Posts Tagged With: genealogy

Birds On Beach Reveal Life’s Purpose

27459883292_71ac3298db_kThis past week I was in North Topsail Beach, North Carolina. My family, extended family and friends have been coming here since 2005. It is a non-touristy, serene location where long daily walks on the beach are mandatory.

Claywells on Eastern Shore

It was just north of here — a couple hundred miles or so — that the first Claywell landed on the continent, passing through Jamestown. Unlike me, Peter Clavell, an indentured servant, did not have many leisure hours and by the time he arrived in 1650, the seeds of exploitation had already been sown. Ship captains and land owners found inventive, legal ways to force wave upon wave of hard-working people, like Peter, into long periods of servitude.

So, Peter’s view of this continent was surely different than mine because personal experience colors how we see the world. In time, each of us comes to believe that, as a nation, America is the best, the worst — or somewhere in between.

Topsail Island


Missile used in Operation Bumblebee.

In many ways, Topsail Island typifies this — the good, bad and indifferent. The beach is southeast of Camp Lejeune, a Marine base that trains its personnel in tactics of war. On a nearly daily basis, the sound of waves crashing into the shore is interrupted by military helicopters and V-22 Ospreys flying overhead.

This region came to life in the 1940s as part of the war effort. On the south end of the island, Camp Davis — with its 20,000 inhabitants — swelled the region’s population, and as the U.S. government created thousands of jobs both on and off the base, life was good for the local residents. At the end of the war, Operation Bumblebee tested and perfected rocket technology. Jobs associated with that project kept the region blossoming a little longer, but eventually the government lost interest, and handed the region back over to the locals.

Today, Holly Ridge, the town that hosted Camp Davis has a population of less than 1,300. A small museum in Topsail Beach, details the specifics of Operation Bumblebee. The museum, run by volunteers, is open 2-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Mystery of Life Solved

I prefer early morning walks on the beach. At dusk, I can see the rhythm of life more clearly and the serenity it evokes transcends nationalism and patriotism.

As the sun rises, birds walk on the wet sand just out of the ocean’s reach. They eat. They do not struggle to find food. The ocean delivers it. The birds do not engage in epic battles of war. They do not destroy each other over biological differences. They do not Tweet about their greatest. They do not set long-term goals. They do not seem even remotely interested in the people passing by. They simply do their work. They walk along the shoreline, eat whatever beach birds eat, knowing with an unwavering certainty that the ocean will deliver their meal today as well as tomorrow. The birds eat and then leave, heading off to do whatever they do.

On my walks I am mindful of how Jesus said the sparrows do not worry or toil, yet they are fed. Maybe that’s where America veered off the straight and narrow. We have Americanized Christianity. In our country everyone struggles, competes and fights over limited resources while far too many churches obsess over minute details of doctrine. Even Jesus reduced the 10 commandments down to two. It was (mostly) Paul who created those long list of rules — rules that, in time, have been interpreted and re-interpreted, creating hundreds of denominations in the United States, and in the process branding the words of Jesus by personal preference.

I am no master of religious studies — I tend to rely on scholars who are well-read and more knowledgeable. But my interest in religion correlates with my interest in America. Religion, specifically Christianity, is a major theme throughout our country’s history. It has been used to motivate, control, manipulate and inspire people since the country’s inception.

A religion that never caught on here, though, possibly because of its similarity to the beliefs of the Gnostic Christians (which is viewed as heresy by the orthodox church) is Buddhism. One of the basic tenet of this faith is ‘life is suffering.’ On its surface, it feels very pessimistic. But Buddhists, like Gnostic Christians, place more emphasis on self-knowledge, self-discovery and less emphasis on converting people to one’s interpretation of truth. I have always been more comfortable with this approach especially since I do not believe I can change anyone’s opinion.

But, I do find clarity in the premise that life is suffering.

I now also understand that Buddha and Jesus are not all that different, they are spokes leading to the same hub, because they both teach that the ‘kingdom of God’ is within. Struggling to obtain, achieve or convert, although very American, is not the purpose of life according to Jesus, the Buddha or the birds on the beach. Being authentic is. Learning each life lesson as it is delivered and understanding that all events have a primary cause, is my job.

Nothing Really Changes

I’m not sure America is much different than when Peter landed here in 1650. Then, as now, resources are controlled and restricted by powerful people. Political entities are still fighting for power and politicians are still leveraging current events for personal gain. Today, and maybe then (it’s hard to prove) people rely on a feeling — a ‘gut instinct’ when selecting leaders. They need to ‘feel’ that this or that candidate is the right choice. This leaves people ripe for exploitation. It turns politics, especially presidential elections, into marketing campaigns. So, candidates, guided by their consultants, test various approaches and messages on the public to see which one ‘will stick.’

Once the candidate finds the right formula, they march on, even if it means using a horrendous event to keep their name in the daily news cycle.

Of course, none of us believe we fall for marketing campaigns. Even though it was our rush to buy Pet Rocks that created an instant millionaire, and in the 70s, we intentionally wore polyester leisure suits — a clothing style mocked to this day. In many ways, our elections are just smoke and mirrors, and in the current state of politics, the only elections that matter are mid-term elections in years that end in zero. Those elections set the stage for gerrymandering.

Monitoring The Toilet

HB2 is a clear indication of the absurdity that transpires when the political process is cobbled by gerrymandering. Despite the misguided memes on social media depicting transgender people as cross-dressing, middle-aged men abusing girls in public restrooms, the real threat is a public unwilling to educate itself on the biology behind gender identification. The public outrage almost feels unpatriotic in a country founded by men who embraced the Age of Enlightenment — an era that treasured reason and science above tradition and religion. But, the real problem with the memes — they are incorrect. As a Tennessee District Attorney notes, when it comes to sexual abuse transgender people aren’t the problem, straight men are. According to Assistant DA Chad Butler,

As long as I’ve been doing this job and the hundreds of cases I’ve reviewed, I’ve never once had a transgender person come across my desk as an offender. A majority of my cases are fathers, stepfathers, uncles, Boy Scout leaders, coaches, youth ministers, preachers. People that are already close to the family that the family trusts.

But, as I walk I wonder, how did we get to the place where elected officials felt the need to monitor the bathroom? To a place where spewing, “I was right” is an acceptable response of a presidential candidate after more than 100 people are injured or dead in a mass shooting — while the families are still coming to terms with the tragedy? To a place where Congress is complicit in the senseless gun violence? Government is not some non-human entity. It is people. People hired by the public to do governmental things. Maybe, instead of the current drive to dismantle government and enflame the public, which only benefits career politicians, government officials and those running for office, should focus on policies that actually benefit citizens.

We All Want Smaller Government, Until We Don’t

For some, I guess,  intrusive government is fine as long as it is monitoring restrooms, bedrooms or the uterus and a larger government is okay if it is financing Ospreys and rockets. But a government that tackles gun violence, poverty, job growth or tries to create a more balanced economic playing field is somehow cumbersome and unnecessary. In some ways it does make sense in our marketing-and-advertising-driven political world. Photos of decrepit buildings or impoverished children can never build the same level of excitement as planes engaging in vertical takeoff or images of the devastation rendered by our bombs.

Although, I lean toward a ‘this too will pass’ philosophy of life, I worry about a country that is becoming increasingly angry, intolerant and gullible. We have replaced dialogue and intellect with memes and pithy one-liners. We have divided the world into us and them.

I also think as I walk, that maybe it’s time to look at a simpler model of behavior — like those birds on the beach. As they scurry along the water’s edge, devouring the ocean’s daily offering, they seem much calmer and much wiser than me.

After all, they simply show up, do their work, and enjoy their daily meal. They do it all without a struggle.


Categories: Personal Essays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mary (Hull) Beaty Pays Unbearable Price During Civil War

-flagsIn the modern era, starting over in one’s 50s usually mean reinventing or redefining a career — or maybe working through a mid-life crisis  — but for Mary (Hull) Beaty, my grandmother from the Civil War era, it was about rebuilding her life after the death of several family members.

When the War of 1861 — as it is called on government documents from the late 1860s — broke out, Mary Beaty, who went by Polly, had no way of knowing the high price she was about to pay.  By the time it was over, it would cost her two sons Andrew Jackson (AJ) and Thomas as well as her son-in-law Andrew Owens and shortly after the War ended, her husband Alexander and an infant grandchild, would also be dead.

The War, and the death of her family members especially her third oldest son Thomas, left Mary destitute and dependent on the charity of others to subsist.

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

As Unionists, Mary and her family had the misfortune of living in northern Tennessee when the War began. This created a deadly situation after the State joined the Confederacy. In the borderland region of the Cumberland Plateau, it essentially put a target on the backs of the Beatys and other Unionists. Gangs, vigilantes and former neighbors turned on each other in what would become one of the bloodiest regions of the conflict. The only other portion of the country where a comparable level of violence and brutality existed was the Missouri-Kansas border.

In these two regions the War became very personal and acts of War were often thinly-veiled murderous acts of revenge and retribution. It was, in a very real sense, a return to the Biblical concept of an ‘eye for an eye.’ Due to the unconventional manner in which the War was fought in the borderland, civilians were subject to attack. These civilians were often women, children or the aged, left to fend for themselves after the males entered military service. Loyalists on both sides of the conflict utilized a ‘no-quarter’ approach to the War. Simply put, if you were captured, you were killed. And some of the murders were grisly, from beheadings to tortured deaths, carried out in front of pleading family members.

But before the War intensified to that level, there was an exit from the region and it is possible that Mary, Alexander and the younger children left. My grandfather’s (Rob Beaty) grandfather, James Knox Polk — later known as Big Jim — would have been about 12 or 13 when all of this was unfolding. Whether or not they left Tennessee is difficult to prove. But in a letter written by Mary’s nephew, Morgan Hull about six months before Morgan and Mary’s sons became POWs in 1863, Morgan notes that Jonathan’s family is in Kentucky (pdf). However this could mean Jonathan’s wife and son.

If the Beatys did move north to Kentucky, it was a matter of practicality and not cowardice as Mary’s husband Alexander, 17 years her senior, crippled by arthritis and closing in on 70, would have most likely found it difficult to protect his family. If they left the area, they probably went to Adair County (Kentucky) to join other Unionists from northern Tennessee. If Alexander and Mary stayed on their homestead, they were undoubtedly protected by Unionist Tinker Dave Beaty.

What is known for certain, is three of Mary’s sons and one son-in-law (Julia Ann’s husband Andrew Owens) enlisted in the Union Army and were mustered in at Somerset, Kentucky on Sept. 28, 1861. They became members of Company B 2nd Regiment of the Tennessee Volunteers. This regiment would see action at Mills Spring and pursue CSA John Hunt Morgan into Ohio before nearly 500 members of Company B were captured near Rogersville, TN in 1863. (Click here to see how they were treated. You can also read John Ransom’s Andersonville Diarya first person account of the ordeal.)

No Stranger To Hard Work

Based on pension records, even before the War broke out Mary was no stranger to a hard life. At the time of Alexander’s death in 1867, a doctor’s affidavit stated Alexander had suffered with ‘crippling’ arthritis for at least 25 years. This meant, Mary and the children tended the farm. But as the children aged, most of this work fell on her third-oldest son, Thomas.

In the 1868 Mother’s Pension application Mary filed, we uncover two facts about Thomas. First the application reaffirms that Thomas financially supported his mother (she states he gave her $10 per month). The application also means Thomas was unmarried and had no children. If he were married or had surviving children, his mother could not receive a pension based on his military service.

Pension Application

Reading the application, you get a sense of how much Mary needs the pension to survive. She is now 56 years old, her husband has been dead for about a year and she has no source of income. It appears she has not had any significant source of money for nearly five years. The only money she brings in is from sewing or knitting jobs. Thomas began financially supported her in 1855 and continued until his capture in 1863. Besides money, Thomas was also supplying labor. He had also been planting and harvesting the crops (oats, wheat and corn) on her 28-acre  farm.

The $8 per month pension was approved.

Death of Her Sons

Although it is difficult to know when Mary learned of her sons’ deaths, the first son to die is her oldest, Andrew Jackson. He dies on Feb. 15, 1864, on Belles Island, roughly three months after being captured. He was about 32. Thomas lasts a few months longer, passing away on May 16 around the age of 28, in the Andersonville, Ga. prison. Their brother-in-law Andrew Owens dies less than a month later on June 9th in Andersonville. He was about 28 years old.


Andrew Jackson is survived by his wife, Jane. They had been wed nearly a decade — married on Christmas eve in 1854. Andrew Jackson also left behind two sons, John A., born April 26, 1861 and James, born on Dec. 8, 1863 — a month after his capture. This younger son, though, dies in 1865. One would presume Andrew Jackson never saw this son.

About two year’s after Andrew Jackson’s death,  his widow, Jane, remarries. She is 28 or 29 when she wed William Gunter on July 18, 1866. After’s Andrew’s Owens’ death, July married Creed Garrett.

Life Before The War

In 1860, a year before the War broke out, the Beatys were living in Fentress County. The oldest son, Andrew Jackson, has his own place. According to the Census report, Andrew Jackson, 29, and his wife Jane, 25, have an infant son, John. The report lists Kentucky as Andrew Jackson’s birthplace. Find a Grave lists it as Clinton County, Ky. which should be correct since his father, Alexander, owned land in Clinton County.

1850 Census Records

Just 10 years before the War, Mary and her family are living in Overton County, TN. She is listed as 40 years old (she may be slightly younger since she appears to be born in 1811 or 1812 (North Carolina)). Her husband was 57. The household consisted of the couple’s three teenage children:

  • 17-year-old Jonathan
  • 15-year-old Thomas
  • 13 year-old Rachel

And the younger children:

  • 10-year-old July — or Julie Ann
  • 8-year-old John T.
  • 4-year-old James Knox Polk (my grandfather’s grandfather)
  • 2-year-old Lewis

The only one not listed in her household is her oldest son Andrew Jackson., who, at 19, is one his own.

The Final Decade

According to the 1870 Overton County Census, Mary Beaty’s household consists of Mary, her oldest daughter Rachel, 31, and her youngest son, Lewis C., 19. The son that is in my direct line, James Knox Polk Beaty (Big Jim) and his wife Elizabeth (Garrett) Beaty — both 23, also live in Overton County. Their son John is two months olds.

Both households list farming as their occupation.

In 1881, Mary passes away. According to she is buried in Allardt Cemetery in Fentress County, TN.


Since there are a lot of names and dates in this post, here’s a barebones timeline:

  • 1850s: All of the Alexander and Mary Beaty family, except Andrew Jackson, are living under one roof in Overton County. At 19, Andrew Jackson is on his own.
  • 1860s: Two households still exists, but now everyone is in Fentress County. Alexander and Mary’s with all of the children at home except Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson’s household includes his wife Jane (Ragan/Reagan) and infant son John.
  • 1861: War breaks out. Tennessee secedes from the Union. Near the end of September, Mary’s three oldest sons — Andrew Jackson, Jonathan and Thomas, as well as her son-in-law, Andrew Owens (July’s husband), enlist to serve with Company B.
  • 1863: A little more than two  years after enlisting, at least three of the four men are captured by the CSA (uncertain if Jonathan is captured).
  • 1864: Two sons, Andrew Jackson and Thomas, as well as son-in-law, Andrew Owens, die as POWs.
  • 1865: Early in the year, Mary’s grandson — Andrew Jackson’s infant boy (James) — dies.
  • 1866: Andrew Jackson’s widow remarries.
  • 1867: Mary’s husband, Alexander dies.
  • 1868: Near the end of the year, October through December, Mary applies for — and receives — a military pension based on Thomas’ years of service.
  • 1870: Mary Beaty — and my direct forefather, James, are living in Overton County in separate households. Mary’s household consists of her oldest daughter and her youngest son. The household of James Knox Polk and Elizabeth includes a child.
  • 1880: James, now known as Big Jim, and Elizabeth live in Fentress County.
  • 1881: Mary Beaty dies.

Mary Hull Beaty’s Family Tree

Based on the research conducted by Jack Masters and presented in his book Smith, Bowers, Hull & Beaty Family History, Mary’s lineage looks like this (just the males are included in the chart I am referencing — found on page 12 of the book):

  • Joseph Hull born in England, 1596
    • Samuel Hull, born in New Jersey, 1649
      • Samuel Hull, born in New Jersey, 1678
        • Samuel Hull born in New Jersey, 1703
          • Moses Hull, born in New Jersey, 1729
            • Moses Hull, born in New Jersey, about 1751
              • Josephus Hull, born in North Carolina about 1772
                • Mary (Polly) Hull

The Rest of The Story (I feel like someone else used that phrase)

This is the year of death for Mary’s children:

  • AJ (Virginia) and Thomas (Georgia) die in 1864.
  • Jonathan dies in 1907 in Fentress County.
  • July died in 1912.
  • My grandfather of the era, Big Jim, passed away in 1920.
  • Louis, the youngest, dies in 1916.
  • Uncertain when Rachel and John died.

Cordell Hull Connection?

Mary (Polly) is the daughter of Moses Hull and Elizabeth Crockett and is possibly a relative of Cordell Hull since he was born in Olympus, TN. Cordell was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations and is the longest serving Secretary of State in U.S. history. On her Civil War Widow Pension application, Mary lists Olympus, TN as her mailing address. Since Cordell was one of five sons, Mary can’t be a sibling, but it is possible they were cousins. At some point I intend to research the connection, if there is one.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Civil War History, Cumberland Plateau, Family History, Genealogy | Tags: , , ,

Stranger’s Kindness Delivers Vintage Claywell Photos

Sarah Vincent Claywell at her 100th birthday celebration.

Sarah Vincent Claywell at her 100th birthday celebration.

A few months ago I wrote about Sarah Vincent Clayweil’s 100th birthday celebration. In the post, I said hopefully someone held on to photos taken of Sarah at the celebration.

Turns out someone did.

Photos Found In Texas

Click on photo to enlarge. Sarah's children or grandchildren?

Click to enlarge. Sarah’s children or grandchildren?

All of the photos in this post are, in one way or another, associated with Sarah Vincent Claywell — including the top photo which is from her 100th birthday celebration.

A person connected to the family line of one of Sarah’s daughter-in-laws forwarded images she had received from Gloria Brown. Gloria’s husband is a descendant of Sarah’s grandson and wife — Sanford (pictured below) and Annie Curry. Gloria found the photos while cleaning out a garage in Texas. The photos were in a box marked “Martha’s pictures.”

Sanford is Nancy Isabelle Claywell Curry’s oldest son. (Family historians: Nancy went by Belle). As I noted in the previous post, Belle is mentioned in Sarah’s will as her deceased daughter. According to the will, Belle’s four children, Sanford, James, Cora and Nora receive $1 to $25 when Sarah’s estate was settled.

Who’s In The Images

Sarah Vincent Claywell is seated in the wheelchair. Based on newspaper articles this image is taken at a daughter’s home.

Two possibilities exist for the image of the two young women pictured above. The first possibility is they are Sarah’s grandchildren — and Belle’s twin daughters — Nora and Cora. The other possibility is they are Sarah’s great-granddaughters — Cora and Willie Roe’s twin daughters, Mable Faye and Anna May.

Click on Image to enlarge. Pictured, front row, William Curry and Nancy (Belle) Isabelle Claywell Curry. Their sons, Sanford (back row) and James; twin daughters Nora and Cora (uncertain of order).

Click to enlarge. Pictured, front row, William Curry and Nancy (Belle) Isabelle Claywell Curry. Their sons, Sanford (back), James; daughters Nora and Cora.

The photo to the left is Belle with her family: Husband William Curry and children Cora, Nora, James and Sanford. According to Sanford’s 1958 Missouri death certificate (also sent to me), Sanford — a farmer — was 80 when he died. He was born in Glasgow, Ky.

True Treasures

Receiving old photographs like these is always greatly appreciated. Vintage images and old documents are visual reminders of the family thread that runs through us all, and I wholeheartedly agree with the lady who sent me the photos. She wrote,

Sarah V. Claywell

Sarah V. Claywell

It is hard to find words to describe how a picture of a person (who shares your genes) can fill in a space inside you that you didn’t know was empty, making you stronger and your life richer because of it…. I am humbled to have been given such treasures to care for and direct their path.

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