Seems like just last week that I was talking about old J.H. Cason and here we go again. I keep track of these stories and really do try to keep from repeating, but there are just so many times that the Casons and their kin are just exactly the right people with the best stories.
The Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason could be a tough old bird. My grandmother said that when her grandfather came to visit, the whole house was turned upside down. Everything was his way, with no discussion or dissension. He had gone to Africa as a missionary in the 1850s and to war in the 1860s and had preached his way across the south ever since then and knew how to be tough. Discipline and rules were important to who he was, to his view of the world, and to his faith. But, he also knew how to be tender and clearly had a soft side that came out from time to time.
On the day that her grandfather heard of her birth, J.H. Cason, that crusty old guy, sat down and wrote a tender letter to her to welcome her to the world and to the family, to tell her about those who went before her, and to share some wishes for her future. It’s an amazingly touching letter for someone who could be so gruff and crusty.
My dear little darling, I have this morning heard of your safe arrival on Nov 26th, 1903. Upon our National Thanksgiving Day. Your coming among us makes the Thankgiving Day more sacred and fixes it upon the tablet of our hearts and fixes it upon the register of our memories. We are glad to welcome you to a share in our cares and burdens and to a place in our hearts and to the joys of our holy religion.
Then, he goes on to explain to Bettie how important her name is. He tells her about her grandmother
You may be curious to know why the name of Bettie was given to you. Your grand mother Cason was named before her marriage Elizabeth (Bettie) Cooper. The name Elizabeth (Bettie) has long been a family name in the Cooper and Cason families.
Grandpa Cason goes on, then to spend two pages mapping out her parents, grandparents, and ancestors for five or six generations! For the most part, these would have been people that Jere Cason would have known or would have well known about. What a gift! On top of that, since this was a letter to an infant, Bettie’s mother, Lida Cason Higgs, annotated the letter over the years. And she added a touching postscript:
My precious child, God was good to you in giving you these two noble people as grand parents. May you be worthy of them. Mother.
Bettie isn’t a rare or uncommon name. Certainly not in those days. But, it’s interesting that in every generation going back, Bettie Higgs had a grandmother or aunt with whom she shared a name, going back at least 150 years in both directions.
Grandpa Cason finishes his letter encouraging Bettie in her faith. He assures her that, since he is already getting old, that they may not have a chance to know each other well. But they will certainly meet again in heaven if she embraces her faith. He clearly misses and grieves for his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason, who died just two years before. The old preacher makes sure that Bettie knows not only that he loves her, but that Jesus does as well.
No precious darling, if you never see or remember your grand papa you must know that he loves you and has prayed to the Lord for you. It was easy for the Lord to take care of me seventy one years, infancy, childhood, youth, and manhood down to old age. He can take care of you, as easy as he has your grand papa. Only love Him and trust Him and you will meet all the good people where Jesus lives.
What a wonderful was to greet a baby, even though it may be years and years before they grow to appreciate it. J.H. Cason probably greeted all of his grandchildren with a letter. I have seen several and can only assume that he made a point of doing this for all of them.
But, only in this one, did he lay out the history of the infant’s name. You can feel how much he misses his Bettie and how much he hopes and prays for the future for this Bettie. I am sure that she did not disappoint him. She was something special.
Jeremiah H. Cason is one of my most colorful and interesting ancestors. My great-great-grandfather was a missionary to Africa in 1856, a Chaplain and Captain in the Confederacy who lost an arm, and a Baptist preacher for over 60 years. Last year, I talked about his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason and at some point, I will tell more of J.H. Cason’s story. But this week, our theme is “At the Cemetery”.
I started in genealogy in the late 1980s. I remember my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, showing me the Bibles she had that belonged to her grandparents, Jere and Bettie Cason. She also had the Bible that belonged to her mother Lida Cason Higgs. When my grandmother died, all these Bibles passed to me.
In the front of her own Bible, Lida Higgs Cason added dictation of what her father was saying as he slipped from life to death. His health had declined for the better part of a year. In his last month or so, his mind had also slipped away. Lida wrote to her friend Ida that by the time she (Lida) was able to reach her father’s side, he was no longer able to recognize her. But he spoke of his childhood and Lida captured it in her Bible:
Jere talks about his family, how his ancestors had come to Middle Tennessee years before. He talked about the family farm and the family graveyard at the foot of the hill. He said:
Thomas settled the McGrady farm on Fall Creek, where the Nashville & Cainesville public road cross the creek. The old Cason grave yard is on that farm. The crossing is one mile below the old Smith Mill. … Jere Cason married Elizabeth Favor, Limestone Co, Ala, & bought the old McGrady farm. He lived & died on it & was buried there. At the foot of the hill, where he is buried, you can see the creek for a mile.
Here the years slipped away from my father. He forgot he was dictating to me and wandered again over the old place, telling me of many of its nooks & corners, his favorite places as a boy and young man, where he first took my sweet mother, to proudly show his father & mother his choice.
A few years afterward, early in my genealogical career, I was pleased to meet J. Merritt Graves, a cousin and Cason researcher who knew Wilson County well. Merritt took me to see the old Cason cemetery. It was past the end of a gravel road. Once the road gave out, you had to walk through the woods, down an old path and fence row that appears to have been a road, for about a quarter mile.
When we got to the cemetery, it was just as Jere Cason had described on his deathbed. It was tucked at the bottom of a hill, and from there, you could look back up the valley of Fall Creek for a long way. The old cemetery was surrounded by a stacked stone wall, about three feet high, with a long-rusted gate at its opening.
Most of the cemetery was grown over, but the stone stood proudly upright, like the people that they remembered. There were stones for Jere and Bettie Cason, several of their children and many members of the children’s families.
Ultimately, even though he talked about his old home place and the cemetery there, when he died in June 1915, Jeremiah H. Cason was not buried in Wilson County, Tennessee. Instead, he was buried in Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas, alongside his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason. Bettie had preceded him in death in 1901. She has a large, impressive marker in the small-ish cemetery of ordinary markers.
Lida wrote to her best friend, Ida, shortly after her father’s death. In this letter (which I suggest you read in full), she talked about how Jeremiah had already selected his monument and was prepared to cross over to the life he was certain of after his death:
Soon after Mamma’s death, Papa had his monument made just like hers. He had all the inscriptions put on it but the date of his death. It was a source of great satisfaction to him the rest of his life – that it was prepared just as he wanted it done. He had no fear of death but enjoyed life. He had many times given us minute directions about the way he was to [be] laid to rest. He had an agreement of years standing with a preacher friend, a lifelong friend, that whichever one survived the other, the other should conduct the funeral service. That also was carried out.
With a start like this to my genealogical career, with ancestors who left Bibles and letters and amazing stories, how could I not be hooked? From that time on, I was stuck on genealogy like the ticks I found on my socks in the cemetery.
Since then, there have been many trips to many cemeteries. At each one, I try to imagine what kind of people these ancestors would have been. How they would have treated the people around them. What their life was like. What the place they lived was like when they were there. Many people think of the cemetery as a place only for the dead and for the grieving. True that grieving is certainly a part of many people’s cemetery experience. But, for me, it’s a place where I try to understand the lives of those who have gone before me.
I try to post an interesting family photo each Wednesday for #WordlessWednesday, but these new ones require a few words.
I was recently talking to my cousin, Bob Lee, asking him whether his father had any old family pictures. His dad was Griff Calicutt Lee, Jr, a very well-regarded engineer and a generally good guy. I only met him a couple of times, at my grandparents’ funerals, but was always impressed by him. He recently died, himself, leaving behind his wife Eugenia.
Years ago, when I was first starting in my genealogy, I would correspond with Griff, but never got a chance to visit at his home in New Orleans. It was just too far and out of my budget. But, it always seemed like he had access to a lot of old family papers. His mother was the eldest daughter and the sort of person who had a particular interest and pride in “her people”. So, I always suspected that he might have things I had not seen.
Well, Bob told me he was going to visit his mom and would take a look at what his dad had left behind. When I started getting a stream of pictures on Facebook Messenger the other evening, I was surprised beyond words! A number of the pictures that Bob sent me were things I either have copies of or have seen. But, there were these three.
First, there is a picture of the Will Higgs family. Lida Cason Higgs is seated with four of her five children. This was taken in 1904 before her 5th child, my grandmother was born. The children are (clockwise starting with Lida) Morton Thomas Higgs, Jere Will Higgs, Lida Higgs, and Bettie Higgs. I had never seen a baby picture of Bettie before, or a young picture of Lida, or a young picture of Morton & Jere. What an amazing family group! I wonder why Will isn’t in the picture. Maybe he was working out of town for an extended period. As a newspaper editor, he sometimes did that.
Second, there is a picture of the Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason as younger man. The only other photos I have of him are much older. I can’t tell whether this would be before the Civil War, before he lost his left arm. The left arm in the photo looks like it’s full, but it’s hard to tell. J.H. Cason was Lida’s father. He was a Baptist preacher for over 50 years, a missionary to Africa in the 1850s, and a Captain in the 41st Alabama Infantry.
Lastly, there is a picture I had never even hoped to imagine. Thomas Morton Higgs and Mary Sartain Higgs. Thomas and Mary are Will Higgs parents. Will Higgs is Lida’s husband. Thomas and Mary are probably my longest standing brick wall. I never expected that I would find a picture of them! I can’t even find them in a census; how could I ever find a picture!
I started trying to learn about my family thirty years ago. I was lucky enough to get copies of notes that Lida Higgs (the young Lida, not the mother Lida) had written about her family. She noted that Thomas and Mary married in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama on Christmas Day 1857. True enough. Limestone has a really nice archives and I’ve visited it several times. I’ve gone through every old volume they have, along with every other record of surrounding counties that I can find. The original marriage record for Thomas and Mary is easy to find. But, I can find no other mention of them. Nor can I find any Higgs or Sartain families anywhere around! So, they have always been my mystery. Maybe I can find more hints in Griff’s records.
This is why family photos are so exciting. They are a way we can connect not only to our ancestors, but to each other as we share what we have and what we know. I am so excited about this that now I want to go visit Eugenia and I want to go spend more time with my cousins. Time to get the calendar out and make it happen!
There’s lots of kinds of surprise that we find in our families. Sometimes, we find a surprise ancestor as we are looking for someone else. Sometimes, in these days of DNA, we find “surprises” of a completely different sort. What was that song? “Your daddy’s not your daddy, but your daddy doesn’t know”? Luckily, I’ve not any any NPEs (non-paternity events) in my research.
Sometimes, our ancestors do surprising things. We can document some of these, but others are stories of legend. I’ve got one of each of those this week. Elizabeth Cooper, “Bettie”, was born 10 Sept 1834 in Bedford County, Tennessee to Micajah Thomas Cooper and his wife Sarah “Sally” Vincent. The family lived near Bell Buckle, Tennessee, which is a very cute little town today with a couple of nice shops and restaurants, and Wartrace, Tennessee. This is the heart of the Tennessee horse country. The Coopers were fairly well to do, not wealthy, but certainly comfortable and above average for their area. So, Bettie grew up in a safe and comfortable world.
In 1855, she met a young preacher, a student at the local college (Union University), Jeremiah H. Cason. Everyone called him Jere (pronounced Jerry). He must have been a convincing and dashing person in person. I have a number of the letters that he wrote to her while they were courting and they were more like sermons than love letters. My wife said that had I courted her with that sort of letter, we would not have just had our 22nd anniversary! But, in person, I am sure he was something special because in June 1856, they were married.
(You’ve met Bettie and Jere before here and here.)
I guess that’s surprise number one – this daughter of a comfortable family marries a preacher, guaranteeing a life of moving from town to town and of certainly a lower standard of living than the one she grew up with. But, it was a role that must have filled her soul. From her letters, she seemed as in tune with his call as he was.
The big surprise for the family was that not only was Jere a preacher, but he was planning to go to the foreign mission field. And he was planning to take Bettie with him! At the outset, there wasn’t a certainty of where they would go. The Baptist Foreign Missions Board would choose where they needed them the most. So, Bettie, from a little town in Middle Tennessee was going to pick up stakes and go somewhere exotic with this young preacher. Maybe China. Maybe Africa. Maybe somewhere else.
The call came shortly after their wedding for them to go to Africa, to the Yoruba Country, in what is today Nigeria. This prospect was both a surprise and a fear for their parents. I wrote in an early blog about a letter I have from Micajah Cooper to Jere and Bettie as they were on their way that talks about how scary this whole prospect was for both of her parents. You can see the letter and read a transcript here.
In August 1856, the boarded a train for New York and in early September, a ship bound for Africa. They landed in Lagos, in Yoruba, in early January 1857 after working their way up the coast of Africa trading in various ports. I am sure that every single day was filled with a million surprises. The places that they served, the four cities of Lagos, Abeokuta, Ijaye, and Ogbomosho, were all large cities, larger than any others in the South. Some of these had over 100,000 people!
The next surprise was a baby girl, born on the first of May, 1857. Tragically, the next surprise was her death on 12 May 1857. They called her Sally Vincent Cason. And the next surprise was likewise difficult. After the birth and death of Sally, Bettie’s health failed resulting in an abrupt and surprising return to America after just a year in Africa.
Do you see what she’s doing?
After their return to America, Bettie and Jere settled in, serving churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. With the Civil War, Jere went off to serve first as a Chaplain and then as a soldier, losing his arm in East Tennessee. After the war, they moved west, serving churches in Arkansas and then across Texas. You can see a map of some of the churches that they served.
Some of these surprising stories are hard to verify. The things we’ve talked about before all have documents to back them up. We have lots of letters and census and official records to show where the family was and when. We have published accounts of their ministry. But the best stories come down in the family.
Both my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, and her sister, Bettie Higgs Finney, told me a story of their grandmother, Bettie Cooper Cason. Neither of them actually knew Bettie. But they both knew Jere. So, the story must have come from him or from their mother, Lida Cason Higgs.
Apparently late in the 1800s, while Jere and Bettie were serving a church in west Texas, the circus came to town. Along with the circus came the side show. And this side show had a group of “Savages from Darkest Africa” that the local townsfolk could go an gawk at.
Well, apparently Bettie caused a tremendous stir in that little west Texas town, in the days of segregation, Jim Crow, a very active Klan, and all sorts of discrimination. She went over to the Savages from Darkest Africa and talked to them! Not only did she talk to them, but she talked to them in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE! I am sure that a lot of the old biddies in the town were wagging their tongues for weeks after that. I mean, the scandal of it all. And how in the world did she know the language of the savages, anyway?
But all those years earlier, her surprise marriage led her to a surprise call on her life that led her to a surprise encounter with people from a place in a her past and a chance to not only surprise, but SHOCK her neighbors.
I think I would have liked to know Bettie and Jere. They must have been powerful characters.
One of the hardest, but certainly the most satisfying, aspects of this disease called genealogy is trying to find the people behind the documents. All of the facts that we collect show us when someone is born, when and who they marry, whether or not they have children, have a home, work for a living, and ultimately when they die and are buried. In between the facts are the real people.
Instead of just looking at the facts, we try to figure out who the people involved in the facts really were. Most of the time this is a job for the imagination. We have to think about how we would react to a similar situation. Sometimes the documents give us a brief glimpse behind the veil to understand more about how people interacted,
Sometimes we see hints of love and devotion between friends and family members. And sometimes we see examples of conflict.
I suppose every family has some kind of conflict in it. There are those that would call the afternoon when I locked my little brother in the dog house (with a really large spider, he says) an example of family conflict. But if that’s as bad as it gets, things are pretty good.
I think that as I look at the various branches of my family, I don’t see a lot of family rifts, of branches of the family isolating themselves from other parts of the family. At least, I have not found them. But, when you keep looking, you can find things that must have been great sources of conflict within a family.
Meet Faver Cason. You have already met his brother, Jeremiah H. Cason, and heard a little bit about him. Faver and Jere were two of the sons of Jeremiah Cason (b. 19 Sep 1800, Abbeville Co., South Carolina, d. 22 Jul 1866, Simmons Bluff, Wilson County, Tennessee) and Elizabeth “Bettie” Faver (b. 29 Mar 1795, Culpepper Co., Virginia, d. 24 Mar 1867, Simmons Bluff, Wilson County, Tennessee).
Faver was Jere and Bettie’s first child, born 19 December 1826, in Limestone County, Alabama. Shortly after his birth, the family moved into Wilson County, Tennessee. Faver’s older sister, Fanny, was born in Wilson County in June 1828.
Faver Cason – Courtesy of Merritt Graves
Mary Helen Tharp Cason – Courtesy of Merritt Graves
As a young man, Faver enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a part of the Mexican War. On 8 May 1846, he mustered into Co. B, 1st Tennessee Mounted Infantry of the U.S. Army and was bound for Mexico. His unit was primarily guarding wagon trains and participating in guerilla skirmishes while in Mexico. On 10 November 1846, he was accidentally shot with a shotgun by members of his own company. He received a glancing shot to the face and neck. In his pension file at the National Archives in Washington, DC, there are notes that express some doubt about whether the men in camp were screwing around when he got shot. Maybe so. In any case, later in life, he reported that parts of the shot were still in the left side of his face and that he had pain from this from time to time. At the end of May 1847, Faver mustered out of the Army in New Orleans, his term of service having expired.
Once he was out of the Army, Faver headed back to Tennessee, living in Rutherford and Wilson Counties. Faver married Mary Helen Tharp on 23 Mar 1848 in Cainsville, Wilson County, Tennessee. In 1850, we find Faver and Mary in Wilson County farming, with five slaves. In 1860, they are still in Wilson County, their economic lot having improved. Now they owned eleven slaves.
By mid-1863, the war Civil War had reached Middle Tennessee. I suppose Faver saw the writing on the wall and decided to side with who he thought would be the winners. In September 1863, Faver re-enlisted in the 5th Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, a unit of the U.S. Army – the Yankees. He entered service as a Captain and was promoted to Major in June 1865 as he was leaving the service. The 5th Regiment was a part of action throughout Middle Tennessee. Interestingly, this unit lost 175 men to disease and 68 to the battle itself during its history.
Faver was injured again during his service. He was thrown from a horse and injured in his back and legs. He was carried to hospital and treated. He also felt like he developed an asthma-like problem while in the Army, living in the field.
What kind of internal conflict went on with Faver as he decided to re-enlist? Was he committed to the cause of the Union? Seems odd as a slaveholder, and the son and grandson of a slaveholder. Or was it loyalty to the United States that led him to enlist both the first time and the second? I am sure he heard stories from his mother’s father, John Favor, a Revolutionary War veteran who served in Virginia. Was he conflicted over this choice? Did he decide that he had to enlist to evade local raiders? I have other ancestors in Arkansas who appear to have done this. Or was it a cynical move to position himself better for the future?
How did this go over with his family? Remember Jeremiah H. Cason, his brother? Well, J. H. Cason was passionate in his own right. Not having so much property as his older brother, he was still committed to the cause of the South. He enlisted as a chaplain (being a Baptist preacher) early in the war. Shortly, he resigned and re-enlisted as a fighting soldier. He quickly rose to the rank of Captain in the 41st Alabama Infantry. And in December of 1863, while Faver was with his unit in Middle Tennessee, J.H. Cason was at the Battle of Bean’s Station in East Tennessee, where he lost his left arm.
What kind of Thanksgiving dinners went on in their family after the war? Two officers, each serving on a different side. One, suffering a serious, life-threatening injury but finding himself on the losing side. The other, a slave-holder and Southern property owner who served with the North. His wounds were superficial and possibly the result of carelessness. But, since he was on the winning side, he was receiving a pension as he aged.
After the war, Faver was able to parlay his wartime service into a seat in the Tennessee legislature as both a State Representative and a State Senator. He was a Radical Republican and reconstructionist. Certainly this caused additional conflict through the latter part of the 19th century. This is the land where Nathan Bedford Forrest established the Ku Klux Klan, after all. I wonder how he was regarded by his family, his neighbors, and his constituents.
By the 1890s, he applied for an invalid pension due to his wartime injuries and his inability to work. Several times, he applied for increases in his pension. In December 1909, a private bill (H.R. 10288) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to grant an increase in pension to Faver Cason; this bill was referred to the Committee on War Claims by the Committee on Invalid Pensions. One conflict, he avoided. In some of his pension depositions, he states that he waited to claim a pension from his Mexican War service because his father felt it was unseemly for him to claim a pension when he was not actually in need. Instead, he waited until his father had died to apply for his pension. He makes the case that he is in desperate need, his only asset being a small farm that he rents out since he is unable to farm it, due to his war wounds.
So, who knows what goes on in families. And who knows what’s behind all of the records that we find. As genealogists, we have to follow what the records say and what they prove for us. But, we also have to try to figure out what’s lying between the lines and the letters to tell us who these people really were. After all, they are our ancestors. We owe it to them and to ourselves to make them to be real people.
What really is an unusual source? Is a Census record unusual? Could be, I suppose, if there were something really odd about it. I suppose lots of ordinary records could be unusual.
Even a regular vital record could be unusual. My grandmother told a story, that I have never been able to validate, that some of her ancestors wanted to marry but their families were against it. So, they asked one of the field hands on the farm, a black man, to get the marriage license for them. He did, and supposedly, their marriage license is recorded in the register of black marriages in that county, even though they were about as far from black as you could imagine, solid Irish stock. That would be unusual. (I’ve never been able to find any proof of this at all. It’s one of the mysteries I would love to prove or disprove.)
But, in this case, I have some records that are a little out of the ordinary to share. Nothing too odd, just not a place I would have thought to go find out the history of my ancestors. Letters written and mailed from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the journals of a Baptist missionary society, and a philatelists’ compilation of steamboat timetables all help to flesh out this story (which has turned out to be longer than I expected)
Bettie was the 4th of 12 children in the family. At least three of these children did not live to adulthood. It appears that Bettie was a twin to Rebecca and that Rebecca died while still a young child, before 1840. Her family was relatively well to do in their neighborhood around Bell Buckle and Wartrace in Bedford County, Tennessee. (If you visit Bell Buckle today, it’s a very cute little town and worth a visit.) In 1860, Micajah reported $8000 in real estate and $15000 in personal property for the Census.
Along the way, Bettie met a dashing young student at Union University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee name Jeremiah H. Cason. How their paths crossed, I don’t really know. He had started preaching when he was about nineteen. Perhaps they met at a camp meeting or at church or something like that. Wartrace and Murfreesboro are not far apart but are not immediately adjacent, either.
I have a nice collection of Jere Cason’s letters that he sent to Bettie while they were courting. Kathleen, my wife, tells me that had I sent her the same sort of courting letters that Jere sent Bettie, we would probably not be here today. They were sort of preachy letters and not exactly the kind of thing that would win her heart. But, I guess that they did the trick.
Jere Cason had big plans. (We’re still getting to the unusual records, I promise.) He very much felt the call to foreign missions. Bettie loved Jere and also felt the call to share her faith in the mission field.
Bettie and Jere married in early July 1856 and spent the summer traveling together and raising money for the mission. Brother Taylor, the leader of the missionary program in the Baptist Foreign Mission board, wondered why they married early in the summer rather than just before leaving, like the other missionaries. But Jere assured him that marrying earlier in the year would make it possible for the two of them to travel together to raise money, and would be able to raise more money for the mission together than Jere could alone.
On 27 August 1856, Bettie and Jere sailed from New York City for the Yoruba Country of Africa along with two other missionary couples. Their traveling companions were Robert W. and Clara Priest from Mississippi and Seldon Y. and Mary Trimble from Kentucky.
Being on a very tight budget, rather than taking a steamship or even a direct sailing ship, they traveled on a trading ship that made its way up the western coast of Africa. This added many days to their trip and made their accommodations not quite first class.
Finally on 13 January 1857, after 115 days at sea, the little band of missionaries landed at Lagos in what is today Nigeria.
Letters are not really an unusual source. Nor are diaries. But a letter, written as a diary, from a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, mailed ship to ship, is a bit unusual. This is one of my favorite sources. Bettie wrote a letter to her parents while on the ship. She wrote a bit each day and made it a bit of a diary.
This is a fascinating letter. It tells about life on the ship and about her newly married life. I am sure that I will come back to this in a later post. If you are interested, let me know. I have transcriptions of this and all of the letters that I have during their stay in Africa.
One of the funniest comments in the letter is when Bettie talks about how they are faring on the ship.
This has been a delightful day. We have sailing more rapidly than usual, which we are glad of, for our voige has been slow and tedious; though it would be pleasant to us were it not for one thing; the unpleasant smell of the vessel frequently makes us sick, especially of a morning when we first get up but as this is nothing serious, I think we have no reason to complain, but rather rejoice when we look at the other sisters; they have been sea sick all the time & were you to see them you would conclude that you never had seen anyone sick stomache before. This is the thirteenth day we have been on board, and Sister Priest has thrown more or less bile off her stomach every day. My sickness before I left home has proven to be a fortunate thing for me. I have never been sick enough to miss my meals. Mr Cason thinks I look better than I did before I was married.
Another unusual source to learn about Bettie Cooper Cason is the letters of the wives of the other missionaries. At the Foreign Mission Board archives of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, I found the collected correspondence of J.H. Cason and the other Africa missionaries. To my surprise, I also found a number of letters from Clara Priest, wife of R.W. Priest. In particular, one of her letters corroborated part of what Bettie said. Clara talked about the journey on the boat and about the places that they stopped to trade. While Bettie mentioned that a boat had been spotted and that they would trade mail, Clara actually recorded the date, position, and what ship they met. So, I can identify where in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, the letter I have was “mailed”. Of course, however, this was very early in my genealogical career and I made a serious newbie mistake. I failed to make copies of EVERYTHING! I just spent two days tearing the house apart looking for that letter, only to finally find just my notes about the letter. Looks like it’s time to go back to Nashville again.
My unusual sources for this week are about searching in the archives of a church missions organization for information about my ancestor. Along with that, I searched the newsletters of the Baptist Foreign Mission Board. The newsletters and quarterlies printed reports from the missionaries. In the correspondence and reports submitted to the Foreign Missions Board, I found another poignant letter from J.H. Cason, Bettie’s husband, gives a window into their life in Africa. Remember how Bettie was feeling “seasick” only in the morning? In May 1857, she had a daughter. On 15 May 1857, Jere Cason writes:
On the 1st day of May we were delighted by the birth of a fine daughter. It grew and promised well to be raised. On the 12th it died and I followed it to the grave in a small band of Africans. Mrs Cason is doing pretty well and we hope she will be up in a few days.
You wished a good letter this time from me but you may not be accommodated as I am a little jaded mentally and physically from lack of sleep anxiety &c.
Ultimately, Jere and Bettie returned to Tennessee early due to her health. Reading the rest of the (unpublished) correspondence, it seems that things were very tense in the mission field and there was some disagreement about whether it was appropriate to return. But Jere felt like the best thing for his wife’s health was to return home.
Bettie apparently had always had sort of poor health. She was a twin. Her twin sister died as a young child. Losing a child after a few days was hard. She apparently had an injury falling from a horse. But, reading between the lines in some of the letters, it seems like she perhaps had no business going to Africa in the first place.
I have long wondered about their trip home. I felt sure that they landed in New York, since they took a steamship from England. But I could not find them in the passenger lists for New York, which are pretty complete. In one letter, Jere noted that they planned to sail on 4 November 1857 from Southampton in England on the Vanderbilt line and that they expected to arrive on 18 November 1857.
Looking online for 1857 steamship timetables, I found a very complete list from an unusual source. The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society published a book that details all of the known mail ships sailing during the period I was concerned with. It said that on the Vanderbilt line, the steamship Ariel sailed from Bremen, Germany to Southampton, England to New York. It left Southampton on 4 Nov 1857 and arrived on 18 Nov 1857. From that, I was able to look at the Ariel’s passenger list and found why I could never find Jere and Bettie in the index. On the passenger list, their names look much more like Cannon than Cason.
In the end, following the sources for her husband’s occupation to the Archives of the Foreign Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and their publications over the years really provided a much better window into Bettie’s life than I would have had otherwise. So, keep chasing those strange leads that don’t sound like they would lead very far.
I’m sure you will hear more about Bettie in the future, but that’s enough for tonight.
Every family has at least one legend, one story that has been passed down without any sort of substantiation. Folks just take them for granted and accept them as the gospel truth.
For example, nearly every family has three brothers who immigrated to the Colonies together. One went south, one went west, and one stayed along the east coast. Almost never true. Nearly every family has an “Indian Princess” in there somewhere (we certainly do, a couple of times). There’s even less likelihood for there to be even a germ of truth or drop of native blood in that one.
But, here’s one that I actually tried to figure out whether or not it could be true.
Lida was a strong, strong woman. But she came from a strong, strong family. Her parents had gone to Africa as missionaries in 1856. Her father served as a Chaplain and then a Captain of Infantry in the Civil War. Her mother kept the family while her husband was away at war and while they moved across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas serving churches and working to evangelize the Native Americans in west and central Texas.
Lida and Will and their children moved to southeast Oklahoma shortly after statehood, where Will worked in the newspaper business. When he died at a relatively early age, leaving young children at home, Lida picked up and did what she needed to. She taught school and continued the work at the newspaper. When her son’s wife died shortly after the birth of her first child, Lida stepped in to help raise that little boy and to travel west with her son as he pursued work. She just kept on through lots of difficult circumstances.
But what of the legend. First, you need to know that Lida’s actual given name was Eliza Johnson Cason. Where in the world did that come from? No one in the family was named Johnson, much less Eliza. In fact, this part of the family has had a long tradition of Betties. Well, in Lida’s father’s Bible, there was a notation that Lida was named for the woman who nursed her father back to health after he lost his arm in the Battle of Bean’s Station in the Civil War.
That sounds like it needs a little background. Lida Cason Higgs’ father was Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason. J.H. Cason was born in 1832 in Wilson County, Tennessee. He answered the call to preach when he was just nineteen years old. He and his wife Bettie Cooper Cason were part of the first supply of missionaries that the Baptist church sent to the Yoruba Country in Africa.
After his return, he served churches in Tennessee and Mississippi. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a Chaplain. After a short time, he resigned and then reenlisted in the Infantry, quickly rising to become Captain of Co. C, 41st Alabama Infantry, a part of Gracie’s Brigade.
In December, 1863, J.H. Cason was indeed a part of the Battle of Bean’s Station in east Tennessee. And he lost his arm in this battle due to a bullet wound. His left arm was amputated above the elbow, but he survived and lived another fifty years. Jere Cason died in 1915 in Royse City, Texas.
So, if the notes in the Bible detailing how and where Jere lost his arm were right, could there be some truth to the idea that Eliza Johnson nursed Jere back to health? I am not sure how certain we can be, but here’s what I have found.
The Battle of Bean’s Station took place near the town of Bean’s Station in Grainger County, Tennessee on 14 December 1863. On a hunch, I took a look in the census for that area in 1860, as close as we can get to the date of the battle.
Sure enough, according to the Census, Larkin Johnson lives near the site of the battle and he has an unmarried 26-year-old woman, presumably his daughter, named Eliza, living in his household. Looking backward, we find the same family in place in 1850 as well.
By looking at the estate records for Grainger County, we find that Larkin died in 1865. In 1870, we find Eliza, still unmarried living in the household of a William Johnson who is a few years her junior. The 1860 Census lists a William (presumably a younger brother) in the house then, too. So it looks like Eliza is living with her younger brother and his family. Both she and he show up on the Agricultural Schedule of the 1870 census as farm owners, presumably from the (missing) distribution of their father’s property.
In 1880, we again find Eliza, still unmarried, listed as sister-in-law to John G. Brown. His wife is Elizabeth and there is an Elizabeth Johnson in the family in 1860.
What does all of this tell us? Well, it can tell us that this family really is a family. It can tell us that Eliza Johnson really lived, lived adjacent to the battlefield at the right time. Can it tell us that she served as a battlefield nurse? No. Can it tell us that she tended J.H. Cason after he was wounded? No. Can it give us circumstantial evidence that this legend could be true? Absolutely! The story talks about a person that we likely have found. And one thing I have found to be true. When Jeremiah H. Cason wrote something down or said something, it was by-golly the gospel truth. So, in true Mythbusters style, I would call this family legend proved “Probably True”.
Now, if I can only find those three brothers and where they went….
This is the first in a series of “On this day” posts. Today is 1 May 2016. And today, we are going to meet Sallie Vincent Cason, born today in 1857.
I think I have mentioned the Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason and his wife Bettie Cooper Cason before. And I am sure that I will mention them again. They are a big part of my research and of the family stories that were passed down.
Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason, Baptist missionary and preacher, Captain, 41st Alabama Infantry, CSA
Bettie Cooper Cason
Rev. J.H. Cason and his wife Bettie were very early Baptist missionaries to Africa. In September 1856, they and three other missionary couples set out for the Yoruba country, which today is a part of Nigeria. This was one of the very first groups from the Baptist church to go into Africa.
They married 3 July 1856 and spent the summer raising funds for their missionary efforts. They sailed from New York to Africa on a trading vessel, the cheapest and slowest way to get there, and arrived early in January in 1857.
That spring, Jere Cason wrote the following letter to his supervising pastor, Brother Poindexter.
Ijoye, Yoruba, May the 15th 1857
Dear Bro Poindexter
Your kind favor came to hand May 5th. It was a comforting letter and manifested much interest on your part in our mission. We were sorry to learn that Bro Taylor was unwell and hope he has long since been permitted to engage in his duties.
On the 1st day of May we were delighted by the birth of a fine daughter. It grew and
promised well to be raised. On the 12th it died and I followed it to the grave in a small band of Africans. Mrs Cason is doing pretty well and we hope she will be up in a few days.
That little girl was Sallie Vincent Cason, named for Jere’s mother. How sad. But, how matter of fact about things, too. Jere doted on his children and grandchildren. He wrote letters to each grandchild on they day it was born, welcoming that baby to the world. So, you now that he and Bettie were devastated by the death of their daughter. But, they also felt a duty to their call and their mission. I can hardly imagine.
I found this letter through the Baptist Foreign Missions Board archive in Nashville, Tennessee. They sent me copies of all of Jere’s letters. I went to visit them and made copies for myself of the letters from the other missionaries serving with them. It’s such an amazing thing for the archivist to bring a box of letters that are 160 years old, that were mailed back to the US from Yoruba, Africa.