Letter from William L. Rogers to James B. Rogers

Introduction:  A copy of this letter was found in the publication entitled Footprints, a quarterly magazine published by the Fort Worth Genealogical Society. This was in the August, 1988, issue.  Submitted by Vicki Johnson.

“A Letter from Grandfather”

In 1957, while visiting my aunt in Glacier Park, Montana, the following letter was given to me, and thus began my adventures in family history and genealogy. The letter was in typed form. Eventually, I located the original letter and was allowed to copy it. In 1960 the letter was in the possession of Mrs. Grazelle Denning, of Clayton, New Mexico, the granddaughter of the writer of the letter, Elder William Leroy Rogers, Primitive Baptist preacher. He wrote it to his grandson, James Byron Rogers (brother of Mrs. Denning), who had just married a lady of the same surname. The original spelling and punctuation has been retained, and the only editing has been the division of the letter into paragraphs, for more clarity. — Nancy Timmons Samuels

Cleburne Tex. July 15th 1922 W.[sic] B. Rogers and wife Des Moines, New Mex.

Dear Grand Son and Grand daughter: It is with much pleasure that I undertake to answer your very interesting letter announcing your marriage to a Miss Rogers and of course she did not have to change her name. I am glad that you made choice of one of the good old name of Rogers. I assure you that you did not marry kinfolk for my father George Rogers was the only child of his father William, for whom I was named. He was in the war of 1812 lost his health and died in 1816 when my father was 6 months old. So his family is the only descendants of William Rogers. Your uncle Cicero is a splendid type of my father Geo. Rogers. Rogersville was named for Goe Rogers who owned the first Hotel in that town. Goe Rogers was a brother of George Rogers, my great-grandfather whose home was five miles from Rogersville. My father was born in that community the 24 of Oct. 1815.

My father’s mother was a very beautiful woman, her maiden name was Bettie Gonce, a better and a more useful woman was not to be found in that country. Her father Isaac Gonce emigrated to Jackson County Ala, in about 1818, when my father was 3 years old. Old grand father Gonce brought Bettie Rogers and little boy George to Ala with his family of 7 other daughters and 2 sons. At that time there was a great emigration to Ala and South Tenn, and our people settled along the Tenn and Ala line, enfact the State line rune through the community in which our kinfolks settled, some on one side of the line and some on the other side, and yet they were neighbors. My grandmother 3 years after she emigrated to Ala was married to James B. Matthews, and they had a large family of sons and daughters, but not one is living. James B. Matthews was a very prominent man in his country, was quite wealthy in Negroes and lands. It was the ambition of all the Matthews of that generation to own Negroes. Now I have given you a brief sketch of the Rogers side of the house and will bring up the other side. Sam McCrary and a very beautiful black eyed girl name Bettie Allen of precious memory were married when they were quite young. I am very glad to tell you they were my grand father and grand mother. My dear grand mother died in 1831 two weeks after her child was born, which child was a girl and was named Druzie for whom I name my daughter Druzie. There were 12 children born to them and the first born was William born in 1806, when his father was 18 years old.

My great grand father Nias Allen, father of my grand mother Bettie, was a soldier in the war of the Revolution 1776. The Allens were very fine people and were well to do, infack were wealthy in Negroes and lands. My dear precious mother was a member of the McCrary family. Your father Sam Rogers is the best type of my grand father Sam McCrary. However grand father had as fine a head and face as I ever saw on any man. But your pa is the best likeness of any one of his descendants. Grand father McCrary was a splendid farmer owned a fine farm and never needed anything always had plenty at home, was at home nearly all the time, was never at his county cite was never in a court house, never had a case in any court in all his life of 87 years. He had a second family by his last wife. 5 children were born to them, but they have all gone the way of all earth, as his first children have gone.

I have so far given your connection with the Rogers side and the Allen & McCrarys and a little sketch of the Matthews side. But I will give your connection with one of the greatest families of Middle Tenn. Shearod Williams was the husband of Polly Looney. They were my first wife’s grand father and grand mother. They had 21 children, 17 sons and 4 daughters, 20 of them lived till they were grown. I knew about half of them. Great grandfather Williams died 500 miles from home in 35 and buried there, but 5 years after his death 2 of his sons went and brought his remains home and laid his body to rest by the side of his dear companion who had some years before also passed away. I visited there graves before I left that country. The inscription on the tombstone was “I heard a voice from Heaven saying blest is the dead that die in the Lord, yea saith the spirit from henceforth they rest from there labors and thiere works doth follow them.” They were old Baptists.

The Williams brothers and sisters made quite a success in life, and two of them Mat and Jim were public men. Mat was in the Tennesee legislature when the war between the States came up, and his vote defeated the bill to arm the State, you see he was not in favor of the war, in fack he made a speech against going into the war. Jim Williams, who married Katie Tally over in Jackson Co Ala, on the Tenn River, represented his county in the Ala legislature a number of times. Of the 3 members that went to the Legislature from old high Jackson, as it was called, Jim Williams was the middle man and was named the average hog, and that was his nick name as long as he lived. He was a Methodist. Mat Williams was a Cumberland Presbyterian. Jinie, a faverite sister of that big family of boys, married Jerry Matthews, the father and mother of my first wife, Sarah Ann Matthews, who was born April the second 1837. Her father Jerry Matthews lived a neighbor to my father when I was born in May the 14th 1838.

My mother said Jerry Matthews was one of the best neighbors she ever lived by. He was very wealthy in Negroes and lands. He died in 1847 when his daughter Sarah was 10 years old. Jerry and Jinie, as they were called, had a family of 3 sons and 3 daughters. They were Methodist and Presbyterians, with the exception of my wife who came from the Presbyterians to the old Baptists in June 1872, just before we left for Texas the following Sept, 50 years ago next September.

The Allens, with the exception of 4 or 5, were Free will Baptist. Grand father William Rogers was an old Baptist, and his wife, my father’s mother, who was the widow of James B. Matthews, was an old Baptist also. Her mother Francis Gonce, whose maiden name was Francis Wilson, was an old Baptist.

You see I am bringing up your connection with a fine family named Wilson. Francis Wilson Gonce was my father’s grand mother. She is another one of our people of precious memory. She was a member of the Crow Creek church which was organized at least 100 years ago. I visited her tomb when I attended the church meetings of long ago, a greater woman in a community to the sick and those that were in distress never lived in all that country than Aunt Frankie Gonce, as she was called by her friends & neighbors. That large Gonce family have all have long since passed away.

I will now give a short sketch of my father’s family. My eldest sister Bettie Medlan who is about 86 is rather active at that age. She was the first born. I was the second born in May the 14th 1838, therefore I was 84 last May. I goined the old Baptist in October 1858 in Ala, was married to Sarah Gover, Matthews, in November the 26 1860. 10 children were born to us, 9 are living and are getting along in this world fairly well. I was ordained to the ministry in an old Baptist church in 1872 in Franklin Co Tenn, 50 years ago. My brother Sam, who passed away a short time ago, who was nearly 80 years old, and 5 sisters were and are old Baptists. I saw my dear father baptized in Young Co Tex in the fellowship of the old Baptists many years ago, when he came up from his watery grave, he had beautiful face infack he had an angelic look in his beautiful face. Not one of his mother’s children are living. Myself and Sam and Jim and our father were in the war between the States. Brother Jim was killed in the battle of Chickamoga. He was a splendid young man of 18 years old.

Brother Jim had a dream the night before that great battle and wanted to relate the dream to brother Sam, but they were arranging everything to go into battle, so brother Sam would not take time to hear the dream. After the battle brother Sam regretted very much that he did not hear the dream. It was imagined that he had a presentiment of his death in the dream.

Before I close this scrible, I will give you a caution on religion — the world’s religion. You perhaps do not understand the difference between the religion of the world and the religion of Christ and his apostles. It costs more to support the religion of the world than it dose to support the governments of the world. When you hear preachers beging, notice the contrast between them and the Savior, who for our sake became poor that we through his poorty might be rich. The foxes have holes and the birds have nests but the son of man hath not where to lay his head. He was a very poor man, but you will never find in all the New Testiment that he ever beged for money. The old adage is, “to work, I am too busy to beg I am not ashamed.” Now I will close, hoping that you can read this badly writen letter. I am your affectionate grand father, William Leroy Rogers

Notes by NTS: These families, and many more allied families, have long since been worked out. Most came to Franklin County, Tennessee, and Jackson County, Alabama, by way of southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky and other counties in Tennessee. I have found that Elder Rogers’ letter is about 90% accurate and factual. He erred in a couple of dates and confused a time period or two. The “tradition” he gave, that his great-grandfather, George Rogers, of Rogersville, Tennessee, was a brother of “Goe” [Joseph] Rogers, for whom the town was named, appears to be incorrect. Many members of the families mentioned, herein, came to Texas. The entire Rogers clan, of George and Eliza (McCrary) Rogers, came to Texas in 1872 and 1873, first settling in the Acton and Glen Rose area, where relatives and near-relatives had settled, beginning their trek as early as 1856. William Leroy Rogers is buried at Fall Creek Cemetery, Hood County, beside his first wife (the mother of his children), Sarah Ann Matthews, who had married first S.B. Gover.

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