Thursday, January 24, 2008

Great Granddaughter Shares Memories of Synthia Catherine Stewart Boyd

Synthia Catherine Stewart was nine years old when General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops marched into Georgia in 1864. Her father was off fighting with the Campbell Salt Springs Guards for the Confederacy She and her mother, her uncle, two sisters and a brother were among those who watched as Sherman's troops burned the New Manchester mill on the banks of Sweetwater Creek outside Atlanta The six family members were then taken by wagon to Marietta where they boarded a train and made the trip north to Louisville, having been charged with treason for supporting the Confederacy. Synthia Catherine's story, and that of other mill workers at New Manchester and also at Roswell, Georgia, is told in the book North Across the River.

Synthia Catherine's great granddaughter Glenda Hilliard, who makes her home in Abilene, Texas, has shared wonderful memories of growing up with a great grandmother who survived that Civil War trip and then made a life for herself and her family in Texas.

Here, in her words, are some of those memories:

  • Synthia Catherine and her family moved to Sidney, Texas, in 1903 when their youngest child (Glenda's grandmother) was seven years old They reared nine children of their own and six younger siblings after her husband's parents passed away. She was a wonderful grandmother and the heart of our family. She was loved by many and known as Granny Boyd by all in our small community.

  • I will never forget the gatherings at her house where there was always lots of good food, love, laughter and many stories told. Her house was old and unpainted, without electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water, but we all thought it was a mansion because Granny lived there. It had a big front porch that held cane-bottomed chairs and rockers. There was a metal bucket on a small table with water and a dipper to drink from. We all drank from the same dipper and probably shared more than stories.

  • Granny lived with her daughter, Rommie, and son-in-law in her latter years. He sold eggs and butter to the little grocery store in our town. They never had much money but were very frugal and always took good care of the things they had and never wasted a thing. Even their outdoor toilet smelled good. They kept ashes from the fireplace in a big bucket in the toilet to cover the "deposits" we made.

  • Granny did all their cooking on a wood stove, and everything tasted like it was cooked by a famous chef. She always sent a surprise to me on Saturdays when her son-in-law came to Sidney to bring eggs and butter to the store to sell. It would be a pretty, handmade dress for my doll, pretty rocks or arrowheads, ostrich feathers, tea cakes that she had made on her wood-burning stove or anything she thought I might like. Then I would send her a surprise when he went home. I usually sent her a jar of maraschino cherries--her favorite--or some beautiful piece of artwork I had done.

  • Granny had a great love for nature and all the beauty of God's creation. she often called me (on our crank telephone) to go outside to see a pretty cloud formation, an airplane (which was a rare occasion), or a ring around the moon.

  • Granny died when I was eleven, and I thought I would surely die, too. She was such an example, and I feel sure I am a better person today because of her influence in my life. Everyone should have a great grandmother like Granny. All of the grandchildren thought that they were her favorite, but I knew that I was.

Synthia Catherine Stewart lived to be 96 years old. She is buried in the Sidney Pendergrass Cemetery next to her husband.

NORTH ACROSS THE RIVER Question Finally Answered

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Glenda Hilliard wrote on January 24, 2008 to point out that her grandmother, the youngest child of Synthia Catherine Stewart Boyd, is the young woman in the lower left of the photo shown here. She also said, "I love your blog about Granny. She would be amazed that people are still remembering her after all these years...Thanks so much for making Granny's memories come to life."

When I wrote the book North Across the River (Crane Hill 1999), I interviewed many descendants of mill workers from Roswell and Sweetwater Creek, Georgia, but I was never able to connect with the family of Synthia Catherine Stewart Boyd. In the archives of the Atlanta History Museum, I had discovered the transcript of a phonograph recording she made in the 1940s for her grandson Elwood Boyd--way out in Comanche County, Texas. That recording provided details I would not have had about the mill workers who were arrested by General Sherman in 1864, charged with treason, and sent north so they could not continue to make cloth for the Confederacy. Synthia Catherine was about nine years old when she and her mother and uncle, her two sisters and one brother were forced to make the journey to Louisville, Kentucky.

I checked records in Georgia and in Texas but was not looking in the correct places. I tried to reach a branch of the family in Columbia, South Carolina, but found only disconnected telephone numbers. The Internet was up and running at that time, but search engines were not as efficient as they are now. One red herring in my search was the fact that a reporter for an Atlanta newspaper who claimed to have visited the Boyds in Texas insisted that Synthia Catherine's father had worked for the mill in Roswell, and she would not share her sources.

As I worked on the book and researched facts from the Synthia Catherine transcript and other material, I came to the conclusion that I was as close to positive as I could be without proof that Walter Washington Stewart had been a bossman at the mill in Sweetwater Creek rather than Roswell. I told my publisher the situation, and fortunately, she encouraged me to go with my instinct and write the story as it appeared to me to be true. When the book was published, I kept hoping for contact with the Stewart family.

Time went by. I heard from a number of people with ties to the mill worker story but not from anyone connected to the Stewarts. I attended a reunion at Sweetwater Creek State Park and met members of other families but no Stewarts. Then I became involved in writing the manuscript that became Guests Behind the Barbed Wire and let the question ride.

Last July, to my complete surprise, I received a letter from Glenda Hilliard in Abilene, Texas. "I learned yesterday," she wrote, "about a book you have written about my great grandmother, Synthia Stewart Boyd." The words jumped from the page after so many years, and they were followed by wonderful memories Glenda has of her great grandmother. "She lived in Sidney, Texas, after her family moved from Alabama," Glenda wrote. "That is where I grew up, and so I spent lots of time with her. I remember the day that she made recordings of her memories of the Civil War. Our whole family had gathered at her unpainted house....The records were later transferred to CDs, and roosters can clearly be heard crowing in the background."

Since then, I have learned from Glenda that, indeed, Walter Washington Stewart had been a bossman at the New Manchester mill on the banks of Sweetwater Creek. She has also shared more memories of Synthia Catherine's adult life in Texas, which I will share with you in the next blog installment.