John Joseph Vandiver with sisters Sarah Vandiver and Della Vandiver.
John Joseph Vandiver was the fourth of thirteen children born to John Floyd Eugene Vandiver and Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver. John Joseph was born January 1, 1878 at his grandfather J. John Souther’s house near New Liberty Church, Choestoe District. In 1959 he wrote an autobiographical sketch of his life from his home in Yakima, Washington. The account gives insights into how life was for him in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This great grandson of the famed Adam Poole Vandiver continues the saga of the Vandiver family.
John Joseph Vandiver remembered his grandparents, John Souther, who died February 2, 1889 when this grandson was eleven, and his grandmother, Mary “Polly” Combs Souther who died May 1, 1894 when he was sixteen. John Joseph stated: Grandfather and Grandmother Souther taught me many things as a child. Grandmother would tell me about going to muster with her parents in 1812 when they were collecting our army for the War of 1812 against England. She must have been about five years old at the time, as she was born in 1807 and Grandfather in 1803.” The elder Southers were laid to rest in the Old Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery on land willed by John Souther for a church and cemetery.
He recalled that the old homeplace was willed to his mother. Consulting the last will and testament of J. John Souther, this item indicates the behest: “And behoof—8th: I give bequeath and devise to my daughter Rhoda L. Vandiver, to wit – Lot of Land No. 161 in the 16th District and 1st Sec., valued at one thousand and fifty dollars; it is my will that this be deeded to the Church of No. 161 one acre of land where the Church House now sits – with the privilege of wood to lands belonging to the estate to have and to hold the same to her own benefit and behoof—“. J. John Souther’s will was signed January 24, 1889, about a week before his death. Rhoda lived with and looked after her parents until their deaths.
In his memoirs, John Joseph Vandiver recalls life at the Souther place. “Our living was meager. We had to grow all that we had to eat on the farm.” Their industry and prudence taught them to put up food for winter use: barrels of kraut and pickled beans and corn; potatoes and cabbage buried in pits in the ground to protect them from freezing; apples, green beans (called leather britches), shelled beans and peas and pumpkin were dried for winter use.
With such a large family of children to provide for, his mother, Rhoda Lucinda Vandiver, was kept busy knitting socks and weaving cloth for clothes from the wool sheared from their sheep.
About his early school days he wrote: “We usually had about six months of school in the winter with poor teachers who were paid about $25.00 per month. A farmer and a Methodist preacher, John Twiggs, was the best teacher we had, and taught us many things. When I was about five, the New Liberty School was built.”
His parents continued to live on Land Lot 161 until after his grandmother’s death in 1894. Then, in 1895, his mother sold the house and land to Elisha Townsend, father-in-law of John Joseph’s sister Cordelia Jane, called Delia, who had married Andrew Jackson Townsend on March 2, 1893.
Unfortunately, John Joseph Vandiver’s memoirs do not include how his family packed up belongings and moved west. By 1895, train service was available from Gainesville or from Blue Ridge, Georgia or Cleveland, Tennessee. We can only imagine that they moved by covered wagon over the Logan Turnpike, probably to the more familiar Gainesville depot. There they probably sold the mules and wagon and loaded whatever household and personal goods they took to be shipped by freight westward. Then the parents and nine children boarded the train for their destination, Drake’s Creek, Arkansas.
John Joseph wrote: “In 1895 there was a depression similar to the one of 1929, and we had to work hard to live. Father bought the old Lollard farm on Lollard’s Creek about six miles from Drake’s Creek for $1,500.00. As a lad of 18 or 19, I sometimes earned a dollar a day making railroad ties. I would take them eight miles across the mountain for another $1.10.”
Those moving to Drakes’s Creek, Arkansas with John Floyd Eugene Vandiver and his wife, Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver were children John Joseph, 17 at the time of the move; James Harley, age 15; Frances Rosanna, age 13; Marion Thomas, age 11; Della Lucinda, age 9; Sarah Evelyn, age 8; Nellie Mae, age 5; Hartwell Franklin, age 4; and Callie Buenaulsta, age 2. Two years after they settled at Drake’s Creek, Arkansas, Rhoda Lucinda Souther gave birth to her thirteenth and last child, another son, Jesse Edward Vandiver born in 1897. They had left behind in Georgia married children Mary A. Vandiver Smith, William Joshua Vandiver who married Ida Hilderbrand; and Cordelia Jane Vandiver who married Andrew Jackson Townsend.
Death claimed the young Andrew Jackson Townsend on November 27, 1897 and he was buried at Old Liberty. Delia joined her parents in Arkansas, with her two young children, Mary Margaret Townsend (b. February 1, 1894) and Andrew Jackson Townsend, Jr. (born December 1, 1896).
Note: Rhoda Lucinda Souther (August 21, 1853 - June 24, 1947) married on January 9, 1872 to John Floyd Edward Vandiver (October 3, 1849 – September 26, 1923) in Union County, Georgia, with Charles Crumley, Minister of the Gospel, performing the ceremony. Both were interred in Riverton Heights Memorial Cemetery, Seattle, Washington.
[Next: Another migration of the Vandivers from Drake’s Creek westward. Sources for this article: Memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver written in 1959; will of J. John Souther; and “Souther Family History” by Watson B. Dyer, 1988, pages 241-268.]
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published February 3, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.