Thursday, February 10, 2022

Unpleasant Transformations


It was the third son of Job Tison whose biographical sketch, published in the Brunswick Advertiser on February 19, 1879, led fellow researcher Kathy to share the link and comment that looking "far downstream" sometimes led to helpful information about our ancestors, reported by their own descendants. With that—and especially considering John Mason Tison was a Georgia state senator—I had hoped to find a substantial stash of information on his roots.

Apparently, the political activities of southern gentlemen of the 1850s were not quite as widely examined in news reports as that of our current representatives. Surprisingly, even John Mason Tison's passing in 1882 merited barely two lines of newsprint, under the stark heading, Deaths:

TISON—Died, at Bethel, Glynn county, Ga., November 1st, 1882, John M. Tison, in his 66th year.

Hardly the chatty biographical sketch we were hoping for. And don't look for the tone to improve as we move backward in time.

Though only a child of six when his father Job Tison died, as an adult, John apparently rose to prominence in the county of his birth. I found indications of his success in animal husbandry, in addition to his work as an attorney and, later, in civic duties. A Brunswick columnist explained, in a brief insertion in the May 24, 1882, Savannah paper, The Morning News,

Court is held in a one story frame building with no conveniences whatever, and is in anything but a cleanly condition.... It serves the purposes of the Superior Court, Ordinary and Justices, and is no more creditable to this thriving city than is the court house to Savannah. I learn that the county was unable to build a court house, and this structure was erected by Mr. Jno. M. Tison, a wealthy and prominent citizen and a near relative of the late Wm. H. Tison, of Savannah....

Still, of the reports of the man found in his local newspaper, much of the news has a melancholy tone to it—even those items cast as humorous. Back in Brunswick, the November 28, 1877, Advertiser noted, in straightforward somber tones,

Monday's telegrams brought little else but sad news...a dispatch was received from Savannah, announcing the death of Mr. Wm. Tison, of the firm of Tison & Gordon, and brother of our esteemed fellow citizen, Hon. John M. Tison. Troubles come not single handed—only a few days ago Mr. Tison followed his daughter and her husband, Mrs. and Mr. P. A. Hazlehurst, to their last resting place, and now must part with his only brother.

But the Savannah Morning News on May 25, 1882, tried a light approach to what surely turned out to be a serious matter.

Yesterday afternoon Mr. W. F. Penniman, agent of the Savannah and Florida steamers, Messrs. John M. Tison and S. C. Littlefield whilst standing on Bay street engaged in conversation, were suddenly, aye, in the twinkling of an eye, transformed from Caucaussians [sic] into Ethiopians, and the process was decidedly unpleasant. They were standing near a building, the roof of which was being repaired. A workman had a mammoth bucket of melted coal tar in use, when accidentally he disturbed its equipoise, and over the eaves it went, about twenty gallons of the melted tar falling in a shower, and completely deluging the three gentlemen named. Fortunately the bucket did not strike either of them, and they escaped injury, but their plight was fearful. However, there is a cheerful side to the picture—a clothing merchant shortly after the accident sold three suits of clothes.

I'm not sure that was a sufficiently cheerful antidote to the misfortune, nor can I believe the victims "escaped injury." Not three months afterwards, the Brunswick columnist for Savannah's The Morning News reported on August 16 that

Hon. J. M. Tison, one of the oldest citizens of this county, is at present lying very low at Hot Springs, Ark. Mr. J. M. Tison, Jr., of this city, was summoned to his bedside some time ago, and at last accounts the hope of recovery was very small.

From that point until the announcement of his death, silence as far as news reports went. Then, after John Mason Tison's passing, an eruption of legal notices of an estate sale, "before the Court House door," of the thousand head of cattle and three hundred sheep belonging to the estate of John Mason Tison. Indeed, according to a transcription of his will, John's instruction—"I wish my stock of cattle sold as soon as practicable"—was clearly followed.

It was, sadly, in that final document of John Tison where, in addition to his last wishes, the father commented about his namesake son, the one who traveled to Arkansas to be with his father in those last days, "I regret to say that I do not feel that he has treated me during my illness as a dutiful son should." Who knows how to read between such lines, in a document as permanent as a last testament, to determine what unfolded between father and son which led to his choosing those parting words.

Since seeking effusive reminiscence about the legacy of their parents did not turn out to produce the hoped-for family history cache from Job Tison's sons, I doubt we'll see any more chatty results from the Tison daughters, but we'll take one last look tomorrow, before wrapping up with a research to-do list for the next time I visit the gaps in this family line.    


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