Five Generations of Betties

Namesake – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

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.

Interestingly, he was named for his father, Jeremiah Cason, born in 1800. (We visited his grave last week.) And he has generations of men named for him, all called Jere in one form or fashion, some of whom you have already met. But that’s not the namesake I want to tell you about today.

Little Bettie Higgs was born on the 24th of November, 1903 to Lida Cason Higgs and J.W. “Will” Higgs. She was their fourth child and second daughter.

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.

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It was just like he said it was!

At the Cemetery – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

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.

I think it’s fascinating that Bettie Faver Cason’s stone lists her name as Elizabeth Faver, wife of Jeremiah Cason. It seems like there was a lot of pride in being a Faver.

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.

Graves of Jeremiah H. Cason and Bettie Cooper Cason, Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas

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.

Family Photo – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

More than I had ever wished for

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!

Surprise – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Hey Mom! Guess Where I’m Going?

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.

Bettie Cooper Cason

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.

Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason, Baptist missionary and preacher, Captain, 41st Alabama Infantry, CSA

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.

Yoruba Country of Africa

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!

Baptist Missions in Yoruba, 1850s

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.

Churches served by Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason

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.

Until next time,
–SCott

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Conflict

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.

dickson-0390-f-v00I 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.

Faver Cason
Faver Cason – Courtesy of Merritt Graves

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.

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.