BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
(An introduction to Estie Stith Crabbe by Harriet Fast Scott, 1991)
"Any people who are indifferent to the noble achievements of remote ancestors are not likely to achieve anything worthy to be remembered by their descendants." T.B. Macaulay, as quoted by Estie Stith Crabbe in her "Letters to Cousin William"
All my life, it seems, people have talked about writing the family history of the Stiths. Cousin Allen Stith (1.) of Stith Valley was one of the great promoters of ramify lore. He collected data near and far, treasuring each relationship. He and my mother, Frances Shacklett Fast (2.), and my husband's mother, Ruth Fontaine Scott (3.), always shared their tales and strove to sort out complicated family relationships. All of them contributed to Estie Stith Crabbe who was to write the definitive history of the Stith clan and she equally shared her findings with them.
As Cousin Estie put it in a letter to "My dear Cousin William:"
"Your noble efforts in my behalf - helping me at every turn, are something yes SOMETHING! It is fitting at this time to inform you that your name will be in the list. in my Roll of Honor in the Hayne's history, aside from occupying an important position in the Stith history...."
I first met Estie Stith Crabbe about 1960 through a box of letters that my mother and Cousin Estie had exchanged over the years. Reading these letters, I learned a great deal, not only about the family, but also about a great lady whose letters overflow with graciousness, modesty and generosity. She was accurate and meticulous and never malicious. She never failed to identify people in fur'. No "Cousin Betsey" or "Uncle Jim'., leaving you floundering to figure out who they were. A doubtful date sent her back. to the many libraries she visited to do further research. And before Cousin Allen died, he came to Brandenburg and gave my mother the letters Cousin Estie had sent him over the years.
In more than thirty years of research, Cousin Estie had already solved many of the stickier family problems. But as far as I know, the promised Stith family history never appeared. My last letter from her came after my mother died on March 15, 1968. I was busy doing other things and tracing the family line had receded into the background. When I "retired", I told myself, I would dig up the family tree again.
After Mother died, I hesitated to take the "Cousin Estie" letters with me because we moved so often. They were safer in Brandenburg, I thought. When I visited I made sure these letters were in a "safe place."
April 3, 1974, a tornado hit Brandenburg, Kentucky. The house where my father still lived was flattened. The "safe place" completely disappeared and so did all the letters containing Cousin Estie's hard work. I was lucky that my mother's files on Meade County families were stored in a metal filing cabinet which survived the wind's fury.
This summer, as my mother's hundredth birthday (September 9, 1991) was approaching, I got to thinking what I could do in remembrance. Half-heartedly, I looked through her files, thinking for the thousandth time, if only Cousin Estie's letters to '"Cousin William" (as she called Allen Stith) and Cousin Frances hadn't 'gone with the wind.'
Suddenly, I spied a familiar signature - Estie S. Crabbe. Could it be that some letters survived in the folders that were in the file cabinet? I started looking in each folder. Then it happened. I took out a folder and there were ALL her letters to "Cousin William"! They dated from 1943 to 1956. How could I have missed them? How did they get in the file cabinet?
Having thus been promoted to "Keeper of the Flame" quite by accident, I felt I just had to collect as many letters as I could and index them for a book. You have in your hands the result. I hope you become a "Keeper of the Flame" for your family, adding to your book for posterity.
These letters plus several others to other people, including myself, are a gold mine of information not only for the STITHS but also for the BOARD, HARDAWAY, HAYNES, JONES, LONG, MOORMAN and WOOLFOLK families. Although not in final form, they represent meticulous research to that time.
Still missing were the "Cousin Estie" -- "Cousin Frances" letters. While searching for pictures in the attic on a rainy weekend not long after finishing the "Dear Cousin William'' letters, I decided to go through and "weed out" the jumbled boxes of belongings rescued by my husband, William Fontaine Scott and his sister; Jessie Scott Williams, from the house after the tornado. I had looked at everything in the ten or twelve cartons many times before. Pieces of wood and plaster fell off of everything I picked up.
A gray rain-stained box attracted my attention. Letters to some woman for whom my mother had done family research in the 1950s. Out of curiosity, I lifted out the sheaf of letters, noting how clean they were compared to other papers. Under the top twenty pages or so were a hundred pages of letters, in the now familiar style, beginning "Dear Cousin Frances." These were all the letters from Estie Stith Crabbe that I had read thirty years ago! How had they been overlooked? They were not even in the same box I had seen them in so many times. Now there will be a second book. of Letters as soon as I can index them.
Cousin Estie had no children, so she adopted all of us. Estie Melinda Stith was the daughter of James Richard Stith and Ophelia Haynes, known as "Missie". The parents were married in Carthage, Missouri, in 1881. Estie, the third of four children, lost her father in 1892. Estie married B.F. Crabbe and lived most of her life in California.
As Preface to the "Dear Cousin William" Letters is a 1943 letter from Mary Peyton Dent to "Cousin Allen". She introduces Estie Stith Crabbe to William Allen Stith in her own inimitable fashion. Mary Peyton Dent is mentioned dozens of times in the letters. She was clearly a great source of information and inspiration to Cousin Estie. Her letters are full of non-stop family stories which add red-blooded flesh to the bare bones of the usual family chart. So far I have unearthed a dozen or so hand-written masterpieces which will be included in a future volume when typed.
You may ask why publish letters, why not just use them to produce a Stith family history that will be more accurate and easier to follow. Cousin Estie, God Bless her, may have never completed her work. Beverly Cain, another who apparently had a world of information, died without completing her- history. I have never heard whether Laurence B. Gardiner of Memphis, Tennessee, ever finished his book on the Hardaways.
We owe it to Estie, Allen, Frances, Ruth, and all the others who have gone before us to put as much family history in the hands of as many as we can as soon as we can. Technology has given us the Xerox machine and the word processor. It is now possible to produce a useable book at a very low price without the long, painful process of getting it printed. Let's not wait until it is again too late.
This is for our ancestors Major John Stith and his wife Jane, for James Hardaway and Robert Bolling, John Hall and Lancelot Bathurst, Peter Jones and all the rest who came to Virginia in the early 1600s to found a nation. We salute you.
Harriet Fast Scott
918 MACKALL AVENUE McLEAN, VA 22101
1. William Allen Stith was the second son, third child of Thomas Jefferson Stith and Hannah Chase Williams. He was born August 2, 1871 and died on November 25, 1960. He married Lena Marion Drury and they raised six children.
2. Frances Cleveland Shacklett was the third child and third daughter of Richard Peter Shacklett and Viola Boone Williams. She was born September 9, 1891 and died March 15,'1968. She married Byron Macaulay Fast August 29, 1911 and raised three children.
3. Ruth Fontaine was the oldest child of Charles Beauregard Fontaine and Irene Buckner Stith, William Allen Stith's oldest sister. She was born December 12, 1887 and died March 14, 1978. She married Walter Lee Scott and raised seven children.