The accidental town

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 8, 2016

There is a town in Maryland’s westernmost county of Garrett that got its name from a happy accident. In 1750, Maryland settler George Deakins was granted 600 acres of land as a payment of a debt from England’s King George II. Deakins sent out two corps of engineers, each without knowledge of the other, to survey the best land in this area. When the two crews presented their findings, to their surprise and to Mr. Deakins’ satisfaction, they had both marked the same oak tree as their starting and returning points. Doubly vindicated that this land was prime, Mr. Deakins had it patented “The Accident Tract.”

The house in the background was the first English Lutheran Parsonage in Accident. The land was purchased from Eli McMillen on September 15, 1881 for one hundred dollars. Collection Family of Mary Miller Strauss /Ruth Enlow Library/Western Maryland Regional Library

The house in the background was the first English Lutheran Parsonage in Accident. The land was purchased from Eli McMillen on September 15, 1881 for one hundred dollars. Collection Family of Mary Miller Strauss/Ruth Enlow Library/Western Maryland Regional Library

The town was eventually settled by the Dranes. James Drane moved to the area in 1803 from Prince George’s County, which was part of the Maryland tobacco belt. Apparently Drane intended to turn his farm into a tobacco plantation. However, the climate of Garrett County proved unsuitable for growing tobacco, and he turned to normal farm crops.

The Dranes lived in a log cabin built by James’ brother-in-law William LaMar in 1797. LaMar owned Flowery Vale, a 900 acre tract of land. Half a century later, most of the town of Accident was built on that land; the Accident tract was incorporated into the Flowery Vale tract. James Drane added an addition to the cabin shortly after he arrived, giving the building a total of six rooms; three upstairs and three down.

Although it wasn’t the first log cabin in Garrett County, by the mid-1900’s the Drane House had been occupied by successive families for over 150 years. The last owners of the house were members of the Heinrick Richter family who purchased it in 1856. They leased it to a number of people; the last family left in 1952.

From the early 1950s, Mrs. Mary Miller Strauss, an Accident native who taught in the elementary schools of the Garrett County public school system for 33 years, took an active lead in the restoration of the Drane House. She ultimately made possible the placement of the Drane house on the National Registry of Historical Homes. The Accident Cultural and Historic Society was formed in 1987, and one of its main projects was the restoration of the Drane house. Restoration of the house, now owned by the town, began in 1992.

Accident MDPhoto caption reads: The Richter Tannery is located where the smoke is spewing from the stack. It was built in 1872. The Drane House is located to the right of the picture. (It cannot be seen.)

This tannery in Accident MD was operated by John Richter and later his son Adam for 56 years. Hides were tanned by the vegetable tannin method, using tannin obtained from the ground rock oak bark, furnished to the plant before World War I for four dollars and fifty cents a cord. It was put out of business in 1928 by the development of large tanneries.

sources: Western Maryland Regional Library

Accident+MD appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Drane+House Garrett+County+MD Richter+Tannery

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I say hurrah for Lincoln and the Union party! The Disunion party has committed treason

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 5, 2016

When the dark clouds of war were gathering in the South in the spring of 1861, not everyone embraced the new cause. While some were eager to fight for a secessionist government, many others considered the impending war a wicked, treasonous undertaking and wanted no part of it.

Indeed, a majority in the hills of Northwest Alabama, mostly poor yeomen dirt farmers, saw little value or reason in taking arms against the federal government. They recognized quite early that this was not their fight, but that of the landed gentry. It was obvious to the hill folk that the plantation owners and their political spokesmen were fanning the war flames and talked the loudest about separation.

James B. Bell, of Winston County, AL, had six children: Robert, John, Henry, Eliza Jane, Francis, and James T., all Union Loyalists except for one son, Henry.

Henry joined the Confederacy and moved to Mississippi. Henry’s brothers, sister, and father all tried to convince Henry to rethink his feelings, but to no avail. There are seven known letters sent to Henry, who turned them in to the authorities in his community. They were then sent to Governor Moore on July 10, 1861 with a letter signed by A.W. Irvin from Lodi, MS:

“Dear Sir, Enclosed please find a treasonable correspondence from Kansas P.O. Walker Co., Ala. to a citizen of our community, Mr. Henry Bell, signed by James B. Bell, John Bell, and Robert Bell which the undersigned regard as dangerous and forward the same to Your Excellency in order that you may be advised of the existence of such sentiment in your State and to enable you to investigate or take such cause in the premises as your judgment and duty may dictate. Mr. Henry Bell to whom the ___ documents were written ___ ___ these individuals reside in Black Swamp Beat in Winston Co. Ala but the Kansas Walker Co. is their P.O.”

Union is dissolved poster, 1869Robert died in Andersonville on August 3, 1864 (a prisoner of war), John died on August 17, 1864 in Rome, GA, Henry died March 24, 1863, James T. died on July 24, 1864, and James B., their father, died September 15, 1862. Francis was the only male who survived, and his descendants can still be found in Winston County. These letters have little punctuation, gaps, and blanks, and were written to Henry trying to convince him to come home and change his ways.

Letter Seven:

Robert Bell to his brother, Henry Bell in Choctaw County Mississippi

June 10th 1861

State of Alabama Winston County Dear brother it is this one time more that I take my pin in hand to try to right you a few lines to let you no that I am tolebral well and I hope that when this Comes to hand that it may findes you all well and that you aught to bee when I say what you aught to bee is to not bee and rebel nor a fool the way you hair bin righting hear you air one or the other and you cant deniy it nor you nead not to try to deniy it to mee your side has not got a foundaution that is eney sounder than a soft bull tied in the spring of the year you have not I suppose from the way you have bin riting seen nor heard nothing but disunion secession confederate confederated and confederation and you all haive Swollode it down like Sweet milk and Softe peaches I say hurrow for lincol it has ben Said that lincol was a going to free the negros that is a ly I will say that it seames to me like congress has something to say aboute it first it has bin said that the union men was traitors that I say is a ly again I am a heap freader of the disunions with their helish principals than I am of lincol. he has not said that he was a going to free the negros he has bin beging far peas ever since he was elected he has offered the south more than I wood have dun he has offerd the south eney thing they wood ask for if they would stay in [One full line is unreadable because of fold.] bee as it was with Joseph and his brothers if the south will not do eney thing that is right and fair it is said by you or some of you dis union party that lincol was elected by a large negro vote that is not so and you now it two when I say you I mean you all on the dis union side and all hoo the shoe may fit Can ware it. theair was something said a bout a company being sent out here to do something with the union men Send them on when you git redy and it will bee a too hand again I am not afeard in to it my self come on and you will mete with your uncle feddys theair is no dainger of you a coming or sending on that bysness there is too mutch meanness at the bottom of the disunion party to soot me one man in this county said that he wood live fat among the (women) if the war cum on and he has left the County and I heard of a nother one being shot or shot at for trying to force a woman to it.

I am a union man my self and a union principal and all the rest of the con nect tion here there is not ceding 15 rebels in our beat and I say hurrow for lincon and the union party the dis union party has committed treason You say that lincon was elected by a large negro vot that will not do if that bee the case why did not you brake the election at the start it looks to me like he was lawfully elected when he beat the others all to gether you all had better try to keep your negros as for mine they may go I do not like to smell them so will Rebel is one who opposis lawful authority. Rebel to rise in opposition against lawful authority Rebellion insurrection against lawful authority Secede to withdraw from fellowship secession the act of with draw ing from union the act of joining concord.

this is what I am in for I was bornd and Raised in the union and I exspect to dy with the union principal in mee I will Dy before I will take an oath to support the Southern confedersa when ever lincoln dus eney thing Contray to the Constitution I am then ready and willing to help put him a way from their so i ad no more. Robert Bell


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Once fertile fields laid waste

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 4, 2016

The Dust Bowl crisis of the early 1930s for the first time brought national attention to the acute dangers of soil erosion. Southern Appalachian farms, for their part, suffered from poor soil conditions and erosion as a result of practices that maximized the short-term potential of corn, tobacco and cotton cash crops at the expense of the soil’s long-term health.

In response to the depletion of the nation’s farmland, President Roosevelt created the Soil Erosion Service (SES) of the Department of the Interior, headed by North Carolina native Hugh H. Bennett, in 1933. It supervised significant numbers of CCC camps in the Southern Appalachian Highlands. Enrollees planted trees and shrubs to help hold the soil in place and built small dams to help lessen floods, mostly on private lands.

soil erosion in 1930s South CarolinaAn example of the condition of much of the rural landscape in South Carolina before the establishment of the Soil Erosion Service.

With a five million dollar budget, the SES set up demonstration sites in strategic locations throughout the United States. One of the first demonstration sites in the United States covered the South Tyger River Watershed, located in South Carolina’s Greenville and Spartanburg counties. The project began on December 18, 1933 at the J.L. Berry farm, located near Poplar Springs, where a gully large enough to swallow a vehicle was repaired.

At the strong urging of a coalition of agricultural and forestry groups, Roosevelt transferred SES to the Department of Agriculture in March 1935 and had it renamed Soil Conservation Service.

Secretary Bennett knew that resource needs and conditions varied greatly from one part of the country to the next and even from one neighboring county to the next. To insure that these local needs were properly recognized and met, Bennett helped draft legislation that states could use to create Soil Conservation Districts.

soil erosion in 1930s South CarolinaA farmer plowing up and down the slope, which resulted in severe soil erosion.

In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending that local landowners form such districts. South Carolina’s Governor, Olin D. Johnston, signed the S.C. Conservation Districts Law on April 17, 1937.

On August 3, North Carolina Secretary of State Thad Eure made history when he established the Brown Creek Soil Conservation District as the first in the nation.

But Brown Creek was not the first soil conservation district to actually implement a working plan. Dr. Thomas S. Buie, South Carolina’s state conservationist, who several years before had been the Regional Director of the South Tyger River project mentioned earlier, was now director of the Southeastern Region for SES.

Buie was media savvy, and in 1934 had taken his argument directly to the public via a series of 15 talks on radio station WFBC in Spartanburg, and also on a weekly mid-day show out of WBT in Charlotte, NC.

“An enemy as real as any our troops ever have faced in battle,” he exhorted, “has conquered an area 35,000,000 acres in extent, laid waste to what once were fertile fields and almost unchallenged continues his relentless march of destruction across other fields wherever the slope of the land is sufficient for water to flow.”

Mrs. Ploma AdamsMrs. Ploma M. Adams of Seneca, SC.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that on February 4, 1938, the country’s first implemented farm soil conservation plan occurred at the farm of one Mrs. Ploma M. Adams, in Seneca, SC, adjacent to Buie’s high-profile South Tyger River project.
John Drayton Hopkins, a state director of the South Carolina Farm Bureau, took his cue from the Adams farm’s plan, and sought to educate farmers to use terracing and crop rotation to help maintain the fertility and stability of the soil. He encouraged farmers to supplement cotton and corn with oats and wheat, and to plant fallow fields in fescue, clover, and kudzu to stabilize the soil and to graze cattle.

By 1947, 20,000 farm conservation plans were in place statewide in South Carolina, says a May 19 article in Spartanburg’s “Herald Journal”:

“Little more than a decade ago, practically no annual lespedeza was grown in the state in rotations. Now this crop is grown from the mountains to the sea for soil improvement and as a hay crop. It is a common thing for it to be found on most every farm in a given community.

“The annual lespedezas furnish food for the quail. A good soil conservation farm plan also calls for field borders of perennial plants which prevent erosion and can be valuable as a turn-row in the use of equipment. Sericea furnishes a splendid cover for quail and provides the turn-row.”

Sources: “The Land Today & Tomorrow,” Official Gazette of the Soil Erosion Service, Oct 1934, online at,1878155

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That is the peculiarity of gold mining; it is just like gambling

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 3, 2016

“The gold,” he mused; “yes, I will come to that. It was just by accident that I came across it; the site is now that of the Calhoun Mine. I was deer hunting, one day, when I kicked up something that caught my eye. I examined it, and decided that it was gold. The place belonged to Rev. Mr. Obarr, who, though a preacher, was a hard man, and very desperate.

19th century gold miners in North GeorgiaEngraving of gold miners in Georgia. Artist unknown. From “Gold-Mining in Georgia,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,(June to November 1879): p. 519.

“I went to him, and told him that I thought I could find gold on his place if he would give me a lease of it. He laughed, as though he did not believe me, and consented. So a lease for forty years was written out, the consideration of which was that I was to give him one fourth of the gold mined. I took into partnership a friend in whom I had confidence. I went over to the spot with a pan, and turning over some earth it looked like the yellow of an egg. It was more than my eyes could believe.

“The news got abroad and such excitement you never saw. It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every State I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback, and in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides. The saddest man in the county was Preacher Obarr from whom I had leased the land. He thought the lease was a joke but now he found out that it was in earnest.

“One day he came to me and said:

“‘Mr. Parks, I want your lease.’

“‘ But I will not sell it to you,’ I replied.

“‘Why not?’ he asked.

“‘Well,’ I answered, ‘even if I were willing, it is now out of my power, for I have taken a partner, and I know he would never consent to it. I have given him my word and I will keep it.’

“‘You will suffer for this, yet,’ said Obarr, menacingly, as he went away.

“Two weeks later I saw a party of two women and two men approaching. I knew it was Obarr’s family, intent upon trouble. Knowing Obarr’s fondness for litigation, I warned my men to hold their own, but to take no offensive step.

“‘Mr. Parks,’ were Obarr’s first words, ‘I want that mine.’

“‘If you were to pay me ten times its value.’ I replied, ‘I would not sell it to you.’

“‘Well, the longest pole will knock off the persimmon,’ he said threateningly.

“At that moment Mrs. Obarr broke the sluice gates to let out the water. A laborer was in the ditch and the woman threw rocks in the water in order to splash him. Failing to make him aggressive, she burst into tears; when her son advanced to attack him I caught him by the collar and flung him back.

“Then the party went off, swore out warrants against us, and had us all arrested. All this was done for intimidation, but it failed to work, and the next thing I heard was that Obarr had sold the place to Judge Underwood, who in turn sold it to Senator John C Calhoun of South Carolina, and then I lost a fortune.

“Senator Calhoun wanted to buy my lease, and I sold it for what I thought was a good price. The very first month after the sale he took out 24,000 pennyweights of gold, and then I was inclined to be as mad with him as Obarr had been with me. But that is the peculiarity of gold mining. You will go day after day exhausting your means and your strength until you give it up. Then the first man who touches the spot, finds the gold the first opening he makes. It is just like gambling; all luck.”

—Benjamin Parks, from an 1894 interview in the Atlanta Constitution. Parks is said by some to be the person who discovered gold in Georgia in 1828, west of the Chestatee River in Lumpkin County.

source: “A preliminary report on a part of the gold deposits of Georgia, Bulletin No. 4-A,” by William Smith Yeates and Samuel Washington McCallie, Geological Survey of Georgia, 1896

One Response

  • Mardine Campbell says:

    Thank you for publishing this. My gg grandfather prospected in northern Georgia in Lumpkin county in the 1840s before moving to Pickens county, Georgia, where he farmed and mined. He didn’t strike it rich but he made enough to buy his farm and provide cash.

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The Family Bible

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 2, 2016

Prior to easily retrievable birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, and digitized record keeping in general, the family Bible held the ultimate narrative of ancestral history.

They’re a treasure trove for both genealogists and historians. For example, here’s a simple entry in the Lampton family Bible, which was carried from southwest Virginia as the household migrated to eastern Kentucky: “Jane Lampton, born 1803, married John M. Clemens” Lampton and Clemens were the mother and father of Samuel L. Clemens –Mark Twain.

More often than not, the family Bible was the only written record of births, marriages and deaths of loved ones. In addition, between the leaves of this precious possession one could expect to find a wealth of newspaper clippings, letters, photos, and other ephemera pressed for safekeeping over generations of forbears.

It was understood that the book was to be carefully guarded and passed along: “1960 — This Bible goes to Mary Rose. after I am done with it. Momie [sic] Promised it to her. Dad” And: “I wonder how old this old Bible is. Gert gave it to me sometime after Mother Hawkins died. Someday it will be yours. Love, Mother.”

Most family Bibles present dates without any embellishment, but every now and again a quirky personality shines through. The transcriber of Thomas Snelling’s death entry seems obsessively precise in noting the time: “Thomas C Snelling died Dec 25, 1884 half past 1 o’clock and burried ten minuts of 12 the 26″ [original spellings].

It was illegal for any printer in the Colonies to produce the English Bible. Publication of the King James Version of Scripture was controlled by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses as well as other printers licensed by the king.

In response, Colonial printers created a ‘family Bible’ with the addition of record keeping ability to circumvent the copyright restrictions of English law. They frequently included blank pages for multi-generational notes and commentary, as well as engravings and illustrations. These Bibles were sold in inexpensive serial editions.

After the Revolutionary War, the budding American legislature wasn’t any more friendly to Bible printers. “An effort was made in its first Congress to restrict the printing of the [Bible] to licensed houses,” says the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.

However, this political attempt to continue regulated distribution “was cut short by the first amendment to the Constitution, and the book was thrown into the hands of the trade at large, with anything but a beneficial effect on its general integrity.”

Isaac Collins bibleIsaac Collins Bible from 1782; one of only two surviving copies.

England refused to send its former colonies any more Bibles, so demand for the Good Book was high and supply was low. Isaac Collins rose to the challenge in his Trenton, NJ print shop. He pre-sold 3,000 copies before the project was even begun, and by the time the presses stopped, 5,000 copies awaited eager hands.

Rag cotton linen paper was a precious commodity in early America, which forced Collins to resort to wood-pulp paper. His choice of stock was somewhat thicker than that used for books today. The resulting folio had the unintended benefit of more heft, greater durability, and a therefore a built-in likelihood of arriving at heirloom status.

Isaac Collins produced the most influential American Bible from the late 1700’s until the mid 1800’s, originating the “Family Bible” format we’ve come to know today.

source: “Imperial Bibles, Domestic Bodies: Women, Sexuality, and Religion in the Victorian Market” (review): English Studies in Canada – Volume 32, Issue 2-3, June/September 2006, pp. 203-206
The First American Bible, by Margaret T. Hills, American Bible Society, 1968
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, edited by John M’Clintock and James Strong, Vol. I, pg. 563, Baker Book House, 1981

One Response

  • Jay Shepherd says:

    I love those old bibles. My grandmother had a Bible that was passed down from generation to generation, kept a record of everything that’s happened in our family.

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