Report by Sir
It is a great sadness that there were two rival Gatherings of James Lycurgus Arbuthnot's descendants on the weekend of 4th July 2004. I knew about one and not about the one in Chicago (Susie Vaughn's descendants), and went to the one I had been told about. I hope this never happens again but I fear it could unless these branches talk to each other more. I arrived at Chattanooga airport on Thursday afternoon and was met by Bessie Arbuthnot, Sarah Lott and her son's fiancee. From that point on, Bessie and Sally took complete responsibility for making sure all my needs were met and that I felt at home and welcomed. I plied them with questions over dinner and they answered them all so far as they were able and told me who might be able to answer them when they could not. After dinner we went to meet Claud, Bessie's "husband", Uncle Robert (pict0006) and Aunt Carrie. Again, I was made wholly welcome and felt accepted as part of the family. In spite of having invited myself to join the Reunion.
Aunt Carrie is a delightful person who combines deep religious conviction with home-spun wisdom, innate knowledge of healing and a memory of the past that is informative, interesting, sincere, unresentful and accepting. In her younger days she sometimes spent all day wielding a hoe which must have been exhausting and painful - but she merely states these things, without a word of complaint. She urges everybody to take God into their life and trust in Him - and always to wash before eating or drinking. She gave me a piece of pie to eat which Carol (Walter of Table 58) told her I was talking about appreciatively a day later - at which news she wrapped up another and gave it to us. She is a great character and I look forward very much to meeting her again. She told me Dorothy Dandridge (who starred in "Carmen Jones" and was Otto Preminger's mistress) was a granddaughter of Nolan Arbuthnot and Pinkie Hayes, but when I checked this, I became pretty convinced it is not so. It may be, however, that Dorothy came from the Woodville area (from which all these Arbuthnots came) and was urged to go to Hollywood by her pushy mother.
Over the weekend I learned that the Southern Hospitality of which we have all heard is fully justified. I was picked up, dropped off, thought about, fed, looked after and most of all, my often intrusive questions were answered to the best of everyone's ability, with humour, kindness and immense patience. Gathering that information was one of my principal objectives in going there, but an added bonus was meeting so many people all of whom were very accepting of someone who came over from England and decided to wear tartan trews except when I wore the Arbuthnot kilt. They now all know the Arbuthnott tartan.
Another tale I heard tell came in two forms. First
I was told it was once said that the outlaw Jesse James's brother, Frank, came to
Woodville and changed his name to Arbuthnot, being responsible for the Swaggard and Mason
descendants. That story got zero out of ten for credibility - but was entertaining.
Second I was told that if I were to come to Woodville there are many who could point out
to me Frank James's grave under a tree. Family papers say that Alexander
Franklin (Frank) James born Kearney, Clay Co., Missouri 10, January 1843 died at the home
place 15 February 1915. In his Will he expressed a desire for cremation, so the Woodville
tree cannot shield his body. His brother Jesse Woodson James, born Kearney 5 September
1847, killed by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri 1881, was buried at the home place and
was moved to the Kearney Cemetery in 1902. The story is in any event irrelevant to
the Arbuthnot genealogy.
On Friday evening there was a "Getting to know you" evening, at which I met a number of people and greatly expanded the family tree, with some help from Bessie's 2004 booklet. As an outsider (then, at any rate) I had not understood or appreciated how many times the Arbuthnot, Scott, Curtain and Hayes families married into each other. But this frequently happened and it makes good sense when I think about it, that people living on and around one plantation should often marry into families in the neighbouring plantations. I did know there is a habit of calling a person by one name, for example "Charles", and then everybody referring to him exclusively as "Newt" so that his real name becomes almost forgotten. I also knew there are far fewer entries in the Census records than I would have hoped for, either because the Census taker was inefficient or because the black Americans humbly supposed this was not something concerning them.
On Saturday evening, we all gathered in a hall and listened while the elders of the family were introduced with great respect to those who did not know them all. Awards were given to a number of people who had done something different or special and I filled in a few more gaps in the tree before standing up to say a few words. I told them how the family was founded by Edulf Edulfing (died 912), how his descendants came to live in the village of Arbuthnott in Kincardineshire, Scotland. I said that we think James Sawyer Arbuthnot was probably born in the Aberdeen area around 1733, that he bought land in 1803 and died on 8th January 1815 from wounds received in the Battle of New Orleans. It was his grandson, James Lycurgus Arbuthnot, who had several common-law wives, from whom the Black Arbuthnots in the Woodville area are descended. I explained that I had come over to help them in recording the details of the tree before they are forgotten and that Betsy Henry, the US Genealogist, has written an excellent book on this branch of the family (which I showed them). I explained that the head of the family still lives at Arbuthnott and that he and all of us are keen that the Black Arbuthnots should know they are welcome in the Association. I told them we are a Scottish family entitled to wear the tartan that I was wearing and I thanked them for the hospitality and generosity they had all shown me.
Although the majority of Arbuthnot attendees are shown on Table 3, Cheryl Krin and Carol Walter (both Table 58) also drove many hours, in order to join the celebrations. They told me how welcomed they too felt and how very much they enjoyed the weekend. As we were driven back to Chattanooga, I saw acres of kudzu which is a remarkable climbing rubber-like vine that was imported to USA from Japan in 1876 to control soil erosion, grows at the rate of sixty foot a year, and now covers some seven million acres of the South East. It was declared a weed in 1972. It creates a surreal landscape as it climbs over forests, killing the trees by preventing them from getting sunlight.
On Sunday, those who wished went to church; it
occurred to me that this branch contains many devout Christians, and it may be that which
contributes towards their cheerful approach to life. Later everybody gathered at Aunt
Carrie's house where there was a large tent and a smaller one protecting hired chairs and
trestle tables, a bouncy castle and the most delicious barbeque. As people ate, I was able
to solve a few remaining questions and had a number of things explained to me about this
remarkable and interesting branch. Then more photographs were taken before people
gradually gathered up their things and took themselves home. Some of them had considerable
distances to travel, many driving ten hours each way and Renee Small (pict0008_1
- being hugged) having come all the way from California. These
photographs were taken by Arthurine Turner
These photographs were taken by Carol Walter:
Ronnie Table 3 Elders Janie and Grandson
Art Scott's Brother and son Jake Thedric Scott and Aunt Carrie
Chattanooga Gathering William addressing the meeting
Many people contributed to the success of this
Gathering, and I would like particularly to mention Bessie
Sarah Lott, Arthur, Jannie, Art and
Thexder Scott. Everybody appreciated their hard work and looked forward to the next
Gathering. They thought it would be an even greater success if it were in the Woodville
area and Baton Rouge seems to be the largest nearby town with appropriate hotel
facilities. I think if such a Gathering were to occur 30th June - 2nd July 2006, it would
be attended by at least one representative from UK. But it would surely be far better if
invitations were sent not only to the descendants of James Lycurgus Arbuthnot, to all
members of the Arbuthnot Family Association (USA), and all those named Arbuthnot living in
AL, AR, GA, IL, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, SC, TN & TX. A notice should also be posted http://www.rootsweb.com/~mswilkin/reunion.htm
I wonder if there is anyone in USA who would co-ordinate such a meeting.
I am told that a Gathering was planned 6th - 8th August 2004 in Baton Rouge for descendants of James Posey Arbuthnot and Sarah Dennis. Further details when known will be posted here.
The Arbuthnot Family Association is Gathering at Atlanta, Georgia 15 - 17 October 2004.
Then there is another Gathering planned 20th - 22nd May 2005 in New Orleans for descendants of
Nolan Arbuthnot and members of the Dawson family. Further details when known will be posted here.
Presumably all descendants of James Lycurgus Arbuthnot will be welcome to attend both, but it may be they are not all told about it other than through this site. That would be a pity.
Last brought up to date 04:44 07 October 2004