Bethea, Rabun families were neighbors and had strong ties in Brooklyn

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today’s column is a continuation of Marianne Leader’s recording of her quest for history and genealogy of her ancestors who resided primarily in the Brooklyn area of Conecuh County, Ala. Through her writings she reveals many techniques for tracing one’s heritage and has consented to share this with others. The following is as she wrote about her findings.

“Now, it was not through Sally’s ancestors, the A.J. Robinsons, who came from Georgia and had their claims elsewhere, of course, that she had acquired her long heritage in Conecuh, Covington and Escambia Counties. The Robinsons, who were Nannie’s paternal grandparents, were Dr. Andrew Jackson Robinson, whose apprenticeship as medical practitioner occurred under Dr. John Scott of Conecuh County from about 1855 to 1859–part of this time overlapping with Dr. Scott’s training, also, of Dr. Charles Taliaferro– and his wife Josephine Caroline Moffet who had come into Conecuh County about 1854, or about 10 years before the War for Southern Independence.

The older Robinson family, in terms of Conecuh and Covington County roots, was the Edwin Robinson family from Connecticut–Edwin coming into Alabama in December 1818 and settling near Murder Creek, and after marriage in 1820 to Amelia Frances Hart, coming in 1821 into the area of Brooklyn with his father-in-law, Benjamin Hart. It was through her Rabun and Bethea kinfolk that my grandmother staked her ancestral claim in Conecuh and Covington Counties, and she loved to talk about her beloved Uncle Willie Rabun who had raised her and her siblings, and had provided for her mother, Julia Rabun, during all the years after 1883 when her father, Charles Moffet Robinson, born in 1853, had died. Not only her father, Charles M Robinson, but also her grandfather, Dr. A. J. Robinson, had died in that year of 1883–two deaths so close together of a father and son, one a medical doctor who attended the sick, made me wonder if perhaps there might have been one single cause of death from an epidemic. Sherry Johnston of the Evergreen Public Library looked up the records of quarantines for 1883 in Conecuh and Escambia Counties and found that these counties had been under quarantine for yellow fever that summer and fall. I don’t yet have further information.

Since Grandmother Sally had wanted me to be named Marianne Bethea Rabun –all this and still a surname to add! — I was very curious about who these people, the Betheas and the Rabuns, were. In approximately 2010, I began my slow but determined search. Mary Ann Bethea, my grandmother’s grandmother, was born in 1825 in Conecuh County, Ala., but to which one of the Betheas? Though my grandmother probably had said at some point who her great-grandfather was, we didn’t write her words down, but we later paid in regret, of course. At least Grandmother had written down, in the family Bible, a few family notes which went back to early Rabuns and to her beloved Mary Ann Bethea about whom I had handed-down stories and names of her descendants; however, there was no mention of earlier Bethea ancestry except that the settlers came from South Carolina. On a very large, extended Bethea website, I learned a lot about the clan from Britain, who came to America circa 1695 to 1700 from Suffolk County, England; they might have had either Celtic or Norman origins, and in the 17th century they might have been French Huguenots—an assumption based partly on this name Bethea which, it seems, has always been accented on the second syllable. All of the speculation had the energy of an argument between those descendants who wanted to think they had Huguenot—i.e., French Protestant—ancestors, and those who didn’t want to think so.

Through Virginia with the first immigrant John Bethea, born circa 1674, and “Virginia John,” born before 1705, through the watery eastern edges of North Carolina and into South Carolina, I read about the family’s migrations and the participation of William “Sweatswamp” Bethea (born in 1726 S.C.) and his sons, including Jesse Bethea, born 1763, with Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” in the Revolution in South Carolina. In 1817 or early 1818, Jesse Bethea, born in 1763 in Marion County, S.C., and his wife Celia Harrelson, born also in S.C. in 1767, with all their children, arrived in Alabama. They brought with them at least four sons and four daughters, and one of these sons had to be the father of Mary Ann Bethea, but which one? And had all sons been named and followed correctly to Alabama in 1818? (The great source to bring the Betheas this far in the journey from Britain to Conecuh County is William Curry Harllee’s Kinfolks, published in New Orleans, La., 1934-1937). The recorded sons were Hugh Bethea, born ca 1791, Goodman Bethea—given the title “Reverend” Goodman–born 1793, William Bethea, born ca 1805, and Tristram B. Bethea, born 1810, all from S.C. These four male Betheas, as well as their sisters, Charity, Martha, Sarah, and Mary Anne, had come to Alabama with their father and mother, Jesse and Celia Bethea, in 1818. Sadly, Jesse, the energetic father, died early in his settlement in Alabama, in 1820 at Claiborne in Monroe County when Claiborne was a rising, important center of society and commerce on the Alabama River. Celia was to live on into very old age, always an important support to her children and especially to her young son, Tristram, who would study law at Claiborne, Ala., with Judge Bagby who later became Governor Bagby and with Sen. C. M. Conrad in New Orleans.

I searched censuses in Alabama for quite some time in order to find the household into which Mary Ann Bethea was born, and I learned a lot about names of children available in the 1850 census lists; however, a young woman born in 1825 was likely to be married away from the paternal household by 1850, and so Mary Ann Bethea was. I found her as wife of Michael W. Rabun (spelled Raburn), so far without children, in the 1850 census of Conecuh. Harllee’s Kinfolks had named only one child of Goodman Bethea, born 1793, and wife, Charlotte Grice, born 1798 in S.C., which was the first son, Joseph Alston Bethea, born in Alabama in 1820 and died in 1875. I went over transcribed figures—those I could read—of the censuses for Hugh Bethea and for William Bethea in Monroe and in Wilcox Counties; no clues. I followed all the trails of Tristram B. Bethea about whom many records had been left from Wilcox County to Montgomery, Ala., and back to Mobile, etc., where he had been elected representative to the state legislature many times. ( See the Tristram Bethea House in Camden, Alabama by “googling” on just this name and place.) I knew, of course, that he was one of Mary Ann Bethea’s uncles, though too young to be her father, but I was still searching for a clue about which one of the Bethea brothers was her father. I did remember Grandmother Sally speaking of a favorite Uncle Goodman who was her Uncle Willie Rabun ‘s age, but even as I found out that this beloved Goodman was the grandchild of Goodman, born in 1793, I still had not made a connection of Mary Ann Bethea with her father.

For a while I was distracted by the records and history of a Baptist affiliated Bethea named David Bethea in Wilcox County, a second cousin of Jesse’s, who was born in 1765 in North Carolina and married a Mary Anne Pledger. The couple, with their children, had moved into Wilcox County in 1817-1818 and had a large plantation over which Mary Ann Bethea’s uncle, the Tristram B. Bethea just spoken of above, became manager while he was also handling his law practice and building up his own plantation! In 1831 in Wilcox County, Tristram B. Bethea married David Bethea’s daughter, Eugenia Volanto Bethea, born in 1814. To one of their children born in Alabama in 1834 they gave the name Mary Ann! So my grandmother’s grandmother Mary Ann Bethea (born 1825) growing up in Brooklyn, had a somewhat younger first cousin in Wilcox County named Mary Ann Bethea, who later married in 1858 the influential medical practitioner, Dr. Phillips Fitzpatrick, who was born in Elmore, Ala., in 1830 to Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Governor of Alabama, and the couple settled just northeast of Montgomery. A hundred years after this marriage, we children in East Montgomery used to visit the beautiful Fitzpatrick Gardens near Wetumpka. (These gardens are more recently called “Jasmine Hill Gardens” and are owned and run by a foundation.)

Appreciation is expressed to Marianne Leader for sharing her experiences and discoveries in researching her family lines from this area. Her story will be continued in next week’s column.

Anyone with questions related to this writing or this column is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442.