Simmons family settled first between Shady Bend, Clear Pond

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

Today’s column is a continuation of the Simmons family of Covington County. It is an excerpt from autobiographical data written by Morgan Ferdinand Simmons, son of Morgan Foshee Simmons.

James Henry Morgan (March 25, 1849 – July 20, 1928), son of Green Berry and Dorcus (Taylor) Morgan, married Reviann Affire Lane (Oct. 25, 1850 – Oct. 10, 1910) on Dec. 16, 1869. Both are buried in Weed Cemetery in Crenshaw County. She was born in Meriwether County, Ga., to Luther Barnabas (Barney) Lane and Mary (Tommie) Scroggins who must have had creative imaginations – witness my great grandmother’s name. She went by “Firey.” Her sisters didn’t fare much better; the brothers escaped without such outlandish handles. The first daughter was Artelia Vermel, next came Mary Ophelia, and my favorite name of all was Roxanna Hardaman Hill. When you add Lane and her married name Holderfield, it‘s quite a mouthful. The others in order of birth were Camilla, Reviann Affire, Howard and Luther – how pedestrian! Luther’s daughter married the record setting aviator Wiley Post who was killed along with his celebrity passenger Will Rogers somewhere in Alaska in 1935.

Grandpa Lane, my great-great grandfather, fought in the Confederate Army, and, unlike so many of my forbearers, survived. Mama Simmons recounted the tale of his walking home following the war. Half starved, he stopped at a farmhouse asking for food. The woman of the house offered all she had – onions and buttermilk. After eating his fill, he became violently nauseated and to his dying day refused to eat onions or drink buttermilk.

My great grandparents, Henry and Fiery, had a very large family – 16 children, 14 who lived into adulthood. Grandma Morgan bore children for 28 years. Mama Simmons, Lela Belle (Oct. 5, 1870 – March 1, 1963) was the oldest and Jessie Mell (b. Feb. 28, 1899) was the youngest. In between were Mary Lula (1872), Minnie Redella (1874), Henry Barnabas (Uncle Man) (1876), Green Berry (1878) (Uncle Gebe), John Franklin (1880) (died in infancy) Mattie Ophelia (1881), Alice Affire (1883), James Monroe (Jim) (1885), Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) (1887), William Boyington (Bill) (1888), Luther Roe (1890) (died in infancy), Georgia Lane (1892), Sam (1894) and Isaac Dorcas (I.D.) (1896).

I had the good fortune of knowing all 13 of the great aunts and uncles who lived to adulthood. When I was a child, I looked forward eagerly to the third Sunday of June when the enormous clan gathered at the old home place in the Weed community for a Morgan Family reunion. In addition to playing with numerous cousins – some two or three times removed – there was the big event of the day feasting on a grand scale. The strictures of the Depression were cast aside, and the board tables on saw horses groaned with the specialties from the aunts’ kitchens. Chicken pie and banana pudding were always anticipated from Aunt Alice and devoured with relish. Mama Simmons regularly baked a big cured ham, and the gorging was finished off with watermelons which Uncle Man served from the back of his pick-up truck.

The first three of the Morgan children were born in Chattahoochee County, Ga. and moved with their parents to Crenshaw County by covered wagon in 1875. Mama Simmons regaled us with stories about that adventure, how at age five she would get tired of riding and would walk beside the wagon, and how the new Alabama neighbors thought the Morgans had barrels of money because they owned ready made clothes.

After the death of her first husband, James Franklin Payne (Jan. 6, 1864 – Oct. 21,1890), Mama Simmons returned to the Morgan family home to live with her newborn daughter Minnie May and 19-month-old son Clifton. Mr. Payne is buried in the Morgan Cemetery in Crenshaw County and on his tombstone is this poem:

“My loving wife don’t grieve for me; Neither lament nor mourn; For I am with my Jesus free”

When you are left alone.

A favorite story comes from the years when Mama was living with her parents. One day when Mama was ill, her son, Clifton, and her young brother, Bill, were playing around Grandpa Morgan’s surrey where he kept a flask of whiskey under the seat. Unknown to Grandma Morgan, the two little boys helped themselves to the lethal potion and were discovered staggering around in the front yard. Assuming that they were having a bilious attack, Grandma Morgan administered her favorite remedy for such a malady – a hot toddy º and put them to bed. This happened about 10 o’clock in the morning, and the boys didn’t wake up until 2 o’clock the next day! It’s a wonder they woke up at all. I assume the toddy was a light one.

After their marriage, Papa and Mama Simmons, along with Clifton (Jan. 30, 1889 – May 3, 1972) and Minnie May (Sept. 9, 1890 – May 21, 1994), settled on the farm south of Andalusia in the sparsely settled community called Beck. Although Papa never officially adopted the two children from the first marriage, he treated them as his own with absolutely no differences shown. Their devotion to him matched his love for them. He was “Papa” to them just as he would be to his own children.

Built on bottomland was the spacious, if inelegant, farmhouse where Mama and Papa Simmons began their large family. It was located midway between Shady Bend and Clear Pond – an Elysian bower with an aura of the primeval about it. The mirrored water of the pond reflected the surrounding buff colored mounds smudged with ocher. Across the sandy road from the farmhouse was a gigantic barn weathered charcoal with age, nestled between cornfields and a livestock yard redolent with the stench of pigs. By the time I came to know the old home place, it was a faint shadow of the bustling activity that once surrounded it. The house needing paint was by then the color of overused dishwater, and the clean-swept yard, devoid of grass, begged for the liveliness of flowers and companions for the lone cape jasmine that graced the front of the house.

The magic of Shady Bend and Clear Pond can be recaptured only in memory – they have fallen prey to technology. Their beauty, along with the surrounding pine and oak forests and the farm buildings, were victims of progress when the 3,200 acres of the Simmons estate were sold to Container Corporation of America on Feb. 9, 1966.

On Minnie May’s fourth birthday, an occasion of Sept. 9, 1894, my father, Morgan Foshee was born. The first of nine Simmonses of that generation, he was followed by William “Willie” Rankin, (Nov. 16, 1896 – June 16, 1899) who died in childhood and is buried in the family plot in Magnolia Cemetery. At the time of his death, a family friend wrote a reflection for the newspaper. It’s a gem of Victorian excess.

It becomes my painful duty to chronicle the name of the lovely and beautiful dead. Did I say painful? I said it, not because a blot or stain tarnished the fair name of little Willie Simmons. Oh, what a day was the 16th of June. Cloudless the sky stretched out over our heads, the odor of the choicest flowers, the merry lays of the aerial songsters, the rippling of tiny brooks and the majestic flow of the waters of Conecuh said, “be bright and cheerful.” But how could our hearts catch the inspiration of the outside world of beauty, when the angel of death beckoned to this sweet little boy to take passage on the ship, which sails to a brighter beyond. We watched with him till that sweet spirit fled from us and left us naught but its tenement of clay. A casket made with superior mechanism is borne by tender hands and with sorrowing hearts to its last resting place in the cemetery at Andalusia. In the death of this jewel a mother’s heart is bleeding and a father’s heart is broken. Willie is now walking the streets in that beautiful City of God.

The next to be born was George Edward “Uncle Eddy” (May 10, 1898 – Dec. 31, 1982) who, it is said, got special attention because of the death of Willie. Mary Alice (Oct. 14, 1900 – Dec. 10, 1978) was the last child born on the farm.

Mama Simmons often remarked that she never knew how many people she would have for a meal, since their house was a popular stopping place between Andalusia and Brewton. Early on she learned the necessity for creative flexibility. On one occasion a family they barely knew descended on them for Sunday dinner when she had only one chicken dressed and some sweet potatoes in the pantry. She stretched the chicken by making a pie and converted the potatoes into a casserole by adding eggs and spices. The plain eating, semi-strangers were delighted with the fancy fare.

In the next column, the Simmones move to the town of Andalusia will be described. They first lived in the large, imposing Gunn home on South Three Notch Street next to West Watson Street.

Again, if anyone has any question related to this column, he is encouraged to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: