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The John Sutton Family

Sandra Ratledge

By comparison with other ancestors, very little is known of the Suttons. The earliest proven ancestor is John Sutton born about 1808 somewhere in Tennessee. He married about 1829 probably in Macon County, NC. There his bride Eliza McDowell lived with her mother and siblings. Mary McDowell, her mother, was enumerated as head of household on the 1830 Macon County census. Both women were natives of Burke County, NC; Eliza was born there on June 4, 1816. Mary was born there about 1785 and died after 1860 probably in Cherokee County, NC where she resided with John and Eliza Sutton, after she was old and feeble.

Eliza bore at least ten children to John over the years 1829 - 1855. Among them, was May Anne Sutton who married John L. Stiles on September 25, 1865, in Sweetwater, Monroe County, TN. "John Black Fox," as he was commonly called, and May Annie Stiles are great-great-grandparents of Stephen Ratledge, my husband. May Annie's older sister Telitha "Lithey" Sutton married John L. Stiles' uncle "Bill," William L. Stiles, about seventeen years previously. Thus, these families had lived as neighbors and friends for decades in the Shoal Creek Township of Cherokee County, NC.

For more information about Grandpa and Grandma Stiles, see his biographical sketch. They lived most of their married lives at their home on Persimmon Creek in the Shoal Creek Township. A photograph of their old home place was taken in the fall of 1913 before their farm was inundated by waters from the Hiwassee Dam construction. Attired in widow's black, May Annie is seated with her Bible in hand as though waiting by the gate. Standing to her left is Aunt Ethel Coleman, her beloved granddaughter born on her birthday.

Tragedy struck John Sutton's home full-force just prior to 1860 and the onslaught of Civil War. Eliza was widowed early and unexpectedly in her marriage; at least six dependent children were left fatherless. John Sutton, the farmer, succumbed and died of typhoid fever during an epidemic along Persimmon Creek in Cherokee County, NC. The time of this epidemic is not known, but it was approximately during the years 1855 - 1859. An exact date, circumstances of his death, and his burial place are unknown.

Typhoid, now rare in the United States, once raged furiously and uncontrollably everywhere. It often spread into a dreaded killer epidemic. Particularly hard hit were remote, mountainous communities such as those of Cherokee County, NC. The contagious disease results from exposure to contaminated water or food. Before the invention of modern plumbing conveniences, sanitary waste disposal left much to be desired. Poor mountaineers whose homes perched on hillsides often built their outhouses higher than the creek, spring, or water supply. When winter snow melted and spring rains poured, some water supplies then became contaminated through run-off.

Once typhoid rooted itself with any one or two families in a remote community, it seemed to spred quickly to all inhabitants. Medical knowledge was quite limited; doctors, scarce as a warm day in January. Medicine, if available and accessible, was often unaffordable to poor families like the Suttons. Unpaved roads made travel so arduous that if a doctor were summoned, he found a corpse more often than a patient by the time he arrived. By necessity, nursing was the responsibility of family members or brave, sympathetic neighbors whose only tools were home remedies and brews concocted by the local herb doctor or wildcrafter. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that typhoid fever claimed so many lives.

Times were hard and grew worse for a family devoid of its breadwinner. Troubles deepened into chasms and problems multiplied tenfold with the outbreak of Civil War. By necessity, members of this Sutton family were separated. Older unmarried daughters lived with relatives, friends, or neighbors and helped with chores for their keep. In Aunt Ethel Coleman's words, "They lived with first one and then another -- whoever would take them in."

As the girls grew older, they became domestic servants. Chores performed by such servants were predictably the most odious -- whatever was most undesirable to employers. They probably chopped and carried wood, kept fires during coldest winter nights, carried buckets of water from springs, washed clothes in icy creeks, and etc. Such was the life common to mountaineers and the typical work in every family. In addition to maintaining their father's farm, the Sutton brothers were "hired out" as laborers during spring planting and fall harvest on neighbors' farms. Most of the time, their pay amounted to a share of the produce. However unfortunate this life may have been, it was better than starving. Survival became the first and foremost concern during the Civil War.

Young Nancy Sutton married Burton Kimsey Hall, a Confederate soldier during the Civil War and a son of Captain Moses Manilus Hall and Cynthia Araminta Patton. They moved to another household in Cherokee County, NC and began a family of their own.

The Sutton siblings had one half-brother Joseph Leander McDowell who used his mother's maiden name for a surname. He married Nancy Louise Gentry about 1862. She was a daughter of William S. and Nancy (Thompson) Gentry of Hanging Dog in Cherokee County, NC. For more information about Joseph Leander McDowell, alias Leander Dickey, and his father Burton K. Dickey, a wealthy merchant in Murphy, NC, see his biographical sketch as a Corporal Company G, 3rd TN Mounted Infantry Regiment, USA. Joseph McDowell was a school teacher and elected to minor public offices. Records of the Clerk of Superior Court and the Register of Deeds of Cherokee County, NC show that he was a Justice of the Peace for many years and also foreman of the Grand Jury. Eventually, however, he and his wife relocated to Belltown, Monroe County, TN where he is buried in the Cane Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.

At the beginning of 1870, Eliza had two sons, Bill and George, still at home to help her farm. Her daughter Darcus helped with cooking and cleaning. Age made it much more difficult for Eliza to labor as she had in past years. Bill Sutton married Louisiana "Lucy" A. Allen on April 2, 1870, in Cherokee County, and soon thereafter left home. For a story about Wild Bill's escapades, read his biographical sketch as a private in Company G, 3rd TN Mounted Infantry Regiment, USA. These stories reveal the great divide that separated this family and all others in the community during and after the Civil War.

Eliza knew that George would eventually marry, too, and then there would be no one left to work the farm. On October 4, 1883, George wed Harriet Jane Montgomery in Murphy, Cherokee County, NC. About four years later in 1887, George and Harriet moved to Klamath Falls, OR along with some of the Stiles families that had migrated there.

By the beginning of the 1870s, Eliza realized she must find a means of self-support other than farm work. Soon she decided on midwifery, for she had plenty of experience in helping her family and neighbors. This required being "on call" twenty-four hours every day. Through blackest nights, violent storms, and even freezing blizzards, she had to trudge when called to a patient in labor. She either walked, if time and conditions permitted, or rode a farm horse or mule. Often days and nights elapsed before a baby came and she could lie down to sleep. Sometimes, she had the unpleasant task of breaking news to loved ones that a baby had died, the mother, or even both.

Her occupation, though demanding less strength than farm labor, required tremendous physical endurance, patience, and courage. Those must have been qualities Eliza had learned and nurtured over the years. To survive the lot cast her for more than two decades, what else could she do but be patient and endure bravely? That she did into the 1880s. At seventy-one years of age on January 21, 1888, Eliza died and was laid to rest in Old Persimmon Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in the Shoal Creek Township of Cherokee County. Her tombstone still stands alone in the long-abandoned, overgrown cemetery within the Cherokee National Forest wilderness. By far, hers is the largest and nicest tombstone in this forgotten old cemetery. It reveals that she was greatly loved.

©1983 Appalachian Ancestors, ©1999--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications. Do NOT copy stories, articles, documents, sketches, anecdotes, letters, obituaries, content data, etc. and attach to family trees or upload on other websites of any kind.

Sandra Ratledge

This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents,
Tommy and Beulah (Cline) Nipper.