During the 1930s Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people around the United States, so their experiences and life history could be recorded The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is a transcribed excerpt from an interview by Marie Reese with Mary Gilchrist Powell from Lowndes County, Alabama from 1939. Note: Spelling and grammar mistakes have been transcribed from the original)
Life of Mary Gilchrist Powell, WPA Supervisor
(ex) Welfare Worker – Teacher -Writer – Musician
March 20, 1939
Lowndesboro, Lowndes County, Alabama
POWELL, GILCHRIST, WOOLF and DAVIDSON FAMILY
She (Mary Gilchrist Powell see Part I) is descended from a well known and distinguished line of ancestors on both sides of the family. She is the great granddaughter of Archibald Gilchrist who was a pioneer in Lowndes County, and on the Powell side is a direct descendant of the Powell family who “crossed the waters” and were early settlers in New York City and who did much toward its early settlement and development.
The famous block in the great Metropolis on which the widely known Singer Sewing. Machine people and Woolworth Store was situated, was at the time of settlement and until a few decades ago owned by that family. There was a 100 years lease on it and at its expiration it was sold for a division. An amusing story was told of the Powell Heir Reunion that was held in that great city at the time of the sale and settlement. Each presenting a claim in the fortune and making attempts to establish their claim. At the time Powell’s from all over the U. S. were very much in evidence.
Miss Powell has also a line of distinguished ancestors of the maternal side who were prominently identified with early development of Marengo County, and who have through the years, been outstanding there in social, education and political circles. Her great grandfather, James B. Woolf, was Probate Judge of that country for many years and made himself outstanding in the hearts of the people there during the stormy critical reconstruction period.He served in that capacity till the county was overrun with Carpetbaggers.
ORIGINATION OF WOOLF FAMILY
The Woolf name (See Part I & II of Mary Gilchrist Powell) was changed as to the spelling, as the original family who immigrated here from the old world spelled it Wolfe – Major General Wolfe, the Hero of Quebec, was a close relative. History in the family and out is a Hobby with Miss Powell and as a small girl instead of wanting a bedtime story she scrambled up into her grandmother’s lap and begged for a historical story. The names of the family tree all their own hold a charm for her.
HERO OF QUEBEC
“Oh! tell me again Mammam about my uncle who won the battle of Quebec long long time ago.” And again the story was repeated, but never lost its luster to the girl. She was told that Major General Wolfe was related, but many generations removed, nearing 200 years ago.
In that far away time (1759) Canada was the desired object of the struggle and campaign. The great expedition under this worthy and historical young officer left Louisbourg to capture Quebec which was considered the Gibraltar of America. He made attempts to storm the heights in front of the City, but it was strongly defended by an army under the command of Montcalm, and his efforts were futile. But from a point farther up the river he embarked his army by night and silently descending the stream, he placed his troops at the rear of the City on the P,ains (sic) of Abraham.
During the terrific battle which took place the next morning both gallant commanders were mortally wounded. Wolfe lived only long enough to hear of the victory he had won and upon the reassurance of the outcome, he exclaimed: “Thank God!” I can die happy knowing I won the battle of Quebec.”
The French General Montcalm passed the next day and expressed himself as preferring death to seeing his side surrender the City to the enemy. As Wolfe floated silently down stream the night previous to the great battle he repeated to the officers about him Grays “Elegy in a Country Church Yard” which was written but a short time before, and when he repeated the words, THE PATHS OF GLORY LEAD BUT TO THE GRAVE,” Gentlemen: he said, “I would rather have written these lines than capture Quebec.” None were there to tell him “The Hero is greater than the Poet.” The city he captured surrendered five days later. The story of EVANGELINE which Longfellow celebrated in the poem by that name was founded on the cruel incidents of that period.
THOMAS JEFFERSON and LEVICY COOK WOOLF
The small girl begged for that story too as she scented the fragrance of a love story, but “Mamman” her grandmother, refused on the plan that neither of the lovers in the poem were on the family tree, so she was contented till next time.
The next time she was told the story of Levicy Cook and Thomas Jefferson Woolf who were her great great grandparents and who were the F.F. V’s (First Families in Virginia) and were pioneers from Petersburg to this section and made the journey to Jefferson County, La., near the old aristocratic Natchez. It was most interesting to hear the long perilous route made on horse back. The couple making the trip on two horses. A most romantic part of the the recital was the attack on the beautiful young maiden Levicy and her sister by the hostile Indians. Back at her home in the primitive days the two girls went to the near by spring in the woodland adjoining their hut. They were attacked by the Indians and in answer to their outcries the gallant young man came to their assistance and rescued her from the Savages.
The two young people continued their meetings from time to time at the “Block House” and he claimed her hand in marriage as a payment for saving her life. They were married and took their honeymoon on horse back to the fertile lands of the Delta.
“But Mamman what is a Block House? I want to know what kind of place my great great “courted” in. You said they met there in the sweetheart days and got married. Some day I will grow up to be a big girl and may have a sweetheart too.”
“Well dear,” replied the grandparent, a Block House is made for protection and not for social affairs, but they met there really for safety,” but she said love happens when one least expects. Well, the county was new and uncivilized. It was peopled by fierce Indians. There were also white people coming in and both wanted to own the land. Fights occurred often and the white men built large high houses and placed many holes around in it to shoot out of. The house was surrounded by a strong high wall built stockade fashion.
In times of danger the whites for miles around assembled in these strongholds, and the men stationed themselves at the holes and watched for the approaching of the Indians. Tom Jefferson Woolf and the beautiful bride did not tarry in the rich delta bottom so long but made another pioneer trip each on horse back but this time a baby boy was added to the pioneer travelers which blessed the union of this young couple. Again the long journey through the perilous country till they reached what is now Dayton, Marengo County, Alabama and decided to pitch their tent there. The wee son was carried there “papoose fashion” and was transferred from the arms of one parent to another in order to rest their tired arms.
The father “blazed” ( a term used then to express making a clearing) a way toward a location for building a home and cut suitable trees to be used in its construction. A lone one-room hut was the result and while its preparation was going on the young couple camped out in the wilds.
Levicy was to again contact the dangerous Red Skins because they were as dangerous and antagonistic in her environments as they had been in her former home. Her husband had to return to the home he had just left to bring possessions that he could not bring the first time, as it was an obvious fact that very little could be conveyed on horse back. He could not carry his wife and baby with him after the possessions for they were a “horse back full”, so they were left in the lone log hut in the wildwood. The hardships and terrors of the brave woman could not be described. Through the long cold days and nights she could not have a fire and had to eat cold food because a smoke from the chimney would attract the Indians.
The log cabin was the beginning of Dayton which is and has been through the century, outstanding on account of wealth, culture and educational influence. The town today stands on the location that Thomas Jefferson Woolf blazed through the wild forests back in that far and distant day. A large handsome home on the Vermont, New England type was an old landmark in that town which took the place of the pioneer hut and was the home in later years of the man who founded the town. The son, James B. Woolf, who was for many years Probate Judge, and who helped to shape the destiny of the county his father and founded, was the little baby boy the parents brought there on horse back.”
Now tell me what the little Mary Gilchrist said about the kin on Daddy’s side and the big College. Oh! yes, replied the mother, you want to hear about the Davidsons.
That family is on the main limb on your tree but the one is six generations older than you are, but the line is direct and has been carefully traced. Gen. William Lee Davidson is the one you want to hear about. He gave the land on which Davidson College, N. C. is built and in appreciation of it the College when founded was named in his honor.
He was a member of one of the oldest and most exclusive organizations in the U.S. “The Society of Cincinnati. To be eligible for its membership, one had to be most distinguished in some way, that is to be so on account personal act or deed. Gen. Davidson distinguished himself for heroic service in Rev. War during in which he lost his life. His family down and through the years were noted for their brilliant mental attainments, and many of them became prominent educators in different sections of the southern states. In the flourishing years of the 1850’s his niece, Mrs. Mary Davidson, was among the brilliant array of teachers on the faculty of the Lowndesboro Female Institute.
Her lovely character, gentle and cultured manner lives today in the memories of some surviving pupils.
(See all parts of this story)
ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement