HENRY HAMILTON: SHOE MAKER, SCHOOL TEACHER

Written by Edna Liggin

It has been defined that to love one’s neighbor as one’s self is to seek the highest good for others just as we constantly strive to raise ourselves to a higher level of what is good. In this respect a long time ago a school teacher named Henry Hamilton began to be a good neighbor; now generations later his descendants are seeking to help others because they too, have the same ideals. The name Hamilton has been an illustrious one in early American History up Virginia way. Just how or if Henry Hamilton had any connection here is shrouded in the past, but he was born in South Carolina in 1810. He is reputed to have gone to Georgia at an early age and as soon as he was old enough began teaching school, a calling he followed in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and on to Union Parish in 1849. In an era when public education for the average child was a thing of  little consequence, Henry Hamilton felt that having sought it for himself, he wanted every child to learn all that it was possible for a boy or girl to learn.

However, before this teaching exodus began, Henry Hamilton had married Peninah
Sutton, June 22, 1837 in Merriwether County, Georgia, and it was here two children were born, John and Mary. Conditions, such that most of the land was in the form of plantations and in the hands of a few and because of the slavery system, must not have been satisfactory to Henry and Peninah, for the 1850 census listed them at Shiloh, as yet with only two children, John and Mary. Six others were yet to be born unless the census taker failed to list them.

The 1840’s had mirrored a time of much talk, today maybe propaganda to some extent, as Northern Groups shouted abolition, the South prepared to defend a system that meant a way of life and livelihood. The oration of Daniel Webster, for ten years, is said to have delayed an outbreak of hostilities, in those years on the surface the wealthy plantation owners of Georgia moved in a society that was all gaiety and visiting; they delegated responsibilities down to overseers and slaves, while in the pine hills lived the poor white and the Georgia crackers. There were also families of small landowners, thrifty and industrious and mostly of German descent.

In this picture fit the Henry Hamilton’s and with many others they slipped out of the
picture, hitched up the oxen to the covered wagon and headed west, though not toward gold and California as many did, but to Union Parish and North Louisiana. Whether Peninah’s relatives or not, other Sutton’s homesteaded around Shiloh in the 1850’s. The first record of Henry Hamilton acquiring land was in 1885, when he paid the U.S. government $59.82 for 239 acres. In all probability the past six years had been spent in getting settled and maybe Henry had taught school at Shiloh for several three month sessions. Maybe this first Shiloh school, as S.C. Lewis described the first combination church and school at Downsville, “It was a two room building, one for worship, and one for scholars to recite their sessions. The seats were hewn flat logs with desk of the same, pegged together.” As later church records point to the devoutness of this Baptist family, no doubt Sundays found Henry and Peninah and the children in church and Jessie Tubbs and Sebrun Fuller preached.

The Hamilton’s wanted schooling and a consecrated Christian life for themselves and they wanted others to have this also. They wanted the things belonging to Caesar be rendered to Caesar, too, for there was no shirking to fight for the cause they believed in, for Henry and Peninah saw their oldest son, John, go off to battle with the sons of Shiloh at a very young and tender age. Back of John’s going, and no doubt of great influence on a long and useful life after this was a father who made a name for himself as an educator at Shiloh, even as he prospered as a planter. However, before young John went away to war there had been a wedding in the family, when the oldest girl, Mary Catherine, about seventeen, had married Joseph Shaw, widower with three children, December 22 1859. Before the war was over a little boy, John, was born to them, making Henry and Peninah grandparents.

Then the next year after the war was over wedding bells rang again in the family, as within two months two other children of the Hamilton’s married. Maybe with the general getting together of soldiers coming back to their families, and no doubt helping each other gather the pieces together, young men and girls decided not to waste any time in courtship. On September 27, 1866 the second son, W.H., married Barbara Pearson, though there is no record available of how old he was; then the next month, October 18, 1866, the second daughter, Jane Dallas married John L. Tabor. These young people, along with brother John D. Hamilton, were all on the early membership lists of Shiloh church, as Jonathan Milner now became the pastor.

No doubt the Shiloh home of Henry and Peninah abounded in the comings and goings of these young married couples and Joseph and Mary now had two children. These were probably spoiled by their aunts and uncles and in turn bachelor, John D., was teased about the Shiloh belles, and asked when was he going to get married. In 1867, W.H. and Barbara bought land from James Edmunds. It must have been here several miles east of Shiloh, toward what was later to be Mt. Tabor and on the Cornie, for in this area, have lived their descendants, as they do today.

In 1868, John D., too, had bought land from J.B. Lynch. Perhaps because of the war, he
was undecided as to his work, as he was about getting married, although the census taker listed him as born in 1846, another record, says March 1, 1839 and if the latter was true, he was not too young to war. This same record says he went to college at Griffin, Georgia, and even taught school a year before the opening of the war. He was in Company H of the 7th Louisiana Infantry and participated in the battle Shiloh. He was sent to Vicksburg to recuperate and was there July 4, 1863, when that besieged town on the hills surrendered. The soldiers there wrote home that they were reduced to one piece of bacon and a biscuit a day, and things were in a desperate state when the town surrendered, and so John had memories of hungry times to look back upon as he
prospered later in Shiloh.

He again after the war taught school at Shiloh, then decided to study medicine with Dr.
J.J. Boles and go into the drug business with him. To the drugs, they added a general stock of goods and so the business grew rapidly. John D. also finally succumbed to the darts of cupid and  married Mary Virginia Duty, daughter of John Duty, November 20, 1870. As the years went by, he became Capt. Hamilton, a prominent Shiloh planter and business man, and she was Mollie Mattie, both beloved and devout Shiloh Baptist. When she died in 1908, her passing was mourned by the church. Several years later, he moved to Bernice, remarried, survived his second wife, and was cared for in the last years by his sister, Mary Shaw. He is buried in Bernice. His marriages were not blessed with children, but the help he gave others bespoke that he too was a neighbor as was his father.

There had been another girl, Annie, born to Henry and Peninah, April 24, 1852, and after Mary and Dallas married, she must have helped out much with the innumerable household tasks of the day. When she was 19 years of age on September 14, 1871, Annie married George W. Moore, a year after brother John married Mary Vriginia. The ceremony was performed by Shiloh’s pastor, recently ordained William P. Smith.

The Moore family of four brothers and a sister had been early settlers at Shiloh, coming from Alabama and Annie had married the son of the first known George W. Moore and his first wife, Ann Reid. Mary Hamilton had married a Shaw, the only one of his family known to have come from Alabama. The husband of (Jane) Dallas Hamilton was the son of Elijah Tabor, who with the children of his first wife, Susan, had come from Winston County, Mississippi to Shiloh. They built a home which still stands, and he married a woman named Matilda. Just as the descendants of the Shaw couple still live at Shiloh, so do some of the grandchildren of George and Annie. The other girl, (Jane) Dallas and her husband, John L. Tabor lived for awhile in Minden, near John’s brother, Tom Tabor, and here is where Dallas died. Annie is said to have died in the home of her brother, Dr. James M. Hamilton at Downsville.

It was only two years after Annie married that her sister, Bertha, married Lee N. Powell in January of 1873 with W.A. Booles, Justice of the Peace, marrying them and witness to the ceremony were J.L. Tabor, G.W. Moore, and W.B. Britton.

More is known of the life of the third son, James Meriweather, who was born April 20,
1855, and was perhaps most inspired to a life of service to others, thus exemplifying being good neighbor. He too, like his brother, John, was led to the calling of being a doctor; only no war interrupted his studies, and he was able to graduate from Medical College at Mobile, Alabama. He took the oath of office at Farmerville in December, 1882. He married Miss Julia Calhoun, October 28, 1875 and his oldest child, Janie was two years old when he finished his medical training. Janie, now Mrs. W.T. Sartor, died in June 1964 in Alto, Louisiana and was buried in Sibley, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana.

All the records testify that Dr. Hamilton was born at Shiloh, but differ as to where he first practiced, one saying Walnut Lane, another Mars Hill, both old settlements near Downsville. He did begin at the age of 28, a practice that was to be more than fifty years of service in the vicinity of Downsville. He began without funds and ended a prosperous man at the age of 81 in 1936. His life was one of hard work, of steadfastness, of honest endeavor, rich with the reward that comes from helping give service to others.

The story is told that he would ride his plow horse to the field, taking along a saddle with bags of medicine ready to go if a call came while he was plowing. If so, he took off the harness, and left on a call that might take him more than forty miles over hills and streams. Yet, he made good crops and his capacity for working at two jobs were unlimited so that he became a leader in his profession and prosperous in business. His services were widely sought; large in size and mind, he had much to give. He kept two horses for forty mile calls that sometimes came in the night, so that he would not have trouble finding his faithful mount in the dark. As his property accumulated, he made investments in Farmerville and Monroe.

He was never affiliated with any church, and his wife was Presbyterian, his family staunch Baptist, and in Downsville, the home of his Methodist friends, he thus supported three churches. He claimed he wanted his daily life to proclaim Christ and he was known as a Bible scholar. He loved the outdoors and kept fine hounds ready for a hunt. Death, with burial at Sibley, ended a long life of being a neighbor to his fellow man. Long before this though, life had ended for the father who had shaped the lives of his eight children toward the ministry of neighborliness. Three years after Dr. James had married and as the child Janie was being born, Henry Hamilton passed to his reward in heaven in 1878.

His wife, Peninah, survived him, and was appointed tutrix over the one child still a minor, little Mattie Hamilton. John D. was made the under tutor. The estate was valued at $920.00, not much by today’s standards, the values of the teachings both by works and deed of the shoemaker and school teacher were inestimable and of long endurance. They seem to have become an integrated part of the heritage of his descendants to the fourth and fifth generations.

Later records show Mattie married H.R. McCollugh. The writer does not know of her
family or that of Bertha Powell. Dallas Tabor, who was once rebuked by Shiloh church for dancing, is said of have a daughter in Shreveport, who served for years as church secretary in the First Baptist Church there. Other Hamilton’s went to Dubach; some are still at Downsville; some between Cornie and Shiloh — they can all look back through the years gone by to the first two ancestors in Union parish, Henry and Peninah, who lived as good neighbors.

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