Opening Prayer for Christmas Eve Service
Rev. Dr. Sean B. Murray

Gracious, loving and merciful God, on this Christmas Eve, as the light of your Word penetrates our hearts, as we are reminded of the gift of life and faith, as the glories of the heavenly hosts are echoed in our church, we open ourselves up to your Spirit and give you thanks. We are grateful, Lord Jesus, that your story has become our story, and we celebrate your birth.
Continue, we pray, to instill in us a profound sense of your abiding presence, and help us to take to heart the wonder of your love, that we may walk in your ways and delight in your will.  Help us, Lord God, to be the faithful, gracious, loving, giving and forgiving people you would have us be.

A Prayer for Christmas Morning

by Robert Louis Stevenson

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.
Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.
Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
And the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.

A Christmas Prayer

Jesus, the Light of the World, as we celebrate your birth . . . . may we begin to see the world in the light of the understanding you give us.  As you chose the lowly, the outcasts, and the poor to receive the greatest news the world had ever known, so may we worship you in meekness of heart.  May we also remember our brothers and sisters less fortunate than ourselves in this season of giving.  Amen.


for the gift of Your love.

May I be a shining

example of that love to others.



Wilda English

God grant you the light of Christmas,
which is faith;
the warmth of Christmas,
which is purity;
the righteousness of Christmas,
which is justice;
the belief in Christmas,
which is truth;
the all of Christmas,
which is Christ.


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The Excitement

Chapter 5

The Turning

Isaiah 59:8

The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgement in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.

In the summer of 1856 the Great Western Furnace in Stewart County Tennessee was a prosperous and successful operation forging high quality pig iron that was in great demand all the way from St. Louis to New Orleans.  Due to Luke Elam’s skillful and well organized management of the Great Western he and his brother Brandon were becoming two of the most powerful land owners in Stewart County.  Nearly every month, it seemed, they were using the money they earned from the Great Western to buy up more bottom land, more timber, and more property than some in the Town cared to see.

This good fortune spread to everyone at the Great Western.  From the ownership group all the way down to the newest hires when the work week ended everyone went home with smiles on their faces and money in their pockets.  Black men and their families were seen more often in Town and they had hard cash to spend.  At first, many of the local store owners refused to trade with the negroes but they soon realized that Hopkinsville, Kentucky could provide the same products at a better price if the Dover merchants turned them away.  Many black Stewart Countians found it more advantageous and more delightful to make that trip to “Hoptown” once every two or three weeks rather than put up with the bias of the locals in Town every week.  It didn’t take long for the shop owners of Dover to begin to feel the emptiness in their pocketbooks and they quickly put the word out that “black” money would be accepted, after all, in their businesses.  They did not, however, lower their prices to compete with the Hoptown stores.  After all, there wasn’t any other competition, locally, forcing them to do so and that trip to Hoptown and back was several hours long by wagon.

The more the Great Western flexed it’s muscle, the more that the men in power in Dover felt their control slipping away.  Unfortunately, these power hungry men of the old way took this as an immediate sign to tighten the grip on their dominion.

Ignorant power, brute force.  It beat down the Indian.  It will beat down the slave.  This was their counting.  They needed to push the men harder, they calculated, as that was their shortcoming.  Making the slaves smarter and concurrently more productive by pushing them harder was the way, they figured, that the Great Western could be bettered.

Many were the days of work that Luke and Hilton guided their mule teams and wagon loads of laborers through the predawn hours of Dover only to become eyewitnesses to freshly whipped men hanging in locked stocks on the Town Square.  It was a savage and barbaric way to increase pig iron production and a harsh and crude approach to making examples of runaway slaves.  It was a poorly bred fool’s means to a bloody end and it was applied regularly with a jaundiced and calloused eye.  A decent, working man’s wage to those beaten down men was inconsequential and the least of their worries.  They were trained to believe that not being whipped was far better than receiving a payday of any kind and running away from your master could bring you an unspeakable torture, even death, at the hands of an earth bound devil.

These men and boys were our neighbors, our friends.  It was hard to believe that we all lived in the same world and much less, the same Town.  On one especially sad morning as the wagons passed through Dover, Constable Thomas Opson was still whipping a poor boy who had become unconscious as he was chained to the stock.  Opson, drunk with whiskey and unbridled power, continued to lash at the young man.  Luke Elam could stand it no more.  He jumped from his wagon and grabbed Opson’s arm before he was able to crack another snap of his whip on the helpless boy.

slavery16  fugitive slave2

“You’re killing him, Opson!” He yelled as he held back his arm.  “This is enough!  He is half dead and dying.  Have you no mercy?”

Opson was surprised Luke had come upon him so quick.  He jerked his arm away and laughed.  “Mercy?  These wild dogs deserve no mercy, Elam.  He’s an escaped slave that was caught.”  He pointed his bloody whip in Luke’s face.  “He gets 100 lashes at the post on the Committee’s order and if you know what is good for you, Elam, you will not obstruct me again or I will have you in that stock.  I’ll enjoy striping your backside.”  Several whiskey drinking Committee of Safety (COS) riders gathered around Thomas Opson and provided him with all the courage he needed to make these threats.

Hilton had moved up behind Luke and pulled him away.  “Come on, Mr. Luke.  You can’t help that boy today.  He is in God’s hands now.  Let’s move on through this town with mean eyes.”

“Listen to your boy, Elam.”  Opson advised.  “Or that Furnace of yours will be without it’s Founder for awhile.”  He snapped his whip at Luke’s feet but Luke Elam did not flinch.

Opson blinked in disbelief and furled his brows in wonder as he struggled to understand just why his power or how his threats put no fear into the elder Elam.

Luke and Hilton moved back toward their mule teams.

The men in the wagons were silent and many prayed in whispers to God as the cracking whip resumed and made fresh cuts into the listless body of the young negro trapped in the devil’s stocks.  Opson seemed to enjoy the spectacle he made by whipping the boy.  Every time he wound his arm back and flung the well aimed tip of the weapon toward his victim he screamed, “Heeeyaaaaa!”

The men of the Great Western later learned that the boy was, in fact, dead.  It was a town gone mad.  Life meant nothing to those in power.  They covered up their sins as if nothing had ever happened.  They continued on their paths as if they would never be judged for their dastardly deeds.  There was no earthly power to stand against them.  They controlled the law, they controlled the Court, and they controlled the night and the day.  Who would question Howard Claiborne and his “family”?  They were located in every corner of the County and beholding only to him.  Who was strong enough to come against his law?

Yet, amongst it all the men at the Great Western had hope.  They had a working hope that was covered with the promise of freedom.  The men of every other Furnace in the County and even in other Counties like Dickson, to the south of Dover, could only muster a faint, silent hope.  Even so, sadly, theirs was a hope that was drenched in misery and despair. Outside of Town and far away from the Committee of Safety’s sight, Luke Elam stopped the wagons and the men prayed together, out loud, for the poor boy’s soul.

With every passing month of it’s existence, the iron masters from the other Furnaces felt more and more greed, jealously, and animosity toward the Great Western for it’s profitable and sustained growth.  The high quality and the huge quantity of pig iron that was coming from the “Elam and Jacobs” Furnace could be matched nowhere else in the County or, for that matter, the Country.  Month after month, season after season, it outsold all of it’s competitors at the wharf.

“Top dollar, Great Western!” That was the word that always came back from the River Boat Landing.

Time, and time again, the Iron Masters tried to lure Mr. Luke away from the Great Western.  They tried to buy him out.  They wanted to hire him for themselves but he would never accept their offers and he would never sell himself out to their lower standards.  They didn’t really want Mr. Luke to improve their iron production and, after all,  they didn’t really want him to resurrect their slaves, either.  They just wanted to be able to put their finger on him.  They only needed to slow the Great Western down.  Raising their own standards was never in the equation.  But Luke Elam was smarter than that.

These iron masters despised the fact that their free workers, white and black, would often take lesser jobs as pick and ax men just to have the opportunity to work the Great Western.  These confederate pig iron workers, with their learned experience, made the Great Western an even stronger organization.  While the other Furnaces still made money, as pig iron was a very lucrative business, their owners felt that it wasn’t enough.  They wanted the success that Luke Elam had.  They wanted to be number one again, like they were when there was no Great Western.  Their problem was that they just weren’t willing to show the kindness and the generosity needed to get that status back.  It wasn’t their way.  Their way was the old way, the Cross Elam way of ignorant power and brute force.  Because of this they would never be able to reach the pinnacle of success that the Great Western enjoyed.  They never really had it, to begin with.  Try as they all did to hold on to their power, they knew that their authority was slipping further and further away from them.  With each and every day, the Great Western forged ahead.  The powers that shouldn’t be increased their measures to regain control at any cost.

All of the money that the men of color earned at the Great Western, the County tried to take it away.  The County Court, upon the instruction of Dover Furnace Iron Master Howard Claiborne, passed laws that required all freed men to bond themselves.  This bond was, in effect, a tax or a license that the County required of them to be “free”.  The bond was so high, sometimes as much as a hundred dollars, that the men felt as though they would never be able to earn their freedoms.

Who would be the next in line to come and say, “I own a piece of you now.”

Many men, begrudgingly, did suffer to pay the blood money and bonded themselves to become free so they could have the right to stay and live in Stewart County.  However, even this wasn’t pleasing to the Court.  The Court obtusely reckoned that if the former slaves, who sought to be free, paid the County it’s required bond money they would be less likely to leave this, their little island of despair.  Their plan was to ensure that the money the former slaves continued to earn as free men would be kept between the rivers and inside their little hell hole.  But not enough freed men, to the County’s liking, made a bond with the Court.  Once the men earned their freedom, more and more of them left Stewart County forever, never looking back.  The Court worried that other slaves were escaping and leaving with them.  This concern was not unfounded.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of slaves working the iron furnaces and the sacred tobacco farms of Stewart County in 1856.  People soon found, through the example of the Great Western, that there was another way, a better way of life.  At the first opportunity many of them packed up their belongings, sometimes in a single bag, and under the cover of night and immediate threat of a cruel and agonizing death they moved, quickly North, to the safety of Kentucky.

As a result of this ever increasing migration, the Court attempted to make individual owners accountable for their slaves if they escaped.  They passed laws requiring that a responsible white man, a sponsor, must co-sign any Freedman’s Bond.  If that freed man left and took others with him the cosigners were held liable for the losses.  A freed man that left and took his wife and two children with him could cost the cosigner upwards of two thousand dollars!  This was payable to the County, of course, as a compensation to the other iron furnaces for lost production.  Cosigners became very scarce.  In a way, many freed men felt that their hard earned money was no good, that they weren’t really free, if they had to have a white man sign on with them for their bond.  Other laws passed by the County Court ordered that freed men could own no horses, no livestock, and no guns.  This further infuriated them.  They had worked very hard to earn their freedom.  They bought land and invested in Stewart County hoping to stay here and now they were told that they could not own the animals required to manage their property.  The County Court made it intolerable for them to stay and intolerable for them to leave.

Luke and Brandon Elam signed all of their freed men’s bonds but only a handful of other white men in the county would sign for their men.  Those men who could not secure a bond, after they had worked so hard for and earned the money to buy back their freedom, were understandably agitated.  The only thing left for them to do was to move away from Stewart County to a place where a bond was not required of them to live free.  The closest place to begin a journey like that started just twelve miles away, in Kentucky.

If they bought their freedom they were free to move, the Court allowed, but if they stayed in Stewart County it would cost them bond money.  Even if they had bond money they would have to find a co-signer to sponsor them.  Even if they had a cosigner, they could not own livestock.  On top of all this they were told that they could not move their families with them to other parts of the County.  Their families were still slaves and were made to stay in the slave quarters of their masters.  It made no difference to the County that these were the wives and the children of free men.  The men’s families weren’t recognized as free.  Their freedom cost money, too, the Court ruled.  The Court allowed that only the free men who had paid for their singular freedom could move about the County untethered.  Their children and their wives could not move with them as the Court ruled they were not free.  It was easy to see why many of the men chose to leave by any means possible as soon as they could and even in the dead of the night.  This is where the slaves began disappearing.  This is where the Committee of Safety riders were employed to hunt them down and bring them back to the stocks of Dover.

As the summer of 1856 turned to fall tension filled the air in Stewart County.  In September the COS began stopping and holding the Great Western wagon train workers in Town.  They said they needed to check each wagon for runaways.  This usually delayed the Great Western’s production by about an hour for that day.  In October they began pulling accused runaways from the wagons and either Mr. Luke or the Iron Master had to come back to Dover later in the day to retrieve him.  The slave was never a runaway and was always beaten before he was returned.  This happened three times in November, 1856.  It was a fuse that was burning red hot.  We saw it all lighting off right in front of us but we couldn’t put it out.  We had to live through it.  We had to watch it burn.

Hilton bought his freedom sooner than he expected and was a bonded free man so we were allowed to move freely anywhere we desired as the Elam brothers encouraged it.  We bought a farm as far up into Tennessee as we could to be away from the riders of Dover’s Committee of Safety.  We lived only a couple of miles North of the Great Western and Hilton was able to come home every night.  The Elams would never report us, Hilton’s family, as missing or runaway slaves so we were always able and never a danger to travel together.  We chose to trade in Kentucky.  People were nicer and it was a lot safer up there. They welcomed our money and us, equally.  Samuel was 9 years old and Hilmon was just beginning to walk.  We could have moved to Kentucky.  It was only about seven miles away but we didn’t.  The road North was not as well traveled as others but there were farms that dotted the landscape all along the way and we knew everyone on the path.

Besides, Hilton loved the Great Western.  He made twenty dollars a month there and we had never seen or imagined that kind of money before.  He used to say that somebody would have to beat him away from his Furnace with a stick before he would ever leave her.  She was his second love and I accepted that.

We lived far away from Dover now.  We no longer witnessed, first hand, the atrocities that were being committed against the runaways.  Even more horrible stories were now told that women, and children alike, were being chained to the stocks and whipped.  Dogs were set loose on runaways and they were viciously attacked to bring them down.  Women were being raped by men on the sides of the road in the broad light of day.  The Committee of Safety riders made no attempt to put a stop to these crimes.  Sometimes, it was told, they were the culprits of the evil doings.  We received these reports from the workers that continued to ride the ferry across the Cumberland and pass through the County Seat on the way to the Great Western.  It was getting worse all the time.  No one could blame anyone for trying to escape.  There was no justice and there was no peace.

whipping-aunt-sally  NW0197

These bad times all started, I guess, with the success of the Great Western.  Men were making such good money.  By the fall of 1856 the men had two full years of work behind them and the sound money that came from it was burning a hole in their pockets.  People were buying their freedom left and right and after that, they bought land and farms.  Many men left Stewart County but many stayed to continue to work and earn a solid living.  Those that left usually left because they had families and they were able to get the means together to get their families away from here, all together.  Those that stayed were usually single men who enjoyed the freedom of hard work and good money.  Either way, all of these people offered hope to a thousand other slaves in the County.

There were nearly twenty furnaces in Stewart County in 1856 but only one Great Western.  In a place where imaginary dreams were the only hope a person might have, whatever happened at the Great Western was retold a hundred times over and built upon with every telling.  It was told that those black men who worked the Great Western were now free men living in the North of Stewart County and they owned their own land.  If they owned five acres it was told that they owned a whole hunting valley or a whole fishing stream.  If the free men chose to leave Stewart County it was told that if they hadn’t loaded up two wagons full, with their belongings, then they weren’t ready, just yet, to leave.  Money flowed like honey to the bees to anyone associated with the Great Western.

Stories of superior working conditions, even at a hot Iron Furnace, continued to creep back from the Great Western to all of those living in the dismal, dirt floor slave quarters of their masters.  Throughout the County, “North, through Kentucky”, became a rallying cry for all the slaves.  Anything that could be or would be said of the life up north was always better than the reality they understood in Stewart County.  It was the dream of freedom that drove those men and women.  It was the dream that they could be better than they were, that they could do better for themselves and for their families if they were only given the chance.  With the Great Western they had seen it.  They knew it was real.  Real freedom waited in Kentucky for all those brave enough to risk it.  It may cost them their lives but they reasoned death would be easier for them than the life they now lived.  Even those men with little or no money, even those men with no shoes risked escaping.  The Great Western was the way.

This is where Hilton got into trouble.  He had no reason to leave Stewart County.  He had his family with him, he owned a working farm with livestock that the Elams claimed they owned, and he made good money at the Great Western.  But even though he had no reason to leave he sure did his best to help others get away.  It became well known in other Furnaces that if you were trying to escape and you could make your way to Hilton Jacobs, the Keeper at the Great Western, you could make your way to freedom.  We were already in the northern part of the County, almost to Kentucky, and Hilton knew the ways of those Committee of Safety Riders.  He could point an accompanied man down ten different trails, all in the right direction, towards the safety of the North.  There was a network of farms spread out up there like a patchwork quilt and Hilton knew, as did I, where the friendly farms were and where the farms were that should be passed by.  I supported Hilton in helping these poor and desperate people.  I always aided these runners, who’s only crime was a search for freedom, with a food basket and a bundle of clothes. Many was the night that a quiet tap was heard on our door from an exhausted man who had just swam across the Cumberland River or a frightened and scared young couple that had just escaped the sharp teeth of the hounds.  They were all making their way, blindly, towards an unknown freedom.  Most of the time all of the property that these people owned was on their backs.  We had a plan for them.  It was all laid out very carefully.  We would ease them, feed them, and let them rest as we watched the roads and listened to the wind for the right time to go.  Mose’s daddy would take them on foot safely up into Kentucky and make the first pass with them.  Then, they would be escorted further under that same network of cover into Illinois and Ohio.  They were passed off to the next guide all along the way until they felt safe.  Until they felt safe, that was there only condition for settling.


After a while, we began receiving letters from way up North.  Letters would come back from Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and from just about everywhere that you could imagine.  Even from as far away as New York, the letters came back to us.  Most times, when Mose’s daddy handed a runaway off to the next guide in the line that guide had a return letter for him to bring back to us.  Almost every one of them had two or three dollars inside thanking us for the clothes or the food that we shared with them.  They were all signed, Cousin Beulah or Cousin Big Billy, or some such name so as not to arouse too much suspicion if the letters happened to be intercepted or stolen by some scallywag.  We passed the money to the next passenger on our train.

The opposing iron masters grew tired of losing. They had no end game for losing and the growing loss of their workers through escalating escapes lowered their production even more.

These runaways became a serious epidemic among the other iron masters in the County.  Each master was losing their slaves at the rate of at least one a week.  This was 15-20 slaves, all told, escaping north every week to Kentucky.  The iron masters put more and more pressure on the Court to do something to stop this mass exodus.  The County had a duty, they said, to protect their holdings.  This was, after all, their owned property that was walking away.  If the County Court couldn’t protect their interests they would take their bankrolls further south, they said, to Dickson County and beyond.

The Elam brothers knew what was happening but never let on and they never questioned an unfamiliar face that may have been seen hiding too far north in the County.  The other furnace masters and the Committee of Safety riders suspected that the Elam boys were helping slaves to escape but they could never prove it.  They hated them for this and they began to tighten the noose around the Great Western’s neck.

Luke and Brandon Elam felt the pressure coming.  They called for a special meeting of all the workers at the Great Western and word was that it was not good.  Since the Committee of Safety had ratcheted up their enforcement of the, “No more than three slaves meeting together at any one time law”, the brothers called for the assembly to be held on the grounds of the Great Western.  After all that was happening, it was the only good and safe place left for them to meet.  So, under the disguise of work, a late harvest celebration, and the coming of Christmas, the final meeting of the workers of the Great Western Furnace in Stewart County, Tennessee was planned for November 28th, 1856.

End of Chapter 5


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Ancient Knowledge

In the peace and quiet of your back yard, when you look up at the stars at night what do you see?  Do you see what the ancients saw?  Do you, can you, will you comprehend what they sought to understand?  If you were only male and female, if you removed all of the clutter from your lives, all of the material “things” that we chase every day, would you see only pure love in your life?  Would you have a greater appreciation for everything around you?

If your life was unobstructed by alarm clocks and deadlines, if ONLY the basic necessities of food and shelter and clothing were required to sustain you and keep you happy could you be free to be a greater, more integral part of the universe around you?  Would love be your compass?

I can’t explain this any better than you just watching it.

All I will offer as advice is, don’t just hear it.  “Listen” to it.  Give it your undivided attention.  I watch it for about 30 minutes, or so, before my “life” calls me away.  This is the life that we have all been “trained” to follow.  Sometimes I can squeeze in an hour of watching before I must leave.  Then, I come back when I am ready to “listen” again.

Be mindful.  Be aware.

Watching this will prepare you for the vortex of mathematical equations that I will share with you later.  All of these things I share with you, this 7 and 1/2 hour video and the mathematical energy equations that will follow, have one purpose.  That is, to help to bring us all closer to God.

NO ONE alive, with sentient thought, having the power of perception by the senses or a conscious, will be unable to understand this.  We can ALL understand this.  Even you, even me.

We, you, me, ALL of us can understand this if we just “listen” with our minds.  Focus.

Its way better than teevee.  If you say that you don’t have time for this in your lives then it truly means that you must make time for this in your lives.

Am I crazy, you might ask?  Have I lost “it”?  If wanting to separate myself from the warped frequencies of every day “normal living” and wanting to be closer to God and love is crazy then I stand guilty of that.  We have been trained by the teevee to turn from God. We must put love back into our lives.  This video helps us to do that.  This video does make one reference to God as a “skydaddie” and I disagree with this characterization as I believe that our God does control our lives through his word.  Nothing is perfect in this world.  We each make our own determinations.  Thank you for seeing past these imperfections.

Of course, The Excitement Chapter 5, The Turning, will continue in a few days and I thank you all for your continued interest.  I just wanted to share with you some of the things, imho, that can change our lives for the better. God bless you all.


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The Excitement

Chapter 4

Riverboat Days

Proverbs 20:29

The glory of young men is their strength and the beauty of old men is the gray head.

Monday morning and fifty Monday mornings came and went.  The men worked hard and the Great Western Furnace prospered like it’s name, greatly in it’s first year of operation. After just a few months of training, it’s men were producing nearly 40 tons of high quality iron every week.  Once molded and cooled, this pig iron was hauled daily by oxen to the Cumberland River where it was loaded onto flatboats and floated down to Vicksburg, MS and further, to New Orleans, LA.  Because it was so popular, it was also pushed up the mighty Mississippi by paddle boat to St. Louis.  Great Western pig iron was in strong demand across this country and it’s brand became most valuable as it was highly sought after by all traders.  Even, more valuable than iron from any other Furnace in Stewart County.  This fact didn’t sit very well with other Furnace founders of the County.  They found out quickly that they played second fiddle to the Great Western and they did not like it.  The owners of the Dover Furnace and the Bear Springs Furnace, built in 1820 and 1830, respectively, always seemed to be at odds with the Great Western.

“How the hell is it that you, Luke Elam, produce a quality of iron better than ours,” barked Howard Claiborne one day on the Town Square of Dover.  “We’ve been forming this pig iron for over 30 years at the Dover Furnace and in less than one year you upstarts come over here from across the river and now we’re sucking hind teat.  Its a damn shame, I’ll tell you that.  Just how do you do it?”

“You don’t want to know, Mr. Claiborne.  Besides, you wouldn’t listen to me if I told you, ” Luke replied.

“Try me, Elam.  What’s your secret, boy?”  In his simple mind, Howard Claiborne thought Luke Elam had figured out something extra to add to the iron that was making it stronger, making it better, and he would steal any man’s idea if it befitted him.

“We treat our men better, Howard.  That’s it, plain and simple.  Everything is centered on the worker.  We pay them a decent wage.  We keep them in good clothing and protect them better from getting burnt.  We take care of their families while they work and they stay focused on producing a better product.  You should try it,”  Luke Elam said, with a wry smile.

“Our Negroes do just fine at the end of a whip, boy,” Claiborne snapped.  “Giving them hope for freedom that will never come is just a cruel joke that you are playing on your slaves.  Everybody knows that these men are chattel to be used for our gain.  You feeding them with thoughts of freedom is only creating problems here, boy.  Hope is the worst thing that you can give them.  You’re just going to get them all killed thinking like that. Cross Elam was one of my closest friends and he’s turning over in his grave right now knowing what you two boys have become.  Word is that you are giving your Negroes their freedom.  You should both be ashamed of yourselves.”

“Not everyone believes that, Claiborne,” Luke said, stoically.  “And my Mama was a Page.  That’s who I take after.”

“It shows,”  Claiborne said, as he spat his sacred tobacco juice on the ground.

Luke Elam was on the edge of overstepping his place.  Howard Claiborne ran the Dover Furnace and he ran Dover, as well.  He owned the Constable and he owned the Court House.  For 30 years his money, his influence, and his power had made men and had broken them, just as well.  He had personally seen to it that innocent men were hung till they were dead and the guilty as sin were set free, all on his word.  After 30 years there was at least one man in every part of the County that was beholding to him, that owed him. This list of men was long and nearly every family in the County had a name on it.  If you went up against Howard Claiborne you risked ruin, you risked visits in the night by his Committee of Safety, and you even risked death.  Many a farmer had been burned out on his order and made to set out walking, on foot, towards Kentucky.  If a family went against Howard Claiborne and got away with their lives and the shirts on their backs they should have considered themselves lucky.

Luke Elam was telling the truth.

The men of the Great Western worked hard to make the very best pig iron in the County and the Great Western was making money hand over fist.  Luke Elam’s operation at the Great Western was the model of the way Furnaces should be run.  The limestone and brown hematite they dug was abundant in Stewart County and proved to be the best that could be found to ultimately be used in the creation of boiler plate, iron skillets, and sugar kettles.  The items made from Stewart County Great Western pig iron were second to none in the Country.

pile-pig-iron       Furnace4

All of the working men were kept in better clothes and boots.  Gloves and leather gear protected their skin and they were able to work closer and longer with the molten iron. They were able to form it in the best possible way.  The work was very hard but, as promised, there were no surprises.  New men that were hired on were all started out the same way, with a pick and ax digging limestone and hematite from the earth.  Men who had previously worked the pick and ax jobs were promoted and this opportunity for advancement kept productivity very high.

As Mr. Luke and Mr. Brandon increased their wealth, they increased their responsibility, too.  Those twenty workers on the farm were replaced almost immediately.  The first twenty workers at the Furnace began to train twenty more within weeks of beginning production.  After forty weeks of constant training and hiring, the Great Western Furnace employed over eighty men and more were coming on the site every week.  Educated men were needed for the payroll.  Tenders were needed for the oxen.  Carpenters were required for upkeep and repair of the wagons and to create the picks, the axes, and other tools that were needed for production. Blacksmiths kept the horses shod and the oxen yokes strong and were needed to create the molds and the kettles that held the molten iron.

The Great Western discriminated against no one.  Mr. Luke hired any able bodied man or young boy that could do the work.  Pull you load, earn your pay, they said.  Irish and Chinese worked alongside Whites, Negroes and boys.  Two strong backed women also worked the Furnace.   There was no rest for the weary but where sweat pours, money followed and money was thick at the Great Western Furnace.  Everyone worked together in a peaceful coexistence and everyone smiled at the paymaster as they collected their earnings and went their own way.

Hilton not only saved $100 dollars for his freedom during that first year, he saved $150! The year of 1855 ended on a positive note.  It was the best Christmas his family had known in a long, long time.  Miss Eleanor even had her baby on a Sunday so Mr. Hilton could be there to hold his newborn son on the first day of his life.  Mr. Luke told Hilton to take as much time as he needed to be home with Miss Eleanor but Hilton was back to work the very next day, as usual, on Monday morning.  And, just as Luke had promised, Mr. Hilton was needed badly.  Mr. Brandon allowed that his best cook and house maid, old Miss Effie, could stay with Miss Eleanor for three months to help her with Samuel and the new baby. After about three weeks of Miss Effie’s extra helping and expert guidance, Miss Eleanor told Mr. Brandon that she was much obliged but she was sure that she could make it on her own now.  They both had a good laugh when Mr. Brandon asked if she were sure and she replied, “absolutely”.  Hilton and Eleanor named their new child Hilmon and their life in Stewart County was very good.

If Mr. Luke was the heart of the Great Western, Mr. Hilton was it’s soul.  They needed one another to survive that first year and together they made very few mistakes.

Ecclesiastes 11:1

Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.

The beginning of the year of our Lord, 1856 started out better than any other before it. There was hope now.  In one year Hilton would be a free man.  We lived free now, really. But, by law and by paper, Hilton still had to work the Furnace for another year to earn enough money to buy his legal freedom credentials.  That’s how long it was going to take to earn the last $150 dollars that stood between him and the County’s recognized freedom.

It wasn’t like before, though.  Times were different now.  We had money.  It was almost to the point that we had little arguments over how to spend it.  Or, how not to spend it.  I told Hilton that just because we had a little money that was no reason to flaunt it.  I meant it, too, but Hilton just wanted us to be happy.  So, when the River Boats came singing, we spent a little bit of it.  My goodness, what pretty songs those boats played on their steam organs as they danced up and down the river.  They stopped just about every day.  Over the months we began to allow ourselves an occasional extravagance, a little pretty.  Hilton bought me a new dress made of all cotton from Nashville.  It felt so much better than the calico and burlap that I was used to wearing.  I felt guilty putting it on but it sure did lay soft on my skin.  I thanked Mr. Hilton proper, for that.  It made me feel like a new woman. Little Samuel was getting bigger now.  He had never owned his own pair of shoes so we bought him his first pair.  We also bought him a new Sunday set of trousers with suspenders and a colored shirt.  He looked so smart and so handsome dressed in that.  He looked just like his father.  They even bought matching hats.

Samuel was 9 years old in 1856 and had his chores to do around the house and Hilton made sure he paid him every week.  It wasn’t much he allowed Samuel, just a token really, but Hilton said he wanted his boy to know what it felt like to earn a living.  He wanted him to get used to making money so he would know what it was like to have it.  He wanted to teach him how to live within his means.  Samuel loved to hear those River Boats come singing, too.  He saved his own money for weeks and bought himself a book.  The new book was named The Indian And The Fur Trapper and Hilton read it to him on Sundays until Samuel learned to read it all on his own.  Hilton bought new reading spectacles that made him look distinguished and together we bought a new spice rack that was full of spices to cook with.  I had only dreamed of having things like this before.  These were the dreams of my innocent youth.  These were the dreams formed at a time when the dirt from setting grape vines was still fresh on my hands.

What were once things that seemed unreachable, not even within the dreams of our lives, they now became something that we could imagine to have.  We thanked God, and hard work, for that.

It didn’t cost much and didn’t mean any less for us, really, in our pocketbooks to always take a neighbor with us whenever we went down to the Riverboat landing.  Many of our friends from across the farms weren’t as fortunate as Hilton.  Many of them didn’t have a family member that worked the Great Western.  Most of them still struggled in the fields for a pauper’s pay, for their own keep or worse, they continued to suffer daily abuse at the whipping Furnaces.  So, whenever I went to the landing I always took a friend and insisted on buying them a little treasure that would be so simple yet, mean so much.  No one that I remember ever bought a gift for themselves, only something to take home for their children.  It gave me and reminded us all, of hope.  Hope was something that was in short supply in Dover. It was something that we would always need.

Good Spring and early Summer rains made for a fine planting season and we knew the sacred tobacco harvest would be a good one.  Mr. Brandon’s sons were 15 and 16 years old now and together both of them almost made up for not having Hilton on the farm.  They did very well for themselves especially considering that the Elam’s had set aside ten more acres of farmland for the sacred plant.  Just like that old river, everything seemed to be moving along it’s normal path.

One Sunday after a dinner on the ground at the River, Mr. Luke allowed that soon he, and Hilton, would not only be home on Sundays but they would shorten their Saturdays to only half a day!

“Why kill ourselves on the short haul, Mr. Hilton?” he asked.  “Lord willing, we are going to be here a long time so let’s make sure we are at our best over the long haul.  It’s the same money, we have the hands now in place to handle the situation in our absence, let’s make this job last a long, long time.  An extra half day’s rest every week will keep us strong.”

I guess that was the happiest that we ever were.  We would never be any happier than on those sun filled Sundays.  Riverboats brought new families to the County, it seemed like, every day.

One Saturday afternoon, after Hilton came home early, we caught one of those dancing and singing riverboats and rode it all the way to Clarksville.  Hilton called it our wedding celebration that we never got to have.  He bought me a new, fancy dress and a hat to go with it and made me feel like the most special woman in the County.  We ate supper at a highfalutin restaurant with a maid who brought everything out to us and even cleaned up after us when we were finished.  I felt like a queen in one of those Riverboat books.  We saw something Hilton called a Play that was named, “Romeo and Juliet”.  I thought it was the saddest and most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  Hilton was so tired from the Mill that he slept through most of it but I didn’t miss a word or a move during the whole presentation. We spent the night in a room looking out over the River and I made love to my man like it was the first time, all over again.  Afterward, as we sat outside under the moon and the stars watching that old river roll by Hilton whispered in my ear, “When love is love, baby.”

“Its you and me,” I answered.  I never felt so loved and so in love and so proud to be alive. It was hard to believe that so much had changed in our lives in only one short year.

End of Chapter 4


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“Stories From Potneck” on Page Two.

Honor.  Tradition.  Love.  Family.  Strength.  Courage.  Sacrifice.

All of these words, and 1,000 more, define what is found in the lives of people from Potneck.

In our newest feature, “Stories From Potneck”, PNN will share with you the power that fuels our lives.  Reading these stories will help people understand why we are proud to call ourselves “Potneckers”.

We know who we are and with these stories we remember where we came from.  These are your stories and at PNN we hope to receive them by the truckloads so that we may never run out of ways to share our love for Potneck.

Send your stories by clicking on the “Comment” section below or private message me on Facebook.

We are proud to be Potneckers and this is one place that we can show it!

A special thank you to Mitchell Earhart for providing PNN with excellent pictures from Potneck.

Special thanks, also, to our first contributors, Pamela Kay Austin via LeAnna Oliver.  Their story embodies Potneck, to the core.


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The Excitement

Chapter 3

Great Western Days

Proverbs 14:4

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.


July 1854

“Miss Eleanor, you and Samuel get ready to come with me, if you like, to the meeting house.  Mr. Brandon Elam says his brother, Luke, is coming across the river from Great Western and he’s got a job offer to make us.  Word is that it may be about us working at the new Iron Furnace they’ve built over there and buying our freedom with the earnings. It’s what we’ve been hoping and praying about for so long.  You feel up to it, Mama?” Hilton Jacobs placed a large, strong, but gentle hand over his wife’s pregnant belly as he asked her this question.

“I don’t think I can, Hilton,” she answered.  I felt sick in my stomach again this morning and I don’t feel up to chasing Samuel down when all he wants to do is run and play.  And, besides, that meeting house is no place to meet, anyway.  You know what the Court said.” Eleanor didn’t want to preach to her husband but she did want him to think about everything that was going on around him.

“No more than three slaves can meet together at any one time.  That’s the County law! Now, that does worry me a bit but you go on.  If the Elam brothers are calling it then surely those Committee of Safety men won’t hold you up.  I’ll stand by you if you want to go over to the Furnace and work.  The Elam’s are honest and fair and I trust in you and them to do what is right.  Samuel and I will be just fine right here.”  She looked her husband in the eye as she spoke.

“But you watch out for them County men!”  Eleanor was always cautious for her husband.

Theirs was a relationship founded in love, built on trust, and held together by honor.  It all began for them on the first day of Spring, 1846.  Her and Hilton were thrown together in haste to satisfy old man Cross Elam’s desire to have a new grapevine set that very morning. The only people available to do it right then and there were a young house maiden who was more in the way than a help and a new man just brought over from North Carolina named Hilton Jacobs.

When old man Cross said, “now”, he meant, “Now!”  He supervised every detail of that morning’s grapevine setting with an eagle’s eye and a buzzard’s pecking.  To him, this vine was no different than any of the rest.  The old coot had at least twenty-five other grapevines he tended to and considered himself an expert on their raising.  For someone who never got any dirt on his hands, he knew a lot.  He was particular, too.  I heard he whipped a man once for running through his vineyards.  He was a hard man to please.

The first time Hilton laid eyes on Eleanor he was a changed man.  Surely, he thought to himself, he had reached the Promised Land because there, in front of him, stood an angel.

Thick as they were and with braces that were twenty years ahead of their time, Hilton Jacobs molded the framework for these vines not as if he were making it for their owner but as if he was making it for Eleanor.  Ol’ Cross could see right off that this new man had a fine hand for grapes but it was just beyond his grasp as to why he worked so compassionately to set them just right.  After this day, Hilton’s main job was tending to all the vines and their supports that were scattered throughout Cross Elam’s domain.  He cared substantially less about the vines than he did the young woman he now worked alongside. He adored her.  It was no secret to him that the longer he worked on the grapes, the more time he was able to spend with her.  He mentioned to Mr. Elam that the young girl had a fine eye for the vineyards.  The old czar agreed and their destiny would soon be met.

At first, young Eleanor became frustrated with the new man’s meticulous surroundings of the vine’s braces and how they must be maintained to the tiniest detail.

“Just please move on with it,” she demanded.

“You’ll like these grapes, Miss Eleanor.  I promise it,” he said.

Later that night as she lay awake in her bed, she did, indeed, realize that the special care he offered to the work was actually intended for her, to impress her.  She hoped it to be so. She thought to herself, what would it be like if he were that way in everything he did and if it were so, wouldn’t it be nice and wouldn’t it be like Heaven, on earth?  It was then, in the stillness of her night, that she prayed to God, the Almighty, that she had found the man she could spend the rest of her life with.  Her awkward, nervous excitement kept her awake for hours.  At her young age, she had never had this feeling before.  Could she make him see it?  Would she need to?

But, the die was cast.  In Hilton Jacob’s bed, across the farm and so many years ago, another kindred soul found it, too, had trouble falling asleep.

“You make me strong,” Hilton told his wife.  “My life was nothing before I met you.  I went from being a field hand to a family man after you came into my life.  You’ve given me reason to live and reason to prosper.  Everything I am, I am because of you.  I want to tell you every day how much I love you, Mrs. Eleanor Jacobs.”  Hilton held her hands.  “You make me proud to be your man.  I’ll be back directly with the good news, I hope.”

“When love is love, baby, its you and me.”  Eleanor said as she reached to caress the cheeks of her husband’s face.

“When love is love,” Hilton answered.

The house where the working men were to meet was North of the main house by about a mile and three-quarters.  It lay across a green meadow and down through a well worn wagon path that passed two sacred tobacco fields, a creek that fed the river, and woods of oak and hickory.  By the way, it flanked a limestone bluff that overlooked the river.  When Hilton arrived there were already a large number of men gathered to hear what Mr. Luke Elam had to offer them.  Word of the prospect of freedom traveled fast.

Almost all of the black men present, or their mothers and fathers, were brought to this County in bondage.  The one thread that ran true among most of them was that they were all brought here, one way or another, by Cross Elam.  He was dead now.  Killed by a falling rafter in a sacred tobacco barn back in ’51.  Justice, some people said.  It fell hard now on Luke and Brandon Elam to consider the destiny of these men.  They judged it to be their Christian obligation to do them right by God’s law.  It was a challenge they did not take lightly.  They were saddled with the burden of Cross Elam’s life and they aimed to make it right.

Old man Cross Elam had spent a large portion of the family’s fortune on acquiring slaves.  Over ten thousand dollars in good deals, and bad, some speculated.  It fell on the brothers, after their daddy had passed, to do something with that investment.

Seventeen male slaves and a few “free men” stood and watched as the Elam brothers walked toward the steps of the meeting house to address them.  The Elam’s didn’t go up the steps but stood on the ground in front of them and looked directly in their eyes as they spoke.

“Good afternoon, men,” Brandon Elam began.  “Do you mind if we start with a word of prayer?”

Hilton knew right off that negro men praying in public was against the County law but he bowed his head just like everybody else.

“Father, we know that you are our Savior.  We pray that this beginning, whatever it may be, will be filled with your presence.  We ask that you continue to bless us, protect us, and guide us in our lives so that we may walk with you in the light and others will know immediately that we are Christians.  We thank you, Dear Lord, for your salvation and your saving grace.  In Jesus’ holy name we pray, Amen and Amen.  I’m proud that you’ve all chosen to come and hear what my brother has to say,” the younger Elam announced after the prayer.

“I think he has an offer that may benefit us all.  As many of you know, after our daddy passed things changed a little around here.  He, rest his soul, believed a mighty bit different than we do about owning slaves.  Since his death we have not increased your numbers and we are most interested in every one of you obtaining your freedom as soon as possible.  In this way, you may all get on with your lives and raise your families the way you choose, in the manner that you decide.  That is all we want and we are sure that is all you want, too. If we could we would set everyone here free immediately.  But, we can’t do that.  With no help in the fields we could not get our tobacco out or in and we would lose everything.  The livestock would suffer tremendously with no one to tend and to care for them.  We understand the wonderful prominence that you have and the skills that you bring to our farm.  We hope you will understand that we have to make a transition to the new way that is fair to everyone.  To this end, we know that while working the tobacco fields you can only save about twenty dollars a year to put towards buying your freedom. A whole year’s worth of work only yields twenty dollars!  Hilton you, for example, after eight solid years of farm work have only paid one hundred sixty dollars on your three hundred dollar freedom debt.  You have put that twenty dollars every year on your debt. Others don’t.  Others may work ten years and not pay a dime on their debt.  They will never earn their freedom. My question to you, and everyone else here, is this; what is the sense in working for your freedom if it takes twenty years to forever to earn it?  The best years of your life are then behind you.  Your children are grown.  Then, you have to start all over on your own free dreams.  I am sorry that is all we’ve had to offer you for these past few years and I thank you for your patience with us.  Its just that you, and we, have grown accustomed to that way of life.  That was the “Cross” way of living.  It was the only horse in town, the only road to take, and it was all we knew.  But that was the old way.  Now, my brother Luke wants to give you another choice.  He wants to offer you another road to travel.  Don’t be afraid to change, gentlemen.”  Brandon Elam stepped aside and Luke began to speak.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Thank you, again, for coming.  The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful day.  I’ll get right to the point.  As many of you already know, over at Great Western we’ve spent three years building a brand new iron mill.  Now we need good, strong men to operate it and care for it.  She’s like a lady, men.  If you take care of her and treat her right she’ll make us all better for it.  I will not give you any false hope or false promises, it is hard work and it is hot work.  Many of you who agree to go will be mining for ore in the side of a hill with pick and ax.  You’ll work ten hours a day Monday through Saturday to get that pig iron out and it will take you nigh on two hours to travel to and from work.  That is, if you choose not to stay all week and go home only on Sunday.  At the Great Western Furnace there will be two full working shifts and a cleanup crew at night. Altogether, the mill will operate twenty-four hours a day.  I say again and hear me, it is hard and demanding work but, if you agree to work at the Furnace, you will be provided with many extra allowances.  Among these will be tougher and more durable clothes to wear.  New boots will be given every six months to each man who continues to work the mill.  Special consideration will be given to those of you with families to support.  You’ll be spending more time at the Great Western and you won’t want to worry about having enough food or wood or water at home.  We will see that all of your family’s needs are met. Doubled, if need be.  Finally, and this is the best news of all, for every one of you here today who agrees to our plan and will sign on, my brother will be allocated, to set aside, one hundred dollars.  Of that sum, twenty-five dollars, after three months at the mill, will go directly into your pockets to spend any way that you like.  Twenty-five dollars of that money will go to Mr. Brandon to hire workers for the tobacco field and farm positions that you vacate.  We can not let our crops and our livestock fall away without proof that our Furnace will sustain us, men.  But the bulk of the money, fifty dollars a year, will go directly into your “freedom funds”.  This money will buy back your freedom at a much faster pace.

In conclusion, to assure all of you that we are serious about Freedom, anyone here that will commit today to work the Great Western, and will work it for a two year contract, will have fifty dollars subtracted from their total price of Freedom.  This will take effect, Lord willing, with a twenty-five dollar subtraction one year from today and a twenty-five dollar subtraction two years from today.  Everyone think about where they were one year ago. It’s gone by quickly hasn’t it, men?

Hilton, you could be a free man in three years, not twelve.  Then, for the next ten years after that you’ll be earning over one hundred dollars a year at the mill working as a free man and all of this for you and for your family!  You could buy the land you live on, work it for yourself, and answer to no man.  That is Freedom, gentlemen.  That’s my offer, the high and the low of it.  I’m here to see if any of you might be interested.  I need to know today.  If you are, please make your mark next to your name on this piece of paper and I’ll be waiting for you on Monday morning at five o’clock by the river to ferry you across that river and into your free future.  There will be no surprises.  I hope you will all give this a great deal of consideration before you sign.  Everything said here today is true. Especially, the part about the hard work.  That is the truest word of all.”

As Luke Elam stepped away from the steps and walked towards a table that was set up with with paper and writing instruments, he tried to look the men in their eyes to get an understanding of their feelings.  Many had gathered around Hilton Jacobs and the Elam brothers heard the men of bondage asking Hilton questions.  They wanted to know if it were true, could they be free men in five years?  Would their families be taken care of in their absence?  Would the Elam’s do as they promised?  Hilton answered in the affirmative on every question and added that he thought, in his heart, that they would do all these things.

With every answered question the men looked unbelievably towards one another.  Some smiled wildly.  A few had tears in their eyes and did not speak.  Luke hoped, even prayed, that he spoke the right words and, as he took his spot by the table, he learned that he had. All of those men who had smiled wildly before, all of those who had said nothing before, all of those with bewildered looks before, now formed a group that began to make a long line in front of the table.  They reached out to shake his and his brother’s hand and to take their turn at the signing table.  The hand shaking was the bond.  The signing was just a formality.

“Thank-you, Mr. Luke.  We’ll be there.  We’ll all be there,” they told him.

“Don’t thank me yet, gentlemen,”  Luke warned.  “After a month at the mill you may all hate me.”

Of the seventeen men the Elam brothers hoped to recruit to begin to fill the ranks of the Great Western, twenty were signed.  The signing of the three free men were especially important to the brothers because they would show that these men could earn all of their money for just themselves and that there was, indeed, truth in their words.

All of the men’s spirits were lifted.  They agreed, sometimes, that if God had meant for their journey through life to be spent, for a time, as slaves, he allowed that their paths on this Earth would cross with Luke and Brandon Elam.  Their farms were tolerable.  They treated dutiful workers with dignity and humanity.  They did not believe in whipping or posting as most of the other owners did.  But, most importantly, the eventual goal was common to all, Freedom.  From this quest for freedom a mutual respect was forged.

Luke Elam was fond of saying that it was every man’s right to choose the plow or the book. By that, he meant that a man could farm or learn a trade.  He considered them both equal and honest ways of making a living and made it possible for all men under his direction to have that choice.

In open defiance of the County Court, both brothers allowed all of their hands to meet freely to discuss any problems that they had.  They allowed Church services to be held on their property and did their level best to keep the Court’s deputies from disrupting any religious meetings.  Many were the times an Elam brother was seen at the Stewart County Court House paying a ten dollar fine for unlawful assembly of slaves.

After Cross Elam died the brothers called all of the dutiful workers together and told them that they were working on a solution to the problem of taking so long to earn their freedom.

Now Mr. Luke had, in three gratifying years, worked himself into the position of “founder” at the newly built Great Western Furnace.  He was second in command only to the “iron master”, who also happened to be the principle owner.  Old Cross, when alive, never allowed young Luke to work at any of the established iron mills spread throughout the County.

“You’ll always be a tobacco farmer, boy.  Get used to it,” the old man would say and then spit his mouthful of sacred tobacco juice toward the feet of the young Elam whenever the subject came up.

It was very soon after their father died that the two brothers made a calculated guess that one of them could continue farming as easily as two and the other could learn the lucrative Iron business.  They ventured that both of them would benefit greatly in the outcome. Now, only three short years later, the brothers were ready to put their well laid plans into effect.  The brothers were talking to Hilton Jacobs.

“Hilton,” said Brandon Elam, “You are one of the main reasons why our farm was able to keep up and operate over the last three years without Mr. Luke.  You’ve helped to get us to this point as much, or more, than anyone else here and I mean to tell you that I thank you for that.”

Mr. Luke added, “Hilton, I’m not going to lie to you or anybody else here.  If we can’t make this new operation run smoothly and efficiently and turn a profit, then I am out of a job.  I won’t know as much as I think I do and I guess all we can ever hope to be are tobacco farmers.  But I don’t believe that.  I want you, Mr Hilton, to be my daytime “keeper” at the mill.  You’ll get extra pay for that.  I’ll teach you everything you need to know.  What I mean is, I’ll soon need you more than you will need me.  Can we do this?”

“You can count on me, Mr. Luke,” Hilton said, confidently.

“One more thing,” Luke said.  “You will be overseeing many men at the Great Western. From this day forward, Brandon and myself will always refer to you as Mr. Hilton and so shall all of your men.  So, thank you, Mr. Hilton.”

Until his dying day, that was so.

Hilton was without words.  Mr. Luke was nearly 15 years older than he was.  Hilton was still a young man when he first came to know the Elam brothers.  Now they would call him Mister!  He had to let all of this sink in.  He had to get home to Miss Eleanor to share this news with her.

Shots fired!  Shots, fired overhead.  Everyone hunkered down and looked around with surprise.  They had all been so caught up in their future plans that no one had noticed as County Constable and Committee of Safety rider Thomas Opson quietly slipped up on them on horseback with four other Committee of Safety riders and fired his rifle into the air.

“This is an unlawful assembly.  You Elams know the law!  Both of you brothers are under arrest for allowing an unlawful assembly of Negroes.  You coming peacefully?” Opson asked.

“This is an agricultural lesson Opson,” Brandon allowed, “Nothing more.”

“I don’t care what it is, Elam,” Opson argued.  “Let’s go to Dover to see what the Judge has to say about it.”

“Both of us, Opson?  We only had one meeting.” Luke answered.

“Alright, Elam.  One of you get on your horse and go with us to Dover and the other one get these workers on a march back to their quarters and Elams, I do mean now.”

Luke looked at Hilton.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “We knew this could happen.  We expected it to. They will fine me ten dollars and I’ll be on my way.  Stay with Brandon, keep the men together and safe, see them home and I’ll meet you Monday morning at the ferry. Good luck, Mr. Hilton.”

“Good luck, Mr. Luke,” Hilton said as they both shook hands in front of an indignant Thomas Opson.

End of Chapter 3



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The Excitement

Chapter 2


When we reached the house Drew went by the fireplace to sit.  Once there, he soon fell asleep.  Mama went about her regular sunday after Church routine of helping Miss Elly with the chores.  They sat on the side porch rocking, talking, and separating the last of the sacred tobacco seed for the planting.

“Miss Elly,” Mama said, “I’m thinking about something special for supper tonight to go with those beans we’ve got soaking.  What do you think about that fatted hen in the coop?  Do you reckon she’d pluck out easy and boil up good?”

Miss Elly smiled.  “I reckon she would indeed, Margaret.  But what about Marse James, won’t he be furious that we cooked up his prized hen without him being here to oversee the plucking and eat the breast?”

“That fat hen will be eaten and long forgotten before that man ever sets foot back on this property, if he ever does.”  I was surprised to hear Mama say that.

“Then its settled, Elly,” she added.  “Later, I’ll get a pot of water boiling and commence to pulling those feathers.  We’ll make it a real fancy sit down supper and we’ll let Sassy make those dumplings we’ve been promising to teach her about.  Will you ask Mose, later, to sharpen up his hatchet?”

“I will, Margaret,” Miss Elly said with a satisfied smile.

I didn’t know why they were planning this frilly supper.  We only had chicken on celebration days and we would never do anything like this without daddy here.  He would forbid it.  I thought Mama must surely be going crazy or, at least, trying to hide her sadness by busying herself with a day’s worth of work.  To sacrifice one of his precious hens without him being here was something that I just couldn’t understand.

It seemed that most everyone else, though, was excited about this last minute supper and a small crowd was beginning to gather around the chicken coop to watch Mose make that hen run around the stump with it’s head cut off.

I knew that my friend, Hilmon, would be on Writer’s Rock waiting for me but I wasn’t ready to go down to the rock just yet.  Those Federal men had come by the house first looking for my father and then they proceeded on to the church.  Everyone knew my daddy was in jail.  The terrible secret was out.  Our pretentious innocence was covered with shame.  I couldn’t face my friend.

I went to the only place I could find peace.  I went to the tree.  My oak tree.  Along a line running north and south on the eastern side of the house stood a row of fifteen oak trees.  All of them were 60 years old and they were each 20 paces apart.  Grandpa knew how old they were because he planted them.  He planted them all except the furthest one out from the house, the one that marked the entrance to our road.  This tree was older than the other oaks.  It was, according to my Grandfather, 80-100 years old.  When you walked down that long row of trees and got to the oldest and the biggest one, the last one away from the house, you were on the road to Dover.  In older times, Grandpa said, this old oak was the setting for the celebration of a new beginning.  After the War of Independence veterans of that War gathered here with their families to remember their sacrifices and to remember those who gave their lives for freedom.  They used to assemble there every year in the summer, he said, to celebrate but those days ended long before my time.  He told me grand stories about the food and the happiness and the large groups of people that once congregated around this tree.  My tree.  More than one Governor had spoken beneath it, he bragged.  Grandpa said he missed those celebrations after they stopped.  He said people forgot about the sacrifices that were made to win that War.  People forgot about how hard it was to get free.  He said his daddy reminded him of that every day.  He said that making a free living, once only a dream, was made available to everybody because of that War, the War for Independence.

He always told me, the journey of life is the reward.  Nobody remembers their beginning and the end is always just a little too sad.  The journey of life is where your most precious memories are made.

He didn’t agree with that northern war that came to Dover.  It didn’t seem right to him that we all had to fight again and even amongst ourselves.  He said the problem was that people wanted perfection or at least they expected everyone else to be perfect.  They expected perfection in an imperfect world and they had nothing more important to do than to hurry about pointing fingers about why everyone else was wrong.  That was why they stopped coming to the celebrations, he said.  It was because of all of the hurrying and the scurrying and the forgetting about what was important.  It was because people were not taking care of their own.

It was under this tree, in the wonder of Spring, that he showed me the path to reach a higher plane, a plane separated from the tangled web of man.  He showed me a place where inner peace could replace outer struggle.  Its a simple thing, really.  Slow down, he said.  Slow down.  Grandpa taught me to lay back in the great tree of understanding.  He said to let it’s branches be your cradle.  Rest your head back, close your eyes, and breathe.  Then, listen.  Listen to the sounds around you and understand how to live within them.  There is a peace to be found there, he said.  And he was right.

This massive tree leaned just enough into the road so that footsteps carved into it’s side by my Grandfather provided an easy access to climb up and into it’s hidden domain.  Just as with him two generations before, it now became my fortress.  It was my fortress of wood.  I felt safe there.  The world in all of it’s glory could go by and nothing could harm me there.  I wanted the world to go by quickly now.

In the summer when the leaves are green and full no one can see you there.  The branches are thick and one can easily lay on them without fear of falling.  Hilmon and I stayed there for hours at a time watching the carriages and the people streaming by like so many fish on the road below us.  This was the road to the West.  The was the road back to the East.  There was never a shortage of travelers on this road.  Sometimes we would toss acorns or green walnuts at the backsides of their horses to see them jump and scatter.  Hilmon was the best.  He could strike a horse in the hindquarter with one throw nearly every time.  Laughter became our only giveaway.  The tree was our window to the world and together Hilmon and I watched it go by.  Together, we speculated on it’s vastness, on it’s smallness, on it’s cruelty, and on it’s compassion.  All of these things came, we soon understood, in their own time and in no small quantity.

Now, and again, came the beginning of Spring.  It was my favorite time of the year.  Only the rain was left of cold winter and summer days of life lie ahead.  The leaves of my oak were not yet in full bloom but even in the Spring I could hide in the tree with little effort.  Branches of enormous size crisscrossed the road and you actually had to lean out of them to be seen.  The branches were open and comfortable and I lay there motionless on my branch watching carriages come and go from our house with some regularity.  All of the haughty, stately neighbors were coming by to assure Mama that everything would be all right.  They each stayed about ten minutes.  Not even long enough for tea.  Then, they left.  Sometimes, as the carriages met in the roadway beneath me, they paused to discuss the situation with one another and I could hear them talking about the Excitement.  The Excitement they talked about didn’t sound like the excitement that happened in our church.

I don’t know but I think I fell asleep and was dreaming so it was a long time before I came down from the tree.  I thought I heard Hilmon calling my name before I realized he wasn’t there.  It was way after supper and almost dark when I finally got back to the house.  Miss Elly and Mama were taking turns rocking and playing with Miss Elly’s new grandbaby on the front porch.  Mama asked me if I wouldn’t mind stacking some firewood on the side porch.  I knew we hadn’t had blackberry winter yet so I started right in to stacking.  Miss Elly asked me if I needed any help but I said no, thank you.  She smiled and started into the house but stopped just outside the door.

“Hil went down to the tree looking for you at suppertime.  You feel all right, Comer”, she asked?

“Yes, Miss Elly, I feel fine”, I answered.  I kept stacking wood on the porch until it was more than enough to warm a blackberry winter.  I stacked it up high but safe enough to stand on it’s own.  I didn’t know when daddy would be home but I had a feeling that my sacred tobacco patch just got bigger.

It was dark and I was hungry so I ate some dumplings and cornbread before I went to bed.  I tried not to think about daddy much and I slept well, for all the commotion of the day.  I slept so well that the next morning I woke up late.  The sun was already up.  I was called, Miss Elly said, but missed a sitdown breakfast so I grabbed a biscuit and rushed out the door to find Hilmon.  The sting of Sunday’s events had somehow softened with the arrival of a new day.  The sun was shining and it was even warmer than the day before.  It felt good on my face.  It made me feel more like Summer and it made me more anxious to get to Writer’s Rock to see Hilmon Jacobs.

I ran to the end of the oaks, turned away from town, and ran straight to the first curve in the road where I cut across the hollow and down into the clearing where Writer’s Rock lay.  There, on the rock, I found Hil.  Even this early in the morning, with the sun just rising, I knew I could find my friend there.  The sun was beaming through the trees and warming the large piece of limestone that we had christened Writer’s Rock.  Hilmon was spread across the top of it like dinner on the table.  I mean, he was all over it!  As I watched he arched his back, stretching in the morning sun.  Pressing against the stone’s hardness with his shoulders and the back of his neck, he rolled his chest upward.  He reached back and pushed up with his hands beside his head and elevated the smallness of his midsection into the air until he formed a perfect, inverted arch on the rock.  Once his stretch was complete he settled effortlessly back down to the prone position and wriggled his toes freely in the warm sunlight.

Hil was my best friend.  He had always been my best friend.  He taught me how to fish.  Not just dropping a line in the water kind of fishing but how to think like a fish.  Where I might go, what I might eat, and when I might be hungry if I were a fish.  That included showing me his best, secret fishing holes.  We got fat on fish!  We hunted squirrels together, swam across the river together, and when we played fox and hounds nobody tree’d Hil and me.  I learned the world from Hil.  I even learned how to kiss a girl from Hil.  Kind of, anyway.  I saw him kissing Lucretia Skelton behind the haystack at the Harvest Festival.  He knew that I saw him.  She didn’t know.  I saw the wink in his eye proclaiming his pride.  I witnessed his celebration in living and his passion for life.  I needed Hil to show me these things.  He was closer to me than my own flesh and blood brother.

“Hil, hey Hil,” I say.

“Hey, Comer.  Down here.  On the rock,” he called back.

As I reached him we smiled at each other and nodded but did not speak.  We just milled about, sitting on the rock, and I took my shoes off too so the heat from the rock could soak up into the soles of my feet.

We understood personal trials.  We’d been through that before.  I stood by Hil many times when he was challenged about his color by some poor bred, towny rapscallion who hurled ignorant, angry words or demeaning personal insults at him.  Even so, Hil didn’t need me to do that.  He was a strong man in his own right.  No matter what was said about him or us, we stood together.  It was an inner bond that we shared.  It said, plainly, I understand you and, as your friend, I stand beside you at all times.  You are not alone.  It feels good to know that you have at least one friend who will never reject you, at least one person who you can count on when you need them.  There is strength in knowing that not everyone is against you.  Especially, if that someone is someone you trust with your life.  Hilmon would never kick me when I was down.  We sat there for a long time, enjoying the increasing warmth of the sun until, finally, I broke the silence.

“Mama left out early this morning,” I said.  “According to Miss Elly, her and Uncle Mose went all the way to Clarksville.  Miss Elly said they wouldn’t be back until Wednesday night, if then.

“I know,” Hil explained.  “I watched them from the tree until they got all the way around the far bend.”

The far bend was a country mile away from Hilmon’s vantage point deep in the tree.  Watching family members or friends as they left the farm was a safety precaution Hil and I practiced religiously.  It was an understood form of protection, spiritual maybe, to be watched or to be looked out for until the line of sight was broken.  As long as you could keep someone in your train, to us, they would remain safe and in the spirit of safety.  It was an unspoken signal of vigilance for Hil and I and whether we be sender or receiver it acted as a shielding vanguard to keep our world unblemished, untangled, uncomplicated, and perhaps, even innocent.  If you could see it you could protect it, we believed.  There are bad men out in the world.  Even, we understood, in Stewart County.  No one should have to be alone.  Anyway, it was good luck, we said, to keep someone in your sights as they were leaving.  I knew Hil had done me a great favor.

“Thanks, Hil, ” I said.  “I reckon she had to get over to the Court to see about daddy.  It ain’t a good thing, Hil.  Something ain’t right.”

“Reckon its been that way a long time, Comer.”

“I know, Hil.  Yankees and all coming, its got to be about the War.  But that’s been over a long time, Hil.  Why did they come back now?” I asked.

“Comer, I’ll tell you something but you got to promise not to tell anybody.  You promise?”

“I promise, Hil,” I said.  And I meant it.

“Comer, them wasn’t Yankees that come and got your daddy yesterday.  Up at the Free Will Church last night the preacher said they come and got your daddy and four other men in the County yesterday over the Excitement that happened in town about 15 years ago.”

“The excitement, what excitement?” I asked.  I didn’t know what Hilmon was talking about because I was only 14 years old.  “That was before I was born, Hil.  How could those men come and get daddy over something that happened so long ago?  That was even before the War!”

“I don’t know, Comer.”  Hil said.  “The Preacher acted more different than I have ever seen when he spoke about this Excitement.  He said it was a bad time and a lot of people got hurt, even killed.  I could tell it was important because everybody got real quiet and then the preacher started praying for strength and understanding.  He come and stood right by my Mama and put his hand on her shoulder.  When the prayer was finished we all just come home.  I asked Mama what it was about but she just shook her head, no.”

“Miss Elly didn’t tell you nothing,” I asked.

“Nothing,” Hil answered.  “She just shook her head.  Thats all I know.”

“Thanks, Hil.  I won’t say anything.”  I thought about what my father had to do with this bad time.  I worried that it couldn’t be anything good.  After a while I told Hil that I was going home to sit for a spell.  I felt like I needed to be at home with Drew.  Maybe I could help him to understand.  Maybe I could help myself to understand.  I still didn’t know anything but I had a bad feeling way up in my gut.  I put my shoes back on, we said our good byes, and I got up to leave from the rock.  After I walked all the way up to the top of the ridge, I turned and looked back down to see Hil.  He lie there, still, bathing on the rock in the Spring sun but all the while watching me.  As I looked he stood up erect and raised his long, sinewy arm above his head to wave goodbye, again.  I waved back.  It was then, at that moment, that I realized how much I needed Hil to be my friend and how much everything fit together between us.  The trust, the honor, the respect, and the love was all there for me.  It would be a very long time before I would come to understand that he could never need me the same way.

End of Chapter 2


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Based on actual events occurring December 5th, 1856 in Dover, Tennessee.

The following portrayals would have been very hard to photograph.



Chapter 1

“Turn with me in your Bibles, if you will, to Isaiah 1:15 and follow in the scripture.”

“And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; And yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: Your hands are full of blood.”

“Brethren,” the Preacher continued, “the Lord has a message for you here.  Are you listening to Him?  Do you understand what He is saying?  Do you hear the warning He is giving you?  You can’t keep on with your back door sinning, you can’t keep on hurting your neighbor, and you can’t keep on denying the presence of the Lord because when you’ve committed too much sin, when you’ve gone too far with the Devil, your begging won’t do you any good.  Your pleading won’t do you any good.  The Lord won’t even look at you. He’ll turn his eyes away from you.  He won’t listen to your prayers.  He has no place in Heaven for you when your hands are full of blood.  So confess your sins, Brothers and Sisters.  I pray today that you will seek the mercy of the Lord before it is too late.  On this fine April morning that our God has seen fit to share with us, where His sun is shining and His birds are singing, don’t tarry any longer.  Our Father is calling you now.  Will you answer Him?  Will you come to Him, serve Him, and will you reconfirm your love for the Christ Jesus?  If you will, come now around this altar for the Lord, seek His forgiveness, and thank Him for His everlasting, saving grace.  Come now as we all stand and sing.”

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.  Everyone sang in a loud and proud voice.  Our Preacher had stirred us all up with his sermon and even though nobody took him up on his offer of salvation, we were all still happily singing right in the middle of it.  I sang while my little brother Drew hummed.  After the hymnal, the Pastor asked the ushers to take up an offering.  They passed the twig woven collection baskets up and down the wooden church pews, picking up coins and an occasional dollar.  I gave a Confederate dollar once but Mama said it wasn’t any good to the church anymore.  That’s when I knew all my Rebel money was bad.  If the church couldn’t find a use for it then nobody could.  Confederate money wasn’t worth a horse’s hair after 1865.  It was just a pretty picture on a piece of paper.  I traded with it when I could, mostly just with my friends, sometimes at ten times less it’s value because Federal dollars were awful hard to come by, even if you wanted them.

This Sunday, as always, Mama gave me and Drew a nickel’s worth of pennies to split up and we put them in the basket as it passed by.  Today, I got to throw in two pennies and he dropped three.  We switched up every week.  Next week, Lord willing, I would give three and him, two.  It was a ritual we’d been practicing for going on six years.  Ever since that War of Northern Aggression ended and we were able to start going back to church regular, we did this.  I was born 7 years before Drew so, as I remember, when we first started putting our pennies in I got to give four and he was happy just to put one in.  Now that he is older and bigger, he wants to be more equal.  That’s fair.  Pretty soon I hope to be working for real wages raising my own sacred tobacco.  Then, Lord willing, I’ll have my own money to give. I guess he’ll get to give the whole nickel then and be proud.  He’ll feel bigger, like I used to.

After the offering we took Communion.  “Go slow with the tray, Comer,” Mama said. She still remembered the Sunday morning when I spilled the Blood of Christ all over the brand new suit Drew was wearing and then, being afraid of my mistake, I ran outside leaving her with the unenviable task of picking up the thimble glasses and wiping down Drew.

Our mother threw her head back sharply as she accepted her holy elixir of life and the blood of Jesus raced, uninhibited, down her throat to purify her sins.  Even so, if she had any sins we didn’t know about them.  She always sat with her back straight and erect, much like her way.  Her hands were folded nicely and rested gently in her lap as she sat. The collar on her dress stretched to the tip of her chin.  She was a proper person.  Her long black hair was streaked with gray but unless you looked closely you couldn’t really tell. She kept it braided, wound up, and in a tight bun pinned to the back of her head.  Drew and me used to squeeze it like a sunflower whenever she sat in her rocker at home.  On Sunday mornings her hair was always covered with a white lace cap.  The gray hair covered by the cap revealed an age that had come quickly into her life.  At 32, most women her age had less gray hair.  She accepted hers with grace.  She accepted it with dignity.

The paned, stained glass windows were open in the church and a warm breeze blew through them from side to side.  It was a comfort to us all and kept most of our Resurrection Sunday hand fans tucked away in the handsome pockets that were fashioned on the back of each pew.

Drew fanned the air with one of them as he rested on Mama’s lap and I watched Mr. Lemuel Stimpson nodding off to sleep two rows in front of us.  I counted the seconds between the time his head would drop.  First eight, then six, now back to seven again. Both Mr. Lemuel and the Preacher seemed to move together in tempo and time.  The cadence of the Preacher’s oration, tuned well with his natural spiritual power and strong force of delivery, was punctuated again and again with a thunderous Bible slapping or a foundation shaking foot stomping that would quickly snap ‘ol man Lemuel’s head up, at least for a second or two, in honest, intended attention.  Then, without fail, has aged softness would lure and release him again to his impending inner sanctuary.  It was a peaceful, silent, and undisturbed sanctuary that he surely must have spent a lifetime cultivating for himself.  He could drift in and out of it most comfortably now.  Whether he was in church or on his own front porch, he already understood the peace that passes all understanding. I looked forward to this kind of old age.

Today, the Preacher preached on redemption.  How many times had Mr. Lemuel heard this particular sermon?  Enough, I guess, that he could recite it in his sleep.  I figured he must have heard them all many times over because he slept every Sunday.  Nobody seemed to mind.  At 82 years old he surely had at least one foot already inside the Pearly Gates and was just waiting to step on in with the other.  There was no sin upon him now. He was sanctified holy.  As for his sleeping, Mrs. Stimpson always stopped him if he started to make loud noises.  Her dignified devotion to her husband was classical. His respect for her: absolute.

Each and every Sunday our Pastor wore the same long black coat.  On it’s front were sewn five black buttons.  The straps on his coat were tanned leather and when they fastened to the buttons they joined to form the shape of the cross.  Five crosses displayed up and down it left no doubt as to his profession.  This long, pitch black coat contrasted sharply against his plain, white, high collared shirt and together they seemed to emphasize a certain sincere character in his presentation.  His white eyebrows were thick, like those on men of wisdom and they pointed like God’s own fingers to the Heavens.  His hair was long, white and wavy, and Moses, himself, could not have looked more Godly.  His boots were black, buckled, and polished and when he stomped one of them on that Trinity United Church of God floor men, and women alike, took notice.  His hat, wide and also black, had a history of being waved around his head, thrown into the air, and even slammed down on the ground all within five minutes of an inspiring outdoor revival.

The Preacher continued with his sermon on redemption and he paid no attention to the sounds of a baby whimpering softly in the back pew.  He knew he would soon have it’s consideration.  He made no particular observance to the increasing sounds of hoof beats that were being made from the many horses now heard charging down through the narrow road that led to our church.

Drew and I both sat up when we heard the commotion and we looked at each other for the longest with confused expressions.  The horses came closer, still, and we waited for them to pass by but they didn’t. We listened as a wagon was rolled up to the church’s side and it’s brake was applied.   We heard men dismount their horses and start up the steps.  The rattle of spurs and the kicking of boot heels on the lined, wooden planks of the Trinity’s front porch easily chased away, with their dominating sound, any God sent message that we may have been studying.

I knew the boots were coming in.  Drew knew they were coming in.  It wasn’t the kind of Sunday saunter that would just stop outside your door but the Preacher must have thought so because he kept on spewing out that fire and brimstone like there would be no tomorrow.  He kept on talking like he couldn’t be stopped.  He wouldn’t be stopped.  He was charged by the Lord to get his message out before any mortal man could halt him.

“Isaiah 29:15 says, Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, who sees us?  And who knows us?  The Lord knows,” he said quietly.

The doors of the church flew open!  The bright sunshine slipped across the altar and held it in an eerie glow.  No one was scared.  These men weren’t robbers, they were lawmen. United States Marshals.  They strode forcefully into the church carried, it seemed, on rays of sunshine that cascaded across the floor in long, bright illuminating sheets of light.  They blinded you if you tried to look directly at them.  Only if the men blocked out the sun with their big hats could you hope to see their faces.  As long as I live I will never forget those hats.  They were wide and banded, high dollar chapeaus.  They were not like a weather beaten trail hat that you might slap against your thigh to knock the dust off.  These were put up hats that were only worn on special occasions.  It only took a few, brief seconds for all of the men to enter the church but once inside everything they did seemed to move at a slower pace.  Simple steps, simple actions seemed to take an eternity to complete.  I could hear them talking to each other and to the congregation and telling everyone to stay seated and be calm. They all had big guns and badges to go with their big hats and I remember thinking that these men were going to get what they came for.

At first, nobody knew what that was.  They just stood there, two by the door, two by the Preacher, and four looking over the flock like an eagle getting ready to snatch a snake from it’s nest.  I looked for daddy where he always sat.  His place in church was always on the second to the front left pew but at first I didn’t see him there.  I strained again to see him riding low in his seat.  He saw me looking at him and we looked into each other’s eyes for a moment that will last forever in my mind.  I could see deep into his eyes. I saw deeper than I had ever seen before.  He didn’t show a scared or pitiful look on his face but more of a shocked look.  He was like a squirrel that heard the click of the gun but could only escape the shot for so long.  That one missed.  He wondered if he would hear the next click.  He sat there like that squirrel, waiting to be hit.  Too shocked to move, he didn’t know which way to run.  It was then that one of the men in big hats spotted my father and reached for him. He slumped back even deeper in his pew when the man, alone, grabbed him but when eight big hands were laid upon him he came up quick.

“Daddy!” I yelled and jumped up but Mama held on tight to my jacket.  I had to speak from where I stood.  “Daddy, what’s wrong? What’s happening, Mama?  What do they want with daddy?”

Mama didn’t say anything, she just held on tight to me.

“Take your hands off of me, Sir.  Who are you,”  My father demanded.  “This is my church. We’re having church here.  Have you no decency?  Unhand me you, you Yankee!  You wretched Yankees let me go, I say.”  Daddy screamed and fought with the Marshals all the way out the door.  He kicked and struggled until they finally chained him down on that wagon.

He wasn’t used to being treated that way.  He was the one in the habit of giving out the orders to have men placed in chains.  When he spoke most people reacted to his words with patronizing respect.  I knew my daddy liked people to show this type of discipline towards him.  He expected it.  He didn’t like being the hunted prey in the cage.  Not after he had played the hunter for so long.

The biggest of the men in big hats walked over to the Preacher and apologized for the disturbance.  He explained that he was dispatched directly from the Governor in Nashville to return my daddy to Clarksville where he would be held on Federal charges.  He said my father would be in the Montgomery County Court on the day after tomorrow and we could see him then.  The local, County Constable was also there but he didn’t say anything until after the US Marshals were gone.  Only then did he speak.  He told us that we could finish with our sermon now that all the excitement was over.  Upon delivering this message he walked down the aisle cradling his shotgun in his arms and he exited through the church doors much the very same way he came in.  But those doors didn’t look the same after he was gone.  The light wasn’t quite as bright.  The air was not as crisp.  Nothing looked the same anymore.

The elders huddled together with the Preacher by the altar and I walked to the window to see my daddy carried up the hollow on that big flat wagon.  Stripped of his honor and put on public display for crimes unbeknownst to Drew or me, he hung his head in shame.

Drew was crying and asked Mama why they took him away like that.

“I don’t know child.  We’ll have to wait and see.”  Mama was crying, too.  Not like if it were Drew kicking and screaming and losing his breath but hers were little tears that welled up big in her eyes and, at once, flowed in one big drop down her cheek.  These tears came from deep inside Mama.  I knew that something was bad wrong.  I had a feeling that she knew what it was but wasn’t telling.

Everyone in the church was stunned by the events.  So much so, that the Preacher dismissed us early.  His sermon on redemption was cut short by the interruption, he explained.  He added that he hoped he had hit his mark.  As we filed outside nobody said much of anything.  Almost everyone simply got onto their wagons and left.

As we walked to our team of mules, two of Mama’s friends came by and told her they would come sit with her if she wanted them to.  Their sincerity was genuine.  I could tell. It was not like the bravado that was expected of men from other men.  The women had only their dignity to maintain.  This they did very well in the face of a world ruled by tyrants that they also called husbands.  Mama told each of them that we would be alright and thanked them for their kindness.  On the way home the only sound heard among the woods was Drew’s sniffling and a mule team pulling a wagon down an old country road.

End of Chapter 1.

Potneckers, you’ve just read Chapter 1 of The Excitement. It is a story based on fact from Dover’s history.  If you liked it you can read Chapter 2 here next week. Thank you.


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151 Years After Their Deaths, Ceremony Remembers And Honors 17 Civil War Soldiers in Stewart County.

In a solemn graveside ceremony held yesterday, Veteran’s Day, on the grounds of the Dover First Christian Church cemetery, local historian Dan Griggs led a Civil War Honor Guard, The Civil War Singers, actors, widows, musicians, and citizens in paying tribute to 17 previously “unknown” soldiers who died during the Battle of Fort Donelson and were buried here in a mass grave over 150 years ago.

Click on the link below to see the splendid and admirable story as covered by Nashville’s WSMV TV Channel 4 News Reporter Dennis Ferrier.

For scores of years historians have speculated and sought to find the actual whereabouts of these fallen and forgotten men but Dan Griggs, using metal detectors, dowsing rods, probes, and a lifelong passion for history, finally discovered their remains in 2007.  It then took another 7 years to put together all of the proper documentation needed to identify these 16 enlisted men and 1 Commissioned Officer.  It may have taken 151 years to have a proper remembrance but, as local, beloved historian Dan Griggs appropriately concludes, “God takes care of those who are worthy”.

Martha Parker commented on her Facebook page the following:

As was appropriate, Dan Griggs was featured in this report.  An excerpt from Dan Bailey’s comments was also included.  Eva Linda Hays could be heard playing “Amazing Grace” on the harmonica.  I was pleased that The Civil War Singers were mentioned.

Standing on their part of the hillside on a cold day, much like the day they fell, Dan Griggs clearly read the names of these fallen heroes and Reverend Dan Bailey gave a sobering eulogy to honor the Americans, one and all.  These men are now forever remembered as each of their names is inscribed on a massive headstone at the site of their final resting place.

Wearing their full regalia, many dedicated Stewart Countians were also depicted in this story as they paid tribute to honor those now remembered men who gave the “last full measure of devotion” for their cause.


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Stewart County Lady Rebels Stand Ready For Any Challenge.

With a calm confidence that mirrors their Coach, the Stewart County Lady Rebels stand poised and ready for any challenge they may face in the upcoming 2014-15 Basketball season.

Coach Gilbert Harper leads his ladies again this year with justified confidence, a strong desire to succeed, and a solid competitive continuity.  You know what you will get with Coach Harper as he brings his well developed court awareness and phenomenal knowledge of time management to every game.  His team reflects this alertness, insight, and understanding every time they step onto the floor.  It is rare that a group of young players can place into physical action exactly what their Coach hopes to mentally achieve but Coach Harper has a way of teaching and motivating his athletes to excel at every function and every level of the game.  Like their Coach, these ladies don’t get rattled.

And what a 2014-15 lineup Coach Harper presents to the Stewart County fans!  His smart and hardworking student athletes display not just confidence but leadership, height, hustle, shooting offense, defense, rebounding, ball handling, and a Stewart County toughness that will rival anyone in the Region.  The SC Lady Rebel Champions of our past would be very proud of this year’s edition of Lady Rebels.

Senior Casey Dial at shooting guard and Junior SarahAnn Page at point guard lead a strong and seasoned front court that knows what it means to utilize ball control and discipline on every possession.  The height and youthfulness of super sophomore Savannah Slade will be a pillar of strength for SC on every play whether it be on offense or defense as there will be few in the Region that can match up with this graceful young athlete.  May Mathis’ Senior leadership adds even more strength and knowledge to the Lady Rebel’s solid lineup.  Junior wing Codie Gibbs, a PNN favorite because of her unrelenting speed, persistence, and courage, will provide the spark every night to fire up not only her team mates but also a raucous SC crowd hungry for victories.

In the old days of Stewart County we called these student athletes Rebelettes and they were known for their will, their grit, and their ability to bring home championships.

Today, they are known as Lady Rebels and they honor their history with hard work, determination, hustle, and an uncompromising desire to also bring home the hardware.  When these ladies put on the SC silks on game night they have but one focus, a focus taught them well by their Coach; Just win, baby!

SC opens up their season Tuesday night at home as Portland comes to Stewart County.  Good luck, Lady Rebels!  We’ll be cheering for you.


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What Really Happened At Fort Donelson?

This is a brilliant synopsis of the Battle of Fort Donelson.  If you have not seen this video I encourage you to watch it and become more educated on this historical subject that we all, as Stewart Countians, have in common.

Thank you, Command Combat, for an excellent report and a slight correction provided in the comments of the video.


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Don’t Forget About Page Two!

Click on the link in the header at the top of the page to look at Page Two of PNN.

PNN goes National, Global, and Geopolitical.  For a brief time this blurb will be up to remind our readers to check all the pages of PNN for stories that you might find relevant and interesting.  There may be entertainment or informational videos on Page Two, it could be anything.  It could be YOUR submissions!  PNN is evolving and expanding. Thank you for your patience as I come to fully understand the power of PNN and the proper placement of it’s stories.


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Sunday Morning Sunday School for November 2nd, 2014.


Is it a good thing?

Criticism, as defined in the dictionary, is the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of one’s “work”.  It is the act of passing judgment as to the merits of the “work”.

Is it ever useful or fitting to judge something in an unflattering way?  Is it ever useful or fitting to artfully analyze or evaluate a performance, a writing, or any piece of “work”?

What does the Bible say about criticism?

First of all, Matthew 7:1 says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

If I point out the faults in my brother, then my brother may find the same faults in me and I must be wary of that.  There is a fine line between the act of “judging” and the art of “criticizing”.

Judging someone only points fingers without offering solutions.  Constructive criticism “polishes” that lump of coal and, eventually, if worked hard enough, shines it to the luster of a diamond.  If I am constructively criticized, in truth and helpfulness, I become a better person.

Proverbs 27:6 says:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

This means we can learn more from a friend who, in earnest, tells us the harsh truth than we can learn from an enemy who tells us what we want to hear.  The friend’s chastising can be helpful while the enemy’s encouragement is hurtful.

Ephesians 4:15 says:

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.

Perhaps the New International Version of the Bible makes this verse easier to understand.

In the NIV Ephesians 4:15 translates:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4:14 tells us WHY we should speak truthfully and within a foundation of love:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.

So, we learn, there is a difference between “judgement” and “criticism”.  But beyond that, there is also a division in “criticism”.  When defining our criticism we must ask ourselves, do we analyze and evaluate the faults we see in someone’s work because we want to destroy that work or because we want to make that work stronger? Are we judging them or are we trying to help them?  Good criticism, based on truth and coming from the heart, is humble and hopes only for a measure of success to be gained from it’s constructive guidance.

Many times criticism is taken as being snooty, snobbish, egotistical, and even cold-hearted but this is sometimes just an excuse for ignoring it’s value.  It is seen by those who refuse to accept it and to learn from it as being judgmental and, therefore, it is easily discarded.

Proverbs 18:13 says:

He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him.

The Bible says that healthy criticism MUST BE based on truth.  Negligent criticism is only gossip and usually ends up embarrassing the critic.

There is a VERY BIG difference between criticizing someone to help them versus having a “critical spirit” that is NEVER satisfied.

Galatians 5:22 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and faith.

Criticism should always be grounded in the truth.  Criticism should always provide a door for the object of it’s critique to pass through to become better.

Praise the Lord.

The Bible, the word of God, is our handbook to salvation.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  Thank you for sharing it with PNN today.


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Amendment 1 on the Tennessee ballot November 4th. Where do you stand?

Pro-life versus pro-choice has been a question that many Potneckers, as well as many other Tennesseans and Americans, struggle with for much of their lives.  It is one of those situations where you may not know exactly what you will do until you are, personally, faced with it.

PNN believes that life begins at conception and, therefore, PNN is fundamentally opposed to abortion.  Two consenting adults, to include young adults, having sex, whether out of lust or love, are to be held accountable for their actions.  The child is the result of their agreed upon action.  The child must live and be loved and will be loved.

However, PNN understands that a child conceived from an evil act, such as rape or incest, is born from evil and thus, goes into a sadly gray area where the mother may then choose her destiny without the constant reminder of how, through her pain, her future was “chosen” for her, without her consent.  PNN believes this woman has a fundamental right to choose to abort a fetus created from evil.

This amendment, Amendment 1, will not outlaw abortion in Tennessee.  No matter which way Tennesseans vote on this, abortion will still be legal in Tennessee.  Amendment 1 only defines the legality of how an abortion may be obtained in our State and the restrictions that may be placed upon the facility and the people performing the acts.

This link provides many answers.

Among other assertions, this article states:

Amendment 1 will not ban abortion in our state.  It will instead give all Tennesseans a say by empowering our elected representatives to enact protections for women and unborn children.  This includes informed-consent laws so that women know of any health risks associated with their abortion — a requirement that already exists for most other major surgeries — and regular inspections of abortion facilities to ensure compliance with health regulations.

PNN found it quite interesting to learn that Tennessee ranks 3rd in the Nation for “out of State” abortions.  That is, women from “out of State” choose to come to Tennessee, more than 47 other States, to receive their abortion.

This can only mean that it is because abortion in Tennessee is, in PNN’s view, “fast and easy”, and less regulated.

The abortion “industry” is the major contributor to the forces behind voting NO on Amendment 1.  Churches and local grass root organizations are the forces behind voting YES on Amendment 1.

This should help Potneckers to understand just who they stand beside with their vote and who is behind the scenes of this heavily funded and publicized “fight”.


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Sunday Morning Sunday School for October 19, 2014.

Sanctified Holy.

Are you “sanctified holy”?  What does it mean to be, “sanctified holy”?

Brother R.B. Dowd, may he rest in peace, was a former Pastor of the Long Creek Church of the Nazarene at Long Creek, TN.  He introduced me to the phrase “sanctified holy” back in 1998.  Since then, I have sought to learn just what it means to be “sanctified holy”.

Could I be “sanctified holy”?  Could you, Dear Reader, be “sanctified holy”?  Could anyone be?

Taken in the religious content, “sanctify” means:  To set aside for sacred use, to purify.

“Holy” means:  Belonging to, derived from, or associated with a divine power; sacred.

So, if “you” are sanctified holy it means that “you”, defining “you” as the body, the flesh, the mind, the spirit and your soul, have set “yourself” aside for sacred use ONLY by, and through, the divine power of God.  That is, every part of “you” is set aside for God.

Taken in a generic content, “sanctification” means: “the state of proper functioning.” So, to sanctify something or someone means that we set that thing or that person apart for ONLY the use that was intended by its creator. It would mean that a pen is “sanctified” when it is only used to write.  If you use a pen as a pointer it is no longer sanctified.  Eyeglasses are “sanctified” only when worn to improve your vision.  Your eyeglasses are not sanctified if they rest on your head as they are not being used for their intended purpose.  In the religious sense, people are sanctified when they are used for the purpose according to God’s design.

If you are sanctified holy then you walk in the Spirit of the Lord every waking moment of your life.

Galatians 5:16 says,

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

So you can, Dear Reader, be “sanctified holy” but it is not as easy as it looks.  There was only one perfect being and that was our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The only person that I have ever known to be even close to being sanctified holy was Brother R.B. Dowd.  He lived every second of his life walking in the Spirit and sharing the gospel.  God’s light was forever showing through him.  He showed me that it could be done, if you worked at it unceasingly.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Praise the Lord.

The Bible, the word of God, is our handbook to salvation.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  Thank you for sharing it with PNN today.


Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure; I am not sanctified holy. I try to be and I work to be better almost all of the time as I try to help people and treat people fairly but there are times when I can’t hold my tongue or my pen.  I am constantly asking God to help me with my struggle of brutally calling things as I see them rather than just rolling over and taking it like I did when I was younger.  Back then, I sat blindly by and trusted man’s “authority”.  I have learned that man’s authority is not always right.  God tells me that it is sometimes better to point out a mistake rather than let it turn into something worse.  I used to hold my tongue but now, in my older age, I have learned that if you don’t take up for yourself you will get run over and silence only empowers, even more, those that don’t give a darn about anybody but themselves.

As I have mentioned here before, I don’t hold a monopoly on the truth, just my understanding of it.  I always ask for people to correct me if they believe I have spoken incorrectly.  I am always open to hearing the other side of the argument.  I am grateful that PNN is beginning to get comments after each story. I encourage everyone to go back and read them and join in the discussion.


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DATELINE: Dover, TN 10/17/2014

From the opening kick-off until the final whistle, the SCHS Football Rebels played with the passion, speed, and intensity that we’ve been looking for all season and defeated the visiting and highly ranked Lewis County Panthers 26-15 tonight in front of an appreciative and adoring home crowd and tasted sweet victory for the second time this year.

The Rebels played and were coached as if a fire had been lit beneath them and whipped the Panthers in every facet of the game.

Led by Linebacker Ryan Pinkowski, Lewis County could do nothing on offense and were lucky to get even 15 points against an aggressive, hard hitting, and tenacious Rebel defense.

With a superior ground game that chewed up minute after precious minute, the Rebels running backs Tobias Clark and Jeremy Waters followed an offensive line that fired off the ball play after play after play and pounded the Lewis County defense for all it was worth.  The running backs hit the line hard, like a Mack truck, and punished every would-be tackler.  They made Lewis County wish that they had never heard of SC.

QB Trey Wienk ran the offense that Coach Finley is famous for and left nothing to chance as they gained first down after first down and when the Rebels scored late on a 4th and 1 at the goal line to put the game out of reach, they silenced, once and for all, those annoying cow bells emanating from the visiting side.

Left bloody and battered, the Lewis County players and coaches settled in for what surely will be a very long bus ride home.

The Rebels will celebrate tonight and they deserve it.

PNN would have liked to have seen this fire lit from game one and perhaps the Rebels could have gone to the State Playoffs, as some predicted, but better late than never and this is a win that the players, coaches, and fans can be proud of.

Confidence, attitude, and a noticeable intensity in Rebel eyes is what we saw tonight.

Remember from where you summoned up this intensity and motivation, Rebel players and Coaches.  Bottle it, and then release it again next Friday night.


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Sunday Morning Sunday School for October 5th, 2014.

“God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.”

Matthew 13:51, 52 says,

51 Jesus said to them, Have you understood all these things? They answered, “Yes, Lord.”

52 He said to them, Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Some parables are old and hard to understand but we must try to understand them and apply them to our lives today.  Likewise, God says we must uncover new treasures and share new parables, as well.

Jesus made sure to ask his disciples, do you understand?

Why did Jesus make sure to ask if they understood?  Because sometimes we might not immediately understand everything in front of us.  Sometimes we come off as being nutty.  If we don’t understand something we have to think about it, we have to talk about it, we have to study it more.  Then, when we come to better understand the glory of our God, when the picture becomes clear, we will truly yield the spiritual fruits that He wants us to share with others.

Praise the Lord.

The Bible, the word of God, is our handbook to salvation.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  Thank you for sharing it with PNN today.


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Go Houston County Fighting Irish!

The Houston County Fighting Irish 2014 football squad is a team to remember for all time.  With stout determination and fearlessness they have battled all year to keep their numbers high but injuries have plagued them and their squad has dwindled to 14, barely above the scant 11 needed to field a team.

But this is not a story about the quantity of that number.  This is a story about the quality of that number.  What is left in the numbers of this 2014 Irish football team is a program that will be marked in history.  These young student athletes play with the hearts of champions.  These young men, and the school they represent, are the future and the strength of Houston County.  They carry the mail for the County on Friday nights and they do it under a tremendous hardship.

They are 14 hearts of stone, 14 hearts of Irish green and gold.  They come together, on Friday nights, against overwhelming odds to perform, to work, and to sacrifice.  They endure this long season of hard knocks for their families and for their school.  They withstand the fight against the 50-60 young men on the other side of the field every Friday night for their honor and for their pride and they do it for the nearly four score years of history making Irish teams that did it before them.  But most of all they do it for themselves because these Houston Countians just won’t quit.  In their hearts of green and white and gold they will not let their tradition die.  Not on their watch.

Showing up, representing?  It is now a green badge of honor that this team of Irish wear on game night.  They are Fighting Irish survivors and they are models of true grit, unyielding endurance, and dogged tenacity.

They are the transition between feast and famine. They may be small in numbers and short on wins but they still share a common bond and a common connection with those heroic Irish teams of the past.  They are hungry for another win.  They sweat and bleed together from Monday through Thursday working to get one.  They work out in the weight rooms during the winter and they run in the summer.  They come together, all 14 of them now with their injured players, coaches, and legacy on certain, special Friday nights.  In the fall of Houston County with a cool crispness in the air these giants of the gridiron continue a tradition of green Irish football pride.  Its not just what they do, it is who they are.  It is the true heart of green and white and gold all over.

We can see it from Potneck.

Many current Houston County citizens have stood on the Houston County fields of old and new and sweated and bled and gave their all for Irish green.  Those Irish warriors of old are now called to return once more to the Friday night lights.  Your young Irish players need you.  On at least one Friday night this year, go and cheer loudly for your team.  They will hear you.  They fight the good fight for you, for your memory.  Honor them now with your presence and your voices.  Show them how proud you are of them for carrying your flag.

Rise up, 2014 Houston County Fighting Irish Football Team.  You stand on the shoulders of champions and they will keep you strong.

Much honor and respect from Potneck to our southern neighbors in Houston County.


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The Beauty of PNN?

There is a little button at the end of every story on PNN that says, “Leave a Comment”.

Please click on it and share your thoughts.  PNN doesn’t claim to hold a monopoly on the truth, just OUR understanding of it.  We will endeavor to correct any mistakes.

The beauty of PNN is that people can respond at ANY TIME in real time and voice their concerns and, PNN promises, your opposing views will be displayed here on this format.  You can even post anonymously.


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Life is short.

In the blink of God’s eye our lives begin, they play out, and then they are over.

How did you live your life?  What legacy, what history, do you leave behind?

Find inspiration in the video below.

God isn’t found just in a building. God is found first, and foremost, in your heart.

God bless you all.

jesus christ photo: jesus christ.jpg


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