Field Notebook

Unedited Transcripts from the Author’s Notebook Entries

15 November 2009

Laurens County, South Carolina

The water tower above Ware Shoals proclaims to the county that the best “Catfish Feastival” happens there along the Saluda River every May.  When Dad asked the gas station attendant for the location of Maddox Shoals, he responded “good fishing there.”

With some turns and mis-turns, we found Maddox Bridge, spanning the river and paralleling the remains of the original covered bridge.  The Saluda flowed deeply and thickly and its banks were crowded with trees, some bending or broken upon the river.  A few beautiful homes were visible amid the trees, but these were unusual, and were in sharp contrast with the usual dilapidated shotgun shacks within the nearby towns.  One such home was decorated with a crushed racecar, which I photographed.

We did not locate Benjamin’s 165 acres of land, which should have been visible from the bridge along the north side of the river, but we’re hopeful of finding its description in courthouse books tomorrow [we did]; nonetheless, I took photographs of the banks in stupid hopes of calling one of the pictures “Benjamin’s land.”

After similar blind bumbling through town, we managed to find a sign for the Turkey Creek Baptist Church, and we followed its arrow into the pines, where we did locate the church and more importantly its graveyard.  It was Chad who found the oldest gravestones, littering a corner of the property beside an ill-used playground.  We were shocked to find “MADDOX” boldly displayed on a block of granite the size of a refrigerator.

A look around quickly revealed the graves of Hendley, his wife Jinnit Luckitt, Richard and William, as well as Edmund and William Ware, who were Benjamin (II)’s commander in the Revolution [incorrect], and possibly Benjamin (III)’s commander during the War of 1812 [evidence pending], respectively. It was a profound moment, being a culmination of years of research.  Chad mocked my pride of work.

But now I’m laughing at Chad, here in the Comfort Inn, because Dad has suckered him into developing a rather redundant and purposeless family tree using a hand-carved wooden pen that Dad bought for him (and a similar one for me) and that Chad immediately mocked.

17 November 2009

Christian County, Kentucky

Hopkinsville was almost certainly a beautiful and thriving town in the mid-19th century, judging by the remaining buildings and prosperous-sounding businesses.  Main Street and Virginia Avenue are lined with dozens of complicated Victorian mansions, and the streets downtown display worn-down signs of metropolitan-sounding theme restaurants (“Manhattan” for one).  But the town has deteriorated sadly, its only proud remaining business being Farrell’s hamburger restaurant near the county court.  All else has burned or fallen into disuse.  The town’s attempt to rebuild itself is exemplified by a dismissive and short-sighted new county courthouse, built in the plastic, thoughtless style of the 1980’s.

It seems, based on a recurring theme of building atop older, more interesting architectures, that during the late 20th century, the inhabitants attempted to bury or at least gloss over their past.  If they had merely fixed what had already been built, they’d now have an amazing and attractive array of stylistically interesting sites.

Matt and I drove the countryside in search of familial remainders – gravesites, namesakes, homes.  The hills roll beautifully, and some of the farmers have made the most of their land, and proudly tend to their barns and fields.  Tobacco, still the mainstay of Christian County crops, hangs in deep brown from the barn rafters.  Some is smoked, and that smoke emanates from the eves of the barns.  The scent of the smoking tobacco drifts amid the hills and hollows, and is a treat to the olfactory senses.  I, for one, was happy to see the tradition of tobacco farming, which followed the Maddox family from Maryland to South Carolina, and then to Kentucky, has continued unchanged.

We followed our map intently, and visited two farms to find cemeteries containing the remains of the Long family, especially Aquilla Long, who sold land to Joseph in the mid-1800’s.  The cemeteries are disheveled, but the gravestones remain noble-looking.  Aquilla’s bears a hand pointing upward to heaven, in quiet optimism.  We found only Maddoxes whom we have not yet accounted in our records.

From the graveyards, we went in search of Joseph’s farm, described in deeds as being on the meanders of the Tradewater River, at the convergence of the Rocklick Fork.  This placed the land just west of Crofton, and after many turns and brakes and mis-turns, we emerged from the woods above a sunlit valley, with a stream trickling through.  And in the distance, deep below, was a solitary farm with a few white houses with green roofs – Joseph’s farm – with broad plots of corn growing around the site.  It was a relief to find his farm unharmed by the undisciplined and short-sighted compromises that have been made at so many other places in the county.  Joseph’s really seemed untouched.

18 November 2009

Christian County, Kentucky

We had been searching for obscure family cemeteries for hours.  Matt, in an unusually attentive mood, was guiding me to sites marked on a 1953 USGS map as “cemetery” and denoted by dotted lines of questionable precision.

We were driving along an unnamed road to the southeast of Joseph’s farm, when we spotted one, but as we approached we saw that the cemetery was surrounded by barbed wire and it was being used as a horse pen by a not-so-cleanly inhabitant.  Piles of horse pucks littered the cemetery and surrounding area: every inch.

We did not hesitate, despite the filth, to introduce ourselves to the landowner, a man who had festooned his shack with confederate flags, and who was keeping not just horses, but goats and angry dogs in his field of feces.  One of the goats continually attempted to mount one of the horses.  He grinned toothlessly as we wove a hand in introduction, and to our happy surprise he claimed great affinity for our genealogical interest.  He, too, was a genealogist, and had made great headway into his McHale roots.

He invited us into his minefield, which upon further examination might’ve warranted a rubber suit.  We walked gingerly among the piles and made our way to the stones to our disappointment – they were all Dunning family markers.

But the landowner was full of surprises, and when we told him that we were descendants of Joseph, who had lived down the valley, he remembered that he has a view Joseph’s farm from his back slope.  Ever hospitable, he took us under his fenceline, which he explained could shock a 2500 pound horse into submission, and further to his slope, from which we could quite clearly see Joseph’s green-roofed farm house.  We were pleased, and seeing our pleasure the landowner explained in genealogical brotherhood that his own roots go far back, and that “the Irish were treated worse than the niggers, or blacks, or whatever you want to call ‘em.”  He had attempted to assure us of his conscientiousness by explaining that, “I ain’t prejudiced, but…”  Matt and I were both impressed by his mindfulness.

The landowner explained further that his brother, who drives a putty-grey Ford pickup truck, could possibly be convinced to take us to meet the current owner of Joseph’s farm.  The current owner had refurbished the original house to an excellent state – “like I’ve fixed up my front porch” – and it’d be worth a visit.  Having built our common trust (Matt and I did not flinch when he had told us about the marijuana growing down his slope), the landowner was eager to show us around and make introductions.  But Matt and I considered all of the evidence closely, and despite our interest in the farm, decided that our interests would be better met through a few more cemeteries visited or a few more documents discovered.

20 November 2009

Palestine, Illinois

Unlike Cornelius’ land along the Potomac, or Benjamin’s riverside parcel in Abbeville, or Joseph’s valley-farm in Kentucky, John Napoleon’s farm in Palestine cannot be easily distinguished from his neighbors’ farms – for hundreds of miles.  That said, the town of Palestine was certainly a unique place in its day, containing an opera house, a car dealership, and a kaleidoscope.  It was “a land of milk and honey” according to the Jeffersonian explorers, and it became prime real estate and an outpost of civility as the Indians were displaced and Manifest Destiny manifested itself.

23 July 1995

Palestine, Illinois

I backed the car up in the middle of this desolate farm road and found that it wasn’t as deserted as I thought it was.  I nearly hit the only other traveler around – a farmer on his way to Route 33, perhaps headed for Palestine.

Well, I pulled over and he stopped, he rolled down his window, and waited for me and Dad to exit our car… “Are you looking for something,” he asked eventually.

“A graveyard,” I responded quite nonchalantly.  It was a strange response, though, really.

He didn’t mind at all.  “There’s one up around the corner here, and another back the way you came – they’re both pretty big.”

“We’re looking for the Maddox cemetery,” I explained.

“Oh!  Well, that’s up in the middle of this farmer’s field about 50 yards in and 75 yards over… right in the middle there.”

We were surprised he’d even heard of, let alone could describe its whereabouts.  It was just a 6-grave yard, and two were unmarked, those two being the grave of Joseph and Susan Maddox.  None of them was younger than 100 years, and according to records, nobody visited.  They were being covered by dirt and manure as the seasons turned.  Even the farmer confirmed that we might not find them.  And it took us a while.

We trekked up the 50 yards and got pricked by thorns and poisoned by a stray patch of ivy, and were at a loss.  A deer jumped away from our path as we advanced toward the very middle of the field, and upon glancing up to him we saw a patch of unkempt bushes about 50 more yards to our left.

When we got there I went down on my knees searching: the name of my Great Grandfather and –mother and all their kids, including the first real proof of Buved’s birthplace, and the names of my Great Great Grandfather and –mother from Kentucky.

There was something almost sorrowful in the searching.  It was the lack of romance in the mystery, caused by the reason for the mystery – my Grandfather’s anonymity, maintained by my Grandma until her death.  She was a daring young woman, I suppose too daring.  She had a lover before she was prepared for the consequences.  But she was too modest to admit it to her son, my father.  I believe it was a mistake on her part: I believe it taxes him to this day.

Viola, “Jill,” told of some mystery man of Buved’s.  When they were living together (Jill was Buved’s half-sister), Jill remembers having the door slammed in her face for looking into it: “Don’t you know there’s such a thing as being too damn nosy!”  Buved shouted at her.  And there is no clue as to who he was, except on the false birth certificate of Dad’s, which names him Frank Reade Maddox.

There are pictures of Buved from that period – of her at her most beautiful and dressed to a tee.  Truly beautiful.

I can’t imagine any contentedness on her part as she grew up with her four brothers on such a small, insignificant farm so far from everything and everyone she read about in the Robinson Daily News.  She and her brothers must have ached for metropolitan adventures.  And Vincennes, an hour away, was a far cry from Chicago.

3 thoughts on “Field Notebook”

  1. Diane Libertini said:

    Thank you so much for all the details on the cemetery at Turkey Creek Baptist Church. I was there last Saturday and found all the grave sites you listed. I am related to the Maddox and Luckett’s. I am also working on supplemental apps for the DAR.

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