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Thursday, June 25, 2009

MEN OF CONSTANT SORROW


In May of 2006 I was talking with my mother in Wichita KS on the phone. For some reason I don't remember, I was curious to know where my grandfather Worthington's family went to Perry KS from. Perry is a small town due west of Kansas City about an hour's drive, on the Kaw River, which ran close to where we lived in KC. When I was a kid in KC it was a long ways to Perry, though now KC has spread so much it's looking like KC could swallow up Perry in the near future if cities keep on growing like they have in the recent past.
I asked where grandfather Worthington's people came from. She said all she knew was Tennessee, someplace in Tennessee. That piqued my interest, as Tennessee is next door to where I live now, the place I call the home of my soul. I got in touch with first cousin, Charles Weldon, in KC and asked what he knew. He put me in touch with the Worthington family genealogist in Texas, Betty Worthington Lester. She sent me an email of 35+ pages of genealogy starting with the first one to come to the New World, Robert, from Northern England where he and his wife Alice were exiled to Ireland over something to do with being a Quaker. I found that particularly interesting, because I've felt a kinship with Quakers ever since I first learned about them, while never living in a place where Quakers had a meeting house as far as I knew. I've heard there is one in Winston-Salem, but I'm not driving to Winston for church or anything else.
Old Robert had it rough. His first son Sam came over to Philadelphia by himself and wrote back for the others to come on. Robert left two years later with wife and eight kids. Six of the kids died on the ship, the other two died soon after landing in Salem NJ, 1714. They moved to Philadelphia in 1722. Alice died in 1729 and Robert found a second wife, Mary Burtis, forty years younger, the same year and started a second family. He had a farm outside Philadelphia where he kept cattle, and an inn in town. He was in Philadelphia in the time Ben Franklin started the Philadelphia Gazette and in his Poor Richard period. I believe it could be said with certainty they were acquainted, and probably no more than that. Franklin was a free thinker and I've an idea Grandpa Robert was a hardshell in his religion. He might have thought Franklin "bold." In 1734 he was granted 3,000 acres in a new county cut off from Spotsylvania, what is now Orange County VA, east of Charlottesville.
By the time he ended up in Philadelphia, Grandpa Robert was well acquainted with grief, agonizing grief, his entire family he brought to the new world for a new life all vanished but the one boy who went ahead on his own. I'd guess Robert more than likely blamed himself for the deaths of his younguns, making it a grief he never got over, complicated with survivor's guilt.
Over the next generations Robert's descendants who became my ancestors went from Orange County VA to Botetourt County just north of Roanoke, from there to Oak Ridge TN and on down to Ninemile TN in the Cumberland Plateau, the Sequatchie Valley the Sequatchie River runs through, where "Big Spring" Bill Worthington, my great great great grandfather, had a rather large plantation and most likely some slaves. All of his five boys fought in the War of Yankee Aggression; only one didn't return. Murphy died in a Yankee prison. Every time I hear the song, The Rebel Soldier, I think of him, "Will my soul pass through the Southland?" Jimmy Arnold made that song his own. My great great grandfather Jesse Carroll Worthington is said to have taken his slaves with him into the War, perhaps as cooks, keepers of the horses, just guessing, and all returned.
All of Jesse Carroll's boys left Ninemile and went West. My great grandfather Jim, with his wife Dora Ann Hale of Bledsoe County, Tennessee, took their kids and moved to Perry KS. My grandfather Tom, whose name was passed to me, moved to KC after marriage to be a railroad engineer. Jesse Carroll worked on railroad in Alabama before the War. Railroad was the good paying work of the time like computer work is now. I can't figure whether Jessee Carroll advised his boys to go West, get out of the South, because the South was in a Depression that looked like it would never lift, or if he was so brutal on his boys, they came to hate him and left.
Cousin Wendell Walker of Ninemile told me Jesse Carroll is known to have sired four illegitimate kids and blamed them on his boys. My guess is the boys were individually fed up with him. I know for certain he drank white liquor, just because of who he was, which likely made him all the more difficult. He had no male heirs in Bledsoe County when he died. He probably came home from the war with a lifetime of seething anger called post-traumatic stress disorder. Worst of all, he had three young children just before the War, and when he came home four years later, even the oldest one was too young when he left to have any memory of him.
Jesse Carroll returned to his farm in no telling what condition with wife and kids traumatized by Yankee soldiers pillaging the farm, getting by best they could. There's no telling what she went through. He certainly had to rebuild the farm and get it going, working the kids and more than likely severely rough on them, toughening them to live in this hard world, such that this man their mama waited for turned out to be a stranger to them and I'd guess they never learned to like him. That is totally conjecture, but it rings true with what I know of my immediate family.
Jesse Carroll's boy James, who went to Perry Ks, beat his boy Sam when he was 16 with a chain in the barn. Sam staggered to the road, walked down the road to a railroad track in Perry and set out hoboing by train for the next years figuring out what he was going to do with his life. He never returned to Perry. Sam is the only one of my grandfather's brothers I knew. My grandfather died of pneumonia seven years before I was born.
My dad said to me once, "I was raised with an iron hand and you will be too!" Like it was something to be proud of. I had experience similar to one of jesse Caroll's boys; daddy went off to WW2 when I was two and came back when I was five, a stranger with post-traumatic stress disorder, who took my mother away from me and taught me in a very short time to be afraid of his irrational ways. He never gave me a chance to learn to like him, never showed me anything to like.
I left Wichita as soon after high school as a neurotic kid could get out of there, a kid whose only experience outside the home was school, church, summer jobs and rock & roll. I have to say I'm glad it was five years before the drug scene came along or I'd have dove deep into things like lsd to self-medicate my own post-traumatic stress disorder. I spent my adult life transcending this story, and now toward the end of my life find it fascinating.

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