Part Two by Edna Matthews Liggin
She probably heard for the first time the words, “Be brave,” when as a little girl she came with her parents, James and Ann Edmunds, from Georgia to Louisiana. Years later, her grandchildren repeated her stories of the family eating with Indians as they camped along the way.
The family settled in Union Parish, west of Farmerville, by 1847, the year the name, James Edmunds, appears on old police jury records as one selected to help review a new road from Farmerville to Homer. James Edmunds, in these early years, also bought hundreds of acres of land. For $400 he bought 370 acres, and the deed reveals it was acquired from the United States Government in 1837. The Grand Gulf Railroad Company of Mississippi owned it for a while, then Phillip May bought it at a Union Parish courthouse sale, and in turn sold it to James Edmunds.
The stretch included a creek, today known as Edmunds Creek, and family legends report that the slaves James Edmunds brought from Georgia found the Louisiana trees much harder to fell than those back in Georgia. Some of this land has been owned continuously since 1847 by descendants of James Edmunds, though his name has disappeared from the area. Such was the background of Mary Edmunds, and as she and her six sisters married, James Edmunds gave some of them forty acres of land, and testified in the deeds how highly he esteemed his sons-in-law.
James Edmunds spearheaded the exodus of the Edmunds family from Georgia to Shiloh. His brother, John, finally settled in Claiborne Parish. His sister, Martha, married to Dr. J.R. Clark, settled in Shiloh, and Dr. Clark became the town’s first doctor. Finally his brother Roscoe’s widow, Nancy, came to the area in the 1850s.
Old Shiloh Church membership lists show a number of Edmunds, as well as a black Edmunds, named Willie, who is reputed to have lived to be 114 years of age.
In the year 1852, when 15-year-old Mary married George Tabor, a Post Office was established at Shiloh. W.A. Milner, possible father-in-law to Mary’s sister, Susan, in later years, was the first postmaster. Mail was now coming toll-free across Cornie Creek, according to old police jury records.
The family of Elijah Tabor had come to Shiloh about the same time as the Edmunds, and that family included five sons. Mary Edmunds chose George, and was married to him December 4, 1852, with Preacher Jesse Tubb performing the ceremony. It was the same year Susan Sims Tabor, wife of Elijah Tabor, died and was buried atop a knoll in Shiloh Cemetery; and it was the same year Macaijah Little donated five acres of land to be used forever by Shiloh Church and Cemetery.
The forty acres given by James Edmunds to George and Mary was about three miles east of Shiloh, along the recently reviewed Farmerville-Vienna Road. The house they lived in, put together with wooden pegs and mortises,stood until the 1960s, when it was torn down to make way for a new house. In this house Mary lived alone with their five children when George went away to fight in the Civil War. The well at that old house was used for a hundred years.
Three times the Farmerville-Bernice or Farmerville-Vienna Road affected this house site. In the early period travel along this road had to climb a very steep hill going west known as Sutton Hill, named for its homesteaders, James and David Sutton. In the 20th century a new road from Farmerville to Bernice was routed directly over the well from which Mary watered her livestock during the Civil War. Now, in 1974-1975, a renovated highway project has bulldozed down most of Sutton Hill; but, it too, will run by the old home site.
Five children were born to Mary and George in the years between 1852 and his going to war, probably about 1861. These were Euphemia, Susan, Mary Washington, John Burl, and James Elijah. George probably went to Camp Moore, August 18, 1861, with his brothers Thomas, Robert, and John.
The first time Mary had been courageous, she had been a child. Now, for the second time her courage and fortitude were tested, as she began to live out the war years (1861-1865), trying to take care of a home and five small children while the father and husband was away fighting for the South. Her descendants keep alive the story that at this time she dreamed of seeing George in a coffin, with the dream repeating itself throughout the night. The next morning she rode over to her father’s farm and told him of the dream. He told her it was only a dream that she should forget, but in three days she received word George had died in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and had been buried there.
Another tale told by old-timers related that Elijah Tabor, George’s father, went to Mississippi in a wagon and brought back the body of George for burial at Shiloh, and as a result of this trip, Elijah himself died of pneumonia. However, there is some doubt of the truth of this story since the succession record of Elijah states he died in 1865. Another record states George died in 1863. If this is correct, Elijah could have brought back George’s body.
Regardless, young Mary Tabor, was now a widow with the war not yet at an end. Her last child, Mary Washington Tabor (called Mollie) had been born March 6, 1862, so Mary had been pregnant when George went to war. Her little girl, Susan (Sissy) was soon to die. A few years later Euphemia died of yellow fever, just before her marriage. Mary Tabor reached out for courage over and over during these trying years.
Shortly after the war was over, a man named Dan Lee, said to have been from the North, appeared at Shiloh. In 1866 he married the young widow, Mary Tabor. Not such is known of Dan Lee. His name appears on several recorded Union Parish documents of the period, and he was a member of Shiloh Church until 1867, after which his name was taken off the rolls. Did Mary and Dan live on Edmunds land, given to her by her father?
Mysteries and legends have persisted through the many years about Dan Lee. Who was he? Why did he come South? What did he do for a living? One story put him in the local jail, with Mary concealing a saw in a pound cake in an attempt to break him out. Another legend tells of him having a lamp shot out one night as he lay on the front porch; and about his whipping his step-son, John, with a bull nettle.
Then, legend declares, he left home and never returned. Mary Lee, possibly pregnant with her son, Tom, at the time, did sewing for some “Dutch” women at Farmerville. From them she learned of the disappearance of a man answering Dan’s description from a hotel room in Monroe. Later, she identified Dan Lee’s watch and other articles. This was the last time she received anything from him.
Unless Susan was dead by this time, she now had eight children, for besides the five Tabor children, she and Dan, between 1867 and 1871, became parents to James William, Ellen, and Tom Lee. With all her children, and twice a widow, with neither husband given a decent Christian funeral, Mary needed courage as never before in her life.
In 1872, Mary Lee had Dan declared legally dead, and then in 1873 she filed a final succession record. He left property valued at $613, and Mary Lee’s father, James Edmunds, was appointed tutor for the three minor Lee children.
The legends and folklore about Mary Lee now began to take form. Once, while seated on her porch, so one of them asserted, she saw an apparition of Dan Lee appear in the yard. He wrote in the sand, but before a frightened Mary could go read what was written, he disappeared and rain obliterated the words.
Years later, when she lived in the same area with her son, James, she walked the country road at night to visit her son, John Tabor, always walking on Edmunds land and along Edmunds Creek. On one occasion she reported seeing a leathery curtain obstructing her path, frightening her and causing her to turn back.
Pictured Standing (left to right): 1. Josephine Bolton Tabor–daughter of Eljah and Eliza Bolton, wife of Robert J. Tabor 2. Mary George Washington “Mollie” Butler–daughter of Mary Edmonds and George Tabor, wife of George Algernon Butler 3. Matilda Edmonds Elliott–daughter of James Edmonds and Grissella Ann Hay, sister to Mary Edmonds, wife of William Henry Elliott
Pictured seated (left to right): 1. Robert J. “Bob” Tabor–son of Elijah Tabor and Susan Sims, brother-in-law to Mary Edmonds 2. Mary Edmonds–daughter of James Edmonds and Grissella Ann Hay, wife of (1) George W. Tabor, (2) Daniel Webster Lee 3. Penniah Edmonds Buckley–daughter of James Edmonds and Grissella Ann Hay, sister to Mary Edmonds, wife of Andrew J. Buckley.
From time to time, Mary was involved in litigation that complicated her life. In 1877, her daughter, Mary Washington, called Mollie, married to Samuel Futch, sued for partition of the George Tabor Estate. In this suit, James Elijah, stated his father died in 1863. (This verified the story of the father returning George’s body for burial.) As a result of the suit, each of the Tabor children received 120 acres with Mary getting the home place. An odd feature of this suit, is that no debts existed, testimony to the good management of Mary Lee, a feature still found in her descendants today.
A 1874 record mentions Mary Lee, widow of Dan W. Lee, was involved in suit with Breton and Cargile over 545 acres of land that sold for $380 to J. J. Booles and J.R. Fuller. The deed mentioned Mary Lee, widow of Dan Lee, as heir, also James, John B, and Mollie G. Futch.
Mary Lee did not marry again, and resented any insinuation that Dan Lee was still alive. As she grew older, she gained a reputation as a “medicine woman,” and was sent for whenever there was sickness. She was a tiny woman, utterly fearless, and rode horseback anywhere she wanted to go.
In 1902 she was listed as Mary Lee, one of the heirs to a now small estate left by her father, James Edmunds, the man who had given his extensive lands to his seven daughters.
In the next two decades she was affectionately named “Mammy Lee” or “Aunt Mary,” and beloved by both kith and kin. Nearby lived her sons, Jim Lee, John Tabor, and daughter Ellen Shaw. Tom Lee moved from place to place, while James Elijah Tabor went to Texas.
On June 1, 1925, her son, Tom Lee, died and was buried at Shiloh. A few months later, January 22, 1926, Mary died and was buried beside him. The little girl who ate with Indians enroute from Georgia had grown to be a strong woman in a new land, and with courage had withstood trouble and hard times. She in turn had given her last years to helping others in trouble. Her memory is alive in all who have known or heard of “Mammy Lee.”
This story is one very dear to my heart. Mammy Lee was my 2nd great-grandmother. She came to live with her son, John Burl Tabor, when his wife passed away. His youngest daughter, my grandmother, was 11 years old at the time. Grandma told many wonderful stories about Mammy Lee.
As you can see her last name is spelled Edmunds and Edmonds. I have seen it both ways many times. I do not know which is correct.
Edna Matthews Liggin will always be remembered as the official historian of Union Parish and the Book Mobile Lady. She began writing the Uncle Lige column in The Gazette in 1939. Over the years she wrote many articles about the Union Parish history, the people there and her bottle collection. In her retired years she enjoyed visiting the older people in the Union Parish community.