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Autobiography of the Sloan Family by Rebecca Sloan Shands

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Location: Laurens County, South Carolina, USAmap
Surnames/tags: Sloan Swan Boyd
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Categories: Antrim Genealogy Free Space Pages | Irish Immigrants to America | Laurens County, South Carolina | Sloan Name Study.

  • Source Upper South Carolina Genealogy & History, May 2009, Vol. XXIII, No.2, pp.48-55.


Sister gives the record of all that is known of the early life of our ancestors, pioneers in this country, but there are many stories of adventure, trial and hardship, handed down from father to son that give interesting sidelights on the times, mode of living and character of these hardy pioneers.

Some of these stories are, no doubt, exaggerated, but most, if not all of them, have some foundation. In fact, I tell them as I have often heard them related by my father and two old aunts.

My aunts were more familiar with the family history than father, who married very young and left Laurens County and so was not closely associated with the family any more except a visit once a year.

It was law in Ireland at that time that every male citizen must take Oath of Allegiance to the King of England at the age of twenty[-]one, and if physically able, serve a stated time (seven years, I think) in the King's army.

Grandfather John Sloan, the oldest son of the family refused to do either and his twenty-first birthday drew near, knowing he must obey the law or go to prison, fled the country and landed at Charleston, South Carolina, making his way to Newberry County, later to Laurens County. More of John later.

Robert, Bob, as he was called, came next. As one of the family had been lost to his country, Bob was closely watched. Whether by the King's officers or his own family, I do not know. It was the custom then for a vessel to take on a number of coffins on a long voyage. Seeing a vessel bound for America loading at the dock, Bob prevailed on some friends to smuggle him on board in a coffin in which he layed concealed till well out to sea. The voyage was a stormy on[e]; he was shipwrecked and landed in Halifax, N.X. [sic, N.S. (Nova Scotia)] He was six months making his way to this brother in Newberry County, taking his coffin with him. In fact, it was said he always kept it with him wherever he stayed for any length of time, saying he intended to be buried in it. It was said that he was buried in it, but this they were not sure because they [the family] did not know anything about him after he left the neighborhood of his brother's home.

I have never heard anything about Archie's coming, only he was here and they were spoken of as being young men together, I do not remember hearing them speak of Richard at all. For several years they all lived in the same neighborhood, the younger boys making John's home headquarters as he was married by this time. They finally scattered. Sister says Archie went to Edgefield County; one settled near Pendleton, but I do not know which one, or what became of the other.

The record taken from grandfather John's Bible, says he was born in Ireland in 1716 and if he came here at twenty-one year's of age as was related, he must have landed here about 1737 or 1738. I do not know where or whom he married the first time; but he married a very young Irish girl by the name McNeiver (I do not know how to spell it) of Newberry County the second time and they raise[d] twelve children, six boys and six girls, all were grown; the youngest able to lift and wait on him in his last illness. He died suddenly on Christmas morning (date on tombstone) at the age of 113 years, 3 months and 25 days. He is buried at Old Fields Presbyterian (A.R.P.) Church, near Ora in Laurens County, South Carolina. His age is recorded on his tombstone and I suppose it is correct. His children were David, our grandfather, William, Tommy, Bob and I think Archie. I do not remember the other. The girls, Mattie, Jennie, Rosie, Bettie, and Mary. I do not remember the other girl. Few of them married...p. 49...until late in life. David, our grandfather, and Mattie (married John Compton, Jr.) were exceptions.

Several were never married. According to tradition, they were all comfortably well off in homes of their own, except Grandfather David who never owned any property to speak of. My father said he had too many kins-people and he kept open house so he could never get ahead.

Keeping to our line, David married Barbara Swan, also Irish. They had seven children. Rebecca, Jane, Margaret (Peggy as she was called), John, James, Timothy, and one died in infancy named Archie or Timothy, I have forgotten which; anyway his name is carved on a soapstone rock at the head of his grave in Old Fields Churchyard, carved with a pocketknife by his father. Barbara was a delicate woman and died before her oldest child was grown. Later Grandfather married Nancy Talley Poole, widow of George Poole. She was originally from Georgia; she had no children.

Grandfather David seemed to be a good, easy going fellow, more visionary than practical; a good man to execute orders, but not much initiative, therefore, he made a good overseer of slaves which was the business he followed mostly. Prior to the Confederate War, while overseeing for Sam Meredith, he fell off a house he was covering and was so badly hurt that he was an invalid the rest of his life, some twelve or fourteen years. At first it was thought his back was broken and he would never walk again as he was then past seventy; but he did walk, the last few years of his life, about the house and yard with a stick sometimes two sticks. The reason he was able to endure and lived in that condition so long, I believe, was due to the faithful nursing of his wife.

Sometime about 1868, my father moved the family, father, mother, and two unmarried sisters, Rebecca and Jane to his farm near Pacolet where they all died. The exact dates of their birth and death can be gotten from my father’s Bible on their tombstones. Grandfather and his wife, Nancy, are buried at Old Fair Forest Church in Union County and their graves are well marked, but Barbara Swan, the mother of the family is buried at Old Fields Church in Laurens County and there is no mark on her grave. Aunts Rebecca and Jane still lived together in their little house near my father and died just before he did. The six children of David and Barbara Swan Sloan all lived to be old, considerably past eighty, except Jane and Margaret, who were in seventy [sic, their seventies]. The whole family died six years.

I want to mention one or two more incidents in the life of grandfather David as I heard related by my father. He bought a farm near where the old road crossed Worries [Warrior] Creek going to Scuffletown (I think the name is changed now). Father showed me the house where he lived, then falling down, but looked like it had been well built house, two stories high of evenly hewn logs, with porch in front. He lived there and farmed several years. At one time, he had cotton on hand to pay for his home and started for market with [it] — farmers then had to go to Charleston or Augusta to sell cotton — about the second day on the road he met some neighbors returning. They advised him to go back as cotton was down to nothing; only twenty-two or twenty-three cents, it would go up for sure — wait awhile. Go back with them he did, and cotton fell steadily for some years until it went to four or five cents. Of course, he failed to pay for his home, went back to overseeing with the result already recorded. From this incident, the wise descendant may learn two things: first, land must have been cheap when a man could haul enough cotton on a two-horse wagon from Laurens County to Charleston to pay for a farm; second, a poor man had better play safe and make sure of a small profit than risk too much to make a big thing.

Another thing, grandfather was too kind-hearted and obliging for his own good; could never say No to a friend. Whenever any of his friends or brothers, I am sorry to say, saw a chance to make a good thing, but needed a little money, he would go on a note with them and often had it to pay. There was no exemption from debt then. On one occasion, officers went to his house to collect a security...p. 50...debt. Grandfather told them he had the money in a trunk, but it was locked and his wife had the key in her pocket and had gone to visit her mother that day, would be home directly, wait until she came. They suggested breaking the lock. Grandfather objected, saying that was the only thing in the house a lock and key and he did not want it ruined. They waited awhile, became impatient and were going to break the lock anyway, and to keep them from doing so, grandfather took the little trunk e[o]n his shoulder and went with them to meet his wife as she had to come the way they were going. They met on the road, he unlocked the trunk and handed ever the money, about all he had. Father, a little barefoot boy, trudged along to watch the proceeding. That was always a disagreeable memory to him.

There were no schools then worthy the name, but grandfather's family could all read and write. He could himself, and as far as I ever heard, there were no illiterates among them, but there might have been among the elder women. In my father's childhood, there were only two books in the house, the family Bible and an almanac. A little later the shorter Catechism and Confession of Faith. Father went to school three months in his childhood, and had nothing but the family Bible in which to learn to read; he was then eight years of age. The book was large — weighed almost as much as he did. He was cautioned not to drop it, but his mother knew that he would, tied it in a towel for him to carry. I never did hear father say how many times he dropped it or what the damage was, but it was still among the cherished possessions of my two old aunts when they died, though the last time I saw it, it was somewhat dilapidated.

After he was married the second time, he studied surveying under John Epton. Finding he was deficient in arithmetic, after his crop was laid-by, he went to school for the first time since he was eight years old, and carried three children with him. That constituted his school days, but he became a well-educated, well-informed I believe his name can be found on as many legal papers as any lawyer of his time. He was county surveyor for years, divided estates and transferred papers both public and private. He was correspondent for the county newspaper for years and the editors said his letters were the best written, best punctuated that came to the office. He was [a] hem leader of men. He was an officer of the militia before the war and was captain in the Confederate Army, trial justice as long as he would have it, and was one of the first trustees appointed when the free schools were organized after the war and continued with one short interruption until he died.

In 1868 or 1869, father and John Epton surveyed and divided Spartanburg County into townships, Mr. Epton, the upper part next to Greenville and the North Carolina line, father the lower section nea[r]t to Laurens County. The work was authorized by the Legislature as a preliminary to organizing public schools and was let out to the lowest bidder. The[y] get $40.00 a township for that work. The survey finished, Mr. Epton and his wife came to our house and stayed a week and in that time, made three maps of the County as surveyed at that time, one each for themselves and one for Prof. James H. Carlisle of Wofford College. The[y] got nothing for this, they were not required to do it, but made them exclusively for their own use and they made Dr. Carlisle a present of his. I do not think the township lines have been changed very much, probably some of the larger ones have been cut in two.

In naming the townships, names suggested by people living in them were adopted. Father named Pacolet; Mr. Epton, Cherokee, John B. Davis, Campobello, and I do not remember any others.

Father first married Margaret Poole, (Peggy) daughter of Seth and Betsey Peele in 1837, or thereabouts, at the age of eighteen. That year he had a cotton patch, the first in his life. In the fall, he got a new suit and had $5.00 left. He gave Preacher Young the $5.00 to marry him. That was the first time he had ever owned as much as $5.00. They were married at her mother's home, now known as the John Kennedy place, about a mile and one half from old Fair Forest Church, where Spartanburg and Union Counties join. The line was supposed to run through the middle of the front room; preacher...p. 51...Young was supposed to stand in Spartanburg County while they stood in Union County and were married across the line. They lived in Laurens County the first year, maybe two years and father followed overseeing. Not liking it, he came to Spartanburg County and bought fifty acres of steep hillside rock land on Richland creek, adjoining the Crocker place. He bought on credit and had not more than settled in his log cabin when his wife died, leaving three babies. His oldest sister, Rebecca, lived with him until he married the second time in 1845 to Dorcas Lee, daughter of Richard and Sara Lindsey Lee. He paid for his first fifty acres, bought 50 more, and built a comfortable three-room house in the popular style of that day. He then bought a third addition to his farm, each purchase before the previous one was paid when the war broke out. Then followed four years of struggle, hardships and poverty, such as the world has never known before or since. I believe it was worse than France in the World War as France had help from outside. The South had no help from without and no factories to speak of within, so everything must be made at home, but the glorious South proved equal to the occasion.

In our home, I know, we had plenty. Mother was an unusually thrifty woman, a steady, rapid worker, and was gifted with more than common sense and fine judgment; so she managed to feed and clothe a family of seven, including a negro woman and child that father hired to help her and clothed three men in the war. One thing I remember, we had mostly cornbread, d[s]o did everybody else. Mother could not raise wheat, she could not cut it or get it out, but she sometimes managed to exchange cloth for wheat. She had quite a reputation for making beautiful cloth. She has a large flock of sheep which she tended with great care so she made and sold wool cloth mostly as she could make it faster and easier than cotton cloth, and it sold better and at a better price. One of the difficulties of the time was the dyes. There was nothing to dye with, but the bark of trees and nothing to set the dye, so cloth soon faded out left a dingy color, almost white. Mother raised her own indigo and was an expert at dying, so she got good colors. Her cloth was known far and wide and she had ready sale for all she could make. She seldom sold cotton cloth, but there was one exception when she sold, off the loom a piece of cotton cloth she was making for dresses, to Mr. Ben Kennedy, afterwards a prominent banker of Union, in exchange for wheat. The thing that hurt was my new dress went too. I had not had a new dress in sometime and I was to have one off the piece, so when I saw it go, I wept great salty tears and not a few of them. Mother tried to console me by telling me of the biscuits and pies I would have, but I would not be consoled, however, I survived. I want to say here that we never went ragged nor very badly patched. Mother said she could spin and weave a garment in the time it took to patch it three times and she had nothing when it was done. She seldom sold cloth for the money, but it for something she needed or could use. If she happened to get Confederate money on hand, she spent it as quickly as possible — generally for thread at old Bivingsville factory, now Glendale. Father had three bales of cotton when the war began and the market went to pieces. That cotton was not sold until after the war closed. Mother said she could get along as well without it as the money would buy nothing and maybe it would be worth something sometime. She had not been able to dispose of the increase of her cattle, so the last year of the war found her with four milk cows. As winter came on, her uncle Lee, advised her to sell all but one- “I can't” she old him, oh yes, she could get a pile of money for them, “Well” he said “they will die on your hands, you can’t feed them.” “They may,” she said, “But the cows has as well died on my hands as the money.” But mother had been looking ahead. She had carefully saved everything that could be eaten. Every cob when corn was shelled and all [that] the horses (two of them) left in their troughs, had been stored in the barn.

She beat up those cobs with a hammer, scalded them to soften them, sprinkled them with salt and bran and a very little meal in bad weather and fed those cows and brought them through the winter in very good...p. 52...condition.

The war ended in the spring (April) and father came home. He sold these cows for $100.00 apiece in gold (there was no money but gold). That enabled him to buy cottonseed, which was exceedingly scarce and high priced, and made his first crop on a cash basis. After it was laid—by he carried these bales of cotton to Augusta and sold them. I do not know just what he got, but a good price I know.

With that money, and his crop that year, which was none too good on account of poor stand of cotton, he began building on the read near the railroad where he lived until he died in 1903.

After the war came the period of Reconstruction, more horrible if possible, than the war. The half of that has never been told. The negroes suddenly found themselves in possession of a freedom that they did not know how to use. Be it said to their honor, that most of them were quiet and willing to be counseled, still devoted to and trusting their white friends, but net all. They firmly believed that they would soon be rich, live in fine houses, and some openly boasted that the “Bottom sail was on top” (a favorite slogan with them) and they would have white wives and everything they wanted.

That gave rise to the organization of “Slicks”. They were forerunners of the K.K.K. History makes no mention of “Slicks”, but they were a very real thing and their work was most effective in keeping the unruly in check. A movement was started to make every white man turn off the negroes and no white man should hire or harbor them. Father counseled moderation. Said we were subjugated people and we ha[d]s as well accept the fact. Such a course would force the negroes to steal, rob and commit all manner of crime which would bring on a race war.

After the surrender of Lee, no white man could exercise the right of citizenship until he had taken the oath of Allegiance to the United States Government. We were then, under military rule. Father was an officer, appointed to administer that Oath in his section, and he advised all to take it and be ready to cast their vote when the chance came and maybe it would be effective sometime. Negroes were given citizenship as seen as they were freed, so we were virtually under negro rule until white men had taken that Oath. Father's office was his living room and all the men for miles around came to take the Oath, preferring to come to him rather than to go to a military officer at Spartanburg. In his office, men talked freely. I was then a very timid, sensitive child seven years old. I had a way of hanging around and listening in on all that was going on, and I guess I heard too much. I lived in constant fear of some dreadful calamity, and it was almost a nightly occurrence for me to arouse the household by my screams, as in my dreams I was chased by mobs and Yankee soldiers. Twice I remember being shot down as I endeavored to run away. I felt the thud of the bullet and a sharp pain as I fell — a dream so plain that I believe I know how it feels to be shot. I have always felt sorry for children in war time.

Nearly all the county business was then done by three officers: sheriff, probate judge and clerk of court. Trial justice in the country, all public institutions, schools and colleges, were closed during the war, and churches also, except where they were kept open by volunteer service of a minister, too old for war duty. There was no County Home or state insane asylum. There had never been a State penitentiary before the war that I had ever heard of. This condition continued for ten years until 1876 when Carpet-Bag rule was overthrown by Wade Hampton.

About 1884, my father’s landed possessions began to be burdensome and he began to sell off his land to his children. I bought 150 acres; Barbara, 200 acres; Haddon 50 acres on Pacolet River. In 1897 or 1898, he sold his home place to Haddon and retired. Haddon bought it on condition that he and mother remain there as long as they lived. Haddon built a beautiful twelve room house at the old homestead where they lived in ease and comfort in their last days. Father died June 12, 1903 and mother en May 14, 1909.

p. 53 Twelve children were born in the family: three by the first marriage and nine by the second. Of the first, Sethy, the eldest of the family, was wounded at the Battle of Manassas and died of his wounds at Charlottesville, Virginia, a few days later and is buried there. Barbara (Lee) died in 1921 — 80; David, died 1923 — 80.

Of the younger children, three were still-born. One, Margaret, died at two years of age; Sara (Reid) 1836 — 37; Dick, a doctor, in Bloomfield, Ark., 1898 — 37, buried there; Haddon, in 1906 — 51, buried in Spartanburg. He was president of the Beaumont Manufacturing Co., president of the American National Bank; Ebba (Wells) in 1926 — 59, buried at Pacolet. I am the only one of the family living.

This follows our family through 211; years, four generations since the fugitive Sloan brothers arrived in America. I am the only one of the fourth generation now living and I am in my seventieth year. The fifth generation now has the stage and here’s hoping that they may make a better record with all the present—day advantages at their command, but I am also hoping that they may do no worse. While there is nothing spectacular recorded of them they have in the main, been honest, industrious, patriotic citizens, who lived quietly, peaceably, and comfortably, if not elegantly, in homes of their own. They were always known for their hospitality.

I find that I have left out one thing, told of grandfather john, but sorry I am going to spoil a pretty story. It was said he married at 100 years of age and when he started to get married, jumped over his horse. That is not true, the fact is his second wife outlived him by several years, and she married an old man by the name of Taylor. He soon died and she was [a] widow again. Aunt Jane told me that some such incident happened at his second marriage; some of friends guyed him about being so old and wanted to help him mount. He offered to bet he could jump on his horse. Someone took him up and he laid his hand on his horse's neck and vaulted over, but he was not 100. The record says he was 56, just the prime of life for him. I don't know if any such incident every happened or not; but it was told so much that his grandchildren believed it. There can be no doubt that he was an unusually strong, vigorous man, although he must have been past age, the tombstone says he was a soldier of the Revolution. His age is well established as any fact can be. My aunt, born 1821, told me she remembered him well.

The above gives one side of the house, I will now go back and tell you all I have heard on the Swans, the other side of our father’s house. They were from the same section as the Sloans. The kind that kept the Sabbath scrupulously. In the homes of both our ancestors was prepared on Saturday for the Sabbath as they called it: light bread, if flour was in the house, if not, corn-light bread, corn pone it was called and it was not bad either warmed up or served cold as desired. If they forgot to grind coffee, no coffee was served on Sunday. Unlike the Sloans, they came as regular emigrants their belongings with them. There is every indication that they were well off for that time. I think that I have heard that Grandfather Swan settled in Laurens County not far from Old Fields Church. Among the articles said to have been Grandmother's wedding presents were a full pewter service, six plates and three platters, one very large one, a coffee pot of some kind of china or agate very durable. Sister has the coffee pot in good condition and the largest pewter platter, the plates were given away. I have heard that some of them were made into bullets during and after the Confederate war. They also had a number of baskets of different sizes said to have been brought from Ireland, made of broom straw and white oak splits, which were no doubt used for packing. I have one of them now, it is still dust proof and anything kept in it is nice as in a cedar chest. The voyage was long and stormy, I am afraid to say how long, but it seems to me, I have heard they were three months on the water, anyway they had one child to die and one was...p. 54...born (Ann) on the voyage. They[ir] mother used to relate with superstitious feeling that the little coffin followed the ship three days and nights after it was lowered into the water. Of course it did drawn by the draft of the ship. There were three girls, Mollie, Ann and Barbara, our grandmother, and Timothy. Mollie was never married. Ann married a Simmons. He neglected her, left her alone while he rambled about and would not work. So, Mollie hitched up a wagon and went and moved her home and would never let her live with him again, don’t guess that she wanted to. Simmons was a Revolutionary Soldier. Ann was a Revolutionary Pensioner in her old age. She had no children.

Barbara, our Grandmother, married David Sloan. I have already given a sketch of her. Timothy married in Laurens County and moved his family to Tenn., so the name Swan is extinct in this state as far as that family is concerned and there are no descendants except Grandmother Barbara's children.

The Swans were wonderfully industrious people and adhered to the customs and habits of their native land, they raised quantities of Flax and made linen cloth instead of cotton for many years, in fact nearly all their life. There is now an old fashioned corner cupboard of solid walnut in the little house where my aunts lived that these old ladies bought for 100 yards of Linen cloth that represents weeks of toil for them. The two sisters lived to be very old, and were not able to lay up anything for years, but when the last one (Ann) died in 1872 they still had quantities of home supplies, home-made; old of course, but so carefully kept they were still good.

I think the father's name was Timothy and the mother's Barbara, I am pretty sure of it; anyway the mother's maiden name was Boyd. That is where I got my name, Rebecca Boyd. Ann, the last of the family, died the night of the election Riot at Laurens C.H., I think Nov. 6th 1872 [riot was Oct 1870, Erastus Everson]. Mollie, a year or so before. All they had they gave to their two nieces, Rebecca and Jane Sloan, who cared for the[m]n in their last days and they in turn gave what they had to Sister Ebba, so these old relics were never scattered much.

Among the old relics is the will of Grandfather Swan. It follows the customs of that time, everything to the mother her lifetime, then the girls were to get a cow, loom, wheel and cards and the son Timothy was to get the land, but mother Swan did not die, and after a long time, I suppose, he got tired of waiting for his land and moved his family to Tenn. For a time he wrote to his mother and sisters and some of his letters are among papers. The letters ceased — they never heard of him again. They thought he went West. He never came for his land and the Estate was never settled up till father sold the land for his sisters about 1884.

It was a custom in early days among the best families to keep at least one white dress of fancy weave in the home to be used in case of a death in the family. They were not kept especially for that purpose; but when one was used another one was made as soon as possible. When Mollie Swan was young, but past her girlhood, she spun warp and filling and wove a white dress for herself. When Mollie Swan warped the cloth, just enough for a white dress for herself, six or seven yards, she took it off the bars and drew the whole web through a small gold ring she was wearing. That shows how fine it was. She wove it dimity and needle worked the front. Margaret Compton, Daughter-in-law of Mattie Sloan Compton, told me she helped to put the dress on her when she died, and it was beautiful. I should have explained that dimity was woven with four harnesses or treadles.

When these old ladies died they still lived in the colonial log cabin built no doubt by their father. Strapped on the inside with boards and daubed on the outside with mud. In straightening up after Aunt Ann died, Aunt Jane and Margaret Compton noticed a little bundle of rags wrapped rather tightly and stuck behind a board over a crack, they took it out and unwound it and found it contained — money; they hunted around and in different places stuck in cracks they found $32.00. It was supposed they had stuck it away at different times, maybe years before and forgot it.

p. 55 I forgot to say in the right place that among the old relics, Sister had Grandfather Swan's money box — a small trunk shaped box of heavy pasteboard and is lined with a piece of newspaper printed in Latin. This lining was not a piece of the original box as the outside showed traces of fancy pattern and must have been pretty when new, so it is not reasonable to suppose it was originally lined with newspaper. The box is small but would hold a tidy sum of average denominations and it was said he had it full when he come. I also have a little trunk of the same make and material that was said to have been among grandmother's wedding presents. It must have been used to hold trinkets and fancy articles as it is too small for else. It still shows traces of embossed gilt flowers and must have been beautiful when new.

I don't think from what I can gather that Grandfather Swan lived many years after emigrating to this country. At least none of grandchildren remembered him as far as was ever heard.

Mollie Swan had the sharp tongue and ready wit of the proverbial Irish-woman, a quaint character, widely known and very much respected by the whole country-side where she lived, the oldest of the sisters and always the business manager.

Rebecca Sloan Shands

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