Hardin County

Harry Whitehead

Aged Elizabethtown's colored couple recalls interesting facts about their early life.

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ill. (Jan. 24, 1935) — Probably the most aged man living near Hardin County seat Elizabethtown, Illinois at the present time is old "Uncle" Harry Whitehead, as he is familiarly known to everyone there.

Uncle Harry was born on a plantation in Old Virginia, Culpepper County, on May 29, 1840, and he will be 95 years old on next May of that date.

His father, a slave, was Harry Brown, and his mother, also a slave, was Rebecca Whitehead. He is one of a family of eleven children, all of whom lived to maturity and are as follows: George, Lemon, Phil, Orange, Tildie and Lou. The other five were sold as slaves before his memory.

After being a slave for twenty years, under a slave master by the name of James Whitehead, he ran away and joined the Union Army at Chattanooga, Tennessee, serving for two years and two months. At this time he was captured and held a prisoner in the Confederate prison for eight months, being captured by Hoods army at Dalton, Georgia and he was kept busy during this time by being forced to dig pits for men to fight in and also trenches around the city of Columbia and Macon of that state. He served in the Union army under Captain Elliott of Posey County, Indiana. He was given an honorable discharge and mustered out of the service in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1865. After being released from the army he went to Mississippi where he remained for six months with a Mr. Cullins. From there he went to Livingston County, Kentucky and worked for a white man by the name of Pheaneas Barnett for about two years. After leaving Kentucky, he came to Elizabethtown in 1868, where in 1869 he was united in marriage to Miss Melia Austin, daughter of Edmund and Nancy Austin. To this union were born eleven children, namely: George Henry, Edd, Orange, James, Jesse, Mrs. Lula Duncan, Mrs. Nannie Bibbs, and Miss Gola, the others dying in infancy. Of these only three are now living, James and Lemon of Elizabethtown and Edd of Mt. Vernon, Indiana.

They were married at Elizabethtown at the old James Kirkham place, known now as the Elisha Robinson farm, by the late James Hawkins, and the marriage license was issued by the late James McFarlan, then the County Clerk, and the late Clay Williams was one of their witnesses to the marriage.

That evening a big wedding supper was served to them by Mr. and Mrs. Austin, a turkey supper it was, and the following county officials were in attendance: Ben Renfro, then circuit clerk, James McFarlan, then county clerk, and Wes Ralph, at that time sheriff. This couple lived together for twenty-six years. They began their married life as farmers out on the Kirkham farm, later moving to Huffman Alley.

After the death of his first wife "Uncle" Harry remained single for fifteen years, then he married Mrs. Anna Johnson in 1907. This marriage took place in the A.M.E colored church at Elizabethtown and was performed by Rev. Bill Barnett. It was a church wedding to which all were invited and welcomed. "Uncle" Harry and "Aunt" Anna have always lived in the house in which they now reside, in the North west end of town, just behind the church of which they are both members.

"Uncle" Harry lives comfortably, as he is on the civil war pension list, drawing a nice amount each month. In their home they have electric lights and a nice radio and other conveniences as well as a 1934 automobile which he has driven for him by his nephew, Tannie Whitehead, and they often drive to Harrisburg and other points. He makes the rounds up town each day to see his friends, and considering his age, he is quite a spry old gentleman and liked by all who know him.

His present wife, Anna, was born about 1853 at Benton, Missouri and her maiden name was Ravenscroft. She was about four years when President James Buchanan was elected to office. She remembers the campaign song that goes something like this: "All around the omnibus the monkey chased the weasel, that is the way the money goes, Pop goes the weasel."

Her slave master, Wright White, was of the Allen Estate and he left Anna with Emma and Mary White, her mistresses, he going with a party by the name of Dock Mars to the South on a flat boat, thinking his slaves would be freed.

At the time of President Lincoln's term of office in 1863, she went to live with Elsie Barnes, a white lady living on Barnes Ridge in Missouri, to care for her baby. Barnes slaves had gone and Mrs. Barnes had lots of work to do, cording and spinning and all kinds of farm wife's duties. She remained with her until she was about fourteen years of age.

At about this time Anna left Barnes Ridge coming to Metropolis, Illinois and did house work for Judge Moor e family during one summer, leaving there with Rev. and Mrs. Groves, white people, who were coming to Cave-in-Rock to visit a sister of Mrs. Groves by the name of Mitchell, staying there only a few days, Anna helped care for the Grove baby while the two sisters were visiting. She then went to Crittenden County Kentucky to another sister of the Mesdames Groves and Mitchell, by the name of Mary Henry Cofield. There she did homework for a family of seven for about nine months. Cofields then moved to Cave-in-Rock and she went to stay with George and Mrs. Wilson at Wilson Mills, where she did gardening and house work for six members of the family, staying from spring until fall. In December the same year, Anna was married to Dane Johnson in Crittenden County Kentucky, being married by a Baptist minister by the name of Lark Grisham, in the home of Mrs. Adeline Buckham. They started their married life on the farm of Bob Cofield's and lived there for some nine years, then moved to Henry Cook's farm in Kentucky and remained there three years.

Coming to Elizabethtown, Illinois in the fall of 1881 and bought the home where she now lives, from the late James McFarlan, paying $125 for the lot alone. This union was blessed with nine children, namely: William, Nora, Willard, Johnnie, Louis, Ellis, Roger, Bush and Tom. Two of the nine are now living. Roger in Rockwood, Missouri, and William in Anderson, Indiana.

"Aunt" Anna is a faithful reader of the Bible and stays very close to her home. She is now eighty-two years of age but does not know what month or day she was born.

Thanks to Wanda H. Reed for contributing this article to the Hardin County ILGenWeb site. The Hardin County Independent first published this article on Jan. 24, 1935.

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