June, 2013


Nancy Elizabeth Pascal  Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley
Courtesy of Bill Tankersley

Today I saw a photograph of my great-great grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal-Bentley. This rare find of a photo came to me by internet email from Appling, Georgia.

Nancy Elizabeth Paschal was born March 24, 1805, to William (1776-1853) and Elizabeth Elliot-Paschal (1780-1846).

Nancy Paschal became a part of the Leathersville pioneer family when she married John Bentley in 1822. Dr. John Bentley was the son of Nancy Tankersley and Balaam Bentley. Balaam was the son of Captain William Bentley II, who was granted land in Georgia for service in the American Revolutionary War. The land became known as Leathersville; it was the first tannery in Georgia.

Nancy was no stranger to the Bentleys. Her sister, Mary “Polly” Paschal, married Dr. John Bentley’s brother, Benjamin Bentley. They say you can’t speak of a Bentley without speaking of a Paschal. That’s the way it was down there in Leathersville, Georgia.

Receiving this likeness of Nancy Paschal was truly a gift; one I never dreamed of having.

I examined the newly acquired photo with care. As most vintage photographs Nancy did not have a smile on her face. She appeared tired and perhaps sad. I thought about how life must have been rearing a family in a log home without central heat and air conditioning, about how difficult it was to deliver numerous babies at home under these conditions. At least her husband was a doctor and her sister, Polly, was nearby.

No doubt Nancy had her hands full attending to the ins and outs of patients arriving at all hours of the day and night, not to mention her own children. And then there was the fact that their farm was a working tannery. She was a busy woman with little time for leisure, I suppose.

And her big round eyes told a story, but what exactly? I studied the photo more closely and discovered her pretty shaped lips. Her hair was dark and she was well dressed.  Was she happy? Was she truly sad? Perhaps she had lost someone in a tragic way, and had lost her smile to the ages. Or maybe the photographer told her not to smile. Or perhaps this is how a face looks after surviving a war fought on the homeland. She survived the War Between the States and lived another twenty-two years.

It is true that she lost her young son, Charlie, to that war. Charles Mallory Bentley was born April 2, 1842. He was killed in the Battle of Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia, July 2, 1862; a place called Poindexter Farm. It was a seven day battle that took the lives of almost eight thousand soldiers; many called it a bloody debacle. Worrisome words for a mother to hear.

How in the world did Nancy find her son all the way in Virginia? Perhaps it was the Bentley’s pre-war Northern connections to the tannery. Did Poindexter Farm purchase harnesses, saddles and bridles from the Bentley’s? Did they know Charlie?

Impossible times in which to search for a son; the world was turned upside down. Still, she did it. Charlie was brought home and buried at the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville; home where mother could place flowers on her son’s grave.

I wonder if General George McClellan or General Robert E. Lee realized how they changed the lines on mother’s faces across America during that week long battle? No wonder Nancy’s face became stoic, along with countless other mothers.

Those thoughts swirled about my mind as I drifted off to sleep the evening I received the photo of Nancy Paschal. The distant thunder intruded into my thoughts and that is all that I remember until I found myself walking in the woods somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I was lost.

I was dreaming.

As my dream progressed I noticed the vegetation changing from the deep forest to open meadows in the distance. I could hear the brisk sound of fast moving water and decided to follow that sound. I found a creek.

Alongside the creek were purple blooming butterfly bushes. The sound of the bubbling water seemed to beckon, so I moved on. I followed the creek and was taken by the beauty of the butterfly bushes; odd that there were no butterflies about. And though I heard rumbling of thunder in the distance, the sky was clear blue and the sun shined brightly.

And of all things, I smelled a divine aroma. The creek took me closer and closer to the delicious smell of fresh baked shortbread.

Who in the world could bake shortbread way out here in the middle of nowhere?

I suddenly saw a well put together woman in a long black dress wearing a white bonnet. I did not see her feet or legs move. She seemed to glide about on the ground without walking. She looked familiar and I was sure I knew her, but could not place her. As I approached her, I noticed that she was grinning at me. She knew me. She was waiting for me.

She did not speak, but looked at me with her big round eyes, and her hands produced a tray of rectangular shaped shortbread cookies. Each cookie was perfectly formed and organized in such a way that it looked like one giant snowflake.

“So, you’re the one baking cookies out here? How in the world did you do this? You must be a genius! No professional, not even on the Food Network could do this!”

The lady never spoke but giggled with delight as she modestly looked down. It was apparent that this lady was proud of her accomplishments though humble. And for some reason I knew she wanted me to be proud of her. For just a moment I forgot about being lost. I was in heaven. Then I remembered, “I know you ‘mam, you’re Nancy Paschal.”

Then a loud clap of thunder sat me up in my bed. I was no longer with the sweet lady down by the butterfly bushes at the creek, but home in Forsyth County, Georgia. Lightning lit up my bedroom and was followed by another loud clash of thunder.

Oh no my computer! If lightning hits I could lose my stories and special pictures! I jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to my office. I quickly unplugged my computer. I had just found Nancy Paschal and I did not want to lose her now.

What a grand and accomplished lady she must have been!

Author’s Notes:

Dr. John and Nancy Paschal-Bentley’s children: Mary A. 1822-1891, William P. 1824-1905, John Balaam 1826-1890, Dr. Benjamin 1828-1892, Jerry W. 1830-1878, Jabus “Marchall” 1832-1855, Asa Judson 1834-1918, Sallie E. 1836-1901, Martha J. 1839-1898, Charlie M. 1842-1862, Dennis Brantley 1844-1912, H. N. 1847-1877, and Susan V. Bentley 1849-1911.

More about the children: Mary married Peter Coleman Dill 1841, William married Sallie Hogan 1845, John Balaam married Mary Reid 1859, Dr. Benjamin married Mary Thomas “Tommie” Davenport 1856, Jerry married Harriet Colman 1852, Jabus Marchall did not marry, Asa Judson married Virginia Paschal 1859, Sallie married Mikiel Smalley 1858, Charlie did not marry, Dennis Brantley married Grace Amelia Ramsey 1869, H. N. married Martha Murphey 1869, and Susan Bentley married Robert Graves 1869.

Dennis Brantley Bentley was eighteen years old when his brother, Charlie, was killed at Malvern Hill.  Dennis named his first born, Charlie. Dennis had a daughter whom he named after his mother, Nancy Elizabeth Paschal. Her name was Nancy Elizabeth Bentley who married Horace “Lawton” Story who had a son, Tom Story – my father.

Dr. John Bentley and Nancy Paschal-Bentley are buried in the Bentley family cemetery in Leathersville, Georgia, along with other family members including their son, Charlie.

I have heard of Happy Valley all my childhood from my grandfather, Horace Lawton “Papa Story.” As a child, Papa Story grew up “just down the road a piece” from Happy Valley. He spent many days at Happy Valley playing with the descendants of Revolutionary War soldier, Basil O’Neal. A smile always took over my grandfather’s face when speaking of Happy Valley. This is the story of how Happy Valley was made; a place of happiness by design.

Let’s begin here.

On October 19, 1758, Peter Lamar O’Neal II became the proud father of Basil O’Neal. The place was Prince George’s County, Maryland. Peter and his wife were English immigrants. Basil did not disappoint his father, for he grew into an intelligent and physically strong man who would live to the age of 91, a testimony of this man’s vigor living in a world of uncertainty and war.

When Basil was seventeen, he and his family left Maryland for Virginia. He was on the way to the adventure of a life time.

While in Virginia, he met a pretty girl, Mary Ellen “Milly” Briscoe. She too had English roots; her great grandfather was English Lord Bromfield. Her father was a medical doctor, Dr. Truman Briscoe.

Though Milly’s life was rather cushy compared to Basil, this young lady had an adventurous side. And perhaps that is why they fell in love with each other. She was a part of Colonial society with an itching for adventure, while he was part of the militia, who fought Indians and the British.

They planned to marry on January 17, 1783. The Revolutionary War was winding down and this seemed like a good time to start their lives together.

They married and joined a wagon train. According to the advertising bulletin, one hundred acres of land could be purchased for five dollars. They had each other and purchased almost four hundred acres.

The wagon train was headed across the Appalachians for a colony called Georgia. Georgia was a backwoods home of the black bear, mountain lions and the indigenous people called the Cherokees and Creeks. Georgia was also deep in fertile soil, tall trees, and fast moving water. Some said a man could step into pine straw beds up to his waist. Rumors of tall trees farther than the eye could see were a flurry. Even at high noon if you were deep in a Georgian forest, you could not see the sun. This was the place Basil’s feet wanted to go.

Many on the wagon train carried china, silver and precious antiques such as grandfather clocks and sideboards with them to Georgia. They all took hundreds of pounds of flour and other staples to get by on the trail. Livestock was allowed to follow and the men hunted in the forest along the way.

The wagon train moved at a speed of no more than two miles an hour. They were lucky to move ten miles a day. Basil thought it slow going, but there was safety in numbers. The wagon train was grateful to have Basil, a trained militia with a reputation as an expert marksman.

Basil and Milly rode pack horses along side of the wagon train.  They packed fruit tree seedlings, predominantly apple and peach trees, carefully wrapped by Milly’s own hands. They took precious little besides, pots, plow parts, axes and shovels. Milly worked constantly to keep the seedlings watered and protected from the cold winter.

This was an uneasy time for such a treacherous adventure. Basil was committed to the war.  Basil along with Dr. Truman Briscoe and Dr. John Briscoe signed an oath of allegiance to the independence of the thirteen colonies in Henry County, Virginia on September 20, 1777. It was time for the war to be over so the colonists could get on with their lives. But Basil wondered, would it really ever end?

Basil had served as a private in the Virginia Militia under Captain Daniel Chadwell and Major John Graves; two terms in Virginia and one in Georgia. Surely, the war was ending now. Now was the time for Milly. Now was the time for the journey to Georgia where the indigenous people were more “peaceable.”

The wagon train was thankful to have Basil. The way Basil handled a gun was impressive; he carried two guns; one a six foot long musket that earned the name, Buckaneer. Buckaneer because of how many deer fell under its sites. Basil never shot for sport, only food and running the British back to England. And now he braved new territory with Milly and Buckaneer.

And though this newlywed couple knew that hard times and perhaps more of the war lay ahead, they expected to be successful. They expected to be happy. They hoped for land with hickory trees, for hickory trees were a sure indication of good soil. Basil called their new Georgia home, Happy Valley, while still on the Appalachian Trail. And to their delight, hickory trees grew throughout their lot.

Basil and Milly started their new life without money or slaves. Basil himself cut and hewed logs. He and Milly built a log cabin near a cedar grove. They cultivated land and planted each sapling with care.

Visitors of the O’Neals boasted of the gentile hospitality received at Happy Valley; squirrels for breakfast, apple and peach brandy, bread and honey on the sideboard. Happy Valley thrived.

Great celebration came to Happy Valley in 1787. A neighbor who lived on the land adjacent Happy Valley returned home, and informed Basil and Milly that he had signed the Constitution of the United States of America. His name was William Few.

Basil and Milly had six children; their daughter Eleanor “Nellie” would become (Horace Lawton Story) “Papa Story’s” great grandmother.

In 1828 Milly died and was buried near the cedar grove close to the home they built together when they first came to Happy Valley.

A year after the death of Milly, Basil married Sarah Hull Green. He was seventy years of age and she was thirty. Sarah was the daughter of Captain McKeen Green who served under the command of General Nathaneal Green, whom he was related. Basil and Sarah had six children.

Basil and his two wives are buried at Happy Valley. When signing documents to execute Basil O’Neal’s last will and testament, the O’Neal children signed their name Neal as they were always called. This act legally changed their name to Neal, rather than O’Neal. Dropping the “O” in O’Neal was an act of patriotism.

Much of the original home built by Basil and Milly burned in a fire. The home was located near what is now known as the Sharon Meeting House on Washington Road, Columbia County, Georgia.

A historical marker was placed at the entry of the homesite by the Georgia Historical Association.

Author’ Notes:

Basil is pronounced with a short “a,” as in “as.”

Basil O’Neal’s mother’s name is unknown; perhaps Mary.

Basil O’Neal’s son Basil Llewellyn O’Neal wrote, “A Son of the Revolution.”

The Revolutionary War effort in Georgia ended in Wilkes County, Georgia, when the British realized they could not fight well inland. Wilkes County’s located behind the land called Happy Valley.

In time, William Few returned to New York at the urging of his wife, but still owned his home next to Happy Valley for quite some time. His son and grandson lived there for many years. William Few is number 25 in the famous painting of The Signers of The Constituion of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy.

Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story and Horace Lawton Story’s first child, Grace Truman Story-Graves, was named after Dr. Truman Briscoe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Lincolnton, Georgia, several years before the Great Depression, lived a man, Horace Lawton Story, Sr., and his wife, Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story. Before it was all said and done, they had nine children. They lived in a farm house built by Lawton’s father, Rad Story.

Life was hard on the farm especially for Lawton, mainly because he suffered from asthma. He also struggled with the rock ridden land and fought bow weevils. But on he went with his farming and caring for his family; a family he adored.

Nancy did her part. She could sing like and angel and cared for her prize Rhode Island Red chickens. She was the only one who could approach the “wild thangs” without getting flogged. She was happiest when pampering her chicks; the Reds and her baby chicks: Grace, Beau, Sarah, Robert, Miriam, Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

The children stayed busy with school, working the farm and throwing a basketball at a hoop made from a bushel basket. They all worked together and played together. The Storys were all for one, and one for all.

“Do you see this stick?” Lawton Story would ask his children. When he had their attention, he would then snap the stick in two.  “See what happens when you stand alone?” Then he would hold a stick, one for each member of his family, and try to break the bunch in two, as he did with the single stick. Even his strong hands could not break the bunch. “When we stand together as one, nothing can break us. We stand separate in the world, we can be broken. Stand together children, be there one for the other.”

As it would happen, tragedy befell this lovely family when one of the daughters became ill. Miriam was the fifth child; a child who was born with a “blue veil” over her face. Miriam was sickly much of her childhood and smaller than her siblings. She was very young when she came down with “the fever.” A burial dress was purchased for her and stored away in the wardrobe. The dress was a large version of a christening gown; dark creamy in color. Nancy Story prayed that little dress would never be worn by her daughter.

All care was given to Miriam, but to no avail. Then the day came when she refused food and became lifeless. It was impossible to keep the child awake.

Nancy had spent days working frantically with Miriam. She had racked her brain to remember all the ways of healing practiced by her grandfather, Dr. John Bentley. Nothing was working.

The doctor was sent for yet again.

“I don’t give her any hope, Nancy. There’s nothing to do that has not been done. She’s in the hands of the Lord now,” the doctor said as he looked out the window, so not to look Nancy and Lawton in the face. “Let her rest.” The doctor struggled to find the words, “Make preparations – now.”

The stunned family could not come to terms with the thought of losing little Miriam. How could they survive as a family, without her silly little giggle and bright eyes? The family encircled Miriam’s bed and they all prayed and spoke their minds – hoping the good Lord and Miriam could hear them.

Nancy was the first to make a move away from her daughter. She went to the kitchen and poured dried black-eyed peas into a pot of cold water. And then she did something never done before. When putting away the sack of dried peas, she stopped and held the sack close to her heart. She walked back over to the pot of peas soaking in water.

Nancy put her hand back into the sack and pulled out three more handfuls of dried peas and with each one she said, “One for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit. Now,” she said calling out with authority, “that will do. Lawton, tomorrow we will all leave this house and catch up on the chores.”

Lawton was stunned and the children dismayed. What was Mother thinking? Mother was speaking out of the realm of reality. The children reminded her of the stick story and how they always stood together. They would not leave their sister.

Nancy Story stood firm, “Everything is backed up. We have stock to feed, wood to chop and corn to pull, and,” she hesitated, but being a strong and sensible woman, she continued, “and Lawton, you have a job to do in the barn.”

Lawton fought back tears and said, “Come sunlight, I’ll get started on the coffin.”

The black-eyed peas cooked throughout the night and before daylight, Nancy cooked cornbread. The children questioned why they were eating black-eyed peas and cornbread for breakfast.

“Where’s the ham and eggs, Mother?”

miriamwithleastones

Older Miriam with the “Least Ones”

“The eggs are in the hen house and ham is in the smoke house, waiting for us to tend to it,” answered Nancy Story to her children. “Today we will eat peas and cornbread, catch up on the chores. Grace, you and Sarah, go to the smoke house on the way in and cut some ham for dinner.”

The children ate their unusual breakfast of peas and cornbread while they took their assignment from Mother; that is all but the Least Ones: Caleb, Gene, Tom and Nancy, Jr.

“You Least Ones come with me,” Lawton said to his babies. He looked at Nancy and said, “They can hand nails to me, and I can keep a close eye on them in the barn.”

So, off they went after each one kissed Miriam goodbye. They would work hard today. They would keep Miriam on their minds and hearts. They would pray in the field or in the barn; no matter where their assignment took them.

Miriam was left alone in the house. She was not able to speak, but had heard the words of the doctor. She had heard the prayers pleading for her life. And come sunlight, she heard her father hammering nails into her coffin. She was sick, she was weak, but with every pound of the hammer, something inside her stirred. It was the will to live.

And she knew what she had to do.

Miriam had to get to those black-eyed peas on the kitchen table. Somehow, someway, Miriam slid out of bed and crawled to the kitchen table. She struggled to the chair. She fell time and time again. Somewhere along the way, she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she tried to climb onto the chair again. And finally she made it. She mustered up energy to get onto the table. Miriam crawled to the big bowl of black-eyed peas where put her little mouth on the rim. She sipped black-eyed pea juice.

When her family returned to the house midday, they found little Miriam unconscious on the kitchen table. They were shocked and speechless.

Robert, the fourth child and detective of the family, pointed to Miriam’s mouth. “What is that on her face?” Robert got closer and smelled Miriam’s mouth. “That’s black-eyed pea juice! She’s been eatin’ black-eyed peas!”

With that Lawton found his voice, “Beau!”

The eldest son knew exactly what that meant. Beau scooped up little Miriam into his arms and put her back into bed. The rest of the family circled her bed and quietly sobbed and gave thanks. Nancy stayed in the kitchen where she pulled out another big pot and “put on” more dried black-eyed peas to soak, all the while thanking the  good Lord.

From that moment on, someone stayed with Miriam during the day and fed her black-eyed pea juice, one drop at a time. Miriam recovered and grew into a lovely young woman. She married and became the mother of four children: Frances, Rachel, Curtis and David. And thank the good Lord Miriam never wore that little dress hanging in her mother’s wardrobe, though she kept it as a keepsake and on occasion pulled out the dress to show it to her children and grandchildren. Miriam believed the sickness made her smaller than her brothers and sisters, but she was Story enough to beat the death angel on that day in Lincolnton, so long ago.

My father, Tom Story, was among the “Least Ones” who went to the barn that early morning and handed nails to his father to make Miriam’s coffin. And though he was only a tot, he carried this story in his heart his entire life.

I remember Daddy and his family, telling the black-eyed pea story from my early childhood, as did all Story cousins. Miriam held a special place in the hearts of her brothers and sisters, as she was the bridge who connected the older ones to the “Least Ones.” Whenever there was a disagreement amongst brothers and sisters, it was Miriam who reminded the family of the stick story. She had a way of pulling peace out of thin air. Another “Least One,” Gene, would later say of Miriam, “We all loved each other and we all love our children, but it seemed like Miriam just loves a little bit more.”

And even today, whenever a stubborn sickness enters my home, I give the Holy Trinity its due, give thanks for my Grandmother Nancy, and “put on” the black-eyed peas.

Recently my friend, Sheila Kirkman-Barron, told another black-eyed pea story. Years back, her children’s pediatrician, Dr. Leila Alice Denmark, advised Sheila to throw out the cereal and eggs and feed her children black-eyed peas for breakfast. When Sheila did so, her children became free of allergies.

Dr. Denmark ate black-eyed peas for breakfast. She lived to be fifty-three days shy of one-hundred-fourteen years of age. Well known Georgia pediatrician and author, Dr. Denmark died December 10, 2011. But before her departure, she prescribed black-eyed peas to many Georgians.

Black-Eyed Peas Recipe

Sort 1 lb. dried peas (look ’em is what I’ve always heard) and remove anything that is not a pea – also throw away ugly peas

To cook peas quicker, soak dried peas in cold water – an hour or so

Rinse peas in cold water

Put peas in large pot and cover with about 6 cups of  hot water

Add salt and pepper to taste along with seasoning (I use chicken bouillon, some use fat meat)

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until tender – about 45 minutes.

Delicious with hot cornbread.