I was recently sent a copy of William Fanning's autobiography, a letter he wrote to his granddaughter in 1858. I'm copying it here for those who are interested. His land grants can be found at http://www.glo.texas.gov/cf/land-grant-search/index.cfm under "Fannin, William."
March 10, 1858
Mt. Vernon, Titus Co., Texas
To Mary Fanning, my granddaughter:
I will try and give you a small sketch of my life, from my boyhood to the present time. I was born in the state of Virginia, Withe County, July 27th, 1785, soon after the close of the Revolutionary War. My father was poor. I was used to hard labor and without education.
My father was David Fanning. His father was Akilus Fanning. His wife was Rosana. I well recollect them both. When I was five years old my father left Withe County in 1791 and moved to Russell Co., Virginia. There I was raised. At eighteen years of age I left my father, being poor and without education. I then went to Kentucky. On June 17th, 1805, I married Nancy Bromley. October, 1807, I moved to Warren County, Tennessee. Being poor I made several moves in Tennessee. In December, 1816, I moved to North Alabama, Lauderdale County. There I made three good plantations, no one to work but myself. I begun to accumulate some property. My children were now all born and most of them raised—four sons and four daughters—one son died in infancy. We raised seven to be men and women. All by Nancy, my first wife.
In 1824 my eldest daughter left me, and in 1830 Tolbert Fanning left me. In 1831 James M. Fanning left. In 1832 I sold out and moved to Mississippi. The same year my second daughter, Mary, married and left me. I settled on North Tilletoba in the wilderness which place became the County of Tallahatcha. There I found the promised land for soil and beauty, but health was not there. I went to work with all my strength and mind to make a fortune. In 1833 my daughter, Mahuldah, married and left me. In 1834 my stock all died in a few weeks, 16 milch cows among them. I bought a cow and calf for twenty dollars and went ahead as though I would never die. In January of 1836 Tolbert Fanning came to see me. I sent Jackson Fanning home with him to Nashville to school. Then we had but one child left with us—our youngest, Nancy.
A few days after Tolbert left, about the 18th of February, my wife, daughter, and I went to hear a man preach. When we came home, we found all in ashes. The clothes on our backs was all we had left. God had blest me with good health. I went to work nearly day and night. I bore up under all my trials till September 16 following when Nancy, my wife, the mother of all my children, died. She was 51 years of age. There was sorrow and grief and me left alone to mourn my loss. All these privations came in 1836. I tried to compose myself and trust to God for mercy for all my joys of this world were gone when my dear Nancy was no more. I took courage and went ahead and bought a few more negroes. Stayed on the farm with the negroes and worked myself till 1838 when I was sued for a security debt for a large amount of money. Now my distress returned. I paid out thousands of money and my plantation which was worth ten thousand dollars. Away went all my toil and labor—Notice, Go No Mans Security for Debt.
I moved (from place to place) from 1838 to 1840, leaving all my distresses untold. February 19, 1840, I married Sarah Kindel from North Carolina. This was her first marriage. She was 45 years of age. I felt consoled once more. I lived in happiness with her until 1843, October 4th, when she died. I then believed my trials were harder than I could bear. I read Job and found my affliction was not to be compared to Job’s. He bore it all. And now Job’s happiness will last forever, after all his woe and misery on earth. I consoled myself that after all my trials and afflictions on earth, I would try to obtain a rest forever after death. After my Sarah’s death, I divided part of my property among my children. I reserved a small portion for myself.
On February 4th, 1844, I left Mississippi and went to Franklin College, Tennessee. When I landed there and looked around I saw my folly and was the most distressed man in mind that ever lived. Believing if I stay here I will come to abject poverty and be a charge on my children’s hands for support in my old age. My distress continued until September 17, 1844, when I arose with all the energy and power that was in me and started for the far West with the resolution that if God would spare me I would go to Texas and turn in and try to make a living for my own support.
On October 12, 1844, I crossed the Texas boundary line and then I was out of the United States. I traveled on west-ward to the Trinadad River through a perfect wilderness, no roads for a guide. I found many families living in camps made of buffalo hides and living on wild game. The further I went the more savage the country appeared. I turned back to the country now called Hopkins County. I struck camp near the White Oak about December 15th, 1844. I saved some land and went to work. I had one servant boy with me. I heard of a lady visiting her friends in Texas. She was from North Carolina and she was recommended to me by my friends to be the lady that would suit me—her age and no family. I made several attempts to meet her, but failed.
On May 8, 1845, I left my camp on the prairies for the United States. On the 9th of May, I stopped at a house for dinner. The landlady knew me and gave me an introduction to Miss Elizabeth Bigellow. Her appearance pleased me well. I spent the evening and the next morning with her and told her if I lived to return I would look her up. She replied, “You may find me at Washington, Arkansas.” On the 10th in the morning, I bade her goodbye and continued my journey. I took water (boat) at Shreveport and landed in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I went through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and to Columbia in Old Kentucky by July 4th following; returned by way of Franklin College, Tennessee, and bade them all a final farewell as to this world and pursued my way west for Texas. With Betsy in mind, I traveled day after day until I crossed the Mississippi River. There I was taken sick with hard chills and high fever—out of my senses for twenty-four hours. With help I got on my horse and rode on. The fever would rise. I would throw my blanket on the ground by my horse, lie down until my fever cooled and ride on from day to day until I came to Lanesport on Red River. I began to mend and pursued my course through Clarksville, Texas, to my camp. I landed there September 8th, 1845, having left May 8th of the same year. I found my boy and little stock doing well after four month’s absence and 2,500 miles traveled.
I rested until October 15th and then I started to hunt for my Betsy. I went to Bowie County, Texas, where I heard of her. I pursued my journey two hundred miles and found her near Washington, Arkansas. I spent a few days with her with a great deal of pleasure and found that my toils and travels would not be in vain. I took my leave of Betsy and her friends and left for Texas and came to prepare my house to bring her home the next time.
December 26th, I left for Washington, Arkansas, and landed there January 2, 1846. Stayed two days, took Betsy in a carriage and started for Texas. On January 8th, we landed in Boston, Bowie County, Texas. There I got our license and went 15 miles to her friends and were married on January 9. We left for home January 11 and reached home January 15th, 1846, both in good health. I had not a bed to lay our bodies on. My bedding was at Franklin College and hers was in North Carolina. I borrowed a bed. We both went to work as though we were young. We made comforts and mattresses. With all our poverty, she never grumbled. In the fall of 1846 our beds and equipage landed and now we had plenty.
We went ahead and enjoyed ourselves for two or three years. Her health became much impaired. I found she was on the decline and I employed an old physician, Dr. Duncan, to attend her case several years. She grew worse every year. She thought it was living on the prairies that caused her ill health. I sold our home and bought here (Mt. Vernon) in June, 1853. She still grew worse. I found her mind was sinking as her body failed. On December 15th, 1856, she died in the 56th year of her age. And now I am left alone to mourn her loss as I have been left to mourn the loss of two wives before her.
God has blest me with three as good wives as any man on earth ever lived with and now I am in the seventy-third year of my age. I have the confidence in God that when he calls for me and I am taken hence, I trust to meet with my wives, two sons, and daughter that went before me where parting will be no more. My time on this earth is near a close. I put all my trust in God for the salvation of my soul.
Farewell to all I leave behind. Be faithful to God.
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