A clean slate, a new calendar, a do over… That’s what a new year should bring and why so many of us get excited about the New Year. It gives us a start for a clean, new life. As a mother of three kids, I am a big fan of my monthly planner. My kids know I will go into panic mode if it comes up missing. It contains doctor appointments, work appointments, holidays, school schedules. I color code by child and it is never far from me. But come January, I always love that fresh new, empty planner. It has so many possibilities and so many chances to do better than I did in the year past. So I wonder, did my ancestresses feel that same way about a new year? Did they see it as a fresh new start or just a continuation of the old year?
The thing is, looking through my ancestors (and trying hard not to judge their lives through my 21st century eyes) which needed a Fresh Start? The horse thief, the unwed mother, the man who lost his wife to childbirth, or the ancestor learning to live without his slaves after the Civil War when they were emancipated and now he was running a large plantation without slaves or perhaps his wife, learning to cook on a wood burning stove for the very first time, now that she no longer had house servants? Or perhaps that Revolutionary Soldier, home from war, looking to move to a new homestead on his bounty land in a newly formed state?
Then it hit me. I wanted to write about my great grand father William Tilford Bennett. Will was born to Stephen and Sarah Bennett in 1875. He was their 13th child. He married Mary Etta Carlton, daughter of John Abner and Lousia Haynes Carlton, also a 13th child. I often wonder what each grandmother thought when this young couple stopped having kids at number eight.
William’s life was fairly normal for a young man growing up in Middle TN in the 1880s. His father was a farmer and owned a large farm in Rutherford County. He most likely helped on the farm and learned farming from his father and grand father. In 1898, Stephen Bennett died and his grave was robbed. His body was stolen from the grave and taken to VT. I know this event greatly affected the young Will Bennett, because my father, his grand son talked of sitting up with the graves at night to make sure no one stole the bodies.
Will and Etta married a few months after Stephen died and they inherited a portion of his property when he died. They were pretty set for a newly married couple. And so they began to have children: Sarah, born 1899, Pearl born 1900, Era born 1902, and Bertha born 1904.
In 1904 of that year, Will’s mother Sarah Catherine Brown Bennett passed away. Her nuncupative will does not mention Will. Not sure exactly why he wasn’t mentioned. She leaves the bulk of her estate to her oldest son, Stephen B. who most likely was the one caring for her at the time of her death. The will is contested, but I am not sure why. Shortly after her death, Will transfers his portion of a tract of land owned by his mother to his brother Stephen.
He and Etta have their first son in 1906, Howard. Elam is born in 1907.
In 1909, he sells his portions of two lots to J. H. Dryer. He moves his family from the 8th Civil District of Rutherford County, to the 12th District between 1900 and 1910.
In 1910 and 1912, he and Etta have two daughters named Josie and Etta Jr. Will and Etta now have 6 daughters and two sons.
In 1914, he sells more land to his brother Deveraux Bennett and in 1917, they buy a parcel of land in the 11th Civil District of Rutherford County.
1918 was a hard year for Etta and Will. Their young daughter, Pearl who was a school teacher died of bronchial pneumonia. Most likely from a case of the flu. She is buried in the family’s back yard in the 11th District of Rutherford County. Sometime after that Elam, who was just 11, dies as well and he too is buried in the back yard of their home place.
It appears that in Aug 1919, Will and Etta sell that home. They have the bodies of Pearl and Elam moved to the Bennett Cemetery in Rover on the Bennett home place. They are in unmarked graves along the fence row of the cemetery. They buy another house in the 11th District.
The great depression was hard on Will and his young family. He now is trying to run his forty-five acre farm with the help of 5 girls and one boy. Like many during the Great Depression, Will is ready for a fresh start. He leaves his farm in the 11th District and moves to a home on Thompson Lane in Davidson County, TN. His young daughters get jobs in factories to help with the household expenses. Will and Etta will live in Davidson County until their deaths. She will die in 1941, he in 1959.
I am not sure how moving from the family farm to the big city affected my great grandfather. I am sure it wasn’t easy. By 1940, he has a job with the WPA working as a carpenter. He is making $400 a week. I am not sure if the Great Depression gave him a fresh start or simply just a different lifestyle.
But this I do know. My dad was raised in Davidson County and there he met my mother. Though her maternal family was from Rutherford County as well, my maternal grandmother grew up in an orphanage. It was my maternal grandfather’s family that lived in Davidson County. Had the Great Depression not brought my dad’s family to Davidson County, my parents would never had met. And I would never have existed.
So perhaps it was me that got the fresh start.