Written by Edna Liggin
Shared by Molly Liggin Rankin
When Robert Joseph Tabor at the age of 23 returned from the Civil War to Shiloh to resume his life anew, he began to plow a straight furrow, both as a farmer and as a Christian. This was to be symbolic of his life for the next 54 years. Physically, he plowed, too, and did not look back. The title of “The Plowing Sunday School Man of Shiloh” would be very apt.
He was born January 3, 1842 in Winston County, Mississippi. This portion of northeast Mississippi had once been beautiful timbered hills with both sandy and red soils, with pines and orangewood trees on the hills. Indian legends relate that here the Choctaw Indians first learned to grow corn.
After the Tabors left Winston County the Civil War erupted and the famed Grier’s Raiders passed through the county and used a farm house as a hospital. In the 1960’s these Raiders became famous as the Horse Soldiers.
The parents of Robert Tabor were Elijah and Susan Sims Tabor. A few old records at the Farmerville courthouse tell of this couple buying and selling slaves back in Winston County, perhaps as they moved to Union Parish. Elijah was the youngest child of eleven children born to William and Susannah Tubb Tabor. This William Tabor had been a Revolutionary soldier in North Carolina and was himself the son of John and Elizabeth Sharpe Tabor, early settlers in Orange County, North Carolina.
In 1851 the Elijah Tabor family made the move from Winston County to Union Parish settling in the little village of Shiloh. That same year Elijah bought land from Tillman Porter at Shiloh, John Walker and others. The next year he sold a Negro woman, Phillia, age 28, to William Glasson for $1,340. She had three children and witnessing the deed was W. H. Mays and William Culverhouse.
Robert Tabor was now a boy of ten as his family settled in Shiloh to begin farming on a new land. His mother, Susan Sims Tabor, died in the early 1850’s and was buried in the new Shiloh cemetery on top the gently sloping hill. A small, almost illegible marker bears her name.
The children later has a step-mother, Matilda. She is reputed to have owned much land and many slaves but there is no record as to whether she was a widow or an old maid. It was probably in the early years of this marriage that Elijah built the story-and-half white frame house. He was careful to use plain, unblemished planks in the downstairs rooms. Until a generation ago, the old log house he first lived in was still standing. It had been in use long after Elijah and Matilda were dead.
When Elijah built this house it was at the time known as the finest in Shiloh and strangely enough has been lived in by only two families during its hundred and more years of existence. From the Tabor heirs, it was bought by John B. Robinson, Sr. and heirs of the Robinson family still own the house. The cedars that John Robinson brought as little trees from the Meridian community in Union Parish to their newly bought town house at Shiloh are still standing. John B. Robinson, as did many others, lived in his town house, but farmed outlying plantations of cotton.
But when the Tabors lived in the house, and before the Civil War, the family consisted of sons, Robert, George, Nathan, John, Tom and John, and two girls, Martha Mahala and Sue or Susan. The girls went to school at the Female Academy in Homer, for a copy of a letter Sue wrote home from there is still in existence. Martha taught school before her marriage to S. C. Lee in the 1850’s. Years later Judge Holstead of Ruston was to tell Captain R. J. Tabor that the only schooling he ever got was under his sister, Martha Lee.
The older brother, George, married 15 year old Mary Edmunds soon after the Tabors came to Shiloh. Mary was the daughter of James Edmunds of Georgia who came to Shiloh about 1846. By odd coincidence on that December 4, 1852, Jesse Tubb, pastor of Shiloh, not only married George and Mary, but he also married John B. Robinson, Sr. and Frances Bilberry. The latter couple were to buy the house of Elijah Tabor 32 years later. At that time it is not likely they knew each other.
In 1857, when Bob Tabor was 15 years of age, he received a letter from W. L. Hopkins, a friend who was away at Marshall Collage, Griffin, Georgia. This letter indicates that Bob Tabor and his brothers and sisters were part of an antebellum southern village, enjoying good times together as young people.
Young Hopkins wrote, “Bob, I am missing home and Shiloh and good times we had together.” He made references as to who was courting whom at Shiloh, using the phrase “flying around” for dating. He invited Bob to share any romantic secrets he had as Bob knew him, and he wouldn’t tell. This proves that young people have always acted as young people. He expressed a hope that he would enjoy many more good times when once he got back home. He referred to the good “singings”.
The good time were soon to come to an end for young Bob Tabor and W. L. Hopkins and all their friends as they lived through four years of a crushing, defeating war. As young Hopkins asked about the young blades of Shiloh and who was teaching in the Male and Female Academies, the family of Elisha Bolton at Milledgeville, Georgia (not far from Griffin) were preparing to move to Shiloh
While it took young Hopkins and his friend, John Hamilton, only 12 days to travel by rail via New Orleans from Georgia to Shiloh, it took the Bolton family one year to come to Shiloh. Others came with them and they moved much good, stopping to make flats to cross rivers. Unknowing to W. L. and Robert in 1857, they were to marry the Bolton sisters; Louis to marry Emily Bolton, Robert to marry Malvina Josephine.
Between the years 1857 and 1861, young Bob Tabor must have continued to fly around with the girls, to help his father, Elijah, on the big farm and to go to school. These days came to an end in August, 1861.
This was a sad and perhaps a proud time for Elijah Tabor as he saw three of his sons leave for the “site of war”. These three were Robert, John and George Mason Tabor, while the fourth, Tom, went at another time. The latter returned home at the end of the war determined to fulfill his ambition to be a doctor. He succeeded and had a large practice at Minden, Louisiana.
The 18 year old Robert, motivated to fight for the South as his grandfather, Lieutenant William Tabor had fought for freedom in the Revolutionary War, organized a company at Shiloh later known as Company E, 12 La. Infantry. A partial list of these men included: Alf Fuller, J. T. Heard, John Digby, Tom Breed, Bob Booles, East Weldon, John Heard, Barney Lee, J. D. Hamilton, John Hughes, Bob Autrey and Mason Tabor.
Three years went by and the war was not over. Times had grown very hard. On May 10, 1862, Robert Tabor had become a sergeant. On July 26, 1863, he had written home: “the crops are good and the rain plentiful, and he doubted if the Yankees could starve them out.” General Johnson had issued orders for a furlough for one man out of 25, and an officer for each company. Bob hoped to live until his time came at Christmas as he wanted very badly to see his brothers, Nathan and Tommie. He wrote his health was good. He did not mention brother George Mason, who was probably dead by this time.
Whenever George died, he left a wife and three small children. These were the wife, Mary Edmunds, and sons, James Elijah and John Burl, and daughter, Molly George Washington Tabor. The legend is told that Elijah himself went over into Mississippi and brought back in a wagon the body of George Mason and buried him at Shiloh. If so, his grave is unmarked, though his wife, Mary, who died in 1926, has a marker there.
Bob lost an eye at the Battle of Shiloh and a son, Bolton Tabor still has the bullet that caused the injury. In 1863 he was at Baker’s Creek with a detachment, guarding prisoners as he took them to Vicksburg. He was caught in the siege there that ended on July 4, 1863, making him a prisoner until 1865, when he was paroled. At this time his age is given as 23 and he is described as five feet nine inches tall, eyes blue, hair dark, complexion fair and residence Shiloh, La.
Returning from the war in May, 1865, he began to plow a straight furrow that was to become symbolic of his life. It has been said that he came back to his home and sowed the farm acres in wheat. There is said to have been a wheat mill at Shiloh, across the road from where the church now stands, beside a spring, later used as a baptizing pool for the church.
As Robert, the returned Confederate, sowed wheat on the Tabor farm, he missed the help of his father, Elijah. Tradition says someone stole mules from Elijah in 1864 and he followed the thieves to Mississippi to recover the mules. From this he became ill and died March 20, 1864. Matilda, his second wife, survived him until 1875. An Old weather-beaten monument in Shiloh cemetery shows her resting place but there is none for Elijah.
At the age of 25, on March 28, 1867, Robert Tabor married Malvina Josephine Bolton. She was 21 and lived with her parents in a large house east of Shiloh, the first and only home of the family of Elisha Bolton after he moved them form Georgia to Louisiana. It was to be Josephine Tabor’s home at times during her marriage and most of the years of her widowhood.
In the early post-war years, Robert Tabor also began his spiritual plowing with a straight furrow. The year he married he was elected church clerk and recorded many church conferences with Brother Jonathan Milner signing as church pastor. Many church members, as the records show, were called up before the deacons and church body for failure to meet the church covenant. Robert Tabor sat in these conferences but he was never called up for any deviations, errors or sins against the church.
Time after time, until 1874, he represented Shiloh church at conventions, conferences and associations. He was ever ready to serve but most of all he loved Sunday School work.
The next change in the life of R. J. Tabor came in 1874. The Reverend W. P. Smith, a CSA veteran like Robert Tabor, had been succeeded as Shiloh pastor by John P. Everett. The church was exceedingly strong, and in the midst of founding a Baptist college. To Robert Tabor came the call to move out; to enter a new field; to plow a new furrow. He and Jo now had four children; Susan Emily, James Robert, Louala and Martha Lee.
Whatever the reason, the battle scarred Confederate and his family moved about six miles eastward, almost to the banks of Cornie, and started a home in a new area. Going with them were two other families, the John Boltons and the Frank Pleasants. Robert Tabor bought 640 acres of land and along with John Bolton, brother of Jo Tabor, and Frank Pleasant began to raise cotton, plantation style. The men set up their own steam engine. John Bolton was married to Nanny Dusty whose sister, Mary, was the wife of Frank Pleasant. They settled on Scott’s Lake, near Stein’s Bluff, on Cornie, a popular shipping point on the stream. They could ship cotton down Cornie to old Trenton, now West Monroe.
Some of these fields that Robert Tabor plowed have been in constant cultivation all the years since then, being farmed until recent times by Oren Lee and Robert Hodge.
However, Robert Tabor was not content to neglect his spiritual plowing. Too far from Shiloh to attend church services easily, he took action and donated two acres of land for a church and cemetery. A frame building was soon erected, with assistance given in the construction by W. H. Hamilton, H. L. Scott, W. R. Johnson, A. Raley and D. H. Hodge. The three families became charter members, along with a Sister Caroline Welch. The presbytery were Elder S. C. Lee, John Talbert, S. P. Leggett and W. P. Smith.
The old records of John Bolton say he moved his letter from Shiloh, as did others, but it adds extra that John Bolton was blind and suffering from cancer (in 1874), yet cheerful and resigned, waiting, full of hope. However, he lived 33 years longer, dying April 1, 1907, at the age of 71, after a long illness. He was buried at Mansfield, Louisiana.
Mt. Tabor was to acknowledge Shiloh Baptist Church as the old Mother church, saying all the original members save one came from Shiloh. For sixteen years Robert Tabor labored for God at this church and through his efforts a Sunday School was established. Here at Mt. Tabor were born four more children, Starling, Nannie, Stanley and Elisha Bolton Tabor. The girl, Nannie, died in 1885 at the age of seven and was greatly mourned by her parents, so said an old obituary in The Farmerville Gazette.
At that time Robert J. Tabor was president of the Union Parish Police Jury serving in that capacity from 1881 to 1888. He fulfilled his civic duties as he grew cotton and shipped it down from Stein’s Bluff to Monroe.
The records of what the jury accomplished during those seven years reflect much of the goodly nature of Robert Tabor, the Christian. He sought to have liquor voted out of the parish, thinking it most effective to check the source of evil, then to wait and exclude drinking church members.
He assisted the jury in establishing a poorhouse in the parish to care for the old and indigent, other charity cases were taken care of by the jury. He led the jury in actively promoting Union Parish by entering the National Exposition held at New Orleans, with such event causing the delegating of Judge Rutland to write a history of the parish. Under Robert Tabor the parish encouraged farmers to grow bigger and better farm produce, by offering cash prizes to the best product. This was a plan that was a forerunner to parish fairs and the work done now by county agents. And last, but not least, the jury made barbed wire legal in Union Parish.
In 1890 the Tabors sold their Mt. Tabor farm to Tom Clark and Jim Edwards. Tom Clark later moved to Shiloh and was living there in 1907 when accidentally killed in Bernice while acting as peacemaker in a feud. Jim Edwards was uncle to a later sheriff of Union Parish, George Miller Edwards, killed in 1963 as a deputy making an arrest. Years later a black topped highway passed by the old Tabor farm and it was fifty years before the last sigh of the old farm home was obliterated, crumbling and fallen down.
The reason for the move back to Shiloh was probably because of the feeble age of Josephine Tabor’s father, Elisha Bolton, now a widower. He was still living at the old Bolton home, and was feeble, needing his only daughter, Jo, to care for him. Robert and Jo moved into his home, to live there the rest of their lives. In 1894 Elisha died. This last home of Robert Tabor was later the home of a son, Starling Tabor and his wife, Alma Shaw, until torn down and replaced with a new house in 1949. An old slough of water across the road is still referred to as Bolton pond.
The home was on the old road from Shiloh to Shiloh Landing on Cornie Creek, so that its occupants could notice who were passing by on horseback and wagons. Many times, as a young wife, Robert Tabor’s daughter-in-law, Alma Shaw Tabor, stood on the front porch and beat up her cakes as she watched people pass by.
By now the oldest daughter of Robert and Jo, Susan Emily, born February 28, 1868, had attended Mt. Lebanon College and was teaching at Shiloh and other nearby schools. Later, she taught at Farmerville, where she married George Sanders. and with him established a mercantile business. They were married June 12, 1898 by Dr. J. R. Edwards. The business endured for over sixty years. Long after Mr. Sanders died, Miss Emma and brother, Bolton, ran the store. She went to all Baptist Associations meetings and was faithful to the Baptist cause in every way. She died in the late 1950’s. Not long before she died she attended, with an alumni teacher from Mt. Lebanon, a Louisiana College Homecoming.
The oldest son to Robert and Jo, James Robert, born in 1870, went to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to make his home. The third child, Louala, born in 1872, married W. W. Buce, of an old Shiloh family, and lived in Monroe until her death in 1951. The fourth child, named Martha Lee for her aunt, was born in 1874 and married Floyd E. Hayes. She died four years later. In 1882 Stanley Tabor was born and at the age of 22 he married Susie Gilbert and they later lived at Fort Cobb, Oklahoma.