24 January 2006

Thomas Jefferson Mathews

Thomas Jefferson Mathews was born in the middle of the pack of 14 kids on 25 December 1819. Obviously his parents were supporters of President Jefferson to name their son after him. His older brother, Ezekiel, who was born on 28 August 1808, was the first child of Joseph and Margaret, and his younger brother, Joseph Alexander, was next to the youngest child, born 15 January 1830.

There were almost 10 years between each of the boys. By the time of their father's death in January 1854, none of the boys were living in SC. Joseph Alexander had left home at the age 18 and ended up in Fayette/Hardeman County, TN. Ezekiel left before 1850 and his family shows up in Arkansas, and Thomas with his second wife and two sons, migrates to Pontotoc County, MS in ca. 1852.

"Thomas first saw Jane Christopher at the time of his sister Jane's wedding (married George Ambus Christopher, Nov. 1844). He went to see her and asked her to marry him, the next time he saw her he married her," or so goes the lore of TJ's courtship of Jane. TJ and Jane married in late 1843 or early 1844.

Their first child, John Lewis was born in 1844. My great-grandfather, William Henry, was born 1 December 1846, and they had twins that were born dead around 1848. The likelyhood that Jane died while attempting to give birth to the twins is strong, for by the 1850 US census Jane has died and Thomas is listed as a widower, living with the two boys in Savannah River Regiment of Abbeville County, SC.

TJ, the last of the Mathews boys remaining in Abbeville, loaded up his two sons and new wife, Mary Jane Fortescue, and headed for Pontotoc, MS about 1852. TJ would have been 32 and Mary Jane would have been 19 years old in 1852. The boys would have been 8 and 5 years old. They travelled by wagon, pulled by oxen. (William Henry (Billy) would tell his grandchildren about trampling down brush in the gullies in order to level the ground for the wagon to cross on this journey.)

Upon moving to Pontotoc Co., Mississippi, Thomas and his family took up farming on a track of land south of the town of Pontotoc (Note: Homestead located south of Pontotoc, 1 mile south of Pleasant Grove Cem. on Hwy 15, take right on gravel road (Lon Mathews old house on the corner), 1.1 miles take left onto dirt road, old homestead about 1/2 mile up in stand of white oaks (nothing remains of home, burned in 1948).

Records indicate that in 1860 TJ is farming in Pontotoc County, MS. In addition to his family, he has his 24 year old brother-in-law, Richard Fortescue, living with him (Richard probably came to MS with TJ when he moved).

By the time the Civil War erupted, John Lewis was a teenager and enlisted in the CSA. He died in the hospital at Columbus MS of measles in 1862, having never married. Young Billy (Wm Henry) was eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps but the family was able to hang onto him for the duration. Legend has it that Billy saved the records from the Pontotoc courthouse when the Union soldiers, in one of their regular acts of pillage and destruction, torched the courthouse.
In correspondence to relatives in SC, TJ writes of farming cotton, corn, wheat and oats. He mentions that the watermelons are so plentiful "we have more than we can destroy." His patch of watermelons numbered well over 100 weighing from 16 -20 pounds each. TJ writes on 30 July 1861, "We planted about six acres of corn in new ground and some little in old land on the 4th or 5th of July, and now it is from waist high to as high as my head, and it never has been worked until now."

The mood had changed by 1864. In a letter from Mary Jane to her mother on 12 Feb., she writes, "Wheat crops are badly injured from the freeze. The big white wheat is all killed and the little red Alabama wheat is injured... haven't enough seed to sow it all over." Food was scarce and the war was at their 'backdoor'. John Lewis was dead and most of the men folk in the area were away serving the Confederacy.

Reconstruction hit Mississippi hard and they write in April 1865 that they have heard from Lucretia and that Ezekiel's boys in Arkansas met with 'misfortune' during the war, and the Yanks destroyed everthing they had. "They have turned all the men out of office at Pontotoc and appointed just such as they want," they write of the carpetbaggers. As for the crops... "Too wet to plow. Planted 3 or 4 acres of cotton. I want to make 2 bales and that will make it if nothing happens to it. We want to have 10 acres of cotton if we can get it planted. Garden... peas and beans are in bloom, beets, etc. look fine. We want to set our cabbage plants and potatoe slips today. My chickens are doing no good. "

Three families down the road from the Mathews' lives Samuel Roye (Roy) and family. His youngest daughter from his first wife, Harriett Ann Johnston, is Harriett Ann Roye. The daughter, Harriett is 5 1/2 years junior to Billy, but they hit it off and start a courtship that cuminates in marriage 1 Nov 1871, when they are 19 and 25 years old. Billy and Harriett Ann are my great-grandparents.

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