Nearly every visit to the farmlands of upper Union County includes a stop at the Fast Stop where I always honor the old ways with a 7 oz. Coke and pack of nabs or peanuts.
Fast Stop is one of those treasured country stores where local farmers and old timers congregate to share daily goings-on. Little did I know that advice offered on a certain less than fast stop would connect me to Annie Lee Traywick, a retiree who spent many years at the Lance plant making the Toastchee crackers I so love. …they really are the unbeatable compliment to a small bottle of Coke!
Annie Lee owned a picturesque farm near the intersection of Hwy 218 and Thanny Helms road where we spent hours talking about family history and plotting trips to old farms and graveyards. She knew her community, of the people, and of their past. With little access to hard records, Annie Lee passed down generations of family stories keeping alive the spirit of life. She was a tour guide of sorts; a caregiver always seeking to maintain memories while working to preserve old family cemeteries now falling to decay.
On one such visit we explored the life of John Robert Thomas, brother to my own ancestor David Thomas. Born in 1816, the son of Ananias Thomas, John married Annis Nance 2 Dec 1846. John’s life record is relatively short, with hints of legal troubles. He purchased land near Rocky River in the vicinity where Annis was raised. John wrote his last will and testament in 1857 and died prior to its probation a year later. Land and court records show that Annis continued to live in the area until or near her death. She’s buried at Oakwood cemetery in Concord near her son Clement Marshall Thomas. John and Annis Thomas also had a son John Calvin who’s buried at Big Lick Baptist not too far from my grandfather’s farm in Stanly County.
Seeking to satisfy my curiosity about his burial and the wanting to locate the lands of John R Thomas, Annie Lee Traywick led me to a Mr. Austin who raised African long horned cows on Pleasant Hill Church road. He knew bits and pieces and told us the homeplace was marked by a punch well on the old dirt road that once led from the fields of Austin’s Big Branch to Coble’s old mill on the river. He also spoke of an old Indian burial ground nearby. We found the punch well covered with briers at a point where two dirt roads converged near a large ravine. Annie and I spent an hour walking the old homesite. The burial ground Mr Austin spoke about was located on a small flat on the far side of the ravine. There were but a few small rounded stones and all were rough with no visible inscriptions. Some may be quick to identify them as old Indian stones, it’s my belief they mark the early generation of settlers.
Annie Lee Traywick had one more person she wanted me to see. Heading back up Pleasant Hill Church road, we turned off to pay a visit to Ms. Emma Austin. Upon arrival we had to wait a bit as Emma was busy on her tractor plowing the large field by her house. At roughly 94 years in age, Ms Emma was full of spirit. She showed us a black spot on her leg where she had recently been bitten by a brown recluse spider. Having been hospitalized with gangrene growing over much of her leg, she refused treatment, came home, and nursed herself back to health using a poultice of sulfur wrapped in bacon.
Ms Emma Austin had lots to tell. As a young child, she lived in the old home now identified only by a metal pipe protruding from the ground. She told of the good times and of hard times. She also knew of the old grave stones once marked with writing! From her testimony, we know Annis Thomas lived in the house when Emma was a baby and that the home place was always known as the Annis Thomas house.
It’s been more than ten years since Annie Lee led me through the rudes of Union. She’s now passed and I suspect Ms Emma has too. The backwood where the old place once stood has changed. It now sports several brand new brick homes and an improved roadbed. Today’s land owners likely know little of the past and of the people who once trod the land they now call home. The last few attempts to visit the little graveyard have been futile as I’ve yet been able to find it again. Someday! But hey, one of the homeowners is a THOMAS, so I’m looking forward to the new door that’s opened!
The New Year is upon us and while most are recovering from celebration, this Saturday I’ll be kicking leaves in search of family long lost. It’s my thing.