March, 2012


“But Lawton, we want to do something that we are not supposed to do when Mama and PaPa are not here!” the others exclaimed in protest.

“No, put them back in the pantry where they belong,” urged Lawton, “Grace is right. Mama will know, and be upset if she doesn’t have peaches to make cobbler on Sunday.”

The younger brothers and sisters slowly conceded and gave up the peaches. It was hard raising a family – especially a large family during the Depression years. PaPa farmed and Mama raised prize winning Rhode Island Reds. Her egg money was the only cash crop except for harvest time. And it was a long time until the next harvest. The family bank was in the barn, pantry and egg money. The children learned how to get along, but once in a while, they were left on their own and wanted desperately to test their limits. Like all kids, they wanted to have fun.

Grace Truman Story

“Mama knows how many jars of peaches she has canned,” went on the eldest child, Grace. “She has enough saved up for when Uncle Ben and Uncle Charlie come by, and she’ll know if a jar is missing.”

Of course, Grace was right. The others stood back in obedience as Grace put the peaches away. “Now don’t fret so, you can think of something else to do. What else? Any suggestions?”

Several things were mentioned, but always overridden by Grace. Finally one of them suggested jumping off the balcony into the hallway. That could be tricky and Grace and Lawton studied it carefully. “Well, if we pad the floor below, maybe,” said Lawton. Grace disagreed and thought it too dangerous, but Lawton took the side of the younger children, this time it was eight against one.

“Yes,” said Lawton, “we could drag out a couple of mattresses and pillows – that’ll pad the landing.”

Off the children went running through the house gathering pillows, quilts and anything that would pad their jump. When a big pile was made, the children ran up the enclosed stairway to the opening in the upstairs hallway. There they hung over the rail studying the fall. Yes, everything was in order – all except for one thing. Who would go first? After some debate, Grace hesitantly stepped forward, after the others acknowledged she was firstborn and the decision maker. Again, it was eight against one.

Grace tied her dress between her legs, carefully mounted the rail, and she jumped. Grace landed square in the middle of the mattresses – feather mattresses that is – and made a loud thump as she hit the floor.

The eight children all hanging over the rail in fascination called out, “Grace – are you all right? Did it hurt? Was it fun?”

But for some reason Grace was slow to answer. Her back was to them and so they could not see her face. The truth be told, Grace had the breath knocked out of her. She did not want to show her pain – but every bone in her body ached. When she finally got herself together, she said very quietly, “I’m okay. It was fun. Come on Beau (Lawton’s nickname), it’s your turn. You’re the second born, you’re next.”

Lawton studied his sister and knew something was not exactly right. “Grace, are you all right? Sis, are you hurt?”

After a deep breath, Grace answered, “I’m fine—-now jump—-it’s your turn.”

When Lawton waited a long time to decide, some of the other children began to argue about who would jump next. The smaller kids, Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy wanted to jump, but Sarah said – “No, Beau is next and you little ones can’t jump, it’s too far for you. Only the big kids are jumping – today.”

With some grumbling from the smaller ones, Lawton agreed with Sarah. “If anyone jumps, it’ll be me. But I want to study Grace a little bit longer. I think she’s hurtin’.”

“Grace, are you hurtin’?” they all began to ask and take note of her slow movement.

“I’m not hurt. I tell you it was fun. You wanted to jump, now jump. Come on Beau, you’re next.”

“Jump Beau!” demanded Robert.

“See Beau, she’s okay, now jump!” the others coaxed.

“She doesn’t sound right. I think she’s hurt,” Lawton did not budge.

Robert had had enough, “I’ll jump next! I’m not afraid! Let’s get on with it.”

“No,” said Sarah who was as capable as any of the boys,” Robert, you’re fourth, I’m third. You’ll have to wait your turn. Beau goes next, and then me.”

“Grace and Sarah are right, Lawton goes next,” noted Miriam.

“Well, I’ve decided not to jump,” said Lawton, “Grace doesn’t sound right.”

“I’ll jump!” demanded Robert, “I’ve jumped out of trees higher up then this! I can go next!”

But the next eldest, Beau, said, “No, Robert, you are not jumping right now.”

So, who would jump next? Caleb and Gene argued with their older siblings- they were both ready to go. They rambunctiously tried giving each other a leg up – so they could reach the top of the rail. Tom never spoke a word, but kept a sharp eye on the situation. Baby Nancy was so disappointed, she could not help herself – she cried. Her heart was broken. After all she had run her little legs off dragging pillows for the pile. All the while Grace was quiet and slowly moved over to the bottom of the enclosed stairway and closed the door – and locked it. “Beau, it’s your turn.”

“Come on Beau! I’m gettin’ hungry!” demanded Robert.

All the children protested the locked door. Miriam the fifth children – the bridge between the older and younger children – quieted the others down as she appealed to Grace. “Now Grace, we’ve decided not to jump. And you need to unlock that door. And anyway, Sarah won’t let the little ones jump. And Baby Nancy is upset. So at least let them come down. Please open the door for the little ones, Grace.”

Miriam had struck a chord of reason with her eldest sister. “Miriam is right. I’m gonna unlock that door—in just a minute.” Then Grace disappeared into the kitchen. When she returned she had that jar of peaches. She opened the jar and then took her time eating them. She laid an extra spoon in front of her.

“Mmmm, mmmm, these peaches are really good.”

The others could not believe their eyes – as they hung over the rail – watching Grace eat those peaches.

“Grace, that’s Mama’s peaches!”

“You said we couldn’t eat ’em!”

“Grace, surely, you are not gonna eat the whole jar!”

“Save some for us!”

“Open that door!”

“What about when Uncle Ben and Uncle Charlie come over? How’s Mama gonna cook a peach cobbler for them?”

“Grace you’re gonna get in trouble, if you eat those peaches!”

“Come on! Let us down from here. Unlock that door!”

“I thought you agreed with Miriam! Let us go!”

“Grace, save us some peaches!”

Grace ignored their demands and reasoning. She ate another slice of delicious sweet peach.  Finally, she held up one hand to quiet them down. She had something to say. They listened.

“I do agree with Miriam. And I am gonna unlock that door for the little ones and the big ones, just as soon as I finish eatin’ these peaches.”

Caleb Hardin Bentley

September 26, 1906, “Nancy” Elizabeth Bentley left the Leathersville family farm that she so loved. She grew up there in East Georgia on wide open meadows, timberland and a bustling tannery. But perhaps it was the herb gardens that Nancy would miss the most; time spent with her father, Dr. Dennis Brantley Bentley, who passed down the art of healing through the pretty flowers.

Nancy soaked in the healing stories of her grandfather, Dr. John Bentley and her great-grandfather, Balaam Bentley.

Oh how she loved hearing about her great-great-grandfather, William Bentley II, who settled in Wilkes County Georgia in 1775. Nancy knew her history well and could have told you that a part of Wilkes County became Lincoln County in 1796. And that William Bentley II (b.1729) was a captain in the Colonial Army.

The captain brought with him from South Carolina, his wife Mary Jane Elliott (1729-1843) and five children. He built a two room log cabin on the north side of Little River.

Because of  a low treasury, Captain William Bentley II, received two land grants for his service to the Colonial Army, one in 1784 and the second in 1785.   The cabin he built was damaged by fire when burned by Indians. Fortunately, Captain Bentley’s daughter, Chloe (Mrs. John Josiah Holmes) and her two daughters Apsylla and Penelope Holmes, hid in the woods and watched as the cabin burned. They narrowly escaped harm and the girls made it to the fort where Captain William Bentley II was in command. He rebuilt and dug in to stay. When the captain died, his hundred acres had grown into a thousand acres.

The land was a mirror of the origin of the name Bentley, “place where the bent grass blows.”

Captain William Bentley II left his land to his two youngest sons, Joshua and Balaam. Balaam eventually bought out his brother’s interest in the land. Farmers in the area brought in hides to sell to Balaam to make ends meet. With the hides, Balaam opened the first tannery in Georgia in 1805. He also built a store and traded with the locals as well as the Union Army and Northern markets. Because of the bustling trade of leather goods, this area became known as Leathersville. The Bentleys sold shoes, straps, bridles, harnesses, and saddles made by hand at the tannery.

Dr. John Bentley Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Dr. John Bentley 1797-1867
Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

 

During the War Between the States, Leathersville sold leather goods exclusively to the Confederate Army. After the war, the Bentleys signed a oath of allegiance to the Union and they were back in business selling to the North again.

When Balaam Bentley died in 1816, he left Leathersville to his two sons, John and Benjamin Bentley. Dr. John Bentley bought his brother part of the estate.

Over the years, the two room log cabin became a log house by adding another log cabin to the existing structure, as well as an outdoor kitchen. At some point in time, clapboard was added. An office was built in the front side yard for Dr. John Bentley to perform surgical procedures and administer medicine to the general population arriving by foot, wagon, buggy and on horseback.

Another member of the family, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Bentley, built a two story home on the property in the mid 1800s and carried on the medical tradition as well. The land grew to over thirteen thousand acres.

Eventually, the Bentley descendants drew lots of five-hundred acres each, thus dividing the land.

And on this day in 1906, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley’s wedding day, the Bentleys still lived there.

Nancy was proud of her adventurous and accomplished family, but realized her roots mysteriously lie across the Atlantic Ocean in England. There it started with yet another William Bentley. But it was the stories about healing that captured her attention.

There was no question that Nancy’s grandfather, Dr. John Bentley was a medical physician. In fact, Dr. John Bentley was paid for medical services quite often by the deeding of land. But it is doubtful her father, Dennis Brantley Bentley, was truly a medical doctor since he signed documents “Esquire.” All the same, he was called “Doctor” by all who knew him.

During Dennis Brantley Bentley’s days on the Leathersville Bentley farm, his job was to oversee the tannery. He stated his occupation as shoemaker in a Georgia census. But no matter how involved he became with the tannery, Dennis Bentley never neglected the herb gardens and was prolific in his knowledge of healing. And his daughter Nancy learned as much as possible from “Father” and excelled in school.

In Lincolnton after school one day, young Nancy Bentley “whopped” a young school boy with her lunch pail for teasing her little brother, Caleb. Nancy had had enough of Lawton laughing at Caleb’s long dark curls. She told that tall lanky Lawton Story to pick on someone his own size! She walked ahead with her hand on little Caleb’s shoulder, as she looked back at Lawton with those piercing blue eyes.

Nancy Bentley was far more than just a pretty face with unruly thick hair. She understood the secrets a beautiful flower held within. She knew which flower could heal an abscess and which one could cool a fever. She could play a piano, sing and ride any horse she had a mind to. And she would not take any stuff off that Lawton Story!

Being from a long line of farmers, young Lawton Story did not understand all about Nancy being called a “blue blood” or her knowledge of medicine. He did understand one thing, he loved spirit and Nancy Bentley was the epitome of spirit. Nancy Bentley was the only girl for him. And he knew it that day after school when she stood up for her little brother, Caleb.

And on this glorious autumn day, September 26, 1906, Nancy Bentley left her beloved home of five sisters and two brothers, to marry that boy she “whopped” upside the head with her lunch pail for teasing her little brother. He was Horace “Lawton” Story, the son of Radford Gunn Story and Sallie Elizabeth Gunby-Story. Rad Story was a well known farmer. When Rad married Sallie Gunby, they moved into a home on the Story farm called Mistletoe in north Columbia County. Sallie was reluctant to live there so far away from her family. Her home was in Lincolnton. The Story farm was about ten miles from Lincolnton.

The Gunbys were a close knit family who were highly educated and staunch Methodists. Rad Story built a two story home in Lincolnton near Arimathea Methodist, near the Gunby homeplace.  Their son Lawton was born at Mistletoe, but for most of Lawton’s young life, he lived in the house that his father built in the Clay Hill area of Lincolnton.

The total burden of farming was set upon the shoulders of young Lawton the year he was but seventeen years of age, when his father, Rad Story, was killed December 1, 1904 on Thomson Road.

Lawton remained on the Rad Story homeplace and carried on. Two years after the death of his beloved father, he proposed to his sweetheart, Nancy Bentley. The two were married by Reverend LeRoy (LaRoy) while Lawton and Nancy sat together in a horse drawn carriage under blue skies and colorful foliage in the background – witnessed by God and family. With the “I do” said, a “giddup!” and the crack of leather, the horse trotted on and the carriage pulled away. Nancy Bentley left Leathersville, to start her new life with Lawton Story in Lincolnton.

Author’s Note:

Records state that Captain William Bentley II was born in 1729 and died in 1792, although other records state that he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1799.