This is not my story. It is the story of my 1st cousin 3x removed telling the story of her ancestors and her mother, my 3rd great-aunt, Sarah Emeline “Emily” Terry Burgess (1862-1931). The letter was sent to my 2nd great uncle, Floyd Claiborn Terry and passed down the line to his brother, Ben Lee Roberts, my great grandfather, then to his son Virgil, to my mother, to my sister and shared with me. Or something like that. It is hard to know exactly how it came into my mother’s belongings, but here it is.
When I first read about someone running off with Aaron Burr (presumably the one that became president), Andrew Jackson & a silver pitcher, moonshiners, lightning strikes, and the sort - it did give me pause. So I spent some time fact checking old newspapers on Newspapers.com and, not so surprisingly, it all checks out. Though I'm still searching for Samuel Denton's first wife's name and her connection to Aaron Burr, the notorious womanizer and 3rd Vice President of the United States.
Sparta, Route 2
Mr. and Mrs. F.C. Terry
I have tried to get to this ever since we all met at the Cookville Fairground. I’m sure you have heard from the others that were there and probably have this same information. I know you will find many errors and misspelled words, just look over them please.
My sisters and I and my brothers family enjoyed that get together very much.
My father was Alonzo Burgess, my mother was Sarah Emily Terry. Mother's father was Elijah Washington Terry, the son of Curtis Terry and Elizabeth Kuykendoll. My ancestors were scotch Irish and Democrats. My grandfather Terry was a Lieutenant under General G.G. Dibrell. He received an Honorable Discharge, May 9, 1865, in Washington, GA. He rode the same yellow horse all through the Civil War and never received a scratch.
When I was a girl grandfather Terry always had some yellow horses, and I wondered why, but after I found out that the yellow horse carried him safely through the Civil War, I kinda had a good feeling for the yellow horses. I hardly ever see one now.
I reckon grandfather's slaves all stayed with them as long as they lived. One old mother slave gave birth to twin boys, their names were Burr and Scott. I remember them, they left home after they were grown but one of them came back after grandpa got sick and waited on him until he passed away in June 1900. I don't remember the date of the month.
Grandfather was a peacemaker after the war. The moonshiners of little Putnam and surrounding communities corralled and ran Capt. Jim Davis and his squad of revenue men into a log house, where they were rescued from being hanged. The rescuers were my grandfather Elijah Terry, Capt. Calvin Terry and William B. Chapin.
My grandfather Terry’s last wife, my mother's mother, was Angeline Abigail Camble Denton. She first married Robert Burton. To this union was born twin sons, Will and Dent, they were called. It was said, they were so small you could cover their faces with a tablespoon, all but their ears. They both loved although Will died at the age of eight years. To grandfather and grandmother Terry was born my mother which I believe was the oldest child, I won't be sure, but Emm, Add, Lucy, Ce and Young Terry, there was a baby that died in infancy, I believe mother said it was the last baby. Uncle Young is the only one of that set of children living and as you know, Uncle Will is the only one living of the first Terry children.
In my grandmother’s possession during the Civil War, was a large silver pitcher, left to her by her father, Samuel Denton, with his initials and an engraved inscription "To the Glory of Andrew Jackson". He admired Andrew Jackson because of the Tariff which made him quite wealthy by the sale of cotton. Samuel Denton's cotton bales were used for breast works in some battle.
My grandmother’s mother was Lucinda Fisk. She was grandfather Denton's second wife He was a very wealthy merchant from New York. Every year he went to Ireland to buy linen for his store. He could get real Irish linen. My mother and her Sisters Lucy Mitchell and Celina Dever had some quilt made from those linen sheets. I and my sister Daisy, each of us have a quilt of that linen. There were four of them, mother had two, so Daisy and I have the ones mother had. They are white and seamless. Grandmother Terry quilted on of those quilts herself. One of her slaves lost a needle she used so she sent out and got a thorn and whittled her a needle out and after she stitched it, she used this thorn needle to stuff each little bit of cotton in. This was called stuffed quilting. Aunt Lucy Mitchell’s children have this quilt. It was a beautiful quilt the last time I saw it.
Samuel Denton's first wife was very beautiful. Aaron Burr was also very handsome. She fell in love with Aaron Burr and ran off with him. Samuel Denton divorced her and came south to forget her and married Lucinda Fisk.
I have gathered this information from my mother and father, Uncle Dick end Aunt Lucy Mitchell and Aunt Julia Cook, your own aunt. She was one of the beet women I ever knew. I was with her in her last days and was there a few days and helped to
wait on her to the last and stayed a week with Katie after she passed away.
I guess you won It be very much interested in some of this but it is some things I had copied down about my grandparents so I just put it in. Of course I don’t know very much about the Andersons but I do know I have some mighty good Uncles and Aunts whose mother was Anderson.
My mother, Emily Terry Burgess, was struck by lightning. Probably you have heard, so I am copying some of her own handwriting about the lightning stroke.
"The sixth day of April in the year of 1893, at eight 0 'clock in the morning, a dark cloud arose. The children had gone to school, a quarter of a mile from home. I was alone except for my two year old baby, my fifth chid, Lola Scott.
I left her in the dining room, standing by a chair eating bread and milk. I ran upstairs to close the doors and windows. I closed the doors and windows in all the rooms. I was standing at the window in the hall over the back porch. The top sash had dropped down a little. I was trying to prop it up, when a stroke of lightning ran down my left side, burst my eye ball, cut off my great toe on my left foot and deafened my left ear. It took the flooring from under my feet, knocked around against the wall at the head of the stairs. My right side was burning. My left side was deadened. no feeling in it for an hour or more.
I heard my baby crying, I reached out my right hand and saying,’Lord have mercy, let me get to my baby’, I pulled up by the bannister and saw my baby half way up the stairs. I guess I fainted and fell down the stairs head foremost, knocked my baby down, I must have turned summer sets several times.
The next I knew my head was on the porch, I was lying on my back. I realized where I was. The cap off of my head (she had on an old wool cap) and the shoes from my feet were found under the floor.
We had grain in the upstairs. I was standing by some rye. Almost a quart of rye was shot into my flesh. The doctor there was pint picked out of my flesh.
In those days there were no telephones, we had to ride on horseback for Dr. Lansden who lived about four miles away. Dr. Snodgrass who lived at Sparta which was nine miles, Lansdon didn’t know what to do. Snodgrass was puzzled.
Your grandpa Simp Burgess came with a quart of brandy an was giving me the brandy, they said a pint. It did not have any taste to me. It was just like warm stagnated water, I was poisoned so from the lightning, it too no affect as they could tell.
I begged for linseed oil, the Dr. was afraid to use it. I begged so hard, Dr. Snodgrass said there was no chance anyways, give her her requests. They purchased an oil cloth an put me on it on a mattress. They used seven gallons of oil and dressed me every three hours for three days, pulling the skin off with every cloth and burning it. That was killing me ever time I was dressed, I grew weaker. I told them I could not stand it. They decided to dress me every other day. When the cloths would get dry, they would pour the oil on, then I began to get better. I laid on my back for sixty expecting my death at any moment. The flesh dropped off me over half my body, as thick as a man’s hands, the veins with it, the muscles and leaders were exposed. I was burned to the strain across the bowels and breast, my hair, eye lashes an eye brows were singed, my right eye burnt and bruised until I couldn’t tell day from night. They kept clothes wet four double on my eyes.
I was thirty one years old when this occurred. My suffering was inexpressible and strange to say, I have raised eight children since then, two sets of twins, thirteen in number.
I am yet alive, very much alive, I can jump a six rail fence by putting one foot over and then the other.
The house was set on fire. The people were so excited, they didn’t know it, I smelled fire and told them not to let the house burn down over me. They got to looking, found fire in the corner of the dining room and a heavy cotton comfort upstairs almost burned except about a yard square, they threw it out the window, the rain put it out.
The house was wrecked so badly, we could not live in it, my furniture was ruined, every bedstead bursted, only one standing and it was damaged. My dishes, crocks and churns were all broken.
Dr. Snodgrass said the bolt just missed my head, went through floors into the foundation rock and burst it.
Lou Morris Alice and Norah Wilhite went to the spring to get water, others went to meet them, they fell to their knees and kept falling so weak they could not stand. Stout hearted people fainted at the sight of me for weeks after it happened.
Those girls were some of the neighbors that went to the spring.”
How I happened to have this copy, my oldest boy was at school one day when he was, I guess, about in the fourth grade, and a cloud arose with a bit of thunder and lightening. His teacher knew about mother and asked Joe to tell the pupils something about it. He, of course knew mother had been lightning struck and her eye was gone and she was deaf in her left ear and had heard us tell about it, so he wanted me to call mother and get her to write something about it, so she wrote him. The letter is dated Feb 14, 1921.
I know this seems almost impossible but it is true. I was 11 years old and can remember it well. She knew everything and everybody by their voice, except when was under the influence of medicine they gave to ease her. Then morphine was about all the dope the doctors knew about.
Well, I guess I had better bring this to a close, hope you can read it and maybe you can get something from it of interest to you.
This leaves all well as far as I know. Willie received your card a few days I may have to send this parcel post. Ha.
With lots of love to all. Mertie Burgess Miller.
Would be glad to hear from you sometime.
It was soooo much fun to search all the clues in this remarkable letter. There were plenty of clues on Google, Find My Past, Ancestry and Newspapers.com. I'd post them all but it's just after midnight so I'll just save them for another time.
But on a quick note, it seems that before Elijah Washington Terry was a peacemaker, he might have been a distiller himself. On Aug 26, 1878, Elijah and other leading citizens of Putnam County signed a letter that they would abandon their "illicit distilling" in an effort to save the county "much trouble, if not bloodshed." The letter was written after the "recent collision between some unknown persons and a party of your [Collector Woodcock's] men under the lead of J.M. Davis, which occurred near the Overton county line on the 23rd day of this month.'
Not only did my third great aunt, Sarah Emeline Terry Burgess survive being struck by lighting, she lived to be 69 and raised 10 children, and I suspect dozens of grandchildren. How I would love to see a photo of her or her family. What an incredible woman!
Now if I can only find out who Samuel Denton's first wife was that ran off with Aaron Burr and if it was the notorious President Aaron Burr or another one....
There is always so much to learn!
Until next time, Happy Genealogy Hunting!
- Newspapers.com - My favorite source to research old newspapers. It also lets you clip articles and link them to Ancestry.com. Totally worth setting up an account.
- Denton Genealogy - This links to a post about the tea set Jackson presented to Samuel Denton. I wonder what ever happened to it?
- Lonely Planet - Every time I read a letter from an ancestor, I want to go visit the city they talk about. I've been using Lonely Planet and their fantastic travel books for well over a decade. Still my go to source.
- FindMyPast - So. Much. Information.
- Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture by the Tennessee Historical Society, Nashville, TN
- Samuel Denton - on the website Josephines Journals. She has a photo of a rock house once owned & operated by Samuel Denton as well as a picture of one of the cups & saucers that Andrew Jackson presented to Samuel Denton for aiding at he battle of New Orleans.