The following letter by one of Wayne county's most prominent sons performs the service of refreshing our minds to a new appreciation of the strong and sturdy stock of our forefathers who blazed the trails for the present generation. The Vinson family has been a vital factor in the progress of Wayne County since its beginning. Colonel Z. T. Vinson himself is known throughout the country as a man of exceptional ability and influence. He has not only achieved distinction in his profession as an attorney of first magnitude but has been highly successful in numerous big business enterprises. He is one of the foremost Bible scholars and teachers of the whole country and only the last year supplemented his unusual knowledge of the Scripture by extensive travel through Europe and the Holy Lands. There are indeed many stars in Wayne county's galaxy of men who have become famous for their great works, but certainly none of them shine brighter than the eminent son of our soil who writes the following letter of reminiscence. Editor's Note.
COl. Z. T. VINSON
Huntington, W. Va.
Dear Mr. Editor:
I am glad you have asked me to write you a letter of reminiscences about some of the people whom I knew in the long ago of my boyhood and youth. When one reaches my age, it becomes a pleasant pastime to frequently open the flood gates of memory and let the throngs of those we knew and revered pass in a delightful pageantry before our eyes. How their dear faces beam upon us, and their smiles beckon us back to the days of yore, where we may live over again, even though for an hour, the times we once enjoyed with that host of friends that have passed to the great beyond. How much influence their example and character have had upon my life, I will never know, but their wisdom guides me yet, and the lessons that they taught me will always be a perennial blessing.
The first truly great man I ever knew was John Jarrell, who lived and died on Mill Creek. Every one, young and old alike, called him "Uncle," out of a sense of profound respect and reverence. He was a Baptist preacher and a real saint and a worshiper of God. He believed, taught and lived in righteousness. A patriot in the best sense of the word. He not only governed his own family, which was a large one, but out of his sheer goodness and blameless life he ruled over all the people within reach of him. They went to him as a matter of course when troubles came for help and counsel. If two men had any controversy, they did not resort to court, but they took it to Uncle John Jarrell for settlement, knowing his honesty and believing implicity in his wisdom. His judgment was accepted as final, and no apeal was ever taken from it. He was a farmer, but everything he raised beyond his own family consumption was given to the hungry and the needy. He was also a shoemaker, and spent much of his time in making shoes for those who were unable to buy them. I have seen barefoot children waiting two or three days at his house until he could finish their shoes. He built his own log church close to his house, where he preached once a month, and the other three Sundays found him preaching at other places. He worked hard every day in the week, and always preached without accepting any money for it. He studied no book but the Bible, but he knew that book practically by heart. If anyone he knew was not living right, he went to him and tried to have him correct his ways. Every one loved him for his kindness and help. They stood in awe of him, believing that he was really inspired of God. Whatever was right and just, he stood for it, and he condemned whatever was wrong or vicious. The influence for good that he had upon the people with whom he came in contact cannot well be imagined; for that influence will keep on widening from one generation to another, until it reaches the very throne of God.
Of the kind of men, living the same sort of life, were four other great men whom I knew and loved, and these, too, were preachers like John Jarrell, doing all in their power to help and benefit their neighbors, and these were William T. Ball, John T. Johnson, Jacob Marcum and Uncle Jimmie Queen. There were two other great preachers that lived at the same time, exercising a lasting influence for the good of the people. These were Burrell Spurlock and Patrick Napier, whom I did not know personally. All these men were great heroic characters, for they were pioneers in righteousness. They felled the forests with their own hands, cleared out their own farms and built their own homes. They used the talents God had given them; their whole life's work was done that they might receive their reward hereafter and be met with the final words: "Well done, thou good and faithful servants." Wayne county should raise an imperishable monument to each of these.
Mr. Editor, let's turn back the hands of the clock for a space of fifty years, almost the exact date of my first visit to Wayne court house, and revisit with the people whom I saw there at that time. It was during Circuit court, in June 1874. A session of the circuit court was a great event in those days, for every man of consequence in the county was there. Not that they had court business to look after, but they came to meet each other, socially, and transact their business together, buy and well land and horses and oxen and pay their debts and their taxes. Every one had his riding horse, for there were neither buggies nor wagons then. Most of the men wore long whiskers and homespun clothes, the wool for which was carded, spun and woven into cloth, and then cut out and made into garments by their wives and daughters. Most of this was done by these good women around the firelight at night after the day's work was finished. The sewing was by hand, as no sewing machine had appeared at that time.
But who are the men we see here? They are John Bromley, Stephen Marcum, William H. Frazier and Jas. Stone from Cassville; and along up Mill Creek are the Wellmans, Fraziers, Wilsons, Jarrells, Hamptons, Pyatts, and Thompsons. From along Tug River have come the Artrips, Vinsons, Yorks, Ratcliffs, Copleys, Parsleys, Spauldings, and Marcums. From the right fork of Twelve Pole are the Kirks, Damrons, Prestons, Fergusons, Watts, Osburnes, and Christians. From the left fork and Kiah's Creek came the Maynards and Queens, Napiers and Frys. From Beech Fork there were the Bowens, Smiths and Adkins. From down 12 Pole were the Spurlocks and Garretts, Blosses, Newmans, Plymales and McKeands. From Ceredo the Handleys, Hoards, Kelleys and Wrights. From up the Sandy were the Hattens, Cyruses, Chapmans, Smiths, Strothers, and Loars.
The lawyers present at that term of court were Judge Milton Ferguson of Louisa, Col. L. T. Moore and K. F. Prichard of Catlettsburg; Eustace Gibson and Ira McGinnis from the Cabell bar; and of local lawyers were Gobe Burgess, George Ratcliff, Joseph Kirk, Col. Witcher, and Mike Tiernan had just come. George Hutchinson was clerk and kept hotel. Evermont Ward was the judge, and, I believe, Lamech Adkins was the sheriff.
Among the more prominent men that one saw on the streets of Wayne at that time were William Ratcliff and Samuel Damron from Lincoln district, judges of the old county court; M. Lamech Adkins, one of the great strong men of the county; B. Hoard of Ceredo; W. W. Brumfield from Buffalo; Lindsey Smith from Round Bottom, who owned the finest farm in the county; William Shannon of Gragston; Charles W. Ferguson, living a mile above Wayne; big Sam Ferguson from the right fork; Lewis Queen from Kiah's Creek; and Johnson Fry from Stonecoal. Of course there were a great many other prominent and excellent men besides these, but I cannot undertake to mention them all in a letter like this.
I want to take this opportunity of saying about Uncle Charley Ferguson, whom I knew well and intimately up to the time of his death, that in my judgment no more lovable or gentle spirit has ever walked upon the soil of Wayne County. What John Jarrell and the great preachers whom I mentioned, as well as those I have not mentioned, were doing in the way of planting the seeds of religion and righteousness among the people, Charley Ferguson was doing precisely the same thing from the standpoint of the layman. He was not a preacher, yet his life was one of the greatest sermons of history, to settle dispute among his neighbors, keep their accounts, look after their personal welfare, feed and clothe the needy. He stood for everything that goes to make a brighter, better civilization among men. I do not mean to say that he was the only man in the county of this type, but he stood out as being preeminent among a great many others who were endeavoring in every way to imitate and follow in the footsteps of Uncle Charley Ferguson.
If I had to describe in a sentence or two the prevailing and dominant characteristics of the men whom I saw at that term of court in 1874, I would say that the dominant trait that was manifest in them was strength of character and fidelity to any cause which they espoused; that the next most prominent impression one got was the good fellowship and kindly hospitality that make each feel very welcome at the home or fireside of every other one.
Out of the spirit of devotion and loyalty to cause grew many a heated and spirited political contest that swept over the county from one end to the other, wherein the neighbors divided upon their support of one candidate or another, and looking at these contests from this time and point of view, about the best word to describe them is to say that they were not only hot, but, generally speaking, "red hot." I can recall the race between Fisher Bowen and P. H. Napier for sheriff, and there are many yet living in Wayne who participated in that race; also a year or two later, the race of George Hutchinson and P. H. Napier for clerk of the court; and of course I could instance many others. At this time there was no party organization in the county. So far as county offices were concerned, all the voters--democrats and republicans alike--voted for the man they liked, whether he was of the same political party in national affairs as themselves or not.
I cannot close this letter without calling to your attention the log rollings and corn huskings that prevailed throughout the whole of the county. When one cleared up a lot of land, the grubbing and the chopping of the timber and the limbs were piled up in a heap, called a "brush heap", and burned, and in order to make the land tenable and prepare it for corn planting, it became necessary to burn also the trees that had been chopped up that grew on the land. Some of these were as much as two feet in diameter and were so heavy that neither one man nor his immediate family were able to roll these logs together, so that they might be burned and the land completely cleared. Whenever the land was ready for the log rolling, the neighbors were notified, and they all gathered in the morning with thir hand spikes, generally made out of tough sassafras wood and seasoned before the fire. Here in these log rollings were exhibited great feats of strength and skill in handling these heavy logs and carrying them to the nearest fire, where they could be burned. This was a great event for the young men in the neighborhood, because a log rolling always meant that the girls too were invited in at the house for a quilting or wool picking or something of that sort, and then when the day's work was finished--and the work they did was truly herculean--the party came on, and it was a rare thing that the party ever closed before daylight the following morning. Of couuse everybody hd a good time, everybody enjoyed it, and the help that they gave to their neighbor was voluntary and as a matter of course.
The same thing was true of the corn shucking. After the corn had been gathered in and put under the shed of the barn or crib, then a corn husking was had, and this was mainly confined to the young men and the young women of the neighborhood, as it offered and afforded a good excuse for having a party and bringing the young people together. One of the rules that prevailed at the corn husking was that whenever one of the young men shucked a red ear of corn that entitled him, as a matter of course, to kiss the prettiest girl in the room.
In this way people got their barns and cribs and houses erected, and most of the older houses in the county today, especially the log houses, were all erected by the neighbors coming in to what was known as a "house raising."
I would like to go on indefinitely and take up the individual men and women whom I knew and spent a great deal of time in their society, but of course that can not be done.
The question that has often presented itself to my mind is whether or not these strong men, mentally and physically, of fifty years ago have impressed their strength upon their descendants and the people around them. Knowing these men as I did, I cannot imagine any greater blessing that could come into a county than if the descendants of these people would so live as to keep up and continue the great strength of character that was so evident in their ancestors who lived half a century ago. Let me hope, Mr. Editor. . .(copy cuts off)
Wayne county is proud of its great and good men who chopped down trees and built cabins and thus paved the way for our civilization. We are thankful for Colonel Vinson's letter in this issue which revives our minds to a new appreciation of the obligation we owe to these sturdy ancestors of ours. No county in West Virginia, or in any other state for that matter, is more distinctive than ours. Wayne county is not patterned after any other county of the universe. To be a Wayne countian is to be just a bit different from the rest of the world. No commonwealth under the sun has produced hearts any truer to their ideas than those found in the breasts of our forefathers. And the great are not all dead. Today we have great men and women among us. It may take the prospective that comes from separation by years to make us fully appreciate the good and great men and women that are now our neighbors. We have behind us noble forefathers. The blood of brave and honorable men is in our veins. We have been handed a priceless heritage in the form of a great ancestry. Let us not falter but take up the torch of progress which has been handed to us and go forward. Thus we will be true to our trust. Thus we will be a worthy posterity to the lion-hearted, God-fearing men who founded our dear county and first lighted the torch that is now ours to carry. . . .
Transcription by June White
Wayne County News