Family History Travel in Wytheville, Virginia

I caught the genealogy bug more than ten years ago, and as soon as I heard about Ancestry.com, I knew I wanted to create an account, upload the genealogy information I had and explore more about our family’s history. Over the years, I’ve discovered so many interesting stories about my ancestors and have learned that most of my family came to America in the 1600’s and early 1700’s, including some who arrived as early as 1619.

My maternal grandfather’s family, the Crowder’s, originally arrived in Virginia in the early 1600’s. After slowly migrating from Charles City County to Mecklenburg County, my grandfather’s great-grandfather and his family settled in Wytheville in the early 1800’s. As we learned from exploring census records, he partnered with his next-door neighbor to run a tailor and shoemaking shop. Today, the original building that housed his shop still stands and is a boutique and gift shop called The Farmer’s Daughter.

I had determined the location of several of my ancestors’ graves in a couple of Wytheville cemeteries, so we visited the cemeteries and located them.

On the Saturday we were in Wytheville, we decided to search for the site of a terrible event that happened to several of my ancestors, an Indian massacre. On our way, we went up Big Walker Mountain and visited the Big Walker Lookout and Store. For a small fee, we were able to walk across a suspension bridge to view an overlook, then climb to the top of a more than one hundred foot tall former fire tower. We also got to speak with a local author, Joe Tennis, who has written a number of books on the area, including books on hauntings.

 

We came down on the other side of the mountain near Sharon Springs and Ceres, locations mentioned in accounts of the Indian massacre that killed several of my ancestors. In the summer of 1774, my sixth great-grandfather, Jared Sluss, was working the land near his home. His wife, Christina, had just put their newborn baby, Mary, into a cradle and pushed it beneath a tall bed so the flies wouldn’t bother her. Ever since the European settlers had pushed into the region, various native tribes had taken exception to the treaties in place between the settlers and natives, and had carried out occasional massacres of area settlers.

On that morning in 1774, Jared Sluss had heard his neighbors warnings that marauding bands of Indians had been seen in the area. Needing to harvest his crops and work his fields, and not necessarily believing the rumors, he and his sons continued their work and didn’t even notice when a band of Shawnee or Cherokee Indians worked their way down the mountain and between Jared in the field and Christina in the house. Father and mother were both killed, as were all the children except two daughters who were in town at the time, one son who escaped the massacre to get help in the village and the baby daughter in her cradle, who was not discovered by the natives. This story is memorialized with a marker at the Lutheran church at Sharon Springs, and the graves are marked with stones from which the engravings have long since weathered away.

We also visited the Wytheville Farmer’s Market and had lunch at the Log House 1776 restaurant, both in downtown Wytheville. According to Mr. Tennis’ book on hauntings, the Log House 1776 is haunted, but it was also a great lunch spot with yummy sandwiches and a kids’ menu. For dinner, we enjoyed El Puerto Mexican restaurant. According to locals, this was the best Mexican place in town, and it did not disappoint.

We stayed at the Ramada Wytheville, which was a great choice for families. It had an outdoor pool and a delicious breakfast buffet, with affordable, clean rooms and a great staff. This was a great summer weekend getaway to explore our family history!

 

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Transcribing my Granny’s cookbooks

On New Year’s Day, I took my boys to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for our annual family ritual of eating black-eyed peas for good luck.  My aunt brought some delicious spoonbread, and my kids raided the ever-present candy jar in the windowsill.  When I took our dishes in the kitchen to put them in the sink, my eyes were drawn to the shelf above it, where I found a yellowed, brittle stack of cookbooks that looked ancient.  I picked up the stack and sifted through it.  It was a treasure trove of mid-twentieth-century housewife instruction:  a copy of the “New American Cook Book” by Lily Wallace from 1941, stacks of the little recipe cards you used to pick up off the shelf in the supermarket in the 1970’s and 80’s to help you make something quick and cheap.

The crowing glory of my Granny’s cookbook collection was her very own, handwritten recipe book.  It was in an old composition book with a missing cover, the pages faded, most of them with water or oil damage.  This is the recipe book I could picture my grandmother scribbling in whenever she came across an appealing-sounding recipe in Woman’s Day or Better Homes and Gardens, the book she probably reached for when my mom and aunt and uncles were kids and headed home from school and she had to get dinner on the table after a day spent working at the department store.

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I’ve typed all the recipes it contains – all the ones I could make out, anyway – into my Paprika recipe app so I can keep them.  I’d like to pick some of them, maybe the ones my mom and her siblings remember my Granny making when they were little, and have them made into a nice cookbook or scrapbook with some family photos.  For now, I’ll share a couple of them:

Quick Pocketbook Rolls

I remember having these rolls with our Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid and we went to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for Thanksgiving.  My Granny was always stirring a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and my PawPaw was giddy with excitement at the prospect of using the electric knife.  My aunt and cousins cook Thanksgiving dinner now, but I think we may have to add these rolls to the menu.

1 cup milk

1 tbsp. sugar

butter

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

In saucepan, combine milk, sugar, 2 tbsp. butter and egg.  Heat slowly until butter is barely melted.  Remove from heat and stir in flour sifted with baking powder and salt.  Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth  Then roll to 1/4 inch in thickness and cut in rounds with 3 inch cookie cutter.  Brush with melted butter.  Grease center with back of knife, fold over and press edges together.  Put on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in hot oven 20 minutes or until brown.

Fudge Bars

My mom tells me that when she was little, my Granny used to make the best fudge.

1/3 cup shortening

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 cup nuts

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening and chocolate together, then mix rest of ingredients and bake.