Whimsical Dream of Shortbread Category


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.