Connections: Eli English and Finding Friends Beyond Your Tree

One of the great things about joining has got to be finding other members to connect with. I've found distant relatives, photos, stories, and all sorts of information from other contributors who are related to me in some kind of way. And sometimes you find something extra special.

Eli English

Eli English

My paternal great grandmother, Hannah, was the oldest of 10 children. I've written about her brother, Fate, and I've often wondered about her other siblings. When I traveled to Bakersville in the spring of 2014, I took as many pictures of the family grave sites as I could. Many, many of my relatives are buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery, and they weren't difficult to find. I took a picture of Hannah's brother Eli's tombstone and put it on my tree.

A man named Jerry Hartley saw the picture and left me a comment. Jerry knew Eli and had some great stories and wonderful things to say about him. I am so grateful to put together the picture of who Eli was and what kind of impact he had on others.

Born in 1882, Eli English grew up as the third born child to David J. English and Susan Sparks. In the 1900 census he lived with his parents and siblings . But 10 years later, the 1910 census lists him as widowed and living with his parents in Bakersville, NC. I discovered Eli married a woman named Elvah Dellinger, but she succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907, as did their infant child. Looking at all the censuses, it doesn't appear he ever married again. He lived with his sister Dolly's family in 1920 and then moved to Avery County, where he's listed in 1930. In 1940, the census shows he lived as a lodger with a woman named Minnie Holtzclaw (Jerry's grandmother) and her family near Cranberry, NC. Eli lived in a room under the garage, unless it was too cold, and he then joined the family in the main house. The area, known as Blevins Creek, had a shrinking population due to the closing of the nearby iron mines.  Jerry doesn't recall Eli ever paying rent but working on the farm to earn his keep, as well as driving Minnie to different places since Minnie didn't have a driver's license. Jerry remembers the car being a shiny black Chevrolet with lights sticking out of the fenders. 

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

Jerry and his grandmother's adopted daughter, Gladys

When Jerry was five, he and his mother went to live with his grandmother, Minnie, in North Carolina. Some time after, Jerry's mother had to move to Kentucky to care for a sick aunt, but soon became sick herself. Minnie then had to leave North Carolina and take care of both of them in Kentucky, and unfortunately, no adult relative lived in the area to look after Jerry. The family made the decision to send Jerry to an orphanage called The Grandfather Home in Banner Elk, NC (still in existence today). Jerry remembers this as a very traumatic experience; he cried for much of the time there and refused to play with any other children.

Jerry spent nine months at the Grandfather Home. For the first several months, the only familiar face he saw was Eli's. Every Sunday, Eli would bring Jerry fresh eggs from the farm so Jerry could enjoy some extra food for breakfast. Eli came to visit Jerry every single Sunday for those nine months, often leaving with tears in his eyes when it came time to go. Jerry remarked again and again at how touched his life became because of Eli's kindness. Just the small act of visiting him once a week made an enormous impact on a nine year old boy.

Eli died from bronchial asthma on March 18,1956 when Jerry was nine years old. Eli is buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Cemetery in Bakersville, NC, close to his siblings and other relatives. 

Thank you, Jerry, for sharing your story. May Eli's kindness and generosity always be remembered. 



How Fate Met His End

When the ground fell from under the two men's feet, neither one knew how far they would fall.  The defunct mica mine, Flat Rock, had lain idle for several years, but prospects could still be found, and Lafayette "Fate" English and Will Woody set out on Monday, June 7, 1909, to see what the mine still held.  Neither bothered with telling anyone where they were going; chances are the trip wouldn't last too long, and Fate could return home that evening to be with his wife, Sabra, and their three children, Agnes, Samuel, and May.

Born only 19 months apart, Hannah and her younger brother, Fate, grew up with the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and exploring had no limits.  The mountains held magnificent backdrops and views, and the fresh air and delight of discovery could lure many to its peaks.  Even by Monday evening when the men had not returned home, their families didn't express too much worry.  But by Tuesday morning a search began, although no one knew where to look first.  Only a boy passing by the Flat Rock mine noticed the sound of a man coming from the bottom of the shaft.  The rescuers soon made the grim discovery of the two men who had fallen 40 feet, and only Fate's head and shoulders appeared on the surface of the cave-in.  Near death, Fate looked up at his rescuers and uttered, "Will Woody is dead at my feet."  The search party soon dug Will Woody out from several feet of earth, discovering his neck had broken in the fall.  Although still alive, Fate's side had been pierced by a steel rod, and he too succumbed to death on June 10, 1909. 

Fate's family also endured hardship.  No doubt Hannah felt the death of her brother intensely.  Sabra, his wife, met her end the next year, and it appears May died when she was only 12.  Samuel passed away at age 44 of a heart attack.  Agnes lived until 1986 and died in Asheville, NC, at the age of 84. 

Fate is buried in the Bear Creek Baptist Church cemetery in Bakersville, NC.

Information gathered from Heritage of the Toe River Valley and Mitchell County Kronicle, Bakersville, Reproduced from the McDowell Democrat for 6/17/1909. Transcribed by Rhonda Gunter for the Toe Valley Geneological Society Newsletter.

Seeing Hannah: My Trip to Spruce Pine

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About a year and a half ago, I decided I should take a trip to the cemetery to visit Hannah's gravesite.  I had wanted to visit the little town in western North Carolina for decades, and I finally made a point of it Memorial Day weekend in 2012.  At that time I had no idea I would be starting a blog, so I didn't take as many photos as I should have.  I will go back.

Spruce Pine last May.

Downtown Spruce Pine

Downtown Spruce Pine

An abandoned theatre outside of town.

An abandoned theatre outside of town.

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A house along a country Bakersville road.  Although rundown, I find it absolutely beautiful.

Hannah's grave at the Bear Creek Baptist Church, Bakersville, NC.  Note the incorrect date of death.

After leaving Tennessee, I headed east.  The western mountains of North Carolina are difficult to fully describe:  majestic, daunting, breathtakingly beautiful.  I had to be incredibly careful not to look around too much as I soon realized running off the road and rolling down the tree covered mountains is a definite possibility! 

I located the church and graveyard in Bakersville and wandered around looking for her headstone.  The entire cemetery has a beautiful backdrop of the mountains.  I came upon Hannah's parents, cousins, brothers, grandparents.  Almost giving up, I found her resting place almost right at the entrance to the cemetery. 








I made my first stop in Jonesborough, Tennessee, where my late father's cousin lives.  To my knowledge, only one portrait of Hannah exists, and it hangs in a house in Jonesborough.  I had to see it in person, mainly because there are no copies, and I wanted to take a photo to have as my own.  The portrait is actually a painting from (my best guess) the 1890s, painted when Hannah was probably around 20 years old.  When I stood close to it, I could see the aging and chipping of the paint at the top, and it probably will not survive for too much longer.  But I did my best.  And now I have a picture of Hannah.









After spending time in Spruce Pine and Bakersville (and a big thank you to the Bakersville Public Library for being so kind to this freaky intense woman in their Carolina Room), I headed to Morganton to see the hospital where Hannah died.

The main building at Morganton State Hospital, now Broughton.

The entrance into the main building.  The door strikes me as being very old, and I wonder if Hannah walked through it before being admitted.

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The cemetery at Broughton flanked by two angel statues.

The graves of the people buried at Broughton, mentioned in Tom Jimison's articles. 

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