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Francis Marion Wilcox Journal

part 6

Francis Marion Wilcox Journal

     I come now to Francis Marion Wilcox born in Ashe County in the State of North Carolina on November 13th 1842 in the a.m. He lived there until going on several years old when his father moved to Kentucky. He attended his first school, the Subscription school, taught by one Hamilton Hardin (after whom his third brother was named) taught near Grandmother Houck's in the winter of 1849, learned his first lessons in spelling at this school.

      The next school attended was in Pike County, Kentucky near the mouth of Beefhide, a tributary of Shelby Creek, which in turn was a tributary of the Big Sandy River. Here father played teacher for some three successive terms of three months in the fall of each year at this school. I learned to spell and read through the first, second and third readers of the McGuffie's series. For spellers we used Webster's Elementary in Common. We had few McGuffies and some primers of the same series, no arithmetics save an Imdeys?? [sic] which was used by only one scholar in the school.

      Soon we moved to another district called Mouth of Long Fork district. Here our first teacher was a George Francisco of Elkhorn Creek, Pike County, Kentucky. He was a pretty fair teacher. Following him, Father came in some three terms in each successive year, giving to all the best satisfaction. Here at the Mouth of Long Fork, I was placed in possession of an Old Pike arithmetic, Father's text book. It had Fare and Fret Curse and Fret Rule of Three bothering me. Bbs [sic] Shilling and Pence destroying my playtime and proving me not to be possessed of any much sense. This book I stuck to quite a while but in reality I never liked it and do believe it had its effect to lower my none too high aspirations as anticipations from the present to those mathematical studies that I, in after years, would gladly have known yet owing to this early, very hard and seemingly useless encounter with an undesirable text book, caused my liking for Arithmetic to become never what it should have been.

     Nathan C. Trivett followed in the line of teachers at the same place. He recommended Smiley's Text Book in arithmetic. I got one and it was hard yet more desirable than Pike's. I made some proficiency and proved myself a fairly good student. I only got one licking at this school and that was for laughing. I was now also learning to write and had considerable fun at the writing desk or bench as we called it.

     Our schoolhouses were not well furnished as in this day and age. Perhaps it would not be out of place before going on further to describe one of these ancient buildings. They were rudely constructed of round logs generally about 18' to 24' long, some 10' high and covered with clapboards made of white oak and weighted on with round poles or what was called ridge poles instead of rafters as in our modern day school buildings. The floors were made of Mother Earth, no puncheon or plank used. The floors got very hard and smooth and answered all practicable purposes. Upon these dirt floors our bare feet rested hour after hours.

     On wet days by removal of the shunghar [sic] benches made by splitting open round logs 8-12 ft., 15 inches apart and boring two holes in each end in which 18 in. wooden pins were drove in for the legs we could have a first class marble yard until books were called. Those seats were 10, 12 and 18 ft. long and generally seated from six to twelve boys or girls, the girls sitting separated. The cracks minus glass afforded light. No windows were made in any school buildings.

     The doors were generally minus shutters and the chimney only mantel high. Often the scholars would dash out over the top to the chimney and stroll to the spring as no water buckets were furnished and each in turn had to water themselves at the spring. This was done by getting down on hands and knees and taking it in elephant fashion.

     These school houses were in use during 1850 and on up until after the War ended in 1865 in many localities. While residing at this Long Fork district I went to a subscription school two months at the Mouth of Caney Creek taught by a John Damron a good teacher of his day. He taught in any arithmetic. I went through Fowler's Arithmetic at his school, learned considerable in spelling, reading, etc. I boarded with one William McKiney and Sallie, paid them for board in work on the farm and chores. Bill was a good whole souled man and I would like to see him again.

      On leaving school I was going on sixteen years old and hired by my father to one Payne Johnson. I carried the United States mail from Piketon, Kentucky via Whitesbury, Kentucky to what was known as Orsborns Ford in Scott County, Virginia for more than a year, less three months, in the fall of the year during which time I taught for first term of school for which my father received forty dollars. The above named mail route was a very rough one. I had to cross the Cumberland Mountains twice each week at Pound Gap. Also crossed Powells Mountain and Gueses Mountain near the head of Powells River in Wise County Virginia. These were precipitous mountains and all three had to be crossed twice a week - the entire distance being made on horseback each week was one hundred and ninety six miles. I had to cross creeks and rivers minus bridges at least 250 times per week ofttimes plunging and having to buckle my mail bag around my neck and put my knees in the saddle while crossing to keep self and letters dry.

     I rode two different horses - one named Bill, an iron grey horse and the other a deep sorrel named Charles. The latter was much the most desirable horse, sure footed and would trot you along as desired. Old Bill was younger yet I use the description "old" because Bill would stumble and fall down in dead level.

      I remember one day riding along in a slow trot and he stumbled and stumbled for ten steps. I held tight the rein and Bill recovered. I no doubt felt the worse of the two and just thinking hard of Bill when my eyes caught sight of a silver dime laying in the road. I got down, picket it up and thought, "this is good for one pound of brown sugar!". This was my only dime found while carrying the mail. For my services father got $83.00 a month while Marion got the glory of riding 196 miles a week. These routes when mail was carried on horses were called Star Routes. Why this was I did not know then and supposed 'twas because one on arriving at the top of the Cumberland, Powell and Gueses mountains was near the great solar system, nearer than ever before, hence the name Star Route was then imagined.


             After the 196 mile route had been divided Father bought out the northern portion of said Virginia or Osborns Ford route and his part of said route led from what was known as the Mouth of Dorton's Creek to Piketon, Kentucky and could be easily traveled in one day, each way, per week. He continued to have the mails carried over this portion of the Long Route for more than a year or until the fall of 1860.

      After the election of Abraham Lincoln for president of the United States 'twas then the seeds of secession began to germinate, a spirit of disunion began to find lodgement in the breasts of Southern fire eaters, dark clouds began to overshadow the political horizon, blind lights began to play the heavens, mutterings of the distant drums had begun to roll and to reverberate as they announced in unmistakable tones the fearful solemnity of the hour. What sentinel, in view of all these unmistakable evidences of the dreadful storm ahead would have dared to proclaim a calm. He was not to be found.

      Soon secession was ripe and its fruits were scattered all over the land and as its seeds steeped in ignorance gave quicker and more swift growth, the poor toiling, ignorant white men at the south causing the poor and tiling ignorant white man to desert their workshops, farms and daily vocations and to meet and hear disloyal speeches made by those who had long been desirous of dividing the Government in order that they might attain power. Now apparently destroyed by the election of a Republican president, the old Nullification of Calhoun Doctrine of States Rights was declaimed from every schoolhouse, pulpit and courthouse. The aged caught on fire, the young became ablaze. They formed parade grounds, drilling more soldiers was the watchword. (The leaders met in convention proclaiming to favor dissolution of the Union and stand for secession.)

     This was enough - the mails were no longer in demand. Payne Johnson, the principal contractor of our Route was a noted Union man and an abolitionist. The poor Rebel secessionist of Kentucky, trying to hide behind the cloak of neutrality, became so bitter and embolden that they made a raid on Johnson, took his mail and made him a prisoner, but on his agreeing to discontinue to carry the U.S. Mail in the Old Dominion State of Virginia, which had seceded, was allowed to go home but not to remain undisturbed. This ended our Government work for the time being.

     We commenced another Common school at the mouth of the Indian Creek, Pike County, Kentucky, near where Sam Ked now has a General Store for merchandise. We had only two students. When the clouds of was had grown so dark that all Common schools in Kentucky were discontinued, some of us found ourselves without pay and to date no taking up had taken place of those adjourned schools or payment made for service rendered as teachers.

      The clouds of war continue to darken, the blood of Cal ?? Elsworth had been shed in sacrifice upon his country's alter. The Battle of Bull Run had been fought, Fort Sumpter had been surrendered. Abe Lincoln had called for seventy-five thousand soldiers for 90 days - some said three months the war would end, the Union saved and peace ruling. Others said the signals had been given and that unless the Southern Confederacy was ratified and acknowledged, a long, protracted and bloody war would ensue. The sequel proved that the latter was correct, but Marion, wanting to view things in the former light and having a burning desire to return to the place he had been born, concluded he would return with a cousin and view the land of his native state, North Carolina, and spend a month or six weeks with friends and relations in said state.

      Getting Father's consent with a promise to him that he would never go into the Rebel Army or fight for the Confederacy and would return home soon, Marion, in the company of William H. Trivett, Isaiah Trivett and his wife and three children, did on the 16th day of September 1961 start for Ashe County, North Carolina, where he was to make his first visit in eleven years since coming to Kentucky with his father in the year 1850. The first day we crossed the Cumberland Mountains at Pound Gap, Virginia and entered Virginia at this summit of the Confederacy, as then mapped and by the states now seceded from the Union.

      Nothing strange shows up on the first day save a rain in the late p.m. and our bother to find a place to stay at night, yet after walking until tired, we finally got to stop for the night with one Tom Sowards. September 17th: We all ate breakfast and started on for further penetration into Dixie's land arrive in the p.m. at Gladeville, Virginia, but go a few miles further and lodge for the night, staying with a Rebel, Simon Pure, who was glad to see us going south. Had he known our hearts, he would no doubt have refused us admission or gathered a gang and had us hanged to some of those Black Jacks so common in the south especially in this country. But to cheer him more, I sang to him Dixie's Land, it being the first time he had ever heard it. He thought it was grand, had it repeated in the a.m. and I think cut off about 50% of our bill for the night's lodging. I have never sun "Dixie" since and have always paid full fare.

      September 18th: We arise early and pass through Wise County and enter Russell County in Castles Woods. The country gets better and secession gets stronger along the route. We see squads of men while on the farms black men and women worked dressed in white cotton goods. These were slaves doing drudgery for white men and women grouped in squads discussing methods of how to destroy the Union. The poor slaves knew nothing of the contemplated destruction and toiled in ignorance of their master's hellish designs. We have often thought that had he been appraised of the great designs of providence what a day of thanksgiving would have ascended from a heart covered by a black skin. But those things were not revealed until after a nation had been baptized in blood. They were obedient unto their old masters, toiled on until the final day of deliverance, which came as a result of a great Rebellion in 1861.

      September 19th: We, after traveling hard all day, encountering groups of secessionists, found ourselves upon the banks of the Church River in Russell County near what is known as Bickely's Mills Ford. Here, we made our baggage wagon our principal hotel, cook, eat, camp and sleep for the night.

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