Aunt Wilanty

on February 24, 2013 in Aunt Wilanty, Southern Charm

All my life I have heard stories of a good and just woman. She was born in Warren County, Georgia in 1825. Yes that was a long time ago, but the mark she made on the Story family is indelible. Her life was an example of self sacrifice and taking the higher road in all that she did. Her reputation survived her earthly years by nearly one hundred and ninety years. She was called, “Aunt Wilanty.”

I learned of Aunt Wilanty as a small child. When breaking a candy bar to share, my father’s voice floated in from the background,“What would Aunt Wilanty do?” Of course, remembering the stories of Aunt Wilanty, I reluctantly offered the larger piece to my sister.  Aunt Wilanty was the yardstick by which our father, Tom Story, measured his daughters’ generosity.

Here is what I know about this woman who was the sister of my great-great grandfather, Henry Allen “Buck” Story.

April 2, 1854, this was the day Wilanty Story dreamed of. She sat proudly in her carriage as the driver trotted on to the James Montgomery estate in Warren County, Georgia. Every hair on her head was in place and she looked as “fine” as any bride on this important day, the wedding day. Not her wedding day, but her baby brother, Henry Allen’s.

Henry Allen, was a tall good looking young man who was about to marry his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Ann Montgomery. Their engagement was announced in the Christian Index a year ago, and since then, every care had been made for the young couple to have their perfect day when Georgia was new with bloom.

“It’s always someone else’s day,” Wilanty must have thought so many times. But after today, it would be her time. As she rode past the peach trees and forsythia in bloom, she recalled the day her father spoke to her about staying the course, and most of all, make it to the finish line. Wilanty smiled as she spoke the words of her father aloud, “A fin (aw fin), Papa, a fin!”

“A fin,” Wilanty’s father, Samuel Gaines Story, a man born in 1776, spoke these words often. He was a hardworking Georgia planter who had little time for small talk. He took a short cut when possible with these two words, “A fin.”

With those two words spoken, his children got a move on and worked a little harder and faster. They finished whatever was expected of them.

When Wilanty was a small child, she questioned her father, “A fin? What does it mean? Why do you say that, Papa?”

“A fin means ‘To the end!’ It’s the motto of ye family crest – back in Scotland. We Storys are a sept of the Oglivy Clan ye know. There on our Coat of Arms stands a lass with light hair with her hands on her hips – looking accomplished and strong,” he smiled at his youngest daughter. “She stands on the words ‘A FIN.’ And that is what she stands for – she stays her course To the End.”

Samuel Story sat back in his chair and was quiet for a moment as he recalled his grandfather’s stories of Scotland. “Very few Scots, have a fair lass on their crest. Maybe we’re the only ones in all of Scotland. She was a good and just lassie, who had the courage to do battle for Robert the Bruce and Joan of Arc. And my little Wilanty, the good and just lass on the crest wears a blue dress, blue as the sky over Scotland. Might’en be the same blue as the color of ye eyes.”

Yes Wilanty Story learned her father’s lesson well. She had stayed the course; as of this April day in 1854, she finished the course. After today, she would be free to live her own life.

Just a few years after the talk with her father about Scotland and the family crest, Samuel Story died leaving a family of nineteen children and a baby on the way.

Wilanty, the youngest girl, stepped forward and made the commitment to care for her mother, Stacey, through the pregnancy. At age fourteen, Wilanty, was all grown up. She also helped her mother by caring for her seven year old little brother, Sanders Walker Story, and her newborn baby brother, Henry Allen Story. Wilanty took every step Henry Allen took and kept a watchful eye on him.

“A fin,” became her motto as she taught her baby brother the important things of life, like Scotland; the things Papa would have taught his young son had he had the chance.

And today, her job was finished. Henry Allen Story would take a wife and his new life would begin as her new independent life would also begin. She smoothed out her blue dress as she smiled thinking to herself, “Yes Papa, my dress is as blue as the sky over Scotland.”

A new sense of joy filled her soul as the carriage approached the Montgomery home. All the while thinking of the day she would take a husband, one day she would own her own home, care for her own gardens and have her own babies. And it all started after today.

As the carriage stopped in front of the Montgomery home, out stepped the groom, her brother, Henry Allen. He stood tall and straight to greet Wilanty. How proud she was of her baby brother, but she saw a look on his face that worried her, “What is it? Is everything okay?”

“Wilanty, could you do me a favor?”

“Of course, what in the world, Henry?”

“Rachel is missing her mother,” explained Henry Allen, “she even thinks the death of Mary could be a bad omen.”

“Oh of course she is missing her mother. And truly, there is no such thing as a bad omen. But how dreadful to lose your mother just a month before your wedding day. Tell me what can I do?”

“Just go upstairs to her room and knock on the door. Ask her if you can help her dress or fix her hair. Her sisters are there but, I think she would be comforted if someone like her mother was with her,” Henry Allen explained.

“Mother should go…”

“Mother shouldn’t try to make it up the stairs. Iot’s you Wilanty that will take Rachel’s grief away. It was just this morning that they took down the black mourning drape and replaced it with white flowers.”

“Oh how dreadful,” said Wilanty, as she turned to admire the fresh baby’s breath on the front door, “And what a shame for Mary (Swint-Montgomery) to pass on at a time such as this. This is the day every mother waits for. I’ll go.”

Wilanty made her way up the stairs and down the hall to Rachel’s room. There she softly knocked on the door and opened it a bit. “Rachel, may I come in and see how pretty you look?”

And that is how Wilanty joined the new Henry Allen Story family.

After Rachel and Henry Allen married, they moved from Warrenton to the Thomson area in McDuffie County, to a farm called Moon’s Town. At first, Wilanty would stay to help the young couple set up housekeeping, and then came the first baby, and of course she would stay a while longer to help Rachel with the baby. Then the second baby came, the third baby came, the fourth baby came, the fifth baby came. Then the War Between the States came and Henry Allen left the Moon’s Town farm while Sanders Walker Story left his mercantile store in Warrenton. The brothers went off to war. Henry Allen left Wilanty to “take care of my family.” Now was not the time to leave and she could hear her father’s words, “A fin.”

“But if I don’t leave now, it will be too late! I wish I never heard those words!” She must have had this conversation many times, especially when she saw that one special person give up on her and marry another.

Wilanty stayed at Moon’s Town. She cared for Rachel and the five little boys: Sam, James, Rad, Henry and Benjamin.

The years past and the war began to wind down. The South was losing the war and Wilanty lost her little brother, Sanders. He was wounded at the Battle of Murpheesboro and died shortly thereafter. Wilanty cried herself to sleep many nights talking to her deceased father, “Papa I tried. I tried so hard to care for Sanders. I begged him not to go! This is Mr. Lincoln’s war not yours Sanders! Stay at your merchantile! That’s what I told him, but he would not listen to me!  Papa please forgive me.”

Wilanty prayed by night and by day she carried a clothes basket with her everywhere she went. There amidst the clothes, she kept a loaded pistol. She kept it handy in case a war tattered straggler happened onto Moon’s Town and wanted more that a meal.

And Wilanty prayed for Henry Allen in the still of the night when Rachel and the boys were asleep. “Dear Father in Heaven, Please send an angel to care for Henry Allen; send him home to his wife and little boys. Let Mr. Lincoln have his war and let it be over.”

One prayer night Wilanty realized she was not alone when she heard Rachel’s voice from the hallway, “Amen.”

Wilanty and Rachel’s prayers were answered on a cold winter day when Henry Allen walked through the front door. Thank God at least one brother made it home safe and sound.

The war was officially over in the spring of 1865 when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Henry Allen worked on his farms from sun up to sun down. He burned the midnight oil toiling over deeds, ledgers, plats and maps. He had to find a way to make his farms viable, and tenant farming seemed to be the way.

If Wilanty had wanted to start her own life, she would have to wait. With the loss of the war, Henry Allen had lost his wealth, his brother and his horse. And now he was working every waking hour trying to salvage his farms. This was not the time to leave her brother.

And when September rolled around, Rachel had her sixth son, Columbus Marion Story. This time Rachel did not do well. In fact as each day passed, Rachel became weaker. Rachel called for Wilanty often to take the baby. She asked Wilanty to care for the boys and raise the baby as her own. Of course, Wilanty assured Rachel that she would get stronger tomorrow and everything would be alright. On October 10, just seventeen days after baby “Lum” was born, Rachel died. She was twenty-eight years old.

Wilanty kept her promise to Rachel and stayed with the six boys. And now Henry Allen had to deal with the biggest loss of all, his dear Rachel.

About four years after Rachel’s death, Henry Allen married a school teacher from Virginia. Susan Winston McDaniel was the little sister of Sally McDaniel-Ramsey. Sally was the wife of a local Democratic politician and farmer, Caleb “Tip” Ramsey, a friend of Henry Allen.

Here was the opportunity for a new beginning for Wilanty Story. She busied herself to get the house ready for the new bride, Susan. She excited her six nephews about getting a new mother. How wonderful it was going to be.

On the day Susan arrived at Moon’s Town, Wilanty had each boy dress in his Sunday clothes, each boy wearing a clean pressed white shirt, black tie, dark trousers and a black jacket. As the hour approached, Wilanty had them line up in birth order: Samuel Walker Story, James Montgomery Story, Radford Gunn Story, Benjamin Franklin Story, Henry David Story and Columbus Marion Story.  There they all stood joyful and proud.

As soon as Susan settled in and the boys got acquainted with their new mother, Wilanty would take her leave.

Not long after the union, other children were born and Susan had her hands full looking after her own. Susan preferred to have her children eat first, and then the older boys were allowed to come in from the barn and eat last. The six boys being older had chores to do. But when Susan’s suppertime seemed to drag out a little too long, Wilanty filled her pockets with biscuits and made a quick trip to the barn. Susan made cookies for her children, while Wilanty made cookies for Rachel’s boys.

Wilanty would never leave those first six boys. Her heart and soul belonged to them.

Wilanty Story never married, never owned her own home.

Her baby brother, Henry Allen, prospered and by the end of his life in 1913, owned ten thousand acres which were all working farms.

Henry Allen Story and his second wife, Susan had eleven children; seven boys and four girls. The six sons of Henry Allen and Rachel Montgomery–Story all lived to adulthood, married and had families of their own.

The third son of Henry Allen and Rachel was Radford Gunn Story. In 1904 Rad was killed in an altercation near one of the Story farms. The death of Rad devastated the Story family, especially his five brothers. After the death of Rad, some of his brothers left their lifelong homes in the Thomson area. They seemed to have disappeared. And that too is where the story of Wilanty ends. Nothing else is known of her.

One hundred years later, my sister, Patricia Story-Logan, moved to a little horse farm near Tampa, Florida. Whereever Pat is, she is looking for Storys. Pat found evidence that Henry Allen and Rachel‘s baby son, “Lum” Story moved to Tampa. There so many years ago, Lum became a deputy sheriff and preached the Gospel in Tampa.

Soon thereafter, Pat found a pioneer graveyard in Tampa. She found the disintegrating grave of Columbus Marion Story. And next to his grave site was a crumbling grave stone, the letters barely legible: WILANTY STORY.

Aunt Wilanty was a good and just woman who kept her promise To the End. And I have to believe that she is wearing a blue dress; blue as the sky over Scotland.

A FIN!

Author’s Notes:

Radford Gunn Story had a son, Horace “Lawton” Story, who had a son, Thomas Jonathan Story. Thomas Story was my father.

Samuel Gaines Story’s second wife was Stacey Duckworth-Story. Stacey Duckworth was born in 1794. Stacey and Samuel married on March 21, 1812 in Warrenton, Georgia.

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