April 2016 A to Z Challenge – I’m writing about history.
O is for Okatibbee Creek. I’ve written about Okatibbee Creek (pronounced oh-kuh-TIB-be) many times as it is the title of a book in my bibliography, but Okatibbee Creek was and is a real place with real people and real history. Here’s one of the stories.
She was just a name in my family tree. Mary Ann Rodgers Carpenter Jolly. My third great grandmother. 1828-1898. I visited her grave at Bethel Cemetery in Lauderdale County, Mississippi in 2012, and my husband asked, “Now, who is this again?” We sat at the foot of her grave and I told him her story.
She lost her husband, Rice Carpenter, in the Civil War in 1862. How sad to lose the one you love, but hey, it’s war, people die. After he died, she remarried in 1864.
The 1870 census said she married William Jolly and was living with his children, her children, and three children they had together. It was a house-full! But at least their three children were proof they must have liked each other, right? That’s good. So, who was this William Jolly? I looked at his 1860 census. In 1860, he was living with his wife Harriet, their four children, and a woman named Nancy Carpenter who was 69 years of age.
Carpenter? Nancy Carpenter? The only Nancy Carpenter I know is Rice’s mother. Why was Mary Ann’s mother-in-law living with her future husband in 1860?? Were they neighbors? Was Nancy the cleaning lady? I clicked on Nancy Carpenter and saw her relationship to the “head of house” was listed as “mother-in-law.” She was William’s mother-in-law? What??
So, I went back and looked at Rice’s family, and sure enough, his sister Harriet was married to William. Rice died in the war 31 Dec 1862 and Harriet died a month later of typhoid on 30 Jan 1863. Their spouses, Mary Ann and William, brother-in-law/sister-in-law, married in 1864. Well of course they did. They had known each other for many years, hadn’t they?
The more I looked at the Rodgers and Carpenter families, the more I was amazed by the sheer number of family members they lost to war and typhoid. At the time of my research, I remember counting SEVENTEEN, but I’m sure there were many more I missed. I couldn’t wrap my head around that kind of heartache and quickly became impressed with Mary Ann’s strength. Not only was she raising her children alone before she married William, but her brother and sister-in-law died (within days of each other, also of typhoid) and she was raising their five kids. She owned a general store that was probably losing money and customers by the day. The Confederate dollar was shrinking with inflation. There were no men to harvest the farms. Food was short. Hope was shrinking. In October, her father died of typhoid, then her husband in December, in February her infant son died, followed by her mother a month later. How would you react if you lost two or three family members this year? You would probably need Prozac. How would you respond if you lost a dozen? I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed. Seventeen in one year? I can’t even fathom that.
This is our heritage. These are the strong women we come from. We are the living proof of their strength. We are the survivors. I dug deep down in my heart and soul to tell her story, a story she would be proud of. I wanted her to know that she didn’t endure all of that heartache in vain. I am here. I am her legacy. Her story has been written down to help us realize our own strength. We are the products of our ancestors fortitude and integrity. We are the children our grandmothers fought so hard for, and I want Mary Ann to be as proud of me as I am of her.
Lori Crane is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and the occasional thriller. Her books have climbed to the Kindle Top 100 lists many times, including “Elly Hays” which debuted at #1 in Native American stories. She has also enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She resides in greater Nashville and is a professional musician by night – an indie author by day. Okatibbee Creek was the bronze medal winner in literary fiction in the 2013 eLit Book Awards. It was also named as honorable mention in historical fiction at the 2013 Midwest Book Festival.