Folklore and homespun humor

 

 

 

1992 above
2009 below

 

 

 

                                            A Brief History Myself and Of The Community©

 

 

     These are my two brothers Tommy, Cooley, (whose real name is John) and I. The top foto we took this picture in 1992, the bottom 2009 of course you can see how much they have aged, but I love 'em to death. Can you believe we are 9 years apart in age? What was momma thinking or was she? We are just three country boys that hail from the southern US of A. Since the place doesn't have a real name, I will say it's situated in southwest Washington County, Florida. We’re real close to a town named Vernon. A few years back a movie company came in and did a documentary called Vernon Florida USA. It seems a lot of farmers were cutting various limbs off to collect permanent disability, and they wanted to inquire. Washington county was the 50th smallest counties in the state of Florida it ain't 68. That distinction belongs to nearby Gadsden. Course don't either one of us live there no more. I reckon I've been gone, pert near 48 years and they weren't too far behind. We go back to visit sometimes since it's where momma nem' and the rest is buried. Some of my best friends still live there. I like the place now, because it's the onliest (sic) place I can go, and don't have to worry about good grammar. And the doorbell is merely saying, “coming in”. If you don't want to wear no shoes, you ain't got to. Barefooted is acceptable, long as you just visiting and don't have big smelly feet. Ever body is cousins or closer, and you can just call 'em, Cou'n. Now they ain't no field hands neither, all of them still own land and most of them are college educated and their younguns too, few very successful attorneys (They are the Brown brothers, who have a successful practice in the capital city and a few doctors. The community of Redhead itself is barely a blip on the map and probably for zoning purposes at that. It still boasts several settlements (which is what my grandma Lil' ma called them; in the cities they would be known as neighborhoods). The names are Mill Creek, In the Corner, Sugardoll Potter's, Redhead, The Joe Smith communities, The Spring Run, and Happy Hill. Most of our mailing addresses were originally through Millers Ferry, RFD, then through Vernon and the rest Ebro. My family lived in the Redhead community. Not much is known how it acquired its name. I know there were several communities with head in their name i.e., Greenhead, Mossy Head. Among all of it's meaning, the term head can mean the start of a branch or stream. It probably came from the red clay hill that surrounded the spring. I can remember at one time there was painted, RED HEAD ZONE 22, in the middle of State Highway 79 at the state forestry tower. The community, as a whole, abuts three equally as small communities, Ebro to the south, Greenhead to the east, and New Hope to the north. Earlier in the 20th century, Washington County boasted a rail spur that reached to that part. It provided work for manual laborers and semi-skilled ones alike. There were jobs, which included making lumber, turpentine, cutting crossties and logging. The train hauled the raw materials away to the cities for construction and making all sorts of wood products including paper. A steamboat from Pensacola, Florida made regular stops nearby ferrying passengers in and out of the area to destinations as far away as Mobile, Alabama. Nearby Vernon situated on Holmes Creek, was once known as having the best gopher (sand hill turtle) meat in America. Gopher meat was a delicacy that was in high demand at that time. Other boundaries of this once beautiful place were the Choctawhatchee River on the west and in the middle sit a big blue pond, aptly named; The Big Blue Pond. There were other ponds as well; The Baby Blue Pond, The Little Pond, The Russ Pond, The Double Ponds, Redeye Pond, and The Hicks Pond. To these former slaves, their sons and daughters this was the Promised Land, in more ways than one. They were free, and no longer under the thumb of plantation owners and their ruthless overseers. For the first time in their lives, they were able to call a piece of ground their own. They built hovels, lean-tos, huts, log cabins, and shacks to live in while they tended the land. The federal land grants of 1880 offered land that was homesteaded by folk with names such as, Ben Douglas, Joe Peterson, Frank Brown, George Brown, Rensor Brown, Wesley Potter, Morris Peterson (my paternal grandpa), and Fred Bush. Parcels of Black homesteaded land in the area dotted the landscape east from the Choctawhatchee River to Greenhead, then north from Ebro to Holmes Valley. Initially the place was as close to being a paradise found as any for the African Americans. As momma used to say, "they was stepping in tall cotton, yes suh mister gennemen." A number of them discovered the place during their stint in the Union Army. Their initial concern was feeding their families, after all, few if any had money, yet they knew they could use their limited skills to farm, hunt and fish. Other than being concerned about the Klan, life was difficult but not impossible. They were virtually in a relative state of oblivion, and were far removed from what was happening in the world outside of the community. The general area provided much of what they needed to survive. There were cedar, bay, pine, sweet gum and oak trees to build homes. It boasted plenty in the way of fresh fruits, nuts, and game. There is this headwater stream called Spring Run (often referred to today as Potter's Spring), which feeds into the Choctawhatchee creek that merged with Holmes creek that fed into the river by the same name. It was a place for the baptism of everyone in the community, regardless to religion. It was a great place to catch fish. Several species were there and it was a joy to see them swim around, swim up and take the bait on the hook. They had names such as; stump knockers (bluegills), warmouths, brims, crappies, (though called sandtrouts then) shell crackers, blackfish, eels, suckers, trout, jacks, pollywogs and catfish. Most could be caught with either wigglers or earthworms, (night crawlers). Some of the favorite spots were known as the big and little cutoffs. Those two places appeared to be rapids, where the Holmes Creek (black water) merged in the Choctawhatchee Creek (yellow water). In black water, there were Five, Shell Landing, Jackson landing and Potters Landing; they were great fishing spots as well. Those who were fortunate to own boats would launch them from any number of places like Spring Run Landing, Potter's Landing, Cedar Tree Landing or Shell Landing. To get from one side of the creek to the other, they would either travel by boat, or take the ferry at Shell Landing. There was an abundance of wild life. It included deer, squirrels, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, gophers, possums, raccoons, and wild boars that roamed rampant. A variety of nut trees were there, such as black walnuts, hickory nuts, and chinquapins. Blackberries, gooseberries, mulberries, sparkleberries and briar berries were in abundance in spring. During summers, there were bullets (blue hull grapes), persimmons, and wild plums, to go along with other fruit they brought in, such as, oranges, grapefruits, pears, peaches, plums and figs. Nearly everyone grew their own vegetables, corn, greens, and several varieties of peas, butterbeans, sweet potatoes, peanuts and okra. For as far as the eye could see, there was a mixture of long needle, jack and spruce pines. There were oaks, evergreens and hollies as well. A number of family heads that applied were awarded acreage within the one-hundred-sixty-acre blocks. Those who homesteaded and farmed the land were deeded the property. A few of its residents came from as far away as North Carolina, which included my great, great Grandpa Joseph Peterson. The photo at the top is my granny twice removed born about 1812. That tintype was about 1878. The young woman is my great granny Rosa. She was born in slavery but became a schoolteacher.

While most in the area are believed to have either been former slaves directly off the plantations or ones who escaped and lived among the Seminoles, a few actually fought on the side of the Union during the battle of Marianna. The Seminole, however was known for befriending runaway slaves during that era, (although we can't give the a get out of jail free card because a number of them owned slaves as well).

A prime example was to the east, just outside the gates of St Augustine, Florida, there was a Black township called Fort Moise (Mose). During slavery era, if runaway slaves could make it there, they were free. The fort was erected to defend Spanish settlers who resided the city of St. Augustine itself from the British. Since the Spanish had abolished slavery decades earlier, they were safe that is until Florida was sold to the British, and then many emigrated to Cuba and the Caribbean. Thus after the war this region became a natural choice to get away from slave bounty hunters and ruthless overseers after the Union occupation ended. It isn't known if originally it was called Ebro, Econfina, Millers Ferry or simply South Washington County. What is known, after the Civil War, of the new settlers in the immediate area many were African Americans. They lived a decent life compared to theirs had been, then in the late 1870s the union forces pulled out leaving them without federal protection. Then things got interesting; no let's tell it like it is, they caught hell for almost a 100 years. In 1880 many acquired land through the federal land grant and many of the heads of families acquired large parcels of land for farming and homesteading. It seemed as most of it centered on Redhead. The name in and of itself still carries bitter memories. Most of the residents had and still have a dislike for the eventual landowner. and his son Jr. The old man arrived dirt poor, and lived among them, as they provided him with sustenance and shelter, yet less that thirty years later he repaid them by hoodwinking bamboozling, or taking advantage of the unlearned ones ending up owning most of the land they'd acquired under the land grant. When I got this idea of recycling oral history, I began to realize how healing it was to talk about the good old days especially in recalling the stories and the traditions that were passed on to me by many in the community.

One of my favorite memories were May 20th. Every year the various community leaders got together and celebrated Emancipation Day. Unlike in Texas where they didn't get the news until June 19th, which they call Juneteenth. I suspect who ever was given the task to carry the news must have been young, not too gifted and Black and from one of the plantations in the deep south. Apparently, as excited as he was about being free, he wasn't too happy about returning being a free man or not. He kept putting it off and putting it off until they made him do it, perhaps he thought it was trick way of getting him back down south, it was either that or didn't have a sense of direction because somehow he kept going as far south as the Potomac river then doubled back to D C. They kept telling him, "Go south young man. One day he set out and didn't know it but he was going went west. He ran into Horace Greeley and told him what is mission was. Horace informed him he was headed in the wrong direction that south was another way. They got to arguing until Horace just gave up and told him Go west then young man. Some others overheard the argument and thought he told him to Go West. That's why I believe he's credited with coining the phrase Go west young man (sic).

I guess we could cut that young buck some slack because perhaps his transportation was probably a jackass mule. The union promised that when he'd told every one, he would get the forty acres to go along with the mule after the war. Now I don't know but I think the government felt they would never have to keep that promise, they would sell the land off to the carpetbaggers. They figured if he didn't get his clock punched by South Carolina or Alabama, certainly he would in Mississippi. Even the compass he was given had one hand pointed only pointed to South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. How else would you explain why every state has a different time of the year to celebrate since the emancipation proclamation took place in January? Some states like Alabama he stopped twice because the freed slaves started partying like it was 1899. They were boogalooing in Birmingham where he told them coming down and again in Mobile where they started boogying when he left Florida heading for Mississippi. I really don't think he stopped at all in Mississippi cause it took almost a hundred years for some folk to get the news. But they got it! I believe when he got to the state line he saw Mississippi was jumping and jumped the hell out of there. He started picking them up and putting them down and didn't stop until he was damn near to Texas. He would've stopped in Louisiana for Mardi Gras but it had been over since the start lent, and he wasn't about give up anything especially his freedom, though the city of Naw'lin was in union hands.

I believe 1958 was perhaps the last time we celebrated in that part of the world. Our tradition around there kind of dissolved into the 4th of July since it won't no paid holiday. Which it's fine to take part in the 4th of July, but what about Italians still celebrate founder's day and St Patrick's Day for Irish? I'm sorry the day we celebrated in that part of the country got lost in the shuffle, and with it's meaning gone with the wind too. Most of all I miss those fish fries, where early in the morning the men would go fishing, and the women would prepare the fixing, ya know tater salad, greens, cakes and stuff. Then around one or two o clock, they would return to a place called the Boil to clean and fry 'em. Let me tell you about the Boil, there was noting hot about it. I was where ice cold water sprung out of the ground providing headwaters for the Spring Run, it's now known as Potters spring. I could spend all day talking about that place. The water was crystal clear, you could see the fish darting all about, and it was great place to swim if you could stand the cold water. I guess what I miss most, not to mention lemonade made in a barrel, by my Uncle Doany; (actually his name was James Potter, husband of my Aunt Effie, but the closeness of the community on that day. The men folk would gather around under a huge live oak tree, lying, drinking moonshine from Cou'n Soonie Brown or Chix Campbell and talked politics, family and about the olden days while the women folk fried up the good freshwater fish and hushpuppies. (The aroma could be smelled everywhere, sometime White folk would boat up and see what was happening, we told them we were celebrating Robert E Lee's birthday. They joined right along in the celebration, heck nobody told 'em the truth in them days anyway). When it was ready there was great prayer of thanks then everybody ate at the same time. The wonderful thing about those times, in spite of what we didn't have there was so such more we did have. The entire community ran as a family unit. Every parent had the right to disciplines another's child if they acted up or cut the fool. Other than a fist fight or two Black on Black crime among the young was news, not old hat. In old school terms the place was jumping. I guess that's why I jumped the hell out.

Just thought I would share that with you, by the way that lady at the top is my grandma Lumma. in spite of the odds she was as compelling as she was resolute. In the coming days I will post her stories in a series from her biography Give Out But Don't Give Up. She was the dominant one in the village that helped raised me, as well as passed along a lot of oral history. There were a number of people from her time that were very unkind, yet in the end she got even with them all by earning their respect, and outliving them all. Oh by the way, I'm an author too. What type of author would I be, if I didn't put in a shameless plug

Here is a picture of my latest novel that's available through most booksellers. While it's a guy's book the hero is a female. While the story is fiction nearly every word is true and it's possible to write a story without using the N word, no graphic sex, language or violence.

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