Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats.

© 2006-2020 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Old Man of Turkeycock Mountain

 Turkeycock Mountain is twelve miles long and straddles the Franklin-Pittsylvania line. I can see it from where I live. We own 167 acres on the Franklin County side, just below the mountain's "notch" (to the right of the tree in the above picture). When we bought the land in the 1970s, I didn't know much about it—only that our land was  part of the old Reynolds plantation, a horse track was once on it, and Confederate deserters used to hide farther up the mountain. But I didn't know anything about folks who had once lived on the mountain.

Recently, I acquired a booklet  about a resident of the Pittsylvania County side of the Mountain, Owen Adkins, who was supposedly born there in 1786 and died there in May 1885 when he was 99 years and 6 months old. He'd wanted to live to be a hundred, but didn't quite make it.

The booklet is a transcription of a story written by a reporter for the New York Herald and originally printed in March 1878.

Owen Adkins was apparently quite a character. As a young man, he excelled at foot-racing, and his father used to make money wagering on him when he raced men or—on some occasions—horses.  Apparently he never lost. When he as fourteen, he fought a bear on the mountain and finally managed to kill it with his knife. From a young age, he enjoyed fox-hunting, card-playing, foot-racing, and horse racing. He apparently owned a racetrack as noted in an article, "Miss Effie is Fondly Remembered," (from The Quill Pen—Pittsylvania Historical Society, by Robert c. Vaden, Jr, February 1986):

"The tobacco factory for making plug tobacco, owned and operated by Christopher Lawson Carter (1834-1901) was the principal industry of the community. Mr. [Algie] Davis recalled that there had been a racetrack "beyond Piney Mountain" owned by Owen Adkins before the Civil War. He said that plug tobacco was hauled to Pennsylvania from this area, and the wagons returned loaded with salt. The Davis family has been located here since 1790, and Col. Christopher Davis, great-uncle of Mr. Davis, was in the Civil War."

Owen was officially married twice; his first wife died in 1830 after having borne 19 children, all of whom were still living in 1878. Four months after her death, he remarried, but this wife only bore 5 children before she died in 1839. While married to his first wife, he also had 4 concubines. Near his own dwelling, he built a separate house for each one, and each produced several children. During his second marriage, he took an additional concubine. All told, he had 70 children, 66 of whom were still living when the reporter interviewed him. It was likely, given the large families his offspring produced, that he had nearly 550 descendants at the time of the interview. Because of the number of Adkins familie, that area of Pittsylvania County was know as Adkintown.

Owen Adkins witnessed much of history, albeit from a distance. He didn't believe in going to war so he paid a substitute $160 to take his place in the War of 1812. The substitute became ill a few months after enlisting and died. When enrolling officers then tried to get Owen to join the Home Guards, Owen hid out on Turkeycock Mountain. During the Civil War, he was a Union sympathizer and tried to talk his sons out of joining the Confederate army, but two of them did and were killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.

I tried to find out more about Owen Adkins online, but couldn't find much. didn't have a lot. Apparently, there was another Owen Atkins, a Baptist minister who died in Tennessee in 1853, and the Turkeycock Owen was confused with him on numerous family trees. Another source of confusion: sometimes the name Adkins was Adkinson, Atkinson, or Atkins,

However, a Rootsweb site yielded a bit of info about his family: Owen's father was William Adkins III, born 21 September 1760 and died 22 Oct 1848. A picture of William and Mary was on the website. Note how much William looks like his son Owen:

Owen's parents, William and Mary Hartman Adkins

The Rootsweb site also lists the names and probable marriages of William's children:
From Knorr, Catherine. Marriage Bonds and Ministers  returns of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; 1767-1805. 1956
1. 7 October 1799. Henry Adkerson (Adkins) and Elizabeth Rossett dau. Of Sam Rossett who consents.  Sur. William Reynolds. p. 2 (26 of marr. register)

2. 18 July 1803. Nathan Carter and Elizabeth Atkins. Sur. Henry Atkins. Married by Richard Elliott. p. 15  (p. 34 in original register)

3. 9 December 1805. William Adkins and Betsy Thacker. Sur  Joseph Thacker. Married by Rev. Willis Hopwood. p. 2 (p. 38 of marr. register)

From Williams, Kathleen.  Marriages of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; 1806-1830. 1980
4. 18 August 1806.  George Smith and Lucky Adkins. ( Sucky? Or Suk?) Sur.  William Adkins. p.  145  (p. 42 in marr.  register)

5. 15 July 1809  Owen Adkins and Isabel Harris, dau. of John Harris who consents. Sur. James Hines. p. 3 (p.  46 of marr. reg.) Second marriage: 19 September 1825. Owen Atkinson (Adkins) and Fanny Campbell. Sur.  Jacob Zink. p.6 (p.  82 of original register) 

6.  21 May 1810. Charles Gibson and Sarah Atkinson, dau of William Atkinson. Sur Nathaniel Carter. Thomas Geo. Gibson consents. Married by the Rev. Joseph Hatchett. p.  62  ( p.  48 of marr. register)

The settlement of William Adkins estate again confirms the names of his children:

Estate Settlement of William Adkins decd (1848)
 Accounts Current vol. 18 pp. 160-162
 Date of confirmation October 20, 1851

Accounts of Executor and Legatees

1. To Susan Smith one of the legatees of William Adkins decd
November 27, 1849 paid in terms of will  $100.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund $230.00
1851 to balance due Susan Smith 2.63 ½
TOTAL: 332.63 ½

2. To Nathan Carter in right of his wife Elizabeth Carter
Nov. 27, 1849 paid in terms of will  100.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 250.00
TOTAL paid by confirmation:  350.00

3. Sarah Gibson
Nov. 27, 1849 paid in terms of will 30.00
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 219.22
1851 balance due Sarah Gibson 13.41 ½
TOTAL:  262.63 ½

4. Henry Adkins
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 232.19
1851 balance due  2.63 ½
TOTAL:  232.63 ½

5. William Adkins
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 232.19
1851 balance due    .44 ½
TOTAL: 232.63 ½

6. Owen Adkins 
Sept. 11, 1850 paid for legacy in residuary fund 230.00
1851 balance due 2.63 ½
 TOTAL:  232.63 ½

Two "What's on Your Mind" columns in The Roanoke Times provide information about Owen Adkins:

Register of Deaths 1855 1896 p. 136, line 5

Owen Adkins 
white male 
Died May 15, 1885 in Pittsylvania Co., VA 
Cause: old age age: 99 yrs  6 mo (this would place birth approximately Nov. 1786) 
Parents: William and Mary Adkins 
born:  Pittsylvania Co. 
Occupation:  farmer 
Consort;  unmarried  (actually widowed) 
Informant:  Owen Adkins, Jr.  
Relationship: son


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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Jamestown Brides

I first visited Jamestown, Virginia, in November 1957. I was among the seventh graders from Lee Junior High School who boarded three Greyhound buses and spent three days touring Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown. At that time, all seventh graders studied Virginia history, so the trip was meant to enhance what we'd been studying. But this history had happened long ago and didn't have anything to do with me. Or so I thought.

Then, I didn't know that I had any connections to Jamestown—that my 10th great-grandfathers on my Nace side, Jonathan Giles (who arrived in 1619) and John Haynie (who arrrived in 1621) both survived the March 22, 1622 massacre, and on my Smith side that another ancestor, William Hancock (who arrived in 1619), didn't survive it.  I don't remember hearing much about about the massacre on the school trip. But I remember standing in the church at Jamestown and being told that Queen Elizabeth had stood in that church a few weeks earlier.

Now, having learned a lot about my genealogy, I decided to learn more about what my 17th century Virginia ancestors endured. (I recently blogged about what I'd learned from books I'd read about colonial life.) From my 7th grade Virginia history class, I knew that the original settlers were all men, but later a few brought their wives from England and also some single English women were sent to become wives.  In 1621, the Virginia Company, responsible for Jamestown's settlement,  having advertised in London for potential brides, sent more young women from England to become wives of planters who could pay their passage in tobacco. Some of my ancestors no doubt witnessed these maidens' arrival aboard the ships Marmaduke and Warwick. Recently I read about these women in The Jamestown Brides by Jennifer Potter.

The Jamestown Brides is a hefty book. The paperback edition, including endnotes and index, is 372 pages in a fairly smll font. It is apparent the author did considerable research prior to writing this book, an for that I'm grateful. (Note: I'm also grateful the author used endnotes instead of footnotes. There are so many citations that the text would have been unnecessarily choppy if footnotes had appeared on each page.) While the writing is a bit academic, it is also quite readable.

Potter gives considerable background about what both England and Jamestown like in 1621, why wives were needed for Jamestown, how the potential brides were selected, what their lives were like aboard ship during the voyage, how Jamestown appeared to them when they arrived, and how different life in Jamestown was from London. And then, of course, there was the Massacre of 1622.

The Marmaduke and the Warwick left London in September 1621 and arrived in Jamestown in November. The maidens had to be housed in homes where there was a wife in residence, but there weren't enough suitable accomodations at Jamestown itself. Consequently, many potential brides were dispersed to different settlements until they found husbands.

The book has many illustrations and maps. An especially useful one shows where the different settlements were.  Berkeley Hundred is where my Hancock ancestor, who was reportedly staying at George Thorpe's house, was among those murdered there on March 22, 1622, although he isn't on the list of nine killed. At least 347 men, women (including some potential brides), and children are known to have died  during the massacre, but the number is likely higher. Some—including a few of the potential brides—were taken as captives.

Page197,  paperback edition of The Jamestown Brides

I'm glad I read this book for the background it gave me in an important part of Virginia history. I especially recommend it to all those whose ancestors lived in early 17th century Virginia.  

If you're interested in Virginia's early years, another resource is Mary Newton Standard's out-of-print 1928 edition The Story of Virgnia's First Century


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Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 2020

This April has beeen like no other I can remember. We have spent the month "sheltering in place" because of the coronavirus outbreak. Most businesses are closed, so there's no where to go if we wanted to. This April has also been incredibly beautiful.

In between rainstorms, the air has been clear (fewer vehicles on the road=less pollution emitted) and the sky has been bright. Flowers in my yard have bloomed profusely. Here are some pictures of things in my yard this April:

There's a gazebo behind these redbuds, but you can't see it. The willow oak behind it is one of my favorite trees:

I purchased these bluebells at a plant sale in Rocky Mount about a decade ago:

I brought the seeds of money plant from our house in Roanoke in 1999. It blooms in various locations around the property here:

The redbud by the bottom driveway grew from seeds the birds had planted. Same for the mulberry at right and the poplar tree behind the redbud:

The azalea near the patio was here when we bought the place in 1999. It has grown huge since then:

I bought a small sweet shrub a few years ago. I didn't think it would live, but it did:

I planted these tulips a half-dozen years ago:

The white dogwood in the font yard was here before we were:

So has the pink dogwood in the side yard:

Ditto for the spirea:

Another redbud:

The peach tree I planted near the mailbox about 15 yars ago already has little peaches:

 Jim-Bob, one of the working cats, guards the property line:

This azalea was here before we were. The green garden bench beside belonged to my grandmother. Maggie the border collie has been here nearly 15 years:

I doubt that Maggie will be here net April. Given the current state of the country, I wonder if any of us will be.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Happy Valley Review

If you're looking of something uplifting to read while you're sheltering in place, I'd like to recommend Lin Stepp's latest novel, Happy Valley. Claudine couldn't wait to get her paws on it.

You'd expect a book with the title Happy Valley to have a happy ending, and it does. This isn't a spoiler alert—fans of Lin Stepp's novels know they usually end happily—at least for some of the characters, but there are trials and tribulations along the way. In  Happy Valley, there are also mysteries and misunderstandings.

Walker Logan, who has spent two years travelling across America, happens upon the town of Happy Valley in the Smokies,  is intrigued by an old rock house on a mountainside, and decides to buy it. Meanwhile, fiber artist and quilt-maker Juliette Hollander has temporarily left her job in North Carolina to return to Happy Valley and visit her grandparents on the family farm. One day, Juliette goes to a nearby abandoned place to pick some apples for her grandmother. When Juliette venutures a bit too far out on a limb, she falls—and lands on Walker, who is inspecting his new property. Although they feel an attraction to each other, Juliette returns to her life in North Carolina and Walker sets about making his property livable.

During the followig year, Walker not only restores the rock house but also buys an abandoned store and sets about renovating it. Some townfolks are curious about where this stranger came from and where he got so much money; some think trying to open a general store will be a disaster. But Walker doesn't reveal much about himself or his past—only that he's been traveling the country.

He opens his store about the time that Juliette returns to visit her grandparents again. Before long, she is working for Walker and selling some of her quilts at the store. This doesn't set well with a local boy, Dade Claiborne, who grew up near Julieete and always figured she would marry him. Juliette has no interesst in Dade despite his persistence, but she does find herself becoming increasingly attracted to the mysterious Walker. But she's only staying in Happy Valley temporarily, and she knows next to nothing about him. . . .

Several things happen during the next few months, but I'd be revealing too much if I recounted them. Suffice to say there are some complications, some conflicts both within Juliet's family and without, some misunderstandings, and some mysterious happenings that prevent Happy Valley from being as happy as it should be.

Because I live by choice in a rural area with mountains in the distance, I enjoy stories set in rural areas and in the mountains, and I enjoy settings that ship and develop character. Happy Valley does that. The inclusion of a map brings the setting home to the reader.

Stepp does a commendable job of capturing small town life. Her characters are believable, interesting and well-developed. If you're looking for a  novel with a strong sense of family and community, Happy Valley will lift your spirits in these troubled times.

TANNER: "I couldn't wait to get my paws on this either!"
NOTE: I received an advance reader copy of Happy Valley, which will be released in early April, but is available for pre-order from Amazon now.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trees Are Watching

Not long ago, the oak in my front yard was watching for spring. Here's how its eyes looked from different angles:


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Thursday, February 06, 2020

Colonial Ancestors

My research into family genealogy the last couple of years has made me aware that it's a miracle that I exist at all. For instance, I wouldn’t be here if several ancestors hadn't survived the Indian Massacre of 1622 at Jamestown. (Actually, on my Smith Side, I have one ancestor—William Hancock—who didn't survive it. Fortunately, his sons were back in England at the time, and I descend from one of them. One of Hancock's descendants lived less than a half mile from where I now live.)

On my Nace side, I have several ancestors who came from England to colonial Virginia. Jonathan Giles, my 10th great-grandfather who left Isle of Wight, England, and arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on the Trial, was one who survived the massacre. Another 10th great-grandfather who survived was John Haynie, who left Devonshire and arrived in Jamestown in 1621 on the Margrett and John.  

Arriving later and thus missing the massacre, was another 10th great-grandfather, Anthony Harrison, who came from Cambridge England to New Kent, Virginia in 1653 when he was 53. Major Lawrence Smith, my 9th great grandfather from Lancashire, England, was imported into Virginia in 1652 by Col. Augustine Warner.

My 8th great-grandfather, John Battaile, arrived from Essex England in 1692 and lived in Essex County, Virginia, near another 8th-great-grandfather, Andrew Harrison, Sr. And there were many other relatives who arrived in colonial Virginia during the 17th century. The more I learned about my genealogy, the more curious I became about what their lives in colonial Virginia must have been like.  

One book I read was Everyday Life in Early America, by David Freeman Hawke. Another was the Kindle version of a reprint of Home Life in Colonial Days, written over a century ago by Alice Morse Earle, which—alas!—didn't have the illustrations that her original had.


I also did a lot of Googling. Two resources of the many resources  I read online were Colonial Williamsburg's "Surviving the 17th Century" (and some of the links on that page) and the Virginia Humanities' "Women in Colonial Virginia."

From a painting for Colonial National Historical Park by Sidney King. A Domestic Scene at Jamestown About 1625This scene is from The Project Gutenberg eBook, Domestic Life in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, by Annie Lash Jester.

My conclusion: Life was hard in 17th century Virginia—particularly for women. I doubt I could have survived day to day. Women worked all day long—meal preparation meant picking vegetables, skinning and cutting up meat, cooking on the hearth—which required a lot of stooping, keeping the fire going, using heavy iron pots and utensils, and more. There were few plates in those early days—no china or pottery, although some families might have a few pewter plates which were used primarily for serving. 

There wasn't a dining table—a board was placed on two saw-horses. Some families were fortunate to have a few chairs, but many did not, so diners sat on chests, benches, or whatever could be pulled up to the board. Children often stood to eat. Most colonists ate—with knives, wooden spoons, and fingers—from wooden trenchers, squares of wood hollowed out in the center to form a sort of bowl. Trenchers were usually shared, so two people often ate from the same one. There were plenty of napkins to go round, however, since fingers often neeed wiping (and women wove the fabric that made the napkins). 

Why didn't the colonists have forks
By the beginning of the 18th century, knives imported to the American colonies had the new blunt tips. Because Americans had very few forks and no longer had sharp-tipped knives to spear food, they had to use spoons in instead. They’d use the spoon in the left hand to steady the food as they cut it with the knife in the right. They’d then switch the spoon to the opposite hand in order to scoop it up to eat. 
These folks drank their beverages from tankards, wooden cups, or leather cups. Water wasn't the preferred beverage—it was sometimes dirty or foul-tasting, so beer, ale, and cider were preferred, even for children.

Besides kitchen duties, women also did the washing (see illustration below), spun, wove, knitted, and sewed; made soap and candles; tended a garden; preserved food by pickling, salting, drying or making preserves; cleaned (scouring the floor—if it wasn't a dirt floor—involved sand) and tended chickens and cows. They also gave birth several times and raised children.

Wash-day in the Seventeenth Century The women soak the clothes in hot water dipped from the nearby kettle heated over the open fire, beat out the grime with paddles, rinse the articles in the shallow stream and hang them out to dry. (Courtesy of the artist, Sydney R. Jones from Old English Household Life by Jekyll and Jones, published by B. T. Batsford, Ltd., London. Photo by Thomas L. Williams)

If they needed to travel—perhaps to help a friend give birth or to attend a funeral, they either walked or went by dug-out canoe if they lived near water as many early Virginians did. Horses were a rarity in the early 1600s because they took up so much space to easily transport by ship (a 1000-pound horse, plus 500 lbs. of hay, 300 or so pounds of oats—you get the picture). Plus, all the manure that had to be mucked out and carried above deck. . . . Horses that came to Jamestown in 1610 didn't survive the starving time, and it took a while for more horses to be brought in and breeding to get underway. Some fortunate families might have oxen and a cart in the early years, though. When horses did eventually come to the colonies, "no one walked save a vagabond or a fool." By the18th century, roads had improved and carriage travel was popular.  

I'm not sure I could have coped with 17th century women's clothing. The only article of underwear that women had was the shift—which looked sort of like a long nightshirt. There were no other undergarments unless you include stays. (Underpants—or drawers, which were two pieces tied together at the waist and thus open in the crotch—wouldn't come along until the early 19th century.  Stays were worn between the shift and the outer gown. Made of linen and whalebone (or wood), stays laced up and gave women stiff, upright posture. Children, boys as well as girl, also wore stays to improve their posture. I can't imagine that stays were comfortable.

Staying warm in winter was a challenge. Early houses were drafty, and one fireplace wasn't enough to warm the whole room where people ate, slept, and lived. Bed-curtains helped, as did feather beds (sometimes another feather bed was used as a cover), animal skins, and several people sharing a bed.

I appreciate the hardships my ancestors endured to settle colonial Virginia. I wouldn't be here without these hard-working and resilient forebears.

Monday, December 23, 2019

SOTK Update

A Special State of the Kitties Update
by Tanner
(Chief House Cat)

A lot has happened since I made my August report. Not long after I reported, Chloe went missing for nine days, and  Mommy was so glad to see Chloe when she came home. But because Chloe was limping, Mommy realized something was bad wrong and took her to the cat doctor where she had to have FHO surgery because her femur was dislocated and had a fracture. They shaved off a lot of Chloe's hair, so she had to lay in the sun to keep warm while she recuperated.

Soon she moved into a box where no one would bother her. 

Chloe has gotten a lot better and is walking with a only a slight limp now, but she has had to give up her cat-work job which makes more work for Jim-Bob and Alfreda and me. Mommy doesn't want Chloe to go outside any more, at least not for a while. Chloe is not too happy about this.

Chloe slept on this big cushion while she healed up.
The real big news is that our family has also got a lot bigger since a bunch of kitties came to live with us. A wild mama cat had four kittens in an old tobacco barn down the road last summer. 

The people who owned the place where the kitties were living had a big dog who didn't like cats, so they couldn't keep them. The mama cat was gone most of the time to hunt, so the little kitties were pretty much on their  own. Daddy started stopping by to feed them twice a day when he checked the farm down the road, and he got them so they were sort of tame.

But where the little kitties lived was near where coyotes roamed and where Mommy and Daddy had once seen a big bear, so it wasn't safe for them to stay there. Before long, Daddy started feeding them in the cat-crate. Back in September when all four went in at once, he closed the door and brought them home. So that's how we got Grover, Rufus, Orville, and Claudine.

Here is how you can tell them apart. Claudine looks like she was made from scrap cat parts. Maybe that's why she is such a scrapper.

This is a better picture of her:

Orville is the smallest cat but he has big ears. He look like an elf.

Rufus is the biggest. He was real shy when he came here but he got over it. He has a little orange spot beside his nose that makes him look funny.

Grover has two spots near his nose. They look lke he should have wiped his nose better. He is probably the smartest and most adventurous of the group. He gets into stuff.

They stayed downstairs for a while until they got used to things, but now they have made themselves right at home. And they have grown real big. The regular cats had a cat-meeting and the kitties were voted in by me, Alfreda, Otis, Charlotte, and my kitty Arlo (who only voted yes because I told him to).  Chloe abstained from voting, and Jim-Bob was the only one who voted no because he doesn't have much use for cats who don't work.

The four kitties are pretty much part of the cat herd now. Otis tried to teach them string theory, so now they play with his string.

The kitties get into a lot of things and cause trouble, but they are kind of cute when they sleep.

Orville has real good tiger stripes. They are not as pretty as my stripes but they are brighter.

Orville likes to sleep with Grover.

Otis and Charlotte have been teaching them how to use the computer to watch YouTube videos.

Otis has taught Claudine how much fun it is to get on the top of the cat-tower.

I think Otis and Charlotte might be teaching the kitties bad things. But since I have to work, I don't really know what is going on inside the house during the day.

I used to be against taking in homeless kitties, but I have changed my mind. Some of you might remember how I didn't want Arlo to live here when he was a homeless kitty, but I got over that. When Alfreda joined us, I didn't object too much. After all, she was a striped kitty like me. I was used to taking in stray kitties when Otis and Charlotte came; but I was glad that Alfreda raised them instead of me having to do it. I know now that all kitties—no matter where they came from—deserve a good home.

Anyhow, that's the latest news.
—Tanner (Chief House Cat)


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