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. 

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 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. 


2 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

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