Rebecca Jane Grant, the WPA Slave Narratives, and a Day Trip

Howdy, everyone, and happy July 4th!

Today I’m thinking about Rebecca Jane Grant and clever new blog reader Matt. Matt is a researcher and mapmaker extraordinaire.

Even clever mapmaking researchers need advice sometimes. When I don’t know the answer, I ask Sugar, who has books and has actually read and remembered them. On this day, Matt and I are talking about how to request pension files, one of my new obsessions.

It’s not complicated to request them online, but the tricky part is maneuvering the NARA site. Matt is interested in Rebecca Jane Grant, since he has found that she is linked to several of his families. She is featured in a WPA slave narrative interview, and there is mention of a pension file. I advised Matt to find the relevant info regarding her file, like the Civil War index that documents the pension application, the soldier’s name, the widow’s name (if there is a widow), and the company and regiment the soldier served in.

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Grant, Rebecca Jane

Folklore

Page 177

NINETY TWO YEAR OLD NEGRO TELLS OF EARLY LIFE AS SLAVE

In Hampton County at Lena, S. C., there lives an old negro woman who has just passed her ninety-second birthday, and tells of those days long ago when man was bound to man and families were torn apart against their will. Slowly she draws the curtain of Time from those would-be-forgotten scenes of long ago that cannot ever be entirely obliterated from the memory.

“Well, just what is it you want to hear about, Missus?”

“Anything, everything, Auntie, that you remember about the old days before the Civil War. Just what you’ve told your grand-daughter, May, and her friend, Alice, here, many times, is what I want to hear.”

“Tell her, mamma,” said Alice with a whoop of laughter, “about the time when your Missus sent you to the store with a note.”

“Oh that! Not that Missus!”

“Yes, Auntie that!”

“Well, I was just a little girl about eight years old, staying in Beaufort at de Missus’ house, polishing her brass andirons, and scrubbing her floors, when one morning she say to me, “Janie, take this note down to Mr. Wilcox Wholesale Store on Bay Street, and fetch me back de package de clerk gie (give) you.”

“I took de note. De man read it, and he say, “uh-huh”. Den he turn away and he come back wid a little package which I took back to de Missus.

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Page – 2

178

“She open it when I bring it in, and say, “Go upstairs, Miss!”

“It was a raw cowhide strap ’bout two feet long, and she started to pourin’ it on me all de way up stairs. I didn’t know what she was whippin’ me bout; but she pour it on, and she pour it on.

“Turrectly she say, ‘You can’t say “Marse Henry”, Miss? You can’t say, “Marse Henry”!’

“Yes’m. Yes’m. I kin say, ‘Marse Henry’.

“Marse Henry was just a little boy bout three or four years old. Come bout halfway up to me. Wanted me to say Massa to him, a baby!”

“How did you happen to go to Beaufort, Auntie? You told me you were raised right here in Hampton County on the Stark Plantation.”

I was, Miss. But my mother and four of us children (another was born soon afterwards) were sold to Mr. Robert Oswald in Beaufort. I was de oldest, then there was brother Ben, Sister Delia, Sister Elmira, and brother Joe that was born in Beaufort. My father belong to Marse Tom Willingham; but my mother belong to another white man. Marse Tom was always trying to buy us so we could all be together, but de man wouldn’t sell us to him. Marse Tom was a Christian gentleman! I believe he seek religion same as any colored person. And pray! OH, that was a blessed white man! A blessed white

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Page – 3

179

man! And Miss Mamie, his daughter, was a Christian lady. Every Wednesday afternoon she’d fill her basket with coffee, tea, sugar, tobacco and such things, and go round to de houses where dere was old folks or sick folks. She’d give um de things; and she’d read de Scriptures to um, and she’d kneel down and pray for um. But we had to leave all de folks we knew when we was took to Beaufort.

“All of us chillun, too little to work, used to have to stay at de ‘Street’. Dey’d have some old folks to look after us – some old man, or some old woman. Dey’d clean off a place on de ground near de washpot where dey cooked de peas, clean it off real clean, den pile de peas out dere on de ground for us to eat. We’d pick um up in our hands and begin to eat. Sometimes dey’d cook hoe cakes in a fire of coals. Dey’d mix a little water with de meal and make a stiff dough that could be patted into shape with de hands. De cakes would be put right into the fire, and would be washed off clean after they were racked out from de coals. Sometimes de Massa would have me mindin’ de birds off da corn. But ‘fore I left Beaufort, I was doin’ de Missus’ washin’ and ironin’. I was fifteen years old when I left Beaufort, at de time freedom was declared. We were all reunited den. First, my mother and de young chillun, den I got back. My uncle, Joss Jenkins come to Beaufort and stole me by night from my Missus. He took me wid him to his home

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Page – 4

180

in Savannah. WE had been done freed; but he stole me away from de house. When my father heard that I wasn’t wide de others, he sent my grandfather, Isaac, to hunt me. When he find me at my uncle’s house, he took me back. We walked all back – sixty-four miles. I was foundered. You know if’n a foundered person will jump over a stick of burning lightwood, it will make um feel better.

“Tell us, Auntie, more about the time when you and your mother and brothers and sisters had just gone to Beaufort.

“Well mam. My mother say she didn’t know a soul. All de time she’d be prayin’ to de Lord. She’d take us chillum to de woods to pick up firewood, and we’d turn around to see her down on her knees behind a stump, aprayin’. We’d see her wipin’ her eyes wid de corner of her apron, first one eye, den de other, as we come along back. Den, back in de house, down on her knees, she’d be aprayin’. One night she say she been down on her knees aprayin’ and dat when she got up, she looked out de door and dere she saw comin’ down out de elements a man, pure white and shining. He got right before her door , and come and stand right to her feet, and say, “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah!”

“Yes, sir.”

“What is you frettin’ bout so?”

“Sir, I’m a stranger here, parted from my husband, with five little chillun and not a morsel of bread.”

 

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Page – 5

181

“You say you’re parted from your husband? You’re not parted from your husband. You’re jest over a little slash of water. Suppose you had to undergo what I had to. I was nailed to the Cross of Mount Calvary. And here I am today. Who do you put your trust in?

“My mother say after dat, everything just flow along, just as easy. Now my mother was an unusually good washer and ironer. De white folks had been sayin’, ‘Wonder who it is that’s makin’ de clothes look so good.’ Well, bout dis time, dey found out; and dey would come bringin’ her plenty of washin’ to do. And when dey would come dey would bring her a pan full of food for us chillun. Soon de other white folks from round about heard of her and she was gettin’ all de washin’ she needed. She would wash for de Missus durin’ de day, and for de other folks at night. And day all was good to her.

“One day de Missus call her to de house to read her something from a letter she got. De letter say that my father had married another woman. My mother was so upset she say, ‘I hope he breaks dat woman’s jawbone. She know she aint his lawful wife.’ And dey say her wish come true. Dat was just what happened.

“But we all got together again and I thanks de good Lord. I gets down on my knees and prays. I thanks de Lord for His mercy and His goodness to me every day. Every time I eats, I folds my hands and thanks Him for de food. He’s de one that sent it, and I thanks Him. Then, on my knees, I thanks him.

Enter a caption

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County

Page – 6

182

Aunt Jane receives an ample pension since her husband fought on the side with the Federals. He was known as James Lawton before the war, but became James Lawton Grant after the war.

Source: Mrs. DeLacy Wyman, Mgr. PYramid Pecan Grove, Lena, S.C.

Rebecca Jane Grant, ninety-two year old resident of Lena, S. C.

I found the 1860 census for Robert Oswald and family living in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Little Henry is near the bottom of the page.

If you know Phoebe Faucette, you’ll know that she was a Lawton who is buried in Lawtonville Cemetery.


You can find the slave narratives on ancestry.com. You can also find the Civil War index there.

Like this one:


I’m pretty sure that this one is the one we want. Even though people changed their last names, several things match up, and this one is the only James Lawton with widow Jane. Trust me, I checked. I scrolled through the entire Lawton section, which yielded a bonus. But now, we take a trip to Lena.

Taking a trip to Lena is an exaggeration. There are no stores, no gas stations, no convenience stores, no post office. If there weren’t a sign at each east-west end of Highway 3, you would not know that you passed through Lena. Wikipedia says this:

“Lena’s history has largely been intertwined with the Southern Railroad (today’s Norfolk Southern).
From 1899 until the 1980s, Southern operated a line through Lena and nearby Allendale, Tarboro, and Furman. Called the “Southern Columbia to Savannah Route”, the rail also ran through Barnwell and Blackville to the North. Its primary purpose for Southern was to increase north/south passenger/freight traffic by feeding into ACL (Atlantic Coast Line) at Hardeeville for passage south to Florida or north to Charleston and other points. The rail line was built to compete with another North/South rail line operated nearby by Seaboard Air Line (also called the Florida Central & Peninsular, later Seaboard Coast Line, and presently CSX) which ran a different course through Denmark, Fairfax, Estill, Garnett (parallel to U.S. Route 321) and then into Georgia. Between 1963 and 1970, Southern abandoned its tracks between Furman and Hardeeville leaving Furman as the ending station from Columbia. Finally, in the early 1980s, Southern abandoned its tracks south of Blackville, ending rail service to Barnwell, Allendale, Lena, and Furman. However, by the 1970s, any rail service to Furman (through Lena) would have been a rare event.
Nearby Estill was founded at about the same time as Lena. Estill was named after the president of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad which laid tracks through what is now Estill at about the same time Southern was laying tracks through what is today’s Lena.
Lena was named for Aline Lawton, whose father, W.A. Lawton, owned land Southern workers camped on. Since the name Aline was too similar to the nearby established town of Allendale, Aline’s nickname of “Lena” was selected as the name of Southern’s station in what is now Lena.”

We drove along, and Sugar spotted a sign that said a history marker was ahead. We arrived at the other end of Lena without seeing a marker. We drove back and in and out of several little lanes without finding it. We had one near-miss when Sugar spotted a pole with no sign atop it, but the street sign that should have been on the pole was lying in the weeds.

Then SuperSpotter spotted a large block-like thing about 15 feet off the road.


Just to the east of this site once stood the station and / or stop known as Lena on the Southern Railway’s line connecting Columbia and Savannah, and from which point more than half a century, one could embark for faraway places with strange sounding names. Gone but not forgotten is the Skyland Special which nightly wound its course through these parts between its  fixed points of Jacksonville and Asheville and connections; the echo of the shriek of its whistle piercing the stillness of eerie night, as those of its sister trains, now lost in the vastness of time and spa even, are hopefully enshrined herein. For its silent but helping hand in the loves and labors, the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures and having been the lifeblood economically of this community this re-creation of the past which having once been worth living should not be now wholly scrapped for the present is memorably and gratefully dedicated to The Southern as it looks ahead!

The homestead that we suspect might be the original site of the Lawton-Willingham home built in 1828 is south of here. There are no railroad tracks, so right now we’re not sure what’s what. Somebody out there will surely know.

Maybe it’s in a pension file.

And the bonus in the Civil War index?


Sugar’s grandparents! Who weren’t born until after the war. Who knows why they  are in this collection. It is true that Leslie Basinger Lawton received a pension. Perhaps a new file clerk trainee didn’t know where to file this particular card and slid it into the nearest collection. Don’t scoff. It could happen.

 

3 Responses to “Rebecca Jane Grant, the WPA Slave Narratives, and a Day Trip”

  1. Libby Says:

    My grandfather, Joseph Maner Lawton, was orphaned at the age of six, when his parents, Catherine Elizabeth Lawton Lawton (yes, as hard as it is to believe, a Lawton married a Lawton…haha!) and Edwin Milo Lawton died. His uncle, Thomas Oregon Lawton and his wife, Mary Phoebe Wllingham Lawton, took he and his sister, Josephine, in and raised them with their children. These little orphans called them Ma and Pa, and thought of their first cousins as brothers and sisters. They all lived in that great house in Lena. Thanks for this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth Rawls Says:

    I have ordered the pension file.

    Like

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