Monday, August 12, 2013

A Minnesota Yankee’s Southern Roots

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This month I’m going to get personal. Rather than talk about the Old West, I’d like to share some facts about me and my dad’s family. Daddy hailed from Denison, Texas, the birth place of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He came from a big family. His parents had at least thirteen children. Can you imagine birthing that many babies, let alone raising them? Not me! But times were different then. Families needed to be large to work their land, and to ensure some offspring would survive into adulthood. Several of my dad’s siblings didn’t. 

Nevertheless, I have relatives all over Texas and the South, but I knew next to nothing about them until a few years ago because I grew up in Minnesota, my mother’s home state. My dad traveled a great deal in his youth, especially across the western states. He met my mom in San Francisco, where I was born, but we moved to Minnesota when I was not quite four to be near Mama’s family.

George, Grandma, Jewel, Walter, Ronnie & Lynda

We did visit Grandma Horner (Horner is my maiden name) once when I was about six or seven, but sadly I don’t remember her. That’s Grandma in the photo with my dad behind her and me next to my half-brother Ronnie, who I barely knew. He was adopted by my Uncle Walter and Aunt Jewel after Daddy’s first marriage broke up. (He was a traveling salesman back then and couldn’t care for Ronnie.)

Growing up in the north, I always saw myself as a Yankee even though I knew Daddy came from the south. Even after my husband and I and our two children moved to Texas in the 1980s, thanks to a company job transfer, I considered myself a transplanted northerner. I still do, to be honest, but I can no longer ignore my southern roots.

JKP Confederate enlistment packet

When I started researching my dad’s ancestors on a whim back in 2009, I wasn’t prepared for some surprising revelations. For one thing, I learned my gr grandfather, James Knox Polk (JKP) Leggett, fought for the Confederacy. He enlisted in 1862 in Bienville Parish, LA, joining the 28th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry (Gray’s). I eventually received photocopies of his enlistment packet(s) thanks to a Georgia cousin who accessed them on See, I told yuh, relatives all over the south! Sorry the image is so hard to read. It’s very faded.

Another shocking tidbit I unearthed: JKP and his wife Mary were almost certainly first cousins. But I think I’d better back up here. You see, JKP was the son of John D. Leggett, who migrated west from Randolf County, GA, in the late 1840s. He and his family are listed on the 1850 census from Barbour County, Alabama. By 1860, John D. shows up in Bienville Parish, LA. At the Dallas Public Library, I discovered a parish map showing his parcel of land. Boy, was that exciting!

Meanwhile, John D’s younger brother, Wiley S. Leggett, had become a preacher back in Georgia. He migrated west to Louisiana around the same time as his brother, turning up on the 1860 census from Bossier Parish, LA, where he founded more than one church. Wiley had a daughter named Mary, born in 1848, in GA. She, I believe, was my great grandmother Mary. Gr Granny had Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neuromuscular disorder that runs in my dad’s family. He had it, his mother had it, and her mother, Mary Leggett had it. (So do I and my daughter.) It’s a known fact that Rev. Wiley S. Leggett’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Gertrude Leggett, also had CMT. Like Mary, she has living descendants who inherited the disorder. For me, that clinches my belief that Mary and Elizabeth were sisters who inherited the faulty CMT gene from one of their parents and that Mary and JKP were indeed first cousins.


Marion inviting a British officer to share his meal (from Wikipedia Commons) 

A third astonishing suspicion: Jeremiah Leggett, father of John D. and Wiley S. Leggett, may have fought in the Revolutionary War under the command of Colonel Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Do you remember reading about him in history class? Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot is loosely based upon Col. Marion. The Swamp Fox and his men fought the British in South Carolina, and there happens to be a Jeremiah Leggett listed in A Roster of Patriots Who Served with Francis Marion by John M. Gregg. A few years after the war, my gr gr gr granddad Jeremiah shows up in records from the northern part of Georgia, which was being settled (the indigenous Cherokees would say invaded) by whites from the Carolinas and Virginia. See how I came by my suspicion? Just wish I could prove it.

Getting back to Mary and JKP Leggett, they wed on October 15, 1865, only a few months after the Civil War ended – in Bossier Parish, LA. I wonder if Rev. Wiley S. Leggett conducted the ceremony.

Eventually, Mary and JKP moved to Van Zandt County,Texas, where they raised their family. My Grandma Bessie Mae was the ninth of their eleven children. JKP died in 1888 in the state hospital in Terrell, Koffman County, TX. Mary remarried, had another son and lived to the venerable age of ninety-one. She spent her last few years with my grandparents in Denison. A cousin of mine, the daughter of my dad’s oldest brother, told me her father recalled his Granny Mary sitting and rocking the little ones (my dad possibly among them.) He also said she had long dark braids and looked like a squaw. His word, not mine. She was either half Cherokee or half Choctaw, depending upon which family story I choose to believe.

It’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves from ancestry research. For sure, those southern roots of mine go deep, deeper than I ever would have guessed.

Tripple Celtic shamrock sm

If you’re in the mood for western romance with a touch of the Irish, or a photo illustrated memoir about cats, kids and life with a disability, I invite you to stop by my Amazon author page for a complete list of my books. My novels are also available for Nook on Barnes & Noble.


Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

What a lovely post, Lyn!! I'm so glad you have started to research your family!!


Lyn Horner said...

Thanks, Ella. I became quite obsessed with genealogy for about a year. Then I started publishing, leaving little time for family research. I hope to get back to it one day.

Keta Diablo said...

Hello Lyn and Ginger!

Love the post. I also have Minnesota roots and have done extensive research on my family history. I would have been a New Yorker (heaven forbid) had not my great-great-grandfather decided to settle in southern Minnesota. The year was 1858, and soon after the Civil War came. My great-great grandmother sent three sons, a son-in-law and a brother off the war and was pregnant at the time with her 11th child. All of her loved ones returned, although they had life-long health issues. Fascinating stuff, genealogy.

Thanks again for the lovely post.
(follow my romance blog)

Caroline Clemmons said...

Lyn, your and my ancestors migrated the same way. My dad grew up in Denison, but his parents came from Northwest GA and my grandmother was supposedly half Cherokee. We should compare notes next time I see you.

Carra Copelin said...

Howdy, Ginger and Lyn. Great post, Lyn! I had fun doing some of your research with you. I didn't, however, know about Col. Marion and your grandfather. The story goes from my husband's side of our family, that Col. Marion gave his g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, John McKinney, a spur for his loyal service during the Revolutionary War. I'm glad you've acknowledged your Texas roots. I do believe I hear a YeeHaw coming from your side of town!

Ellen O'Connell said...

Very cool post, Lyn. My maternal grandmother, who was part of my life until I was 19, was one of 10. My mother's family were Canadians, and Grandma grew up in Alberta, although my mother grew up in Ontario and that's where we visited every summer of my childhood. For some reason the research-the-family-gene skipped me, but I remember the stories.

Maybe if I thought I'd find the Swamp Fox, I'd go searching.

Celia Yeary said...

Love those photos. I do like to learn about other people's families--it's like looking into other peoples houses, which I would love to do but you can't just walk up to a door and say, May I see your house, please? See? Tacky, as my mothers would say--and that's very Southern.
Thanks for sharing all this information.

Lyn Horner said...

Keta, the Civil War changed the path of many people's lives. It's like the great divide in our nation's history. Glad your ancestors came to good old Minnesota. We need to trade info. Maybe we're related, you never know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, I would love that! You, Carra and I should plan a day to talk genealogy. That would be fun.

Isn't it a small world. We could also be related.

Ciara Gold said...

Too fun. I've been planning some posts on my family heritage but I haven't quite finished them. LOL. My mom's the genealogist in the family and has volumes of information gathered.

Lyn Horner said...

Carra, our ancestors may very possibly have served together. What a coincidence that would be!

Lyn Horner said...

Ellen, I never cared two hoots about family history until I happened, quite by accident, to come across a post from one of the ancestry boards on the internet. It was a list of my dad's parents and all his siblings. That made me sit up and take notice. I got curious and started poking around on genealogy sites, discovered cousins I'd never even heard of and opened an account with I now have a pretty extensive family tree on there, that I hardly ever look at. So sad!

Lyn Horner said...

LOL! Celia, you're so funny! No, you can't do that unless you want to be arrested and thrown in the pokey. ancestry is the next best thing, I guess.

Lyn Horner said...

Ciara, I think writing historicals and studying our family history goes hand in hand. I hope you'll post about yours, cuz I'd love to read it.

Barbara said...

How fascinating, Lyn. Family history provides us with wonderful story kernels, for sure. One of my many-great g/fathers was Hessian who, with his best friend, fought with the British in the Revolutionary War. But, according to family history, they were among some soldiers captured in New York. The two of them escaped, stole a small boat and hid in the bottom under cover while they floated down the river. They ended up eventually in Virginia, where they joined the Colonial army.

Sorry I'm late getting over. Great post.

Lyn Horner said...

Hi Barbara, great to see you here. We sure do have some stories to tell. You could spin a wonderful yarn around your Hessian ancestors.
Thanks for stopping by!

Lana Williams said...

Wow, Lyn! What great info you've unearthed! My mom has done an amazing job of putting together our family history and presented all of us kids copies of it all organized in a photo album. Best Christmas gift ever, especially since I can share it with my boys.

Lyn Horner said...

Lana, good for your mom! I haven't done that yet. Hope to get to it one day. After the time I put into research I'd hate to see it all get lost.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I'm sorry I'm late getting here, Lyn, but I'm really glad I did finally get a chance to read your blog about your family. I know how exciting it is to learn about our ancestors and a real thrill to see actual documentation of their lives.
Although I was born in PA and all of our family roots are there, we moved to North Carolina when I was five and we've been here ever since. Now my sister and are are just regular southerners, but I have always felt a sort of internal division between my birth state and the state where I grew up. I imagine you can really understand that feeling, too.
Loved your blog. I enjoy reading about family histories.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Lyn, I love ready family histories! Yours is fascinating. I bet you could find a lot of good stories there to write. :)

My uncle did a ton of research in the 1970s and traced my mother's family back to the Doomsday Book. My father's family--we can't find anything before the late 1700s. Part of the problem is the surname is so common (Walker). Even so, I found out my g-grandmother left my g-grandfather and ran off with a hired hand. What scandal!

Lyn Horner said...

Sarah, I sure do understand that feeling. I still feel divided sometimes, even after nearly three decades of living in Texas. Thanks for stopping by.

Lyn Horner said...

Jacquie, I've thought of writing a novel based on my gr grands, just haven't figured out how I'd handle it. Maybe one day.