson and stopped the British there. Of course you know the history of the Battle of New Orleans. The old man was a devout Methodist, but in refighting some of his battles he would use some very fancy cuss words. He left Grandfather Berry's and went to live with his son William at Glen Allen. The last time I saw him I was ten years old. He died in 1884 at the age of 105 years.

Grandmother Berry's maiden name was Bess. Her father, Joshua Bess, emigrated from North Carolina to Missouri early. I think about the time Missouri attained statehood, & located on a farm on White Water near the White Water Church in Perry County. His home was on what you know as the Ben Hicks farm. I have been asked by some of you in what way are the Murray and Bess families related to us? They are related through Grandmother Berry's family. In naming the Bess family I will give you the name of a son or daughter you may know. Great-grandfather Bess had a family of nine children one sonand eight daughters.

The son, ISSAC BESS, the youngest of the family married Sarah White sister of Gid White, and was the father of Gid Bess, and Ellen Bess Hicks. The daughters were; ELIZABETH (BESS) SHAW BERRY, my grandmother, SARAH (BESS) MURRAY, who married Isom Murray, and was the mother of Jack Murray, whom you know. Isom Murray was one of the pioneer preachers of the Christian Church in Southeast Missouri. Marguerite (BESS) Murray, married Anderson Murray, brother of Isom and was the mother of James Murray who used to visit us on the farm. MARY ANN (BESS) COUNTS, who married William Counts and was mother of Nick Counts & Jane Counts Yount, whose husband owned the farm and store at Yount Missouri. JANE (BESS) COUNTS, who married Benj. Counts, no or very distant relation to William Counts. CATHERINE (BESS) ELDER, who married George Elder; LAVINA (BESS) SMITH, wed A J (Jack) Smith, and SUSAN (BESS) HICKMAN, married Frank Hickman, and was the mother of Lee and Charles. She died in Los Angeles about 1912 or 1913.

I hope this disconnected account will be of some help to you to understand how the families are related to you and each other. If I had thought about it I could have had more information in regards to the Higdon & White families while Uncle Jim & Josh White were living.

There is a short sketch of your mother's family, the DeVinney's among her things; if I can find it I will keep it for you.