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Family Album

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Family Album - Page Text Content

S: Family Album - created by Michael Pritchett

FC: Family Album

1: James Anderson Seay Father 1863-1929 | Anna Parilee (Pearl) Johnston Seay Wray Mother 1878-1958 | Gladys Pearl Seay Denson Burnette 1899-1985

2: James Anderson Seay was born in February 1863 in Sylvanena, Mississippi. Sylvanena is located sixty miles southeast of Jackson. James was the youngest of four children born to John Seay (1832) and Nancy Evaline Anderson (1835). His brother John, Jr. was born in 1853, and sister, Mary, was born in 1857. According to the 1860 Census, there was a child born before James. The “unnamed infant” girl was a month old when the Census was taken on June 17, 1860. This child does not appear on the 1870 Census, so most likely died before the age of ten. | John and Nancy Evaline first lived in Blue Pond, Alabama in Cherokee County (1860 Census). Blue Pond is located on former Cherokee Nation land. The neighboring town of Cedar Bluff was built on top of the Cherokee village of Costa. James told that his father John was one of the soldiers who went into the Smoky Mountains and removed the remaining Cherokee after the Trail of Tears in 1838. This story matches the location of the family in 1860 precisely. Family legend says that John died at the Battle of Atlanta, in July of 1864. I am currently unable to verify this, but he had been a soldier prior to the war and was of fighting age – he would have been thirty-two years old in 1864. Cherokee County sent over 2,000 soldiers to fight for the Confederacy. Some of these groups were named “The Cherokee Rangers” and “The Cherokee Grays” – likely after their previous experience hunting the Cherokee. John may have been a member of one of these groups of soldiers. He was alive in spring of 1862 to conceive James, but by 1870 Evaline is widowed and has moved with her three children nearly three hundred miles southwest to Sylvanena in Mississippi. I do not know if she moved here before or after John’s death. Her son John Jr. is farming her land, as he is now seventeen. She is also caring for an eighty-three year old relative named Mary Seay. This was perhaps John’s mother or grandmother.

3: James was born during the last days of the Civil War. The Battle of Vicksburg was fought two months after his birth, which led to the Union capturing the state of Mississippi. He grew up during the Reconstruction – a period when the North treated the South as a conquered territory. Mississippi was not re-admitted to the Union until James was seven years old in 1870. Most Southerners lost everything during the War and times would have been tough on Evaline raising three children in this environment alone. The South was defeated, lawless and desperately poor. We can only imagine how difficult life would have been for a thirty-five year old widow with three children and an eighty-three year old in-law to care for in 1870. By 1880, 45 year old Evaline Seay, is living with her daughter Mary (23), son James (17) and his wife Fannie (17), still northeast of Sylvanena in Jasper County. John Jr. is not listed as living with them. The next I can locate John Jr. is in 1920. He is living back in Jasper County with his wife Katherine (1867), son Joseph (1889), his wife Maggie (1899) and their son Robert (1918).They may be living on the same land which Evaline purchased fifty years before in 1870. James’ first wife was Francis Elizabeth Sandel. Jim and Fannie grew up near one another outside of Sylvanena and married sometime before they were seventeen years old. Together they had five children – three boys and two girls. Thomas Hundley (1882), Allen James (1884), Edward W (1887), Maybelle (1889) and Bertha (1891). Sometime between Bertha’s birth in 1891 and his marriage to Anna Parilee Johnston on September 22, 1897, James divorced Fannie. According to several of his grandchildren James had Fannie committed to an insane asylum. The census records from 1890 were destroyed in a fire, so from 1880-1900 we can only assume that James and Fannie had their five children and ultimately divorced. I am unable to locate any further documentation on James’ mother Evaline, sister Mary, or first wife Fannie after 1880. Evaline most likely died before 1900. Mary perhaps was married to an unknown man. I’m not sure what Fannie’s fate was. Her youngest children, Maybelle and Bertha, were brought up by James and his second wife, Anna Parilee. The girls are living with James, Anna and their baby daughter, Gladys, in 1900 in Jackson.

4: Anna Parilee Johnston was born March 1, 1878 in Forest, Mississippi to Richard Johnston (1822-1903) and Elizabeth Heath (1841-1919). Richard and Elizabeth had seven children: Willie (1860), Jessie (1862), William (1864), Walter (1866), Laura (1872), Noel (1874), Mary (1877), Parilee (1878) and Lillan (Vella) (1881). | Her mother Elizabeth’s family came from Haw Ridge, Alabama. Elizabeth's parents were Theophilus (1807-1860) and Nancy (1807-1869) Heath. The Heaths were one of the first families in Haw Ridge, which quickly became a leading lumber town. Elizabeth's father, Theophilus, owned many businesses which included a general store, lumber mill and blacksmith. In 1860 her mother Nancy is widowed and is listed as being very well off. Her estate is valued at $40,000, which equates to roughly $1.2 million in 2011. Anna Parilee was one quarter Native American. She told this to her children and grandchildren. It is also apparent in her, her children and her mother's features. Based on the tribes in the area at this time period she was most likely descended from the Cherokee. The Cherokee inhabited the Georgia and Alabama area where her mother Elizabeth was born and raised. I am able to determine that three of Anna Parilee’s grandparents are of European descent. The fourth grandparent, Nancy Johnson Heath (her mother's mother), is most likely Cherokee. I am unable to trace her ancestry. Nancy was also a popular name among Cherokees around the time of Nancy Johnson’s birth (1807) due to the fame of Cherokee leader named Nancy Ward (1738-1822). Many, many white men married Cherokee women in this area at this time. The Cherokees were a matrilineal society so marrying a Cherokee woman helped a white man more easily acquire land. Anna Parilee's father, Richard Caswell Johnston, was also from Haw Ridge. His parents, Whitmill (1779-1858) and Elizabeth Messner (1790-1863), were also some of the first settlers of the region. Richard's brother, Whitmill Jr., was married to Elizabeth's sister, Eliza Jane. That is probably how Richard and Elizabeth met. Richard and Elizabeth were married June 22, 1857, by Robert Dowling, Justice of the Peace.

5: Richard Caswell Johnston Pearl's father 1822-1903 | Elizabeth Ann Heath Johnston Pearl's mother 1841-1919

6: Richard and Elizabeth stayed in Haw Ridge after their marriage and had two daughters - Willie (1860) and Jessie (1862) - before the War began. Richard joined Alabama's calvary, Captain Love's company, subsequently Company A, 4th Battalion. He was discharged after losing the lower half of his left leg during a battle. After the War, Richard and Elizabeth had their first two sons - William (1866) and Walter (1869). Around this time they left Haw Ridge for Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Elizabeth's brothers John and Noel Heath owned land. They were soon joined by Elizabeth's younger brother, Levi. Elizabeth's father had died of blood disease in 1860. Her oldest brothers seem to have taken on running the family's businesses, though we can assume they suffered hardships after the War ended. By 1880 Richard and Elizabeth had settled south of Philadelphia in Forest. Their family has expanded to include another son and four more daughters - Laura (1872), Noel (1874), Mary (1877), and Anna Parliee (1878). Lastly, Lillian Vella was born in 1881. Forest was a boom town during the 1870 & 80's due to the railroad to Jackson. The dense woodlands in the area provided lumber to the growing city. Forest is only 50 miles due east of Jackson. Anna Parilee wrote many poems in her later years that described her happy childhood in Forest. She makes many references to the pine forests and their "little old house on the little old hill" in her writings. Forest is now in the Beinville National Forest.

7: The Johnston Family - 1898 Pearl is standing right of the column. To the right of her is a niece, her mother Elizabeth, her father Richard (he lost a leg in the Civil War), her sister Mary, and another niece. It is also possible that the two young girls on each side of Richard are Pearl's stepdaughters - Maybelle and Bertha. Her youngest sister, Vella, is seated on the steps. Her brother William is seated on the left with his wife and daughters. This is the oldest photograph I have. It was taken shortly after Pearl wed Jim Seay (1897) and right before they had their first child, Gladys Pearl (1899).

8: Walter Johnston Pearl's elder brother 1869-? | Mary Johnston Pearl's elder sister 1877-? | William Johnston Pearl's elder brother 1866-1952 | Noel Johnston Pearl's elder brother 1874-1957 | Vella Johnston Pearl's younger sister 1881-1982 | Richard and Elizabeth had eleven children total. Five are shown here. Vella's granddaughter, Teenie, and Noel's granddaughter, Peggy, have been very helpful with my research and have provided many photographs of the Johnstons.

9: Pearl's mother, Elizabeth, with two of Vella's children in 1910. Vella was Pearl's youngest sister and they were very close. Many of these photographs came from Vella's granddaughter. | Pearl's mother, Elizabeth | Pearl's sister, Vella Johnston Simpson, with her daughter, Gaynelle.

10: James and Anna Parilee were married on September 22, 1897 in Pea Ridge, Mississippi and settled in Jackson. James and Anna Parilee had five children together: Gladys Pearl (1899), Evelyn (1900), James Aubrey (1901), Emery (1903), and Mary (1907). According to their daughters, Gladys and Evelyn, they grew up in a wealthy family. James owned a meat packing plant and stockyard in Jackson. Their home was described as a large, colonial mansion with two-story white pillars on the full length front porch. Their land contained peach orchards. According to the 1900 census, James owned his farm outright (no mortgage). James was apparently doing quite well for himself at the turn of the century – especially for the time and place. The South was still struggling to recover forty years after the Civil War. James and Anna Parilee had servants – Gladys told that she was raised by a “mammy”. One of these servants could not pronounce Anna Parilee’s name properly and called her Miss Pearline. Pearline was shortened to Pearl. The name stuck, and Anna Parilee went by Anna Pearl, or simply Pearl, for the rest of her life. In 1907, Pearl contracted measles while pregnant with her daughter Mary. Apparently she was near death for some time. Pearl wrote a poem relating this experience named “Goodnight, Mother Dear”, which I’ve inserted on the next page. When the baby was born, she was deaf as a result of Pearl’s measles. Since Mary was deaf, she never learned to speak, and as such was treated as an invalid. James and Pearl had no way to communicate with Mary, and as their daughter Evelyn related “she was like a little animal”. James was described as cold and mean by all his children. Evelyn described how once, in an effort to punish Mary, their father pinned her to floor and poured castor oil down her throat.

11: The Seay's house in Jackson - 1905. | The Seays fortunes turned when, sometime around 1910, their home burned to the ground. There were no fire departments in rural areas, so a fire would spread and burn everything it could. Gladys would tell of the sounds and smells of the animals being burned alive in the barns. The family was left destitute. James began selling off his land in order to survive. His daughter Gladys told how one of these buyers was so taken with her that he named a street “Gladys” in the new development. Pearl was forced to work as a maid for a neighboring family, the Prises, by 1910. The children were left on their own most of time. Their eldest daughter, Gladys, left in July of 1913 (a month before her fourteenth birthday) and married a twenty-one year old telephone wire installer named John Micijah (Mack) Denson. Their youngest son Emery would tell how from the time he was nine years old (1912), he was left on his own and roaming the streets, being taken in and cared for by the town’s local prostitutes.

12: Goodnight, Mother Dear He was a very sensitive little child And always he would cry If Mother left him for a little while Without kissing him goodbye Mother was ill and he’d been told That Mother Dear might die If he were bad and she had to scold, And so he must not cry So after he had knelt to pray Beside her bed that night On arising to go away He turned to say goodnight He puckered up his mouth so tight As if about to cry “Mother, if you die tonight, Good—Good---Goodbye” | This poem was found in Pearl’s collection by her great-granddaughter, Patricia Oliver Chrisman. Patricia copied Pearl’s poetry into a collection of works in 1995.

13: After their home burned down in 1910, James lost his businesses as well. Pearl was forced to work as a maid, while the children were left to fend for themselves. Times must have been quite difficult. The eldest child, Gladys Pearl, left and married Mack Denson in July 1913 when she wasn’t quite yet fourteen. The next I find Gladys she is living with Mack and their three children in New Orleans in 1920. Their children were: James William, who went by Jim Billy (1915), John Mack, known as Little Mack (1917) and Eula Pritchard (1918).

14: Shortly after Gladys married, Pearl and James divorced. By now, their youngest daughter Mary had been institutionalized. Mary would die of phenomena when she was twenty, in 1927. I cannot imagine what Institutions were like in Mississippi in the twenties. She was not even mentally disabled; she was only deaf and was never taught to communicate. Below are the graves of James and Mary.

16: Pearl - age 40 | Pearl - age 36 | Pearl with youngest child, Wilbur Wray Wilbur was 25 years younger than Pearl's first child, Gladys. He was born when Pearl was 46

17: James Aubrey Seay 1904-1967 | Emery Anderson Seay 1904-1987 | Maybelle Seay McWilliams 1889-1979 (paternal half-sister) | Evelyn Seay Bridger 1900-1993

18: Gladys with Jim Billy, Little Mack & Eula - 1919 | Gladys - 1918 | Evelyn & Gladys - 1905 | Gladys & Jim Billy - 1916

19: Pearl with her two sons from her second marriage - Wilbur (1924-1972) is on the left and Harmon (1919-1985) is on the right. | Evelyn with her younger half-brother Harmon. | Pearl, in front of her home in Humboldt, TN, where she and her second husband, Harmon Wroay, raised their two sons.

20: Pearl and Evelyn Of the children from her first marriage, Pearl was closest to Evelyn. She did not speak to Gladys and Emery for years at a time. She was close to Aubrey, but he settled in Oxford and would only visit a few times a year. Pearl and Jim Seay's youngest child was Mary. Pearl had the measles when pregnant with Mary and as a result the baby was born deaf. They could not communicate with Mary and she was very hard to raise. Pearl had Mary instutionalized when she divorced Jim. Mary died a few years later, when she was about 25, of phenomia. | Emery Seay Emery didn't get along with his mother and would disappear for years at a time. When he was 15 or so his mother sent him to a reform school and he never forgave her for that. Emery never married.

21: Family Portrait - 1945 Front row: Martha Seay (Aubrey's second wife), Gladys Bridger, Wilbur Wray, Merrye Seay (Aubrey's daughter from first wife Cassie) Harmon Wray. Back row: Aubrey Seay, Gaynelle Simpson (Vella's daughter), Evelyn Bridger, Pearl Wray and her sister Vella Simpson.

22: Emery, Pearl, Gladys and Evelyn - 1946 This was taken when Gladys first came to visit her family after not seeing them for 20 years or so. Emery had also been away for many years. | Eula & Gladys The Denson children also came to their grandmother Pearls' home to visit and see their mother for the first time in many years. Irene remembers that the reunion was very bitter sweet - Eula and her brothers kept asking their mother why she left them. | Gladys & her eldest grandchild, Buddy Charles (Buddy) Carter was Eula's son. She had him when she was 17. He would have been about the same age as Bob.

30: Visting California

36: Gladys & John's Honeymoon 1957

37: Gladys with her son, John Patrick Matias, Jr. John was born April 19, 1958.

38: Gladys & Karen My mother, Karen Rose Matias, who was born May 27, 1959. Karen is the baby on the left, John is on the right.

39: Karen, John, Gladys & Linda Linda Marie Matias was born September 24, 1961. | Gladys with John & Karen

41: Gladys with her four children - John, Linda, Karen and Nanci. Nanci Ann Matias was born July 7, 1964.

42: Karen & Dewey's wedding Back: John, Gladys and John Front: Nanci, Linda, Karen, Dewey My parents were married February 12, 1978. Although they were only 18 when they married, my parents are still happily married after more than 33 years. | Gladys, Karen & Michael I was born on April 18, 1978.

43: Linda, Michael & Nanci I am very close with my aunts since they were so young when I was born. Linda is 16 years older than me and Nanci is 13 years older. | Jennifer, Gladys & Michael My sister Jennifer Marie (making the silly face) was born December 5, 1980.

44: Gladys & Lauren Grandma with my youngest sister, Lauren Rose, who was born in 1989.

45: This is the last photograph of my grandparents. I took it at my birthday party in April 1991. It was a happy time - Grandpa was in full remission after a horrible winter of battling cancer. They were both so happy and enjoying their time with each other and all of us. They were both gone nine months later.

46: Family Party 1991 This is one of our last family gatherings. It was my, my Uncle John's, and my sister Lauren's birthday party. | Christmas Morning - 1981 Grandpa, holding my sister Jennifer, Grandma, and Nanci and I sitting on the floor.

47: Karen, Nanci & Linda My mother and aunts, last Christmas. This was taken at my mother's house. Notice the Icarts on the wall.

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