Posts Tagged With: claywell

Personal letters from 1930s offer clues into relative’s untimely death

Newspaper clippingMy paternal grandmother, Mary D. (Lewis) Claywell, lost two brothers — one when he was 10 and another when he was 24. Growing up, I often heard how my grandmother woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare telling her 24-year-old Bennie was dead. Her fear was later confirmed when the family learned her brother had died in a logging accident while he was employed in a Civilian Conservation Camp in Idaho.

A few years before her death, my aunt Anna Lee (Mary’s oldest daughter), gave me several items related to Bennie including two personal letters. One letter, written about six months before he died, was addressed to a cousin, the other, written just a week before he died, was addressed to his mother. Both letters offer some insight into his life, but they also include information about the company he was assigned to and where he was living.

I have transcribed the letters to the best of my ability.

Letter to Mom

The envelope is addressed to Mrs. G.H. Lewis and is postmarked May 13 in Pritchard, Idaho. The postmark on the back of the letter is May 17, Forest Cottage, Ky. The letter was written on May 10, 1935. Bennie died on May 17.

CCC Co 587 F151
Pine Flat
Prichard, Idaho
May 10, 1935

Dear ones at home:

Florence Surratt

Ben’s mother, Florence

Here I am agin. Writing is all the Pass time I have so I’ll let you all here from me. How may this find you all. Well is my wishes as for me fine and dandy.

Yet its a snowing like everything here, its the first snow I have seen falling since last winter as a year ago so it seem like old Ky kindly but my thing — May and 5 ft of snow on the ground. Seems funny doesn’t it. But I am liking fine so far. What is everybody doing? Planting corn? Mother how is your garden looking? Don’t work to hard git old Edna and someone to help or to do your work, don’t you git out there and work like you use to.

Say mother send me ten dollars I want to git me some heavy close (sic) for it is real cold here. I want to git me a leather jacket and a pair of pants and a pair of slippers. With that 10 and the other 5 I’ll know I can git them if you all don’t need it. Mother do you ever hear from Martin? How are they gitting along? Send me his address

Well I guess I had better close and go to work

Mother don’t worry ans[wer] soon and all the news.

One that loves you all,


Two things about the letter, Martin is his older brother — and the money. Under the rules of the CCC program, Ben earned $30 per month. He received $5 and the other $25 was sent home — which is why he is requesting $10 that he will add to his $5 to buy winter clothing. Also, there was a severe winter storm in Idaho at the time he is writing this letter.

Letter to Gladstone Surratt

Six months earlier Ben wrote a three-page letter to his cousin Gladstone Surratt, who is about 20 years old at the time. In the 1920 Census, Gladstone is listed in the same household as Ben.

CCC Co 587
Morina Lake
Pine Valley Calif
Dec. 19 1934

Dear Gladstone: —

Gladstone Surratt

Gladstone Surratt

Will ans[wer] your letter I rec a few days ago was glad to here from you, how may these few lines find you, as for me just fine and dandy. Well they say you all have a big snow back there it makes me shiver to think about it, I have never saw any snow here yet. We can see a mountain covered in snow from the look out. Its about 90 miles from here, it sure looks pretty and the fall moutains are covered too but we have to look through field glasses to see them.

Well how is things rocking along back there. Are you going to git married this Xmas? Boy leave that off if you have got it on your mind.

Say Kid wait till I come home and we will have a real time. Don’t git disgusted and say you had rather be away from home for there is no place like home.

Say tell old Hue to kiss my foot and to be careful and not let Jim Jill (?) knock him in the head again.

Well I guess this is all this time. Think of me at Xmas and have a good time for me. Be careful and don’t drink for you can’t have a good time drinking.

Ans real soon and a long letter.

One that loves you,


Categories: Appalachia, Cumberland Plateau, Family History, Genealogy | Tags: ,

Child naming trends have always been strange — and a sign of the times

Napoleon Bonaparte McClain with his wife Angeline P. Harrison. They married in 1861 two years before he joined the Union Army. In an armed conflict during the war he lost part of his hand and a finger.

Napoleon Bonaparte McClain with his wife Angeline P. Harrison. They married in 1861 two years before he joined the Union Army. In an armed conflict during the war he lost part of his hand and a finger.

As a family historian I have come across my share of unusual names which seem to follow certain traditions. For example, Biblical names seemed to be popular with my paternal family line in the 18th and 19th centuries. Manurvia appears several times in my maternal line and I have stumbled across Permelia in my wife’s linage.

When I read some of the names, though, I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George reveals the two perfect names (Soda and Seven) — one he offers up to his fiance’s friends. When they balk saying Soda doesn’t seem like a name. He responds.

“Do you think Blanche sounded good the first time people heard it?” he asks.

Here are a list of a the most unique names I have found so far.

Named after famous people

I don’t know exactly what it means when you give your child the exact same name of a well-known person other than an obvious endorsement of that individual. It does beg the question, though, what if during the child’s life their namesake becomes disliked or dishonored. In my wife’s lineage — a distant grandfather — is named Napoleon Bonaparte McClain. Since the real Napoleon died in 1821 –and Napoleon Bonaparte McClain was born in 1839, he was at least free from the possibility of any real-time life scandals involving his namesake. In my wife’s lineage there is also a Christopher Columbus born in the late 1800s.

Presidential names 

In my maternal line I have a distant grandfather who lived in northern Tennessee named Alexander Beaty — whose father Andrew was one of the Overmountain men during the American Revolutionary War. Alexander was very patriotic when it came to his children — naming one James Knox Polk and another Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson, along with his brother Thomas and brother-in-law Andrew Owens would die young, having the misfortune of being captured during the U.S. Civil War. All three men died in Confederate POW camps.

Biblical Names

In the Claywell line, there are multiple instances of Shadrach — and even a Meshach and Abednego. Peter, Solomon  (sorry not Paul) and Mary were also common in the Claywell lineage. In my maternal line there is a Sarah Magdalene (instead of Mary), and a Moses or two.

Names I’ve Never Heard

A couple of the most unusual names I have found are Spotswood (male) and Telitha. Telitha is my maternal grandfather’s mother. I looked up her name — which can also be spelled Talitha, I think — it is a Biblical name. Apparently it is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark.  Two names that feel more like verbs than proper nouns are Comfort Claywell, born in the 1680s in the U.S. and Obedience Claywell listed in the 1860 in Cumberland County, Kentucky where my father grew up.

But, so far, I think the most unique name I have come across, in my opinion, is America Claywell, born in 1858 in Cumberland County, Kentucky.

Categories: American History, Family History, Genealogy | Tags: , , , , , ,