Chester Martin Remembers Aunt Sarah Caroline Martin

Friday, March 10, 2017 - by Chester Martin

She was my dad's - and all his siblings' - favorite aunt, living only a couple of miles away. She was born in 1858, two years before her brother, George, (my grandfather) was born, and she was best known in the family as "Aunt Sallie". 

Her father was Enos Martin, the Confederate soldier, Justice of the Peace, and church elder I have already told you about, and her mother was Eliza Neal, whose family gave its name to Neal's Gap on nearby Pigeon Mountain. The city of Chattanooga was only 20 years old in her birth year. 

It is doubtful, however, that Aunt Sallie ever visited our fair city, as women were needed to do every bit of the menial work at home - a chore that never ended. One can guess that she might have seen LaFayette, and Summerville - both fairly near, but these would have been quick day trips with family, and purely for shopping. In the age before automobiles, Chattanooga was too far away to visit by horse-drawn vehicles in a single day. 

Aunt Sallie's neighborhood consisted largely of family, who lived mainly in the southwestern part of Walker County at the foot of Pigeon Mountain. She lived very near her grandfather's farm - obtained through one of the several Cherokee Land Lotteries of the early 1800's, as payment for his service in the War of 1812. Joshua Martin was the name, and he had married Sarah Shields, in Greene County, Ga., who was to become his life-long partner. Sarah was only 14 at the time, although such early marriages seem to have been approved of in those days. (My great-grandmother Smith was only 17). 

Grandfather Joshua can be traced through many moves before finally settling on the newly available Walker County property. He would have been 42 years of age in 1836 when he realized he needed to settle at last and put down permanent roots. His "marriage" to the soil of Walker County became epic, and he made great success of his years spent there. His oldest son, Enos, had come with him as a teenager, along with Sarah. They created the absolute best of worlds for themselves while residing there, and welcomed many grandchildren - among them Sarah Caroline Martin. 

Of the actual young lady (my dad's Aunt Sallie) I personally know very little. I can only surmise that she attended school and learned to read, write, and "cipher" sufficiently well to run a farm and be a good farmer's wife. We know that she indeed did live near her grandfather Joshua and knew him very well. They had undoubtedly had simple conversations, and she most likely never even thought about how she was talking with a man born in Napoleonic times - 15 years before Abraham Lincoln.   (He was born during the second term of George Washington!) Sometimes I like to contemplate how when I talked with her as a child, I was connected for a few moments with our country's very earliest times! I wonder how many people living today can claim such a unique situation? 

Anyway, Aunt Sallie Martin grew up and married John Thurman - a member of good standing in the Broomtown Valley community. I think (Great) Uncle John was a Methodist minister; if not, there were other such ministers in the Thurman family, to be sure. Sadly, Uncle John died long before I was born and I never knew him at all. He is the tall bearded man in the picture standing behind his mother-in-law, Sarah Neal Martin. Aunt Sallie and some of the children continued to live in the house, pictured here, after Uncle John's death, and I used to visit there as a very young child.

I loved going there because Aunt Sallie had one of those old-fashioned parlor organs with foot-pedals used to supply the air. I was absolutely fascinated by that instrument with its large array of "stops" which changed the pitch, or quality, of the notes. Of special interest was the "bass-coupler" stop that played the same note an octave lower! Wow! I still get pleasant shivers when I think of that pure, rich, but reedy, bass tone it made! Aunt Sallie appears there (in the picture) to the right of her husband, wearing her trademark white apron. The picture of her as an older lady finds her wearing another apron of about the same cut. This was normal for farm wives of the time, apparently, so they could consider themselves always to be "on duty". (I doubt that they wore their aprons to church, however!) This family group can be roughly dated by the ages of the two young people. They were a boy and a girl - twins - the boy at left center, and the girl on the extreme right. It was about 1905.

In reference to the two pictures of Aunt Sallie, I feel very fortunate that I can see her as still a rather young lady, and then as much older. In most of the family pictures I have, we see the subjects only as babies, or as old people, posing for their 80th birthday picture - gussied up, and not looking like themselves as everyday people. The resemblance to her mother, seated, is also of great interest.

Aunt Sallie's house is still standing there near the foot of Pigeon Mountain, and looks just the same as always.  Uncle John's beehives are missing (they would have been off-camera and 'way to the left), and there is a modern driveway for automobiles (not seen). But I will wager that the same blue paint is still there on the porch ceiling - just as it was on the original house, and still intact about 1975 when I saw it last. As lovingly as it has been cared for through the years, one suspects that some of her family may still own it. It was on a parcel of land first claimed by Joshua Martin in 1836. Son Enos Martin inherited it and gave it to Aunt Sallie and Uncle John as a wedding gift. The "Harrisburg Gap" is plainly visible from its front porch - a prominent declivity and landmark in the mountain - visible for miles around. Aunt Sallie's dad, Enos, Grandfather Joshua, and my Grandfather George, are known to have gone through that gap to trade in the famous McLemore's Cove, just beyond, (at the lower end of Chattanooga Valley) following an ancient road first excavated by the Cherokee and the Creeks. By Aunt Sallie's time it had become a wagon road - and I suspect it may have been re-discovered by present-day mud bikers. Dunno. Anyway, there is a lot of history in that remote part of the county, folks, and I am happy to be able to share a bit of it here. I might also mention that the TAG Railroad tracks were not far away - built about 1890 - and when the whistle blew for "Hawkins" or "Harrisburg" it could make Aunt Sallie and Uncle John think about the great wide world which lay just beyond. Read more about it in John Wilson's comprehensive book on local railroads! 

*      *      *
THE AUNT SALLIE I PERSONALLY REMEMBER was a "country girl" in every sense of the word. This means she was suspicious of city people and city ways. Her main contact with the city was through people like my dad who had gone to live there. Country people liked to keep themselves segregated from city folk - even when they came to town to shop. The Georgia people came to the southside of Chattanooga to shop, as the people from north Hamilton County came only to 6th Street to shop. Most of the businesses both north of 6th Street and south of (the (MLK) catered heavily to country people.These country folk were rarely found between 6th and 9th (now MLK) Streets , and would be easily identifiable by their "homespun", or very plain type of clothing.

Remember, Aunt Sallie grew up without most of the amenities we accept today as normal. She had no radio or TV. There was no Oprah or CNN to watch, and everything she knew about cities and city life was second-hand. Roads were muddy in north Georgia back then, and it was much  easier to stay at home than to travel.Clearest memory I have of her was from shortly before her death in 1942, and it was a warning - an admonition - against the evils of "picture shows" and other such "city" things she knew nothing about. To be a "country" person in her day really meant "being apart" or separated from, the mainstream. But she was a lovable person who received much love in return...just as in this story I tell about her today. 

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )


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