Once upon a time. . .
A group of cousins were so curious about their family history that they decided to investigate their heritage. They assembled and documented information from older family members, friends, recorded documents, and family Bibles. Interviews were conducted with families all across the United States and a pilgrimage was made from California to Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee to visit families and graveyards, collect photographs, and reconstruct early life with the related families.
As family members, aunts, uncles and new acquaintance of distant cousins we had never met began to share their photo albums, a picture emerged of black family life at the turn of the century that filled us with pride and awe. It has been a very rewarding and enriching experience for everyone involved.
Most of the family history centered around the following areas of Alabama: Howell's Cross Roads, Woods Bend, Piney Woods, Turkey Town, Leesburg, Farril, Gaylesville,Centre, Gadsden, Ballplay, Cedar Bluff and Piedmont. And in Georgia the following areas were investigated: Cave Springs, Cedartown and Rome.
The beginning of our story has been traced back to a plantation near Round Mountain in Cherokee County Alabama where Patti Marshall (Reese family matriarch) was a slave. She was of Cherokee Indian descent. According to the 1880 census, she was born in Virginia, as well as her father. Records indicate on May 27, 1825, Patti Marshall gave birth to a daughter named Sara Frances ("Sallie") in Georgia. The Father of Sara Frances is believed to be from South Carolina. Patti Marshall also gave birth to three sons: The name of oldest son is unknown, but the other two were named John Marshall and Jim Marshall. It is not certain who fathered the three boys, but he may have also been from South Carolina.
Slavery was a difficult time for families in the South. They worked and toiled at hard and exhausting tasks daily from sunup to sundown without pay. Often during slavery, families were separated by slave owners who sold or traded family members to other plantations. This was the case with Patti Marshall's family.
At some point in time, Patti Marshall was sold to the Clifton Plantation and was allowed to take the younger
son, Jim Marshall, with her. When she started life on the new plantation, her son was given the last name of Clifton, and afterwards was known as Jim Clifton. The plantation owners allowed the mother and sons to maintain family ties and they continued to visit with one another. As the plantations were within walking distance, they were able to visit when they had the opportunity.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution ended 200 years of slavery. After the demise of slavery, blacks were free to leave the plantations and seek lives independent of their former slave owners. Some chose to remain on the plantations and work assigned parcels of land. During slavery, families usually lived in shelters built by the land owners. In later years, families built their own housing.
Families planted and harvested various crops of the land and paid a portion of the proceeds to the land owner in exchange for using the land. This was known as "sharecropping" -- sharing the crops with the owners of the land. "Cotton waking" in the agriculture industry of the south during this era. Modem methods of planting and harvesting the crops were not available and much backbreaking manual labor went into the planting, cultivating, and picking of the cotton. With the end of slavery, many chose to leave the farms and drifted to cities to find less strenuous work and better lifestyles.
The Yankee soldiers from the North began to visit the plantations after the Civil War to ensure that former slave owners were allowing slaves who chose to leave were able to do so. It is said the older of the Marshall brothers left the area with the Yankees and moved on to North or South Carolina where he built a business and started a family. Years later a family member of this Marshall brother returned to the Cedar Bluff area to visit. The family, however, lost track of his whereabouts after the visit.
Following the demise of slavery, Patti Marshall wed Elias Shook and gave birth to another son, Augustus (Gus) Shook. The sons and daughter of Patti (Marshall) Shook started families of their own. John Marshall married Angeline ("SIS") and they raised Zanobia Jackson. Jim (Marshall) Clifton married Ella Lamar (from???) and had children.
Sara Frances ("Sallie") (father's last name unknown) married Tom Law, a white man, and had a daughter, Ida Law. Following the death of Tom Law, Sallie Law married Edward Reese, another white man. The 1880 Census documents a REECE family in Cherokee County headed by Edward Reece, age 26, a white male born in Georgia and his wife SARAH (Sallie) REECE, age 31, a mulatto born in Georgia. The Census lists the children by the name of Ida, age 10; Emma, age 6; James, age 4 and Edward, 5 months--all born in Alabama. Edward's occupation is listed as a farmer and his wife Sarah as keeping house. The marriage to Edward Reese resulted in birth of one daughter, Emma, and five sons-Edward Jr., George, Bowden, Jim and Emery.
Most of the time the Edward Reese family lived in a three-room log cabin house with a well in the front yard with lots of pine trees in the area referred to as "Piney Woods" where he owned land and farmed. Cotton was their main crop. The children of Edward Reese, Sr. and Sarah (Sallie) Reese began to marry and establish their own households. Ida Law married a preacher named George Willingham and had four of their eight
children in Cherokee County in Alabama. Later, the family moved to Augustus, Arkansas where the younger four children were born. As the children reached adulthood they married and moved to other parts of the United States. According to the census, Ida Willingham's family were also farmers.
Early rural family life revolved around the daily chores required to sustain life in rural farming towns. Work was hard and consumed most of their day. The majority of all their food was grown, harvested, and prepared in the home. Fresh milk, vegetables, and all kind of meats were the heart of the diets. When it came to meat, they used almost every part of the animal for food or other items (thus the term "from the rooter to the tooter").
Meat was preserved by smoking in a small smokehouse near the main house. They made use of everything, recycling as many things as possible. Large family gardens provided fruits and vegetables which were canned and dried for future use. Cows, pigs, and chickens were raised for food and often traded for other necessities. Sugarcane was grown and made into sorghum syrup for their personal use and to sell or trade for other items the family needed.
To keep foods cold, families used an ice box. It contained a block of ice which was delivered to the home once a week. If the ice ran out, food was loaded into buckets and lowered into the well to keep it from spoiling. In addition to helping with cultivating crops, farm horses and mules provided transportation. Trading livestock and other food items for other goods was popular, since not much cash was available.
Because the typical house had no electricity, telephones, gas, running water, or sewer service, there were no utility bills. Homes were heated with wood or coal burning fireplaces or stoves. Toilet facilities were in a separate "outhouse" located in the rear of the house. Often the old Sears catalog was used for tissue in the outhouse. In the evening - hours, families had to resort to buckets called "slop jars" for toileting purposes. Bathing was done in large metal tubs with water from the well. Hot water had to be boiled and added to the bath. Most homes were lit with kerosene lamps.
Even though the family was blessed to live in a fertile region of the nation, they often faced harsh winter months with heavy rains, ice and snow. Those who lived in the low lying lands routinely had to cope with floods from neighboring rivers that overflowed their banks and caused major destruction to many households. During flooding. many families were not able to salvage their household and personal items and had to set up their homes again and again.
The early floor plans were much different from today's house designs. Often separate rooms were used as bedrooms along with a combination kitchen/parlor as the central room of the home. Many homes had porches on the front or rear of the house with a swing and served as the family gathering area for conversation and fun.
During times when the water levels in the wells were too low, the family would have to get water from a nearby spring. The family wash would have to be carried to the springs where the washing was done. Large kettles were set on the bank of the spring and a fire heated the water for the wash. Washing clothing at the springs would continue until the water level had risen sufficiently to wash at home. After the exhausting chore of washing clothes at the springs, they had to hang clothes lines to dry. The ironing had to be done with heavy pressing irons, which were heated on wood burning stoves, or in the fireplace. Most of the clothing was handmade by the women in the family from purchased fabrics, flour sacks, and often restyled from used clothing. Scraps of materials were used to make quilts for the beds.
Many women learned quilt making and participated in quilting bees where they often collectively worked on very elaborate quilt patterns. The most popular garment worn by males were overalls made of denim. The overalls were dressed up on Sunday with a white shirt. Women seldom wore overalls or pants unless they were working in the fields. Dresses were worn below the knee along with a bonnet or hat for special occasions. Catalog shopping (usually Sears) was popular for ordering special clothing or other household goods.
Free time was spent with the family. Activities included ball games, fishing, and church picnics. Hot dogs and barbeque were sources of money for church sponsored fund raisers. These church activities were big social events where events of the day, courtships and other things transpired. At the May Day celebration, games like horsehoes and sack races were popular. Schools gathered to "plat the Maypole," which involved weaving long lengths of ribbon around a pole. Popular dances at house parties were the Charleston, two-step and jitterbug.
Many Sunday afternoons were spent in church listening to fiery sermons and church quartets. The church was central to most families and people often walked long distances to attend church services without wearing shoes. To attend church sponsored "singing" or other activities, trucks were chartered for 10-15 cents and people piled into the back of the trucks for the trip.
Emery Reese earned a reputation as a "note singer," which meant he sang the notes, "do, ra, me, fa, so la, te, etc., instead of the words of the song. A small combo band consisting of Ed Clifton, Sad Horton, Porter Clifton, and Shade Horton played at parties for local blacks and even entertained local whites.
This story was submitted by Jan Kelly, who was assisted by her cousins, Linda Gayle Stiggers-Courtney, Virginia Thompson, and Patricia Hobby, who are all granddaughters of Emery Reese.
Copyright 2008 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail.