Thursday, January 24, 2008

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.

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