I received the letter on the Berry email list. I thought if someone here is in this Gatliff line they might like the entire letter. It is mostly about what the Berry family went through, but the Gatliff family went through it too. It is an incrediable letter.
Sept. 11th, 1893
Your papa’s grandfather and grandmother, John and Nellie Duncan, and (my)
grandfather and grandmother Frank and Sally Berry, moved from Virginia
the Revolutionary War to Kentucky. I don’t know just where, but it was
somewhere in the best part of the state. There was quite a little colony of
them but I do not know the names of any except these two families. They took
up claims of land and complied with what was necessary to secure their
claims. I don’t know what it was, nor how long they had been there till they
were compelled to move for safety to a fort or block-house, where they were
taken by British officers and soldiers who had Indians with them to whom the
British gave all their household goods except two suits of clothes and two
blankets to each man and the same to each woman.
I remember hearing my grandmother tell how the Indians would toss the
in the air after they had ripped the ticking to make the feathers fly in the
wind, and how they would laugh. They wanted the cloth but not the feathers.
They then started their march to Detroit, where they stayed awhile, and then
on to Montreal, where they stayed till peace was declared. They were
liberated, to get back as best they could. There was one family along who
a young woman – a daughter who complained of a toothache for some weeks ,
when someone examined her mouth and found a cancer had eaten through her
cheek, all but the skin. She died soon after and the officers only allowed
them to stop long enough to pile up a few rocks on her body. Charles Gatliff
was her father’s name. He came back to Kentucky and I saw him after he was
eighty years of age. I also saw his sons: Moses, Aaron, Riece, Jim and
Cornelious. I also saw two of his daughters: Betsey Martin and Sally Faris.
suppose Joe remembers having seen one of his grandsons, Charles Gatliff, who
moved to Missouri a short time before we left Iowa for Princeton. His wife
was papa’s cousin, Polly Early, and your uncle, Harvey Green Duncan, married
their daughter Lillian.
I heard grandmother say she saw the Indians kill two children. It was very
cold for part of their journey and once when a great fire of logs was
where they camped, an Indian picked up a child that was standing near and
threw it in the fire. No one dared to try to get it out. On another
a woman was carrying a little babe, and she was almost exhausted, when an
Indian jerked it from her arms and thrust his tomahawk in its head, threw
child to one side of the road, and drove her on.
While they were in Montreal, the men were made to repair the British ships,
and the women cooked and washed for the English officers. On one occasion
men found a cask of wine in the ship and drank the wine. The officers put
them in prison or a guardhouse, and my grandmother Berry went to the
guardhouse and begged for their release until they were released. I don’t
know what their punishment would have been.
I don’t know if any of the young men were put on the British ships to make
them fight against their own country or not, but your grandfather (John Jr.)
Duncan and four other young men were going to be put on a man-of-war in the
morning and your grandfather’s oldest sister (Elizabeth) baked bread and
fixed up some provisions. They stole a canoe and crossed the St. Lawrence to
the American side and got away. They traveled through the hostile Indian
country till they reached the settlement in Pennsylvania. In the outskirts
the settlement, they found a deserted place, an iron pot and a potato patch.
I heard your grandfather tell how they boiled potatoes and ate with such
appetite. Your grandmother Duncan told me that their friends did not know
till after peace and they returned from Montreal, whether these young men
were drowned in the St. Lawrence, whether they were killed by Indians,
whether they were lost in the wilderness and perished, or whether they were
safe. She did not know the name of a single one of her husband’s companions,
and I never heard her say who they were. I am very sorry that I did not ask
your Uncle Harve Duncan for he may have known. I do not know whether there
was any fighting at the fort or not, in Kentucky, or whether they
to the greater number without fighting.
All the way I can approximate the time they moved from Virginia to Kentucky
my grandfather (Francis) Berry fought in the battle at King’s Mountain, and
he also was a scout before they moved to Kentucky. After my papa (Lafayette
Berry) got to practicing law. He got a pension for a Duncan McFarlain, who
was a scout with my grandfather. I remember how the hair seemed to stand on
my head as I lay in my trundle-bed and listened to McFarlain tell papa of
their exploits. At one time he and Charles Miller ran, with the Indians
them, thirty miles to a blockhouse.
As the prisoners were leaving Canada, they crossed some lake in a ship which
was very crowded and manned by French-Canadian sailors. A storm arose and
sailors got frightened, and quit work. They started to pray, and cross
themselves, when an Englishman, perhaps an officer, came on them and cursed
and swore and ripped and tore around and kicked them, and made then get to
work. Finally they got safely to land. I remember hearing my father tell of
hearing his father laughing about it. Grandmother said there were piles of
feathers floating in the eddies on the lake shore that looked like houses –
the shedding of many waterfowls on the lake.
My uncle Lewis Berry was born in Montreal. He died in the American army in
the War of 1812. As our ancestors were coming home they passed near Niagra
Falls. All heard the roar and some of the men went to see it but the women
and children were too weary to go. They went back to Kentucky to where they
had been captured and found men on their claims. Both your great-grandfather
John Duncan, Sr. and (your grandfather) Frank Berry sued at law for their
claims but lost the suit. Berry’s long tongue made him say the Judge was a
perjured scoundrel. The Judge sued him for slander and got judgement for
eight hundred dollars.
Then the poor weary souls went back to Virginia where they had lived before
they went to Kentucky and they raised their families there. Quite a number
their children afterwards moved to Whitely County, Kentucky, where your papa
and I were born and raised and married. My grandmother (Sally) Berry, in her
old age, came there and died in 1834.
I only remember of having seen your grandfather (John, Jr.) Duncan twice.
Alec Laughlin, your papa’s cousin, married in Whitely County, and moved to
Tennessee where his daughter Eleanor Litton was born. He came back on a
and stopped at his uncle’s (your grandfather Duncan’s) and they both came
Watt’s Creek where my papa (Lafayette Berry) and your papa’s uncle, Thanny
Laughlin, lived. They stopped at our house, and it was a hot day, and your
Aunt Candace and I had taken off our dresses and were running around in our
Chemises, which were long and long-sleeved. They came on us unaware and we
went to the back of the house and sat on a chest, while they laughed at us.
remember how your grandfather’s (Duncan) shoulders shook. He was very much
the make and size of your papa but his hair was black and I think his eyes
were blue. I afterwards saw him riding past our house on a white horse. He
wore a high bell-crowned hat, and a blue jeans frock coat. (I have seen the
hat and coat after I was married and have ridden the white mare, it was,
whose name was Ginger). He was a dear nephew to my grandmother (Sarah Sharp
Berry, whose sister Elinor “Nellie” Sharp was the mother of John Duncan,
Jr.), and I know she loved him, and I know my papa loved him.
He (John Duncan, Jr.) died from dry salivation by taking a dose of calomel
measured out on a case knife blade by an old woman who had more confidence
herself than good sense. I remember when word came that Johnny Duncan was
dying, my papa hurried off and took a handful of nails. Mama asked him what
he did that for. He said to put in the coffin. Years afterwards I learned
that was an old country superstition but its meaning I never heard. He got
there in time to write his will before he died, and he moved him after his
death. He had been dead six years when I and your papa were married – that
would make his death to have occurred in 1832. Your papa (Dixon Green
and I lived with your grandmother (Mary “Polly”) Duncan the first year
we were married and she loved to talk about him. She said he was a
strong man for his size. When he was a young man, it was the custom for the
neighbors to all unite and help each other cut the small grains with sickles
and the young women would do the cooking, and sometimes they would go to the
fields and use the sickles to good purpose. Then at night they would have a
dance. Your grandmother said your grandfather worked all day, and danced all
night, for two days and two nights, without any sleep. I don’t believe his
sons or grandsons, or great-grandsons could do that, even if they can ride a
I don’t know whether the Gatliff family moved from Virginia or Tennessee to
Kentucky, or not. I only know that they were together in their captivity. I
don’t know whether the British gave them any money to get home or not. My
grandfather Berry never paid that eight hundred dollars. He somehow got a
farm in Sullivan County, Tennessee, where his family were raised, but it was
always in the name of Billy King, grandmother’s sister’s husband. (This was
Elizabeth Sharp who married William King)
My papa (Lafayette Berry) said your grandfather (John, Jr.) Duncan was so
near gone when he got there that he was in no condition to make a will, but
your uncles Harvey and Joe Duncan said for your grandmother’s sake, to have
it done, to not add to her distress by breaking up her home, by taking
two-thirds of everything and dividing it amongst the children, as they knew
your uncle Joe Sullivan (husband of Narcissa Duncan) would insist on doing
there was no will. So the will was written, giving your grandmother
everything – the farm, the Negroes, and everything else, as long as she
lived, and at her death all to be divided equally amongst the children. I
guess it was pretty hard for Sullivan to not to try to break the will, for
after I was married I heard your Aunt Narcissa say: “The children ought to
have had the little that was coming to them a long time ago.” But he knew
that your Uncle Harve and Uncle Joe would not give him any child’s play if
undertook the law with them. They were the executors.
If I were back to ten or twelve years of age, and knew more than I did then,
how I would ply my grandmother and parents with questions. I guess I will
close my pioneer stories. Nellie Duncan and Sallie Berry were sisters –
was their name before they were married.
Much love to all.
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