Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mattie Lee Johnson was the best dancer in Henry County

The lady who is being talked about in the below story is Mattie Lee Johnson Harris.  She was born 29 Oct 1891 in Henry, Virginia in the County of Franklin.  Her parents were Robert Henry and Francis Ann Shelton Johnson.  It is Mattie Lee who is said to have been voted the best dancer in Henry County, Virginia.

I asked Granny to tell me the story about what a wonderful dancer her mother was before her marriage to Pop Harris.  Barbara, Granny and I were having dinner at Guyan.  I had the following note in my data base about Granny Harris:

Granny Harris always told her children she was raised at the foot of the Blueridge Mountains.  Note that it is the town of Henry which is in Franklin County where she was born and raised

We had Sue for dinner one night and she told the story that Mattie Lee’s older brothers played musical instruments....and that Mattie Lee was voted the best dancer in Henry County.  The below is a census for this Johnson family in 1900.  Robert is the father, Frances his wife.  Then sons: Hamon, Everett, Luther, next Mattie Lee and last Albert H.  Mattie Lee would have been 9 at this time.  It is likely that it was these  brothers with whom she traveled in the next ten years.  The six older siblings had probably married and moved out of the home by 1900. The family is said to have lived in the Brown Hill Township during this enumeration.

In the below map you will see that Henry is very close to Henry County in the far south of Franklin County, so Mattie Lee may well have done much of her dancing in Henry County.  Also note that Brown Hill Mountain is near by...probably giving rise to the designation of Brown Hill Township 

Sue added to that story last night that the brothers (I am not clear which brothers played instruments, but I do remember that Everett was the name of one of them) played musical instruments and traveled to many locations where they were called upon to play for gatherings.  Mattie Lee would accompany them.  We think that Mattie Lee danced traditional mountain dances....perhaps like the clogging that we see now.  We also agreed that Mattie Lee named one of her sons for Everett who must have been one of the favorite brothers. 

Another day Sue added the following to this information.  There were no jobs in the Henry/Franklin County area in this time period.  Mattie Lee's brother left the area and moved to Twin Branch in the WV coal area.  It was on visits to Twin Branch to visit her brothers that Mattie Lee met her husband, Hewitt Samuel Harris.  Sue was born after their marriage and while they were living at Twin Branch.  Uncle Everett died before Sue ever knew him from the flu in year that there was the huge epidemic of flu.  Sue's brother who was named Everett lived a long life.  All of us knew Uncle Everett quite well from visits over the years.  This is the man who shared with me the Bible pages that I have treasured about the Harris family.

In spring/summer of 2017,  I heard from Patty Ament.  (e-mail address: Patty is a granddaughter of Hamon Johnson.  Hamon was the brother of Mattie Lee Johnson Harris.  Patty shared with me a photo of her grandfather playing the fiddle and the handmade fiddle that Hamon made:

Patty gave me permission to share the photos on this blog post and to share the following information:

Here are some photos of Hamon Thomas Johnson’s fiddle, maybe one of the first ones he made.  It is hand carved, even the pegs.   It does not play.  A violinist friend of mine tried it with his own bow and got  a couple of squawks.  The wires cannot be tightened with the hand-whittled pegs.  But I love it and the photo of Gpa Hamon playing another more highly polished fiddle in front of his house in Beckley, WV.  I remember visiting this house once when I was about 12.  It is built into the side of a mountain  and he is standing in front of the basement.  He made his fiddles in the basement and also kept his store of whiskey (moonshine??) The main  floor starts with the white framing.  There were red and black raspberry bushes growing down the steep side of the mountain in front of the house, and, as I remember, cars had to drive part way up the driveway from the highway below into a sort of garage, then back the rest of the way up to his house.  They collected mountain honey, and every summer, Grandma Lourie Dean Stone Johnston mailed us quart jars of dark honey complete with long pieces of honeycomb.  No jars ever broke.  We gorged ourselves when they came.  It was heavenly.
You mentioned wondering which Hamon is my gfa.  He was Hamon Thomas Johnson, 1882-1958, s/o Robert Henry Johnson and Frances Shelton.  Frances Shelton was the d/o Giles Gerald Shelton and Nancy Spencer.  Giles and Nancy also had a son- Hamon David Shelton (1844-1918).  My Gpa Hamon may have been named after his mother’s brother. 
Yes, I have done the Ancestry DNA test.  According to it, I am 66% English, 16% Irish, bits of French, German and a smidge Iberian.  As I understand it, Johns(t)on is an Irish name and the Irish brought fiddling with them to America and it became Blue Grass Music.  When I visited Ireland a few years ago, I was struck by how much their pub music sounded like our country music.  Now I know why.  It all fits.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I don't know how Jn Farrar will connect with my known Farrar line, but I wanted someplace to put this piece of information:

Mr. Jn Farrar for marriage w. ms Temp Batte grtd No 22 1691
mr. Rich'd Jones, Jos Patteson, Sec'ry

This information from Henrico County Marriages, 1692 Thranscribed by Nancy Gailey Heuser
Found in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy Vol 50, Number 1, Feb 2012