The Teaster Family




This picture was taken in front of the Pacolet Mills house about 1927.

Ransom Teaster, my grandfather, was born on September 10, 1866 in Watauga County near present day Boone, North Carolina. Ransom’s ancestors had been among the first settlers to enter into the mountains in that part of North Carolina.  They had settled in the vicinity of the Watauga River and one of its tributaries, Cove Creek.  His family members lived in or near the communities of Valle Crucis and Sugar Grove. When Ransom was about seven years old, his family moved from the Watauga area down into Madison County , North Carolina.  This was sometime around 1870.  His family’s move was part of a larger family migration from Watauga to Madison County. 

Laura Russell, my grandmother, was born on February 16, 1878 in the Fines Creek community of Haywood County,  North Carolina.  Fines Creek, itself, is a tributary of the Pigeon River and flows into it a few miles from the community.  This is a beautiful country today.  When Laura was young it was still partly wild but was becoming an area of farming and logging.  Laura was the daughter of James Russell and Rebecca Green. 

The Early Years

After the move from Watauga County, Ransom grew to manhood in the Meadow Fork community.  This community was about 15 miles from the settlement on Fines Creek, over in Haywood County.  The trip to Fines Creek took about all day on foot or horseback.  Going from Meadow Fork to Fines Creek was not too bad, it was mostly all down hill.  However, the trip back was a different story. It was a long uphill climb, often steep in places.

 It is not clear exactly how Ransom , the boy from up in Watauga met the local Fines Creek girl, Laura.  There was a sizable age difference between them. Ransom was 12 years old when Laura was born in 1878.

 The years passed and Laura grew up.  Like all mountain children they had plenty of work to do helping their families.  Ransom often helped his father, Harmon, in his logging work.  After the huge trees were cut down they had to be dragged or snaked out to the sawmill to be cut into boards.  This was often done with teams of large oxen.  Ransom became an expert at handling and driving these teams.  Control of the oxen was by voice command and the use of a bull whip.  Evidently Ransom’s skill and prowess with the whip became known through out the community.  Years later, far away in the Pacolet community, old men who had worked with Ransom, would still remember it.  They said he could knock a horsefly from an ox’s ear with that whip.

The Marriage

Sometime after 1890, Ransom must have realized that Laura was no longer a little girl and saw her in a different light.  The story of their courtship seems lost in the passing of time.  But court they did, for in about 1895, they were wed.  They were married in the town of Sevierville, Tennessee about 70 miles from Fines Creek.

 Tradition has it that Laura’s parents, particularly James Russell, were not pleased.  It might have had something to do with the age difference.  In 1895, Ransom was 29 and Laura 17. This “risky” marriage that bothered James would go on to last for over 60 years.  It would produce 11 children and more grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren than James Russell and his wife Elizabeth could ever have imagined.

Ransom and Laura settled down in the Meadow Fork community close to the homes of his father, Harmon, his brother Samuel, and other family members.

Ransom and Laura farmed and Ransom still helped Harmon with the logging and the sawmill.  They started to raise a family.  Their first child, Mary Elsie, was born the 23rd of February in 1896.  The next child, the first son, William Otis, was born September 30, 1898.  Another son, James Oliver, was born on June 12, 1900.  Still another son, Monroe, followed on December 12, 1902.  A fourth son, Lee (Bo), arrived on January 3, 1905.  In all, they had five children while they still lived in the mountains of North Carolina.  Ransom and Laura would go on to have a new child about every two years until the last child Foy (Jake) was born on June 27, 1920.  All the rest of the children would be born in South Carolina.  They would have a total of eleven children.  All of them lived to see adulthood at a time when many, many  children died.

Changing Times

In the fall of 1905, a tragedy stuck the close knit families and communities of Meadow Fork and Fines Creek.  Harmon was killed in a sawmill accident .  Harmon left his widow, Susie, but his children were all grown by this time.  Harmon’s death must have been a terrible blow to the family members.

 The next year there was another loss when Susie, Harmon’s widow, died.  Ransom and his brothers and sisters had lost both parents in a period of less than two years.

Life in the mountains was hard.  It required the endless labor of all the family members to make a living.  Life was particularly hard on children.  There was almost no medical care of any kind back in the mountains.  The simplest childhood disease could take the life of a child. A little scratch could become infected, turn into blood poisoning and death could result.  Home treatments could sometimes help cure a disease but often these were more like superstitious rituals.

The Meadow Fork and Fines Creek regions were wild and remote even for the turn of the 20th century. Travel was on foot or by wagon or on horseback over steep and rugged country.  It was a trip of a full day to the Haywood county seat of Waynesville, if the weather was favorable.

These wild conditions took their toll on children, too.  One of Ransoms’s relatives, a little girl, died of snake bite.  She had leaned over to get a drink from a spring.  A copperhead snake struck her on the cheek.  She had run home with the snake still hanging from her face by its fangs.

There was little opportunity for an education for many mountain children.  There were few schools back in the mountains.  Even if there were, most children’s help was needed with running the farm, carrying water, chopping wood and a thousand other things.  Ransom would later tell some of his grandchildren that he had never been to school.  One of the most knowledgeable and wise men in the world, to these same grandchildren, could not write.  He read the newspaper with a slow, deliberate  effort moving his lips silently to pronounce each word. (After a period of over  50 years since I saw him do this it still brings a lump to my throat to think about it and how difficult it must have been for him.)

Promises of a Better Time

Stories had been spreading through the mountain communities for some time that a  better life was available far off in the Piedmont area of the Carolinas and Georgia.  It was said that there were many jobs there just for the asking.  The jobs paid hard cash and everybody could work, even the children.  There was even more, if a family took a job, they got to live in a house as part of it.  There were said to be lots of these houses and they had coal stoves and fireplaces in every room.  There were stores to buy things for the people in the houses.  There were also free schools with free books for all the children who wanted to attend.

The basis for these stories was true.  They were describing the opportunities that existed in the textile towns and mills that developed all over the upper parts of the Carolinas and Georgia.  They had started in a small way as a means to recover the South’s economy after the Civil War.  They had been successful and northern textile industrialists had joined in.  By 1900 the textile industry was booming and beginning to have a difficult time finding enough labor to operate the mills.  The textile plants and the mountain people discovered each other.  Movement of the mountain folks down to the lower areas started as a trickle and then became a flood.

It is not sure how Ransom and Laura got word about the jobs in the cotton mills.  The mills sent recruiters up through the mountains to inform the people about the opportunities and to sign them up for employment. Maybe they talked to one of these recruiters.  Maybe they heard from one of the local families that had gone on before them.

According to family tradition, Ransom and Laura were preparing to leave the Meadow Fork and Fines Creek areas for another place before they decided to come to South Carolina to the textile mills.  They were going to Arkansas to settle.  But, according to the family story, Grandma Laura’s parents were strongly against the move because it was too far away.  It is not clear why they had chosen Arkansas.  One of Grandpa Ransom’s brothers, Jethro, eventually moved with his family to Arkansas but was not there at that time.  Today, there are a number of Teaster families in Arkansas that are related to us.  Perhaps, Ransom and Laura knew Teaster relations out there and planned to join them.

Leaving Home

What is known, is that about 1907, Ransom and Laura made up their mind and decided to make the move to South Carolina.  It is likely that Ransom’s  emotional ties to his childhood mountain home had slackened with the death of both of his parents within the last two years.  Laura’s parents were still there along with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews on both sides. It must have been an emotional parting for everybody.

The family story is that the destination they chose was Clifton Mills in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.Clifton was located on the Pacolet River about 100 miles from Fines Creek and it was going to be a long trip.  The story told is that Ransom and Laura loaded all their belongings and their five small children into wagons and made the slow 15 mile trip to the railroad station at Waynesville or Clyde.  The train took them another 90 miles or so to the Spartanburg area.  Wagons took them from the station to the town of Clifton.

Not much is known or remembered about living or working in Clifton.  It does seem that Bonnie Mae was born there on September 14, 1907.  She was the first child born in South Carolina.  The experience of Clifton must have been a serious shock for all of them.  In a period of about one week, they had left their mountain home with its open area and incredible views and been transported to live in the middle of more people than they had ever seen.  The homes on the mill village in Clifton were well built against the weather but they were so close together.  The houses went on, side by side, on both sides of the street for what seemed to be miles.

It must have been a tremendous change for Ransom.  He went from working almost completely outside as a farmer and logger to an inside existence.  Where once he had worked almost for himself, now he had to take orders from someone he did not know.  His every move was watched and controlled.  Inside the mill was a vastly different place than he had ever known.  It was a huge, cavernous place.  The noise was unbelievable.  It was louder than any saw mill or corn mill in the mountains.  The air was filled with cotton dust.  There were huge clanking machines with parts flying around and back and forth.  An unwary worker could be caught and pulled into these machines as easily as they moved the thread and cloth.  Ransom and the other workers were in the mill at their job from daylight till dark- twelve hours a day, six days a week.

Still, there were many good things about living in the mill village.  There was a school for the children who did not work.  However, many children did work in the mill, some starting as young as six years old.  Ransom and the other workers were usually paid with actual cash.  Cash money had been very scarce back in the mountains.  Sometimes workers could be paid with company script instead of cash.  This script could be spent, just like money, in the company store that was owned and operated by the owners of the mill company.  The company store usually had a variety of groceries, shoes and other items.  The store had more things to buy than some of the mountain children knew existed.  Most mills allowed their workers to charge items on credit at the company store.  This was charged against their next paycheck at the mill.  Unless a family was careful, they could get into almost perpetual debt at the store.  Instead of getting money on payday, they would see it credited to what they already owed at the store. Most mill villages had either a doctor or nurse and a medical clinic to treat the sick and to help deliver new babies.

A New Life

Ransom and Laura’s reaction to life in the mill village must not have been very good at Clifton.  Sometime in the next year, 1908, they left the jobs at Clifton and moved back to the Fines Creek vicinity.  However, they only lived in Fines Creek for a short period of time .By the time their next child, Fred (Doog) was born on April 28, 1910 they had moved back to South Carolina for good.  Ransom and Laura and their increasing family lived and worked at several mill communities including Monarch mills, and maybe others, in Union County.  Althea was born on November 24, 1912 ,  Agnes Lorena on November 14, 1914 and Leila on January 3, 1918.  The last child Foy (Jake) was born on June 27, 1920.  Sometime in the 1920’s or 1930’s they  more or less settled down in the Pacolet Mills area.
 
In the years between 1896 and 1920, a period of 24 years, Grandma Laura had eleven children.  This means that she was pregnant for a total of over 8 years.  During this time, she moved her household and children back and forth from the mountains to South Carolina twice and made several shorter moves.  In doing all this she had to take care of all the children and do most of the housework.  This housework included cooking on a wood stove, churning and making butter and canning. In addition, she probably had to do a major part of the milking, gardening, killing and dressing chickens and much more.  Her relief from all this work was to take time out to have another child.  She is remembered fondly as a short, very tough lady.  In looking back, I remember, maybe wrongly, that Mamma Teaster’s word was the law.  It seemed, from a child’s view, that Papa Teaster and all her grown male children were quick to heed her directions.  Present and future generations of the family, when faced with what they think is a hard or difficult life, might reflect on Grandma Laura Russell Teaster and what she accomplished.  She taught us all that a small stature can hide a huge heart and strength.

For a time, Ransom and Laura and the family farmed on a sharecropper basis in Cherokee County in the Blue Branch area. Ransom and some of the children also worked in the mill during that time.

This must have been about the time of World War I and the great, world wide influenza epidemic.  Thousands of people, including entire families, were killed by this disease all over the country.  It was very bad in parts of the South.  Family stories say that Ransom had an unusual approach to preventing the disease.  The disease was worst in the winter when everyone was shut up in their houses.  It is said that Ransom thought that fresh air was the best prevention to the flu. He kept the windows and doors open even in the coldest weather during the epidemic.  Drastic as it seems, it worked.  No one in the family died of the flu but many people in the area did.

Sometime during this period Ransom and Laura took in another child to raise.  His name was Andy Suttles.  The details of how Andy came to live with Ransom and Laura are not clear. However, he evidently became a member of the family and lived with them until he was an adult.

Pacolet Mills

The Teaster family moved to the Pacolet Mills village probably in the 1920’s or 1930’s. They lived in more than one place.  The tradition is that their first house was in what was then known as Point Lookout.  This was located up the river from the new mill.  The story was told jokingly that this was where the mountain families were moved so that they could be “civilized” enough to move to the main part of the village.  My dad, Fred (Doog), told the story of one of their neighbors at Point Lookout who evidently was a Cherokee Indian from Haywood County.  This man got into trouble with one of his neighbors because he killed their family cat with his bow and arrow.

Civilized or not, the family eventually moved to a house on Main Street not very far from Montgomery Memorial Methodist Church.  That house still stands today.

By the time of the move to the Pacolet Mill village many of Ransom and Laura’s children were getting grown.  They were marrying and establishing families themselves.

At some time in the period after the final move to South Carolina, Ransom himself, became a recruiter for the mountains.  He traveled back to the Fines Creek area to find other people that might like to come to Pacolet to work.

There was still frequent contact between the Pacolet Teasters and their relatives back in Fines Creek.  They visited back and forth and children would stay for extended visits.  Some of the grown children went back to the mountains and worked for awhile.  An effort was made to attend the funerals of those who died in the mountains.  These visits became easier as the automobile became more common and the roads improved.  However, as recently as the 1940’s and 1950’s an automobile trip to from Pacolet to Fines Creek was a long, difficult trip.

During the years at Pacolet Mills, the Teaster family members worked hard to improve their life.  They pursued and enjoyed a variety of interests such as farming, fox hunting and baseball.  One of the sons, my Dad, Fred (Doog), acquired the illegal, but useful, talent and knowledge of distilling corn whiskey.

In 1932 another serious blow was dealt to the family.  The son, James Oliver, died of an ulcerated stomach.  He was only 32 years old. Oliver, as he was actually called, had no children but he left his widow, Ruth Green Teaster.

Down in The Country

About 1940, or just before World War II, Ransom retired from Pacolet Mills.  By this time all of their children were grown.  Ransom and Laura had found and bought a 65 acre farm in nearby Cherokee County.  The farm was located on the old Green River Road and was about 7 miles from Pacolet Mills.  There was an old, two story farm house that sat only about 20 or 30 feet off the road.  In 1942 the road itself was little changed from when the little American army marched down it on the way to the Battle of Cowpens in 1781.  The house probably had been built not long after the Revolutionary War and had never been painted in its long life.

This farm and house became Ransom and Laura’s home for the next 9 or 10 years.  For many of their grandchildren it was a magical place and known to them simply as “The Country”.  It was a happy time, indeed, when we got to visit Papa and Mama Teaster down in “The Country”.

In 1940, Ransom was 74 years old and Laura was 62.  They left the comfort of the house in Pacolet Mills and moved to the new place in Cherokee County.  It was only seven miles in distance but probably close to a hundred years in time.

The farm house had no electricity or running water.  It was on a narrow dirt road.  The nearest neighbor was over a quarter mile away.

Water had to be drawn from a deep well that was located just outside one of the back doors.  Since there was no electricity, there was no refrigeration.  Milk and butter was kept in a small spring.  The spring was down a steep hill and more than 300 yards from the house.

The house was heated in the winter by wood burning fireplaces and the wood cook stove in the kitchen.  Cooking, year round, was done in the wood stove.  Gathering and cutting firewood was almost a full time occupation.

Family Gatherings

Throughout the 1940’s the house in the country was the place for many family gatherings.  Some of the largest of these  were the “Birthday Dinners” held for Ransom and Laura.  Almost all of their children, grandchildren and many friends would come.  Usually they were held on Sunday afternoons.  Every family brought food.  All this food would be set up on tables in the backyard. Everyone would pass by and fill their plate.  It was a feast.  There seemed to be every kind of meat and vegetable and an enormous number of different kinds of pies, cakes and other desserts.

There was no organized, formal program for the dinners.  The adults mostly ate and talked and got caught up on the family gossip.  The many grandchildren ate, ran around, made noise and just had a good time.  Sometimes, something would happen that would draw the adults away from the talk and the food.  At one dinner, one of the uncles brought his .22 rifle.  An impromptu shooting range was set up with a board nailed to a tree at a considerable distance off in the woods.  The men took turns shooting at small objects fastened to the board.  They started off by shooting at a small piece of cardboard about the size of a business card.  Well, that did not seem to be a worthy target since all of them hit it.  From there they went to a smaller target and then still smaller.  I remember that the target was so small that I could not even see what it was. But some of the uncles and older cousins were still hitting it.  The unusual lesson that came out of this for one little boy was that you had better learn to shoot if you want to be an adult in this family.

At other times, some of the men would harness up a horse or mule to ride in the lot beside the barn.  I still have a vivid memory of riding one of these with a cousin and both of us falling off into blackberry vines alongside the fence.

Mostly though, the gatherings were a time for family members to meet and talk.  There were always stories about the “olden times” when the children were growing up.  Most of them were very funny and the aunts and uncles vied with each other in telling stories.

Most of the grandchildren took all of this in.  It was at these kinds of family gatherings that it began to be clear that Laura and Ransom, their children and grandchildren had a special kind of bond.  They had a caring and compassion for each other that showed at these events.

The End of the Story
   
Grandpa and Grandma Teaster lived in the house in the country until about 1948 or 1949.  Then age and health began to take its toll.  In 1948, Grandpa was 82 years old and Grandma was 70.  To the great dismay of everybody, Ransom’s once keen mind began to go.  He became confused and had trouble sorting out reality and illusion.  His physical health was strong while his mental health slipped away.

It was no longer possible for Grandpa and Grandma to stay by themselves.  They each went to stay with different children.  The household was broken up, livestock disposed of and the magic kingdom of “Down in the Country” was no more.

Grandpa only lived a few years after this.  In the last years he was only a shell of the man we had known.  The Papa Teaster that all of us grandchildren had loved disappeared in the mist of old age.  On August 25, 1953, this kindly, compassionate man died.  He was 86 years old.

Grandma’s mind was clear but her physical health deteriorated.  She outlived Grandpa by 15 years and died on Christmas Day in 1968.  She was 90 years old.

With their passing, the first part of Ransom and Laura’s story came to an end.  But it was not really an end.  It goes on in each one of us and our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Let us hope that the memory of Laura and Ransom and their troubles and triumphs will pass down through the family and give comfort and encouragement to generations yet unborn.

 

The Family of Ransom and Laura Teaster


More details about the Teaster family can be seen at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~teaster/

 
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This web site has been started as a public service to share the story of Pacolet. The web master and person to contact about putting information on the web site is me, Gerald Teaster.  Contact me at:
gteaster@pacoletmemories.com or by telephone at (843) 873-8117.  My regular mail adress is:
1311 Jahnz Ave.
Summerville, SC 29485

See more information about my Pacolet connection at Gerald Teaster.