Biography of James White and Others

Book pp. 299-302

961 (See 50)

James White was born July 27, 1789, some where in Nashville, or about ten or twelve miles south, and near the Hermitage, known as the old home of General Jackson. Elizabeth Matlock was born Dec. 8, 1806, at or near Nashville. They spent their lives up to 1820 at and around Nashville and on the north side of Duck river and east of the Tennessee river. No one can fully realize their life's existence in childhood days unless he has read the detail history of the Cumberland settlements during that period. There was no occasion to tell these children ghost stories or try to incite their fear by the relating of an imaginary being. It was only necessary to whisper "Indian" and every child trembled. Either born in a tent or living in one for some time in babyhood is the tradition of this male ancestor. The father of his mother had been killed as a Patriot in the Revolutionary war. The wife had become deranged and died as a result of this calamity. Thrown on the charities of the world, Martha Pyeatt had joined young John White in his fight for a living. All he possessed they had brought from South Carolina on the horses they had ridden across the Mountain trail. A tent was all they had for a mansion in married life's first struggles. James White the first born, came into existence during this period. In those days, there were many neighbors sharing like quarters. Elizabeth Matlock had her tribulations. One night when a child, she with her parents had gone five miles to spend the night with friends in the next settlement. Into their settlements, this night the Indians ventured. Every man, woman and child, save one small child were pushed into a cellar and upon discovery by the Indians, were killed. Every one killed was scalped save one small girl and surroundings indicated that she had been taken by the feet and her brains dashed out against the chimney. The visit of our grandmother and her people to another settlement was all that spared their lives, as they were not present. In childhood days he was perhaps called Jimmie, later probably known as Jim, and then for some small service as a leader in some trifling Indian skirmish, he was the recipient of the title of Captain James. A little later, having been elected Justice of the Peace, and having served to settle neighborhood disputes for some years, he was called Squire White, but having reached ninety years, five months and nineteen days before he was called to his maker, he was universally called Uncle Jimmie, as is the custom in the Southland when one has grown aged and is highly respected. In early life he met Polly McSwaine and their love ripened into matrimony. She too had led the adventurous life and when yet in childhood had lived near the banks of Duck river. The house had been washed away by an unexpected freshet and the McSwaine and Jourinigin families sought safety on a hurriedly made raft fastened to a tree, not of sufficient size to hold up and float the families. Seven or eight days of the childhood of Polly McSwaine was spent in these waters. On the back of a horse an older sister had floated down the stream until the horse had crossed the river three times before he could make a landing. She managed to gain safety. Starvation was staring them in the face, when a McSwaine boy and a male member of the other family undertook to swim out and bring assistance. They both lost their lives and the bottom of Duck river was their burial place. Under all circumstances, there would be a shudder to think of killing a dog and especially one of those valued animals in those days, but we think that we would do that rather than to die of starvation. At length came along two men in a large canoe and these unfortunates were escorted to land. One small piece of bread was all they had and this was given to Jane, the baby. Jane is said to have married a Mr. Young, while Hessie, the oldest, is said to have married Tom Wily, from Alabama, the richest man in that country. These are the traditional stories still being handed down in that section of country. After reaching land, in this enfeebled condition, a walk of fourteen miles was made before they could reach habitation and satisfy a ringing hunger. James White and Polly McSwaine upon marriage traveled their journey together and life was one of sweetness. A babe came and he was called Andrew. Later they went over to see the child's grandmother, as they journeyed many times; but of this one trip we make mention. As they went through the cane brakes, a bear was seen coming. Undoubtedly hungry, he rose on his hind feet in fighting fashion and made a dash for them. Two large bull dogs which they had thought they had made remain at home, unbidden and against orders were trailing behind them. Looking behind as if to retreat, the dogs were discovered. The babe was handed mother and with it she went for a rifle. The battle grew fierce when in turning James White stepped on a broken stick and thinking the bear had struck him in the back, once for the first and only time, so far as we know, he showed the white feather and ran but he always claimed he made a record run on this occasion. At length looking back, he saw the dogs still in battle and returned. At length his wife came with the rifle and he killed the bear.

A second babe came and then the wife was called to meet her Maker. She lived in a trying epoch and served her country well. He had moved across the river to Benton County as soon as it was opened for settlement after the treaty of 1818, by which it ceased to be Indian territory. 1820 was the year it was opened up and according to tradition he settled there that same year. He needed a wife for his children and he courted Elizabeth Matlock. She was the bright jewel of that country if traditional stories are a criterion. She was very gifted and her specialty was work; her virtues were cleanliness and correct living; her religion was Presbyterian; her ambition was lineage to follow her. There was not an indolent atom in her body and she was as proud as a queen. If perchance it had fallen to her lot to grow up in this new country, had not her grandmother brought from the east silk worms. She fed them the mulberry leaves that nurtured life and brought into existence, so as to be used, the cocoons, and spinning six of these small fibers into one, she procured the silk thread and this she wove into cloth, and then made it into her own wedding gown. She carded the cotton or wool, spun it into thread and knitted her own stockings. So fine was this silken cloth woven, that she could pull one width through her thimble. These were the wedding clothes of our grandmother in this, then, new settled country. When her husband had accumulated a suffiicency, still she spun and wove as work was her religion. Her handiwork was the admiration of all. To all of her children when they married, she gave ample bed spreads, quilts and bedding material to start in life with and at home had many more. Her own were destroyed by fire which burned the home prior to her death. In the distribution of her handiwork, as it has passed on to posterity, it was our good fortune to have handed down to us one of her works of this character. On every Saturday morning the yards had to be cleaned of rubbish of every character. Carpets had not yet reached this settlement, and we are not sure they were then common anywhere. When so tedious and it took so long to make cloth, carpets were not so often thought of. Every fourth week, in all the rooms and hall from top to bottom, the floors were scrubbed and made as white and clean as hot water and home made soap would make them. Whenever there was need of cleanliness, this was done more often. They had plenty of slaves to do all the work, but for her, negroes were not sufficiently tidy and clean to cook and do the milking. To be sure she had one in the kitchen to do the drudgery, but she must not handle the food for grandmother and her family. If unable to cook and milk, a daughter must do it, and she would never drink milk unless she was told her daughters had done the milking. Her incessant and never relenting work went on until she died. She was a most devout Presbyterian and when her husband joined the church, she proffered to go with him to the Methodist, but he insisted that she remain with the church of her choice. All the slaves were very fond of her and did her bidding. some remaining after the war just as before the war until she died and left them. They were her friends and so fond of her that we now think it not amiss to mention them by name as they were when the war freed them. Nig, Winnie, Ann, Bob, Babez, Marcus, Rufus, Priss, and Bill were the ones who got their freedom by the war, while to each of their children prior to that time these ancestors had given a negro. These good but not forgotten servants are perhaps all dead now, save Ann. Peace be to their ashes!

James White was somewhat different from his wife. We would not call him lazy, but he thought his part in life could be best played by seeing that the negroes kept busy. He cared little for hunting, so common in that time and country. Tradition is that he often in one morning, traveling from Morgan's to Eagle Creek, could see fifteen or twenty deer. He was industrious and frugal, but left details to others, seeing that everything kept moving. Then in idle moments he had a feast in reading. Our father told us he was a well read man. Books, in those days, were scarce articles and others tell us that he he had more books than had others and that he was a great reader. We had hoped to find his library and note the character of his reading. Some few months prior to his death the house was burned and with it, all of his books perished. We are told that he had a good opinion of Lorenzo Dow and oft read his works and passed them to neighbors. Lorenzo Dow was a noted preacher and was the Billy Sunday of the epoch of his time in history. The Bible was his most oft companion and he had read it through from cover to cover on several occasions. In old age this was his constant companion. Second sight returned to him and he read his Bible until he became tired, and after resting, he would again reach for his Bible. For some years before his death, he always had family prayers before retiring. James White was angular in form, witty in expression. He very seldom laughed outright but by witty expressions, well spoken and well reasoned utterances he could always keep others in good humor. Dead now, he is still personally remembered by the older citizens of Benton County, and is held in high esteem. Of gentle and even character, with a higher development of intellectuality than that of most his companions, his opinions were highly respected. After the marriage of our father to his daughter, seeing the ambition in his son-in-law for a higher medical education he generously proffered him financial assistance to take a College course in medicine. This was accepted as a loan, afterwards repaid and our father's children feel very grateful to this ancestor for this assistance. None of his ancestors were held higher in esteem by our father than was this and these, his wife's ancestors. James White always put butter in his coffee instead of cream. He would sweeten his butter milk, of which he was fond, with a little sorghum molasses. He objected to biscuits with soda in them and oft strategy was resorted to by rolling a piece of dough very thin and placing these biscuits in a plate for him. He was always a good provider and his family enjoyed a reasonable amount and all that was needed of the best this new settled country afforded. Not ambitious for riches, he was ever the master mechanic rather than detail workman. There is an old saying that from his shoulders down, a man is like a mule, only worth his food, clothing or for the mule his provender, and that for whatever he receives more than that is because of what he has stored in the regions of the body above the shoulders. James White recognized this and all through life was of a studious character, In the southern part of Benton County lie the remains of these ancestors, near Sugar Tree, their trading station.

W. Thos. Smith

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