I believe that my descent is reasonably traced back through the line of George Spencer Files to Jeremiah Franklin Files. While the evidence is merely circumstantial, I do find it compelling. Enclosed herein is the story of Jeremiah and his ancestry– a great story in my opinion. Jeremiah Franklin Files was born to a family with a rich, if, spotted history in colonial and antebellum America.
1715-1753: Monongahela Massacre
Jeremiah’s great-great grandfather was one of the early residents in the Virginia colony– one Robert Files
(1715-1753); who, along with his brother-in-law David Tygart, moved beyond the legal limit of the Virginia colony into modern day West Virginia– which was reserved by treaty for the native population. Robert, his wife Elizabeth (Tygart) and their clan settled in a small valley at the junction of what is now known as the Tygart River and Files Creek (Map of Robert’s Settlement), where they held a small farm. In the winter of 1753, the farm came under the attack of a local native tribe; and Robert, Elizabeth, and five of their six children were all caught and killed. Only their son John Adam Files escaped; and fled to David Tygart’s cabin to warn his uncle and his family. With the Tygarts, John fled the frontier, back to Virginia-proper.
1753-1818: John Adam Files, John Benton Files Sr, and the Revolution
Back in Virginia and grown of age, John Files married Mary Catherine Manley, had several children, including son Jeremiah Benton Files (Sr.). Life in Augusta Country was not an east one for John. On November 19, 1761, court records indicate a lein was taken of each and every one of his belongings– His home, his livestock, his furnishings and clothing– even the family Bible– all seized to pay debts to Thomas Hugart (five pounds ten shillings, two pence) and Thomas Gilham (five pounds, five shillings, nine pence). The auction of all of John’s earthly possessions came to under eight pounds– given this, it is amazing he escaped debtors’ prison. It was soon after this financial catastrophe that John and his family left Virginia for South Carolina, finally settling in Pendleton District by 1773.
John and his family were heavily involved with the local militia in Pendleton, and in the revolutionary movement. John’s eldest son John Adam Files Jr. enrolled in the militia on July 1, 1776 at the age of 16; his second son Adam in the winter of 1777 at 15, and third son Jeremiah Benton Files on Christmas Eve, 1780 also at the age of 15. John Files Senior was involved no later than August 1779; but given the militia system of the time, may have been involved prior. In any case, while his sons fought in the militia line of battle, John Senior was commissioned a Lieutenant under a Captain McCall in Colonel Andrew Pickens’ 3rd Georgia Militia. Over the course of the war, John Files (Sr.) rose to the rank of Captain himself; and saw action most notably at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, where he and Jeremiah were both gravely wounded. Jeremiah was struck by a sword along his head, left arm, and right hand. He escaped the Loyalist forces into the swamps. His father John was not so lucky. John Adam Files Sr. was captured and put to death by Tories and their native allies.
Jeremiah Benton Files Sr. was brought through Gilberttown North Carolina, to the home of General Charles McDowell, where he convalesced until able to rejoin his unit on June 1, 1781. Jeremiah continued to serve in the militia, including at battles in the Cherokee nation including Tessanty Town, Big Savannah, High Tower, Vansvinage on Long Swamp Creek, and Pine Log Town. In 1786, Jeremiah (Sr.) wed Abigail Montgomery in Pendleton, South Carolina, and started a family of his own, including a son bearing his own name (Jeremiah Benton Files Jr., b. 1797). By 1818, the family had moved to Blount County, Alabama– perhaps because of Jeremiah’s experiences in the region with the militia; and knowing the richness of the land– which is ultimately where Jeremiah Sr. died around 1846.
1818-1860: Jeremiah Benton Files the Younger and Son Jeremiah Franklin Files
For the part of the younger Jeremiah Benton Files– he wed Margaret “Peggy” Dunn in Bount County, Alabama in 1818 at the age of 21. They moved sixty miles away to the west, and up the Warrior River in what is now Walker County sometime before 1833, on a patch of land that became known as Carbon Hill. This part of Alabama was very poor country indeed; well inland, off the trade routes, and navigating the Warrior was difficult. It was not until the discovery of coal (giving Carbon Hill its name) that Walker Country began to grow. It remained a backwater through most of the early 1800s. In 1836, Peggy gave birth to son Jeremiah Franklin Files– the heart of this story.
Jeremiah Franklin Files was raised in the frontier backwater of Walker County. It was a poor region throughout his childhood, with ramshackle, rough-hewn log houses and small sustenance and cotton farms. The Files clan did hold two slaves as of 1840; but there is no record of slaves in 1850 or 1860 belonging to the family. While not particularly wealthy, the presence of slaves in the family does indicate a modest level of affluence compared to those surrounding them. Indeed– the 1850 United States Census indicates the family was living on land valued at $500 (about $14,000 in 2013 dollars); whereas most of the neighboring farms were in the $100-200 range. Unlike most neighbors, the census indicates that all members of the family of four could read and write. Jeremiah Franklin Files had capitalized on this rare advantage, becoming postmaster of Walker County by 1860.
This is not to say that young Jeremiah F’s life was not without controversy. According to a blend of family history, genealogy, and local folklore, sixteen year old Jeremiah became involved with a five-year-older woman from a poor, itinerant family in Walker County in 1852-3; one Mary Lockhart. With Mary, Jeremiah had (at least) one son, Manley Files (b. 1853)–he born out of wedlock. Tradition indicates that Jeremiah and Mary were in love, but his family forbade a marriage between them due to the age difference, and possibly due to the Lockhart’s lower social status. Jeremiah would go on to a marriage agreeable to his parents, to Rhoda Feltman (1837-1892) in 1856. Rhoda bore him no less than nine children; while his bastard son Manley lived just down the road with his mother, acknowledged, but effectively fatherless.
1860-1865: Jeremiah Franklin Files and the War
The Late Unpleasantness of 1861-5 brought a new level of tumult to Jeremiah Franklin Files’ life. The Walker region was staunchly Jacksonian in nature, and supporting Jackson against the specter of disunion in the Secession Crisis of 1828-32. When secession again reared its head, Walker County remained resolute against it. Walker sent 143 secessionist delegates to the state’s secession convention in 1860-1; 796 cooperationist delegates. Jeremiah was not a delegate to the convention, but he was clearly opposed to secession. Indeed, according to post-war Federal claims records, Jeremiah was removed from office as postmaster due to his anti-secession sentiment. Presumably, he returned to his farm on Carbon Hill with Rhoda and his (then) three children to wait out the crisis.
The crisis, of course, had different plans.
According to Dombhart’s 1937 History of Walker County, Alabama; while the majority of the county “…ardently opposed secession,” when Alabama as a whole joined the Confederate cause by a wide margin, Walker “…threw [itself] wholeheartedly into the support of the Confederacy” (46). This support was not universal or unqualified. Voluntary enlistments from Walker County were rather low, and even the most pro-Confederate books of the post-war era (including Moore’s History of Alabama (1936) ) speak of the “…small ‘Tory’ faction, composed chiefly of the poor ‘mountain whites’ who opposed the Confederacy… [they] felt themselves apart from the people of the lowlands generally. They did not understand the questions at issue and they cared little about them one way or the other. What they desired was that the peace of their hills should be left undisturbed by the war” (438-9). While Moore essentially infantilizes the anti-Confederacy movement in the hills, and reduces them to isolationists, the truth of the matter is quite different, as evinced by the fact that hundreds of men from these tiny hill towns not only fled to hide in the hills from the Confederate draft they were ardently opposed (thus earning themselves the nom du guerre “mossbacks”), but actively sought out Union lines to enlist to put down the rebellion. This is not the act of men looking to be left alone in their peaceful villages, but men actively opposed to the rebellion against the Federal government.
In Hoole’s 1960 Alabama Tories, Hoole quotes Confederate General Gideon Pillow in stating that there were perhaps 10,000 such mossbacks hiding in the hills of Northwest Alabama as of 1862– hardly the scant few Moore would suggest. The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion suggest that the counties of Winston, Fayette, and Marion all held conventions in 1862 where they stopped short of declaring their independence from Alabama as West Virginia did from Virginia, but did declare their neutrality in the war. In Lawrence, Winston, and Blount Counties, Federal recruiting agents were holding open correspondence with these “home-grown Yankees.” Hoole concludes that “neutrality” essentially meant support for the Union.
In April of 1862, the Confederate States issued the first draft in American history. Probably not coincidentally, in April 1862, Jeremiah Franklin Files left his home in Carbon Hill, Walker County Alabama for Fayette; probably spending months hiding in the hills, earning his own “mossback” sobriquet, until making it to Union lines, where he formally enlisted with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, United States Volunteers in September. His support for the Union cause would cost Jeremiah and his family dearly. In his own words, Jeremiah describes his Federal service, and it’s cost in case No. 11312 of the Southern Claims Commission:
“From April 1862 until June 1865, I spent my time between Fayette Co., Ala. and the Union lines, and also in the Union lines… My business was a portion of the time recruiting for the Union Army. I crossed quite a number of times between April 1862 and March 1864 for the purpose of gettin Union men out of the rebel lines and getting them into the Union lines. I then joined the Union Army at Glendale, Miss., I joined the First Reg. Ala. Cav. Vol. commanded by Col. Geor. E. Spencer and remained with the army until Nov. Folowing on the 24th day of November 1863, I left camp at Camp Davies, Miss. with two other soldiers and came back to Fayette Co., Ala. and got about fifty Union men and reached camp at Camp Davies taking the above mentioned number of Union men with me and reached there on the 13th day of December 1863. I then remained in the Union lines until the summer of 1864, I then taken up the same occupation gathering Union men for the Union Army and was so employed until the surrender. In the summer of 1865, I came back to my farm where I now reside. I was threatened by every rebel that knew me with damage to my person and property. I was threatened to be hanged, shot, and even burned, all on account of my Union sentiments. I influenced about five hundred men to go into the Army… I did not have any relatives in the rebel army except cousins. I had two nephews, also two brothers-in-law and quite a number of cousins in the Union Army…”
Returning Home, and the Tenuous Connection to George Spencer Files
Given the intense anger expressed by his rebel neighbors, Jeremiah’s homecoming had to have been an uneasy one. After the war, he sired four children with Rhoda for sure– and perhaps one other.
As is readily acknowledged, Jeremiah fathered Manley Files with Mary Lockhart in 1853, much to his father’s anger. In 1865 or 1866, Mary had one other child– George Spencer, who was given the surname Files as well. The descendants of Rhoda (Feltman) Files hold that George Spencer Files was actually the son of a John Miles Enis, rather than their own antecedent– but no such “Enis” family exists in Walker County records, nor does Mary Lockhart show a spouse. Meanwhile the birth of George Spencer Files at the end of the war, contemporaneously with Rhoda’s son Jasper Jerome Files tells of a certain common thread. Likewise, George carries a name that is suspiciously nigh-identical to that of Jeremiah’s commanding officer during the war– Captain George E. Spencer. Too suspicious to be a coincidence, to my mind; regardless the protestation of the descendants of Rhoda Files. If this is a matter than Jeremiah was naming his child after a superior he admired, it would not be the last– his last child with Rhoda Files would be named Oliver Hazard Perry Files, in 1876.
Jeremiah went on to be a major figure in post-war Alabama, including returning to his job as postmaster by 1866, and elected service in the state legislature from 1886-7. Jeremiah passed away on 15 April 1901, forty years to the day from when Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion. Sometime between the 1900 and 1910 US Census, George Spencer Files and his family left Carbon Hill in Walker, Alabama for a new life in Oklahoma… perhaps just after the death of his father?
With this case of Jeremiah Franklin Files and George Spencer Files, I may never know the truth without genetic testing. Given the deep resistance of the family of Rhoda Files to the concept of Jeremiah philandering, approval of such a project may be unlikely. Circumstantial evidence does point in my direction, however. That’s something to hang my hat on, I suppose.