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Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Do you remember me?

Vaguely, if at all?

Was I lucky enough to hold the infant that was you,
before I departed for the silence beyond this life?

It's likely that we'll never meet, so I'm leaving you these words.

I hope some day you'll find them when you go looking for
answers; to help you understand who and why you are.

Much of who we are depends on a tiny strand
of genetic code at the core of our being.

It makes your hair grow straight, or turns it
red, or your eyes blue instead of green.

DNA makes you uniquely you; a random blend of all
the people and personalities who were your ancestors.

Are you an artist?

Do you paint,
or write,
or make music?

That might be me, being part of you.

Do you have a gap between your two front teeth?
My mother's mother gave us that.
Who knows where she got it?

Are you extra tall?
Could be the Wakefield
in your blood.

Are you hot-headed?

Do you get a little preachy once in awhile,
or become or easily incensed at injustice?

That's my grandfathers, mingled together
in the man that is, or was once, me.

But I'm only one of your grandfathers,
a tiny fraction of all that you are;
a fourth, or an eighth, a sixteenth, even less.

There's no telling which of us got you into this mess.


I wrote this poem a few days ago and published it on another site, but it belongs here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Who's that kid in the old tintype?

Is this Lee B. Coltrane?
I found this tintype portrait among the photos I've collected over the years. It came from Vernon Coltrane's family.

According to Wikipedia, "Tintypes enjoyed their widest use during the 1860s and 1870s, but lesser use of the medium persisted into the early 20th century."

I'm guessing the boy in the picture is about twelve years old. He looks to be wearing a uniform of some kind. A school uniform perhaps? Surely not a military uniform.

Solomon Hodgin Coltrane, Vernon Coltrane's grandfather, was born in 1847, so it's probably not him, but it might be one of his children. If so, could this be Vernon's father, Lee B. Coltrane? Lee was born in 1891, so it's possible.

Solomon and Emma had five sons: Shubal, Albert, Alexander, Carl, and Lee. Among their eight children Shubal was the oldest, born in 1874, and Lee the youngest son. This portrait could be any of them, or someone entirely different, but since it was in possession of Vernon's family, my gut tells me this is probably our great grandfather, Lee Beacher Coltrane.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Three soldiers, India, 1945-46.

American soldier, probably Harry Blair, with unidentified Burmese or Indian fighters.
Photograph most likely taken by 2nd Lt. Vernon E. Coltrane, US Army, Assam, India, 1945-46

A brief summary of the ancestry of Vernon Eugene Coltrane.

Our Coltrane ancestors have been in central North Carolina for nearly three hundred years, since long before the French and Indian Wars. The first Coltrane known to have been born in North America was William Coltrane, born sometime around 1743 in eastern North Carolina.

William Coltrane was the only son of David Coltrane and Mary Trotter, and was among the earliest Europeans to settle in what is now Randolph County.
Deep River settlers, 1750s-1780s

David Coltrane was the third son of Patrick Coltrane and Elizabeth Stewart of Wigton, Scotland; born sometime in the first decade or so of the eighteenth century.  He emigrated from Scotland to North America sometime before 1738.  Colonial records indicate that David owned at least 530 acres in what was then Edgecombe County, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1743.

At one time it was believed that David had returned to Scotland to settle his father's estate and was lost at sea, but more recent research indicates that our David Coltrane was most likely a member of the first British military force raised entirely on American soil. Being neither regular British army or navy, some have called these men the first American marines.

David Coltrane is believed to have been among the men mustered into Gooch's Regiment, which unsuccessfully attempted to seize Cartagena, one of Spain's principal gold-trading ports in the colony of New Granada.

Lindsay Coltrane
Mosquito-borne diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria were as lethal to Europeans as Old World diseases were to the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, and many men died during the long voyage from the Carolinas to Cuba and then to Cartagena.  It is believed that such was the fate of our grandfather, David Coltrane, and that he was buried at sea sometime before June of 1745.

Mary Trotter married several more times in the course of her life, becoming the wife of Laws Preddy on June 27, 1745.  Additional records indicate that she later married John Messhenger, in 1752, and finally Robert Wallace, in August of 1754. Records also indicate that Mary's father, James Trotter, was appointed guardian of William Coltrane.  Mary's last will and testament, probated October 27, 1792, mentions only one son.

It is not certain when William Coltrane settled in what is today Randolph County, North Carolina. An indenture dated August 20, 1760, tells us that William purchased a 302 acre tract referred to as the Messuage Tenement from Christopher Smith of Orange County.  The property lay along Polecat Creek, in the Deep River watershed.

About that same year William married Rachel Worthington, daughter of Jacob and Abigail Worthington. The consensus among most researchers today is that William and Rachel raised eight children (David, Abigail, Jacob, Mary, James, William, Daniel, and Rachel).

Emma and Solomon H. Coltrane.
wedding portrait?
The site of William and Rachel Coltrane's original homestead now lies beneath the waters of a man-made lake, having been submerged by the completion of the Randleman Dam project in the early 2000s. The land remained in possession of one of William's descendants until the lake was created.

William Coltrane's sixth child, also named William, was born in 1774. Sometime around 1798, Billy, as he was known, courted and married Sarah Frazier, a daughter of James Frazier and Martha Millikan. By then the Coltranes had become members of the Religious Society of Friends, and were firmly rooted in the Quaker community that took root across the region. Randolph County is home to several of the oldest Quaker Meetings in the nation.

William and Sarah had nine children. Their third child, a boy they named Lindsay Coltrane, was born in 1816, and grew up to become a farmer like his father, and his grandfather before. In 1841 Lindsay Coltrane married Margaret Hodgin, a daughter of Solomon Hodgin and Tamar Dicks. In time Lindsay and Margaret brought eleven children into the world.

Lee and Pearl Coltrane
Solomon Hodgin Coltrane, the fourth child of Lindsay and Margaret Coltrane, was born in 1847. Solomon married Emma Osborn, a daughter of Thomas Osborn and Mary Kersey. Among their eight children was a boy they named Lee Beacher(or Beecher) Coltrane.

Lee was a summer baby, born June 28, 1891, and like most of his ancestors, Lee scratched his living from the red clay under his feet. Upon retirement from the dairy farming business, Lee sold most of his farm to developers who built the Shannon Hills neighborhood, near Vandalia Road and Rehobeth Church Road.

Lee outlived two of his three wives, but his eight children all came from his first wife, Pearl Wakefield. My grandfather, Vernon Eugene Coltrane, was their fourth child, born just over a century ago on November 7, 1916.

Vernon grew up on his father's farm. He graduated from Sumner School in 1933, and obtained a degree in economics from Guilford College in 1937. While at Guilford, Vernon met our grandmother, Trudy Cochran, daughter of Luella Farmer and the late Dr. Ira Cochran of Kernersville; they were married in 1938.

Vernon E Coltrane (1916-2004)
Shortly after the birth of their first child, Brenda, Vernon was drafted to serve in World War II.  After basic and officer training, 2nd Lt. Vernon Coltrane was stationed at Ledo, Assam, India. His company worked on what came to be known as the Stillwell Highway, which ran from the station at Ledo to Kunming, Yunnan, China.

The road was built so that Western Allies could supply the Chinese after the Burma Road was cut off by the Japanese in 1942. Originally called Ledo Road, the highway was renamed Stilwell Road, after General Joseph Stilwell, in early 1945.The road fell into disrepair after the war, but recent efforts have been made to rehabilitate the highway.

After the war, Vernon found employment with the United States Postal Service, and retired after more than thirty-one years in 1973.  He and Trudy raised a total of four children, (all still living as of this writing) and lived out their days travelling the world as long as their health allowed. Trudy died in early 2000; Vernon followed in 2004.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The remarkable children of George and Alice Wakefield.

George Wakefield married Alice in 1888. I've never been clear on whether George was Alice's first husband or not, because I've seen her name in several combinations of Alice Letcher Hayes Reid. It wasn't unheard of in the late nineteenth century, for a person to marry and lose a spouse within the first few years. As we've seen previously with Len and Sallie Bryant, it does happen.

Greensboro Record, April, 1900
At any rate, by 1890 Alice had given birth to the first of eight children she would bear between then and 1903. The oldest child was my great grandmother, Mary Pearl Wakefield (sometimes mislabelled Pearl Margaret).

Pearl grew up to be a remarkable woman in her own right, and I look forward to writing her story very soon. A newspaper item from 1900 will suffice to foreshadow the strong woman grandma Pearl would become. Click on the clipping to make it bigger.

Apparently longevity is a genetic trait among the Wakefields, because two of Alice and George's daughters, Lillian and Hallie, outlived even their nonagenarian father. Each lived about three months beyond their one-hundredth birthday. George, Jr., also lived a very long life, reaching ninety-two  years old.

Not all the siblings were so lucky. Pearl died in 1953, at only sixty-three years old, and another sister, Edna, died in 1940 at forty-one. Hallie's twin sister, Beulah, died in infancy.

Perhaps the luckiest of all of George and Alice Wakefield's children was their youngest son.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, in 1914, Thomas and his older brother, George, Jr., were out hunting; Thomas was accidentally shot in the head with a .22 caliber rifle. The story, published in the Greensboro Daily News, was picked up by newspapers across the region, and perhaps was carried even further.

Miraculously, Thomas Wakefield survived and lived an otherwise long and unremarkable life. When he died in May of 1983 he was eighty years old, and I suppose, still carried that bullet in his head.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Coltrane family reunion, circa 1960.

Lee B. Coltrane threw a party at his home every year to celebrate his birthday, 28 June, 1891.
This event evolved into a reunion, held each year on the Sunday following Father's Day.
This photo was taken a year or two either side of 1960, at Lee's final home on Galway Drive.

How Robert Morehead died on George Wakefield's farm.

Greensboro Telegram, 06 July, 1900
On Friday, July 6, 1900, a man named Robert Morehead, an employee on George Wakefield's dairy farm south of Greensboro, was gored by a bull and died that afternoon.

Robert Morehead was a black man. He had a wife and small children. He lived in a place then outside the city limits called Warnerville.

Published Monday, 09 July, 1900
In those days, there was no Occupational Safety and Health Administration coming to investigate. There were no Workmen's Compensation laws, and likely no life insurance to provide for surviving spouses and children. The social safety net was still decades away.

George Wakefield placed a statement in the newspaper a few days after the accident, essentially washing his hands of any responsibility, and it's likely that his account of the event is factual and complete, but we will never know.

A black man, born into slavery in 1849, was still valued little more than a horse, a bull, or a good dog to most white people 117 years ago, even in progressive Greensboro, North Carolina.

Had the farm hand involved in this accident been a white man, or a family member, we would probably have a much more detailed record of what happened. The investigation would have been much more thorough, and the newspaper items more detailed. Charges; criminal, or civil, or both, might even have been filed.

I wish I knew more about what happened to Robert Morehead, and his widow, and their children. I am sorry he lost his life that way.

Greensboro City Directory, 1896-97,  listing Robert Morehead and his wife, Clara.