Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stories...and the Storytellers

Finding the booklet which tells the story of King Stockton, the unnamed slave whom I remembered hearing about since my childhood, gives me a chance to see those stories from a different perspective. Some of those stories I remember seem now, from a "wiser" adult perspective, to be almost incredible, so it helps to examine them from the point of view of another's life experience.

For descendants of the George Edmund McClellan family, those stories were mostly preserved, thanks to one relative: the woman our family called Aunt Fannie. I've written about Aunt Fannie before, though it has been over three years ago. Since, at the end of my Florida research trip, we had the opportunity to visit a rehabbed version of Aunt Fannie's cabin on the old McClellan property, it is probably a good time to re-introduce the storyteller of the McClellan family's tales now.

Aunt Fannie was actually my maternal grandmother's aunt. I never met her, though if my family had ever traveled south to visit Florida, I could have; she died five years shy of her century mark. Aunt Fannie was legendary for the stories she told, mostly about the early years of McClellan family history as pioneer settlers in northern Florida.

Those stories, though, I only remembered by virtue of hearing my own mother repeat them. I was well beyond childhood when I discovered, thanks to a nascent but thriving Internet-based genealogy community, that some distant McClellan cousins had published a book on the family's history. They were Joe and Bonney McClellan, who in 1994 had published Kissin' Cousins. To my surprise—although I don't know why I would be so surprised—I discovered, within the covers of their book, the Aunt Fannie stories I remembered from my childhood.

One story, in particular, had always stood out to me. It was the tale of northern Florida life in the early 1830s, when settlers on that frontier needed to guard their personal safety from the threat of marauding tribes of Native Americans. Aunt Fannie had told of a series of raids in which soldiers, following the signs of carnage, had come upon yet another scene, only to find the raiders had
gone to a home some miles away. The man's oldest son had gone to Jacksonville for supplies. The Indians scalped the balance of the family except the six month old baby, which they brained on a tree.

That was how the story was repeated in the Kissin' Cousins book—pretty much how I remember hearing it as a child. When I posted that quote in my blog twenty years later, I received a comment from a reader, urging me to get in touch with her. As it turned out, she was a great-granddaughter of Aunt Fannie, and she wanted to send me a recording of Aunt Fannie actually telling the story in her own voice—which I did, receiving that treasure just a few years ago.

Now, with the A. L. Lewis recounting of King Stockton's life—the booklet recently sent to me, thanks to the Rose Library at Emory University—I see yet another tale from that era. This time, it was recounted from the viewpoint of a little slave boy, sent by his master from the field back to the house on an errand. According to this account, shared by King Stockton, as told to A. L. Lewis,
The Indians were hiding in the woods intending to kill him, but he stopped to call another boy, and the Indians, growing tired of waiting, went on to another plantation, Richard Tilley's, shot his wife down as she was coming from the lot with her baby in her arms, then stabbed her, and left her for dead. She was not dead, however, and managed to call her sister. They found her with the spear still in her back. It was pulled out, and they carried her in the house, but she lived only a few days.

The interesting thing about this recounting of that time period in northern Florida was that King Stockton reported names of some of the families which were "wiped out." The biography named the Petersons, the Clemmons and the Sykes families, all presumably from Columbia County, the region from which Suwannee County eventually was carved.

While the story according to King Stockton wasn't exactly as I remember the Aunt Fannie stories, it does point to one observation: no matter the particulars of names or injuries, that was the life faced by settlers to the area, whether of European or African heritage.

This recounting, however, delved into more detail than might have been suitable for young ears. It came with several other names listed, tempting me to see what can be verified through additional research—something to save for tomorrow, of course.

Above: The well, as it still stands, in front of Aunt Fannie's cabin on the old McClellan property near Wellborn, Florida.


  1. Another interesting and engaging entry.

    So now we have our own up close and personal accounts of FL American/Indian "history" from the points of view of a settler's wife and an enslaved boy. My thoughts are that perception is reality; and, the stories about the hostile Indians persisted in both the FL slave and pioneering communities. There had to have fear struck in the hearts of all around at the time.

    Also, it seems that every story uncovered brings with it more curiosity. I wonder if the Indians still had camps/villages nearby or were they going out on missions to raid, kill, and "discourage" the settlers. Who would think that one small FL town could ignite so much curiosity about issues like race, ethnicity, and American practices and policies that continue in our news feeds today?

    Back to the post, even more interesting is the possibility that some of the age old tales can be verified. As stated, something to pursue on a later date.

    1. It is interesting to take these stories--and particularly the names--and piece together the history that impacted these people. I never thought I could get such an up-close picture of what life was like for specific individuals from well over 100 years ago, but it's beginning to take shape.

      One thing I'd like to try is to tie these biographical remembrances with a timeline of history. I do remember those stories of marauding natives from my childhood, but always parked that memory in the "long ago" one-shot-deal category in my child's mind. As it turns out, the risks may have been spread out, sporadically, over much longer than a decade in these people's lives.

  2. Very interesting, there are tales similar up here but a little the 1880's.

    1. ...and with a lot more snow in the picture, I'm sure ;)

  3. There is so much fascinating material in this post that it is almost hard to focus. I am curious about the US military efforts to fight against the Seminoles, but I am sure that is well documented and I will be able to find many books. In reading up on confederate officers who gained their war experience in Florida in the 1830's, I think about those who may have seen opportunity to gain land, then returned to FL to settle.

    As for attacks by Indians, I have heard a similar family story about a young girl in South Carolina when it was a colony, coming home to find her family killed and scalped. I intend to look it up when I finish dealing with these CW letters.

    Jacqi, you are a wealth of inspiration. When you have a moment to breath - I have some tidbits to share with you about Gus Broyles. (That's how I found your blog, searching for names I see in the letters.)

    1. Lisa, I am very interested in hearing about your stories about Gus Broyles. And of course, I'm quite excited about your civil war letters. What a stash!

      As for the US military efforts, we'll look at a few details this week, though that is a story with a bigger picture than my current focus. It is an interesting addendum to think of your comment regarding officers gaining their fighting experience from the Seminole wars--and especially seeing that as a draw to bring more settlers to Florida. I'm still pursuing any documentation as to what drew some of my earliest settlers to Florida among my ancestors. The larger ebb and flow of history may well provide some clues.

  4. There is a similar Indian raid story in my husband’s family tree in which the baby was bashed against the wall. Scary times.

    1. My husband's family history also includes such stories--only they were in the western frontier (at that time period) of Pennsylvania and what was once still Virginia. Intrepid settlers. Talk about hardy stock.


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