Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We resume where we left off in last week’s record of the will of Thomas Gregory, our great-great-great-grandfather.
The word, “imprimis,” is not often used in this day and time. It is from the Latin and means in the first place, etc. It is used now and then in the introduction of an inventory and of some wills. The daughter, Sina, mentioned as having married John Douglass, had the same given name that the writer’s father’s mother had, “Sina.” We do not recall any later member of the family as bearing this name. The first Sina was an aunt of our grandmother. We wish we knew more of the Douglass family into which Sina married. Evidently she bore her husband only one child, Thomas Douglass, and was dead at the time the old man made his will in 1811. The family had previously removed to Arkansas, but we do not have the slightest idea as to what part of the State they made their home. Sisco’s “Historic Sumner County,” is our authority for saying the family removed to Arkansas. We might add here that we have long sought a copy of this book, but have not been able to find one except at a price we considered too high for us to pay.
We do not know where Isaac George lived. However, we have an idea that he lived in Robertson County, but this is a mere conjecture. We once knew Sylvanus George in Cannon County, Tennessee, but he knew nothing of any connection with the Gregory family. Also we have had two or three George families in Macon County in the past few years. There was not one George family in Smith County in the census of 1820, or 1830 or 1850.
The witnesses to the signature of Thomas Gregory on his 1811 will are: James Diason, W___ Wilson and Alexander Graham. We are of the opinion that the name “Diason,” is misspelled, as our record is only a copy of the original will, which copy was made by some of the W. P. A. workers of some years past, who did not take pains to make accurate copies of names in some instances. The surname of Dixon was found very early in the history of Smith County. William Wilson lived in Smith County in the year 1820, and was most probably the W___ Wilson, second witness to Gregory’s signature. We find no record of the third witness, Alexander Graham.
In the inventory of the estate, turned into the Court on August 10, 1818, are; “15 Negro slaves, one bed and furniture, one chest, one saddle, one kettle, one Dutch oven, one pair of hand irons, seven pewter plates, two dishes, two basins and one iron potrack.” This shows that old man Gregory had no livestock or real estate, and very little property except his slaves. A Dutch oven was one of the most useful of early, pioneer cooking utensils. It was made to rest on three legs, with room enough beneath the oven for a fire, and with a top that had a sort of rim around it to hold live coals placed on the top of the oven to help bake the contents of the oven. This was before the invention of the cook stove. On this point we may be permitted to state that the first cook stoves sold in this country had to “be pampered” a lot. The first wood was of poplar, yellow and dry, and good trees that would be very valuable today were cut solely for stove wood. It took some time for the people to learn that a cook stove could use any fuel other than poplar wood. We guess that when the women were short of stove wood and had to burn fence rails to heat these stoves, they learned that other kinds of wood would do as well as poplar. Perhaps they were a little like the Chinese were said to have been in the matter of “roasting” a pig. The story is that the very first roast pork known to a Chinaman occurred when the Chinaman’s house burned down with an old sow and pigs underneath, and part of the pigs did not escape.
The story is that the Chinaman, in looking through the smoking ruins of his house, discovered a pig that had not been entirely burned up. He took the hot pig into his hands and got burned. In his effort to cool his burning fingers, he thrust them into his mouth and thereby got the first taste of “pig meat” in the world’s history. And this is the story as we have read it. But we have a question in mind just here. Why did they grow pigs if they did not intend to eat them? Perhaps they just wanted the bristles. Anyway, the house burning down on the pig paved the way to have roast pork. However, for a long time the Chinese thought that the only way to have roast pork was to burn a house down on the piggy. So many houses were said to have been burned down solely for the sake of roast pork, that the Chinese were said to have almost exhausted their supply of house building materials before they learned that a pig could be roasted with less fire than a burning house made.
So perhaps our women learned the hard way that other kinds of fuel would do for their early cook stoves. On the subject of cook stoves, our young readers will perhaps wonder how in the world did the women of 125 to 150 years ago, manage their cooking. There was an abundance of fuel in the forests that surrounded most pioneer homes. There were no matches in those days and fire had “to be kept,” to re-kindle for cooking purposes. People cold borrow fire from neighbors at times. Others knew how to use a spinning wheel with a resin string and “spin fire.” Still others were able to use a flint and steel, with “punk,” dry, rotted wood, which would catch on fire from a spark. Some used tow, and later some used gunpowder into which they struck the sparks from a piece of flint rock. We wonder how many of our younger readers could build a fire with a piece of flint rock, a piece of steel, and some dry, rotten wood, or with tow or gunpowder.
Our first cook stove, as our memory goes, was that bought by our father when he and our mother set out to begin housekeeping in the spring of 1891. It was an old “Palmetto, No. 7,” having four openings or caps, with a step between the front and the back row of caps. Some of the very best eating we will ever see was done by our “mammy” on that old stove a half century ago.
When the writer got married in 1912, he bought a range, which was quite an improvement over the old “Palmetto.” Still later we purchased an electric range which does our cooking in our home today.
But a lot of memories linger about the old stove on which our father and mother’s children were “brought up.” We did regret so much to have to bring in stove wood for that old outfit which seemed to “devour” the wood. When we got a little older, we had to cut wood for old “Palmetto,” and there seemed to be no end to how much it would require. We recall that our father told our brother and me just before Christmas that if we would get up enough stove wood to run through Christmas, we could have that more time to enjoy the holidays, although we never heard them called “holidays” then. But about the worst sort of wood-cutting we recall for old “Palmetto” was in hot weather when we gathered up any sort of old dry chunks and limbs and found them full of ants, which would crawl all over the arms, hands and shoulders of the “toter,” and make life miserable. We would then resolve that we would cut enough stove wood during the winter ahead to run through the next summer, but we generally did not follow these good resolutions.
We recall that our mother used to buy “green” coffee which had to be parched at home in a skillet. We have stood, it seemed then, for hours, stirring and stirring that coffee, and we did not even use coffee. Then there was the matter of starting a fire in that old stove. Our father, from our earliest recollection, always built the fire in the stove for getting breakfast. Then later we got large enough to build fires. We generally trimmed shavings form a piece of poplar plank or rail, laid on some light wood, struck a match and soon had the stove going.
But with all the work connected with the old stove, there are a lot of pleasant memories. The finest smell of ham we can recall rose from that hot stove. The finest biscuits we ever “struck a tooth into,” come out of that little oven on that old “Palmetto.” In fact there was nothing good to eat that did not emerge from that old stove of 50 years ago and more. Fried chicken, and I may add, our “mammy” always killed three chickens to take care of the hunger of her brood of ten children; “biled victuals,” cakes, pies, “honey cadoodles,” and all the rest of that good eating will live as long as memory lasts. “Them was the good old days,” when no tonic to build up an appetite was needed or even heard of by the children who gathered around the table, with our father, “Pappy” to us, at the head of the table. Sometimes he grumbled about how he was going to be able to feed his hungry flock, but it was good natured. We recall that he generally helped our plates to the food on the table. We recall that he cut or “sometimes dipped” the butter out of the old butter dish which had on the top a representation of a hand holding a small glass stick. Occasionally in those days, particularly in hot weather, and refrigerators were unknown, and the butter was almost liquid, our father would cut or “dip” into the butter and then give his knife a fling toward the plate of him who wanted butter, the result being that that butter spattered itself over a lot of the plates and we did not much like the way we had been treated. But we kept quiet about it, not daring to complain. The house had no screens for years after the writer was born, although our father was the first man to install screens in his community. While we were eating supper now and then in hot weather, an old, big, fuzzy candlefly would come winging his way over the table, and this was the signal for our father to go into action in an effort to destroy the intruder. Sometimes, the fuzzy and dirty candlefly would light right in the middle of the gravy dish and this generally concluded our gravy eating for the time being. Or maybe the intruder would land in the middle of the butter dish, and leave tracks as big as a small elephant.
Pardon the writer’s rather long detour, but we will come back to Thomas Gregory’s property. A bed and furniture consisted of a bedstead, feather bed, pillows, sheets and perhaps quilt and coverlet. Generally there was a “straw tick,” to be filled with grass or wheat straw which rested on the ropes of the old-fashioned bed. On the tip of the straw tick was placed the feather bed. Then the sheet was next and finally the coverlet.
One pair of hand irons is somewhat puzzling to the writer. We wonder if this could have referred to the old-fashioned flat irons which generally went in pairs, one heating while the other was being used to iron clothing.
Seven pewter plates is another item on which we offer slight comment. This was before the day of fine chinaware, and pewter plates were used by nearly every household 140 years ago and more.
Thomas Gregory, Jr., bought sundry articles at the sale, to the amount of $6.12 ˝. He was a grandson of the dead man, and one of our own great-grandfathers. He married his first cousin, Betty, daughter of Bry Gregory.
Neel McDuffee, the next listed as a purchase of the old man’s property, was the grandfather of John McDuffee, now 94 years of age, and a resident of Hillsdale, this county. Neal, as we commonly write his name, had previously married a daughter of Bry, and a sister of Betty.
William Gregory, Sr., listed the third purchaser, was a son of Thomas Gregory, and was also one of the executors of the will. Bry Gregory, next mentioned, who bought a slave for $1,344.00, was our great-great-grandfather. He was the man who cursed the Almighty and whom lightning killed at the very moment the curse rolled form his lips.
James Gordon bought a slave woman for $917.00. He was a successful farmer of Smith County in 1820.
Robert Allen, also mentioned in the 1820 census, bought a Negro woman and child for $1,200.00. William Allen purchased a Negro boy for $1,366.00. George D. Blackmore bought a slave woman and her child for $702.00. Isaac George, above mentioned as being the husband of Elizabeth Gregory, purchased a Negro boy for $472.00. Josiah Shaw purchased a Negro woman and her children for $1,719.00, the highest-priced slave deal made at he old man’s sale. How many children she had is not stated. Josiah Shaw bought a Negro boy for $1,000.00. Joel Dyer, Jr., purchased a Negro woman or $1,325.00. John Gregory, and we admit we do not know which John is here mentioned, purchased a Negro woman for $124.00. We judge this to have been an old, wornout slave woman, unable to do much work and who sold for about the price of good mule today.
There is some difference of opinion as to where Thomas Gregory lived on Peyton’s Creek. His son, William H. Gregory, lived in the present William Nixon Hollow, about four miles south of Pleasant Shade. We feel that the old man, nearly 100 years of age at the time of his death, was buried in an old, forgotten cemetery located just below the present Nixon home and in the back side of a little field or bottom now grown up in weeds, briars and bushes.
Thomas Gregory and his sons, Bry and William H. Gregory, were all involved in the Revolutionary War. Their war records are on file in Washington and any female descendant of Thomas Gregory is eligible to membership in The Daughters of American Revolution, commonly called the D. A. R.
Just why the final settlement with the heirs was delayed till February 22, 1827, we do not know. This was almost ten years after the old man died.
We are now inviting all the living descendants of Thomas Gregory to meet in the first Gregory reunion on the third Sunday in August, 1953, at Sycamore Valley Baptist church, located four miles north of Pleasant Shade, Tenn., and ten miles southeast of Lafayette, on the waters of Peyton’s Creek. We wish that all our folks that can possibly attend and as many more as care to visit the gathering, would be present for an all day service. Bring lunch and spend a day. We desire to have present that day all who are related by blood or marriage, and as many others as wish to attend. Write to your Gregory kin away from Macon County and invite them to be present. We hope to have 5,000 persons present for this gathering of members of the Gregory clan, formerly from Scotland.