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Old 05-23-2010, 06:46 AM   #1
AlabamaCowboy OP
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Exploring the Country (North Alabama) A Little History...A Little Strawberry Picking

Having recently completed some much needed repairs on the TDM, I was eager to get out and ride. The weather Saturday was trending towards hot and humid, but Alaska Girl and I decided to give it a try. She wanted to pick strawberries at Brown Farms out between Hazel Green and New Market and I wanted to follow up some recent phone conversations I had with the current owner of the original site of my 3rd great grandfather's plantation.

DeBandi did a great report a year or so ago on the significance of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad during the Civil War, which prompted me to do more research concerning the occupation of my family's plantation during the war...( the Memphis & Charleston Railroad cut right through the plantation in the vicinity of Brownsboro and Maysville, Alabama)

Through my research I had discovered that the Union Soldiers camped on the plantation were led by General Crook ( I had stated Col. Crook before in error) and they were sent to both protect key railroad bridges in the area and to put down rebel guerillas in the area (Captain Gurley for instance) Some of the affidavits given for war reparations claims following the war indicate that General Crook lived at my family's plantation during his time in the area. My 3rd Great Grandfather had died either just before or at the very beginning of the Union occupation of his plantation.

The current owners live in a home constructed over the foundation of the original plantation house and own 33 surrounding acres including what they believed to be a slave cemetery on the back of the property next to the Memphis & Charleston railroad. They invited me out to see the land and the cemetery and even promised a brick they had unearthed from my 3rd great grandfather's plantation house.
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Old 05-23-2010, 06:59 AM   #2
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We started with a long ride on 2 lane roads out through some really pretty countryside to Brown's Farm to pick strawberries... and boy did they have strawberries !!!








My advice when picking strawberries is to sample the especially ripe (too soft to transport) berries in the field... I think I must have eaten half a gallon in the field ! Very sweet !!



Alaska Girl...born in Alaska..somehow found her way to Alabama ..for which I am thankful ....and except for the humidity and heat, really enjoys taking in the history and culture of Alabama...

We noticed that while riding on a bike... you can smell the cigarettes being smoked in the slow moving F350 that you follow for a mile before passing.... that country girls like to wear swimsuits while cutting grass on the riding mower and will just pull up a chair on the side of the house to tan (no matter how close to the road) .....that too many new houses have been built too closely together in the country...that country folks love driving their trucks/fourwheelers down to the river/creek and setting up lawnchairs/coolers in the water when it starts getting hot... and the nicest... that you can actually smell the strawberries as you approach Brown Farm on a bike !
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Old 05-23-2010, 07:02 AM   #3
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It was really hot picking berries out in that field...so before we strapped on gear and helmets in the blazing sun, we decided to take a break in the shade...



And YES...a gallon of freshly picked strawberries WILL fit in that tank bag !
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Old 05-23-2010, 07:15 AM   #4
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We left Brown Farm and hit the road back towards Maysville and Brownsboro to visit the site of my old family plantation.... For those traveling on 72 between Huntsville-Gurley- Scottsboro there are several good bbq spots....Mary's Pit near the 4 way stop in Maysville... Ole Hickory Pit I think it is .. between Maysville and New Market on Maysville Road....and New Market bbq in New Market.... just an fyi for hungry travelers...

The Lawler Family Cemetery sits on a hill just above where the old plantation home sat ....


It has been well maintained and cared for over the years.... We can thank my Uncle Jimmy Bragg for all the hard work he did for the past 30 years or so to make sure the fences were painted, the grass was cut, and that folks were buried where they wanted....



This big dogwood tree next to the gate is really special to me. When I was a kid, my grandmother came to town (Huntsville where I lived) to play bridge and on the way out of town, always stopped by to pick up one of her grandchildren to spend the weekend in the "country"... we piled our clothes and stuff in a paper sack..loaded it in the back of her old car, stopped by the A & P where she always bought me a matchbox car and a six pack of the little 10 oz bottle Coca-Colas...

My grandmother (Lida Irene Lawler Bragg) was very proud of her family history and especially the Lawler Cemetery. She would haul water in the car to water the zoysia grass sprigs she carefully placed, or the flowers or trees she had planted out there.... On one particular day when I was about 8 years old...she planted that dogwood tree (almost 40 years ago)....I remember the day because I slammed the car door on my left hand and my left thumb still shows the scar. Every time I see that tree, I can't help but think back to that day.


These are the graves of my 3rd great grandfather and his wife, whose plantation grounds I was about to visit...
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Old 05-23-2010, 07:44 AM   #5
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The current owners believe that big tree (which is an elm) was around when the plantation house was there on the site...It might have been...Ive never seen an elm tree that big !

They welcomed us in....let us store the freshly picked strawberries in the fridge and shared what they knew about the history of the place.... I was intrigued by their mention of an old Slave Cemetery on the back of the property...I had never heard about this ....

So we hopped on atvs and rode back to the cemetery...


Which as you can see is fenced in (even if overgrown inside) and if you look closely you can see the rock on the slope of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad in the background....



Inside the fence was overgrown and sunken depressions indicating graves were everywhere..there must have been dozens and dozens...almost all with no headstones....We did manage to find a few recent headstones....apparently burials occurred there as late as the 1970s...



This side by side pic of the same tree (slightly different perspective) shows just how big some of the huge old oaks in the cemetery are today....Im not an arborist... but from the size I could imagine they were present in the 1860s....



This man ..Watdell Ragland died in 1958 and fought in World War II....I did some research on he and a few others I found headstones for and it was interesting... Watdell Ragland married Fannie Bone on 12-22-1945 and was listed as colored on the marriage certificate....I found his military enlistment information on Ancestry.com and was surprised to see him listed as White. ( which I suppose means he was light skinned enough to pass for white ? )

When I started looking up the names I found on the few headstones there, I found in the 1910 and 1920 censuses that many of these families were listed as mulatto. I noticed one headstone for Frankie Ford b.7-7-1884 d.12-26-1965 who on the 1920 census was listed as a servant cook, married to George Ford listed as a hired man, and they both listed in the household of two white men Kible T. Lawler and Milton B. Lawler (shown as brothers by the census)

Most of the family names I found on headstones in the cemetery (none were Lawler) were shown as mulatto on census reports.... Interestingly in the 1930 census.. the designation for mulatto seems to have vanished with all blacks listed as Negro.


Here Steve and I are walking outside the cemetery talking about the interesting history of the old slave cemetery and the burials of what we believe were their descendants up into the 1970s...



And Alaska Girl and I, posing for a photo (not sure why) outside the old slave cemetery


A view out over the pastures from the slave cemetery towards the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, the Flint River and Brownsboro...
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Old 05-23-2010, 07:49 AM   #6
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On the ride home ....between wondering just how hot it was out..and what the humidity level must have been...and recalling that I had promised Alaska Girl we would stop at Mary's Pit for a bbq sandwich...Sorry about that !

I couldn't help but wonder about all the folks buried in that cemetery...All overgrown and neglected... How different it was from the one up on the hill where my family is buried...and probably most of all...where are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of all those buried there ? And of course....just a bit of wonder about all the mulatto folks buried there....and who their white fathers might have been ?

A nice long ride through the country yesterday....even if it was hotter and more humid than we had hoped...delicious strawberries in the fridge...a few family history questions answered and a few new questions to consider...
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Old 05-23-2010, 09:39 AM   #7
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Absolutely fascinating.


Very interesting history, indeed.

Great job, AlabamaCowboy
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Old 05-23-2010, 09:42 AM   #8
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It's always a little sad to see an unkempt cemetery and always fascinating to think about what those folks' lives might have been like...

Looks like a good day trip.
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Old 05-23-2010, 10:10 AM   #9
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Well Done!Hope to read about more of your adventures

Very well done. I appreciate the time you put into your ride report.
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Old 05-23-2010, 11:52 PM   #10
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Fascinating, I think it is a good thing to know who came before and what and who they were. You have an interesting heritage. Thank you for sharing.
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Old 05-24-2010, 01:00 PM   #11
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Thanks for the kind words guys....

I found this article on Captain Frank Gurley.....something from the Southern perspective to counter his reputation as a "guerilla" .... http://www.contactez.net/gurleyalaba...teVeteran.html

Interesting that when he surrendered to Union Forces he was held as a prisoner in Brownsboro (less than a 1/2 mile from the family plantation) until he was shipped off by rail (the Memphis & Charleston) ...His train was delayed it says because some rebel had placed a bomb knocking a car off the track...

So here I sit, 150 years later, thinking of myself as "Southern" as any man on earth and I learn that the "man" of the plantation house in the fall of 1863 might well have been a Union General (Crook) and not my 3rd great grandfather.... who died and was buried in the spring of 1863.

The family were devout Old Baptists, known today as Primitive Baptists and family lore has it that they encouraged the slaves to worship with them (albeit while seated in the balcony) at the Flint River Primitive Baptist Church which was the first Baptist Church chartered in what became Alabama in 1808. During my entire life, I never heard anyone on that side of the family say anything untoward about black folks.... All I ever heard was...All people are God's people....and You are as good as anyone and better than no one.

So, perhaps my Southern plantation owning ancestors were supporters of the Union during the War .... Although I think this might be contradicted by the fact that several of his sons enlisted in and fought for the Confederates during the War.... So it might have been more about self-preservation in light of an overwhelming military occupation ?

Interesting no less.... there weren't too many battles fought in this part of Alabama, Union control came rather peacably it seems... Which may explain why Huntsville has one of the largest concentrations of ante-bellum homes still standing in the State...
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Old 05-24-2010, 01:15 PM   #12
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Hope this isn't too boring or off topic... but I thought I might post images of an affidavit given in the war reparations litigation from Charles Lawler... a former slave on the plantation...









These are answers to "form" questions asked of all persons called to give testimony... I thought if the images are legible it might be interesting to some ..
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Old 05-24-2010, 01:17 PM   #13
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This is what I transcribed from the handwritten affidavit...

My name is Charles Lawler, my age is about 63 years, I believe, my old missuss Miss Lawler know my age for she partly raised me-

Residence near Brownsboro and Maysville.

Well I have lived here about 50 years. I reckon to the best of my knowing.

Farming is all the work I know much about.

I was a slave at the beginning of the war. I belongd to Massa Ben Lawler. He was the father of William J. Lawler deceased. I had belonged to Massa Ben Lawler close at fifty years before _________ ________________. I am not indebted to the Estate of Wm.J.Lawler, nor to his wife Miss Octavia Lawler. I have no interest in the success of this claim.

I am here to say what I know about how Mr. William J. Lawler done during the war.

53d I had been knowin William Lawler always, always knew him well, for he never left his father, stayed right in the house with him till he died- and I was right with them always. For I was a head negro about the place and the other black ones said I was favorite.

54th I lived with him in time of the war.

55th I saw him daily.

56th Yes, he talked to me about the war- when the ________ __________ got us he talked about not wanting to go on. That he was a Union man and was going to hold out that way. Oh Miss Octavia was as good for the Union as her husband was- for we black ones all knew that, for havent we heard her talk about the rebels and when the yankees come in she dine and had dinners fixed up for them and havent I heard her talk for the yankees when no yankees were at our house- that was the way all time of the war.

57th Nothing done for the yankees only at the house for the ladies did not go out much them times.

58th If she ever done anything of that kind, I never knew or heard of it, for I was for the Union.

59th I never heard of her doing anything against the union ones. I have heard her sticking for the union side.

60th I know us blackuns all said they were for the yankees. We did not get to hear much about what rebel white folks said about union?- we all said she was our friend and her husband too.

61st Well, I heard Mr.Perry Harrison (?), old uncle Ben , Roda and Massa Jehu and all of our family of Lawlers were for the union and treat us blackuns very right, and said we would all be free, _________ never run us off south when they heard about the yankees coming.

62d Well all I know anyhow was to be for the union.

63d I understood the rebels ___________ our menfolks and they would get after them for being so friendly to the yankees. For the yankees stayed here north of the line and kept the rebels off.

64th you are too hard for me now- I dont know about them things.



His
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Old 05-25-2010, 06:09 AM   #14
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Hey Cowboy

Great report, glad to see you back in the saddle.
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Old 05-25-2010, 06:32 AM   #15
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Interesting stuff!!! And right in my backyard no less...
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