Sins of the …..

The Bible is pretty specific, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.” Exodus 20:5

This doesn’t mean that I have to pay for my ancestor’s transgressions, but rather, the consequences often affect those later generations.  This is their story:

(Writer’s Comments in Italics:  My grandmother and her sisters never spoke of their mother. My grandmother’s only comment was “they will not say about me what they said about my mother.”  I have no idea what her mother was accused of during her growing up years, but the pain that my grandmother and her sweet sisters felt about their mother growing up makes the telling of her story nearly 100 years later very difficult. I try and present the stories I was told in hush hush voices over 20 years ago with the actual facts.  The accusations made in this post were made to me by various family members on both sides of the family. They are not my own.  I repeat them here in hopes that Ola’s story may prevent such a tragedy from ever happening to another family.  After interviewing Ola’s sister-in-law,  a tale of a caring and loving mother, who stayed up all night after share cropping all day to rub her children’s legs when they would hurt, emerged. I don’t believe my grandmother or her siblings actually were ever told anything about the real Ola Lannom growing up and they were too young to remember her. Sad that the very people doing the telling were the ones most close to her.)

The story starts with Ola’s grandfather:

In October 1855, Joseph Lannom was apparently arrested for assault and battery and trespass in Wilson County, TN.  The case got ready to come to trial and apparently was delayed for many court terms and in Jan 1859[1], was dismissed, because Joseph Lannom could not be found. Not sure why, because he is enumerated on the 1860[2] census in Wilson County, with his wife and seven children.  Sure doesn’t look like he was trying too hard to hide from the law.

In May 1861, Joseph joined the 7th Tennessee, Company G.   He was a confederate.  He served with Company G until August 1862, when his term of service is over and he returned home to Wilson County, TN. [3]  He was discharged at Rapidan Station, VA.  He most likely took the train back home.

Soon after returning home, Joseph would have found out his wife, Jane was expecting a child, but he never saw the infant born. In early November 1862, Joseph went to the home of Richard “Cedar Dick” Mount and attacked him with a large branch.  Mount defended himself with “a large and murderous knife” according to court records, and Joseph Lannom was killed[4]. It is unclear what the fight was about. No one on the Lannom side of the family knew about it and the Mount family only knew that Richard was attacked and defended himself. According to the court documents, Richard Mount killed Joseph Lannom with a large Bowie knife.  He is accused of “willfully, maliciously, deliberately, and premeditatedly killing” Joseph Lannom.   (I have often wondered if Joseph Lannom came home to a pregnant wife and my ancestor should be Jeff Davis Mount and that was what the fight was about.  Court records for Richard Mount were plentiful too, so both men were prone to being aggressive. )

Joseph’s son, Andrew Jeff Davis Lannom was born 12 Jun 1863[5], seven months after his father was killed.  Jane Brewer Lannom was a mother of eight children, ages sixteen years to the one she was carrying when she became a young widow.  She married William Howard in November 1869[6].  It was said that Howard was a terribly abusive man and that young Jeff Davis Lannom ran away from home at age 15 to get away from his step-father.  While there’s no proof that William Howard was cruel to his new family, by 1880, Jane Brewer Lannom Howard is living with her son and William Howard is living with his. If Jeff Davis left home at 15, Jane must have lived with him for at least 8-9 years.

Jeff Davis Lannom apparently learned a lot of behavior from his step father and inherited his father’s temper, because it was said “he was the meanest man in Rutherford County”.  He is said to have gotten so angry at a grandson, that he tried to bite the boy’s ear off.  While only family lore tells us of his character, there was certainly a lot of it to back up the claims. In researching my great grandmother, his daughter, I heard anecdote after anecdote to confirm that he was a very cruel man. It was insinuated that Jeff Lannom like to play cards~that he was not very good at it~and that he may have used his daughters in payment.  Obviously, I have no proof of these claims and the people who made them would start to tell a story and then stop . No one wanted to speak ill of the man, since it seemed to incriminate his innocent daughters more than it did the man himself.  If these stories and innuendos are true, it would certainly be likely that my great grandmother and her sisters would have been terrified of their father.

True or not, the facts are that Jeff Lannom married Virginia Caldonia Markham, daughter of Susan Markam in 1879[7].  When they married, Jeff was eighteen and Jennie, as she was called, was only thirteen years old  based on the ages they gave on the 1880 Federal Population Census.

Together Jeff and Jennie Lannom would have nine children.

One of their daughters,  Ola was my great grandmother. It’s hard to know when Ola was born. On the 1900 census, she was 8 years old, making her born ca 1891-2.  By 1910, she was enumerated as 20 years old, meaning she was born ca 1889-90.  On the 1920 census, she is enumerated as 24, making her born as late as 1895-6.    My guess is the 1891 date is closest to being correct, since it is also the date given on her death certificate.

She had her first daughter in 1913 and her second daughter was born in 1915.  When she married my great grandfather, Alfred Victory in 1915, he lied and told his parents the second daughter was his, so they would accept the baby as their grandchild.  She was not his daughter, but he raised her as if she was. It was obvious from talking to Alf’s younger sister, many many years later, that Alf’s parents were not happy about the marriage.  I am sure the fact that Ola had one daughter out of wedlock and was five months pregnant with another may have factored into the Victory’s unhappiness about the marriage.   But the marriage went forward and Ola and her husband Alf would be blessed with three more children before he died of TB in 1920.

Ola was a widow at age 29, and most likely, she and her five young children moved in with her father shortly after the 1920 census was taken.  Her oldest daughter was enumerated with her grandparents in 1920 and now Ola and the other four children probably were living in the log home as well.  Her husband’s family was greatly affected by the TB outbreak of 1918 and by 1925,  Alf’s twin brother and his mother were also dead.

She remarried to a Mr. O. B Smith in 1922[8].

Sometime around 1923, her oldest son jumped from a barn and twisted his leg under himself when he fell.  His leg was either not treated correctly or not at all, but either way, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.  Ola enrolled him in the Junior League Cripple Home in Nashville.  Although, according to his grandmother’s Bible, he had been born in 1918, and that is the date given for his twin sister’s birth when she entered the orphanage, his date of birth was given to the home as 1917.  It has been speculated that Ola either didn’t remember when the twins were born, or that she lied about his birth date to make him old enough for the home. The Junior League Home for Crippled Children opened in 1923. The home provided free convalescent and rehabilitative medical care for children with crippling diseases. If he had to be at least six to go, then it would make sense that his mother would state he was born in 1917 instead of 1918 so he would be accepted.

Little is known about O. B. Smith. It is thought that he was a circuit riding minister, because family lore was Jeff Davis got tired of his preaching and one day as the family left to go out into the fields to work, Mr. Smith was informed that it would be best if he wasn’t there when the family returned. When Ola returned that night from picking crops, she found the father of her youngest son, now only a few years old, was gone.  It was soon thereafter, that Ola discovered another child was on the way. It has been assumed it was Mr. Smith’s child.  (Whether  Mr. Smith knew she was pregnant or not is not known.  My guess is that he did not know.  Why he did not take his young son with him when he left is unknown as well. I was told Ola often tied the kids together at the end of the row while she picked whatever crop they were picking.  She would go down the row and back and then get the kids a drink and move them to another row.   This was apparently a very acceptable form of babysitting at the time, though it seems cruel to us today. Most likely the older girls had to pick the crop as well, and were not available to babysit their younger siblings.)

But Ola was now thirty six years old. She had one child who was already a ward of the state.  She had four daughters and an infant son.  And a baby on the way.  And no husband to help put food on the table. We have to remember that it is 1928.  The economy is in a recession in 1928, especially in agriculture. Times are not good, especially not for a single mother.  There was no welfare, no Women’s, Infants and Children.  No free prenatal care.  No food stamps.  Abortion was illegal.   A woman, who was not married and who had seven children fifteen and under, was dependent upon her father to care for her.  And Ola’s father had the reputation for being the meanness man in town; and a reputation for mistreating the women in her family.  So she decided she simply could not give birth to this seventh child.  She allowed her sister to perform an abortion.

A few days later, a pale, sick Ola shows up at the doorstep of her former in-laws.  She is bleeding heavily, running a high fever, and despite the cause or repercussions of a possible illegal abortion, someone calls for  the doctor. He attends Ola and probably quickly realizes that she is dying of septic poisoning. He does all he can for her, but it is too late. At thirty-six, Ola dies, leaving behind six children, ages five to fifteen.  The official cause of death: something to do with the aperture of her heart.  He states she died suddenly.  (I believe Ola did this out of love for her children despite the legal repercussions. Maybe she hoped that she would be able to get them away from her father and his influence. No matter what, she could not afford another mouth to feed without a husband.)

Ola and her sisters lived in another time period nothing like our own.  Women had just gotten the right to vote, yet if their husbands allowed them to vote, it was usually to vote the way he said.  There was no welfare.  Birth control and the idea that women should decide when they wanted to have children was a new concept. A woman’s body belonged to her husband. Few women held down jobs outside the home.   Abortion was illegal, and women who decided to end their pregnancies did so in back rooms often with dirty implements.  Doctors rarely performed the procedure, instead it was performed by women in the family who knew little about the female anatomy and even less about sterilization of their implements. Even doctors really didn’t understand sterilization at that time period and it was common to move patient to patient without cleaning hands or tools.  Women often didn’t have the procedure until they were four to five months pregnant, making the procedure even more dangerous for the mother.  Ola made a decision she felt was in the best interest of her children, and she paid for that decision with her life.

After her death, her oldest daughter continued to live with her grandfather, Jeff Davis Lannom. Her second daughter lived for a time with her birth father’s family.  Her two daughters by Alf Victory were put in the Tennessee Industrial Home, an orphanage  for children with no family support.  Her youngest son by O. B. Smith was raised for a while by his mother’s sister.

Despite the fact that they were separated after their mother’s death, the children managed to stay very close. My grandmother left the orphanage at age 18. She married a few months later.  I grew up knowing my great aunts and uncles well. They were wonderfully sweet ladies and gentlemen.  Very kind. Whenever someone would mention their mother, a sadness would come over them and the topic of conversation would be changed.  To have lost her so young and so tragically must have been more than they could bear at times.

(It doesn’t matter whether you are pro-life  or not to me, I believe life begins at conception as well.  Please do not post comments to the blog about that~they will be deleted. The fact is, had abortion been legal and safe,  or she had had some other alternative for raising her children, my great grandmother most likely would have  lived to have raised her children to adulthood. That is a fact I can not overlook and one I have to weigh against my religious beliefs about taking an unborn child’s life.  Believe me, I do not believe my great grandmother made this decision lightly.  Before you suggest she put the child up for adoption, remember this is late 1928, only a few months before the Great Stock Market crash. Not many people were taking on extra mouths to feed, not even babies.  Again, do not judge her by your 21st century lifestyle.)


Copyright 2014 Teresa Elliott All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of the author.

[1] State of Tennessee vs. Joseph Lannom, Trespass, Circuit Court Minute Book, Page 204. Original copy held by Wilson County, TN, Circuit Court Minutes Jan 1858-May 1871, Roll 322, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN. Photocopy in possession of author.

[2] Joseph Lannum household, Wilson County, TN, Civil District 23, Stamp 454, Dwelling 1235, Family 1183, Lines 38-40 and 16. 1860 Federal Population Census, Wilson County, TN, (National Archives Microfilm M653, Roll No. 1280), National Archives, Washington, D. C.

[3] Joseph Lannom, Compiled Service Records for Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from Tennessee

[4] State of TN vs. Richard Mount, State of Tennessee vs Richard Mount, Wilson Co., TN Circuit Court Minute Book 1861-1868 Volume O. Original copy held by Wilson County, TN, Circuit Court Minutes Jan 1861-May 1868, Roll 323, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN. Photocopy in possession of author.

[5] Jeff Davis Lannom, Death Record. File No 3458. (28 Feb 1945). Original copy can be found in 1945 Death Rolls TN, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN.

[6] Jane Lannom and William Howard, Marriage License, 14 NOV 1869, Marriages Volume 1868-1871, License 240. Original copy can be found in Wilson County, TN, Marriages Jan 1838-Dec 1884, Roll 185, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN. Photocopy in possession of author

[7] Jeff Lannom and Jennie Markham, Marriage License and Certificate, 28 Dec 1879, Book 5, Page 205. Original copy can be found in Wilson County, TN, Marriages Jan 1838-Dec 1884, Roll 185, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN. Photocopy in possession of author

[8] O. B. Smith and Ola Victory, Marriage Record, Book 7, Page 157. Original copy can be found in Rutherford County, TN, Marriage Book 7-8 1920-1925, Roll 246, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville TN, Family History Library Film 379652. Photocopy in possession of author


11 thoughts on “Sins of the …..

  1. An absolutely heart wrenching narrative. I am in awe of the life you infused to this telling of your ancestor’s life. It is so easy to say what we “would have done,” sitting here as we are in the comfort-filled lives led by American women I the 21st century. The truth is, we have no idea because it wasn’t our life.

    Thanks for sharing Ola’s story.

  2. Thanks. We really have no idea what we would have done. But I think I would have probably made the same choices.

  3. I agree. Sometimes it’s hard for us not to judge the person by our circumstances, but we have to remember we live in a different time period. Thanks. It is a sad tale, but I hope I have done it justice.

  4. My girlfriend and I have been researching her family history and she has a Great-Great Grandmother with the name of Ola Mae, although they were not sure about the spelling before, and we were wondering if she could be the same woman. Is there any way that we could get a little more information about her children, Please?

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