The Thomas Jefferson Stith Farm

by Bruce Stith, August 2008

revised Sept 21, 2008

When Thomas Jefferson Stith returned from service in the Civil War around the spring of 1865, things had changed a lot in Meade County. His father, Henry, 49, and his mother Mary Ann, 45, still lived on the farm, but his brothers and sisters had grown up. His oldest sister, Nancy, was 22 and had married Gilbert Wright. His other sister, Rosanna, 19, had married William Shumate two years earlier. Thomas’s brother Charles was now 18, and his younger brother Richard was 12. Thomas had lost eight brothers and sisters earlier, three in the spring of 1857 by apparently a communicable disease of some sort. A welcome home party was given him on the Jesse Jones Stith farm by his family where a picture of him was taken, and still exists.

Perhaps at this party he met a neighborhood girl, Hannah Williams. In the fall of 1861 when he left for the war, Hannah was just 12 and he had probably never even noticed her at neighborhood gatherings. Now she was 16, and a blossoming beauty in his eyes. Thomas apparently lived with his parents for the time being, since his two sisters had moved out, and began courting Hannah. Perhaps she wasn’t his only love interest since his was an eligible bachelor of 24, a war veteran, and a person of great possibilities.

Hannah was the oldest surviving daughter and third child of Sam Williams and Rachel Taylor, and lived on the farm just next door. In addition to her older brother John 19, Hannah had six younger surviving brothers and sisters. They were Thompson 13, Jacob 11, Thomas 9, Eunice 5, Viola 2, and Samuel, born that year. An older sister, Mary Frances, and 3 younger siblings, James, Ann and Jesse, had died before 1861. Sam Williams was a farmer and Hannah spent a good deal of her time helping her mother care for her younger brothers and sisters. Thomas J. Stith probably courted her on the weekends and perhaps to church on Sunday.

However, tragedy struck that fall, Hannah’s father, Samuel, died at the age of 42.

A big burden fell on Hannah and her older siblings as they cared for their young ones. Her mother Rachel was a strong woman and got on a horse and took over the operation of the farm, riding out to the fields to direct the chores and operations. Things got more normal and they were married later the next year on December 12, 1866. Thomas was 25, Hannah was 17.

We don’t know where they lived after they were married, it was perhaps in a relatives spare room or rooms, and maybe Thomas helped his mother-in-law out on her farm awhile. Their first child, Irene Buckner, was born almost exactly 9 months after they were married, on September 14, 1867. Two years later, a son, Samuel Henry was born on May 1, 1869. Thomas and Hannah began looking for a farm to buy and were saving up their money for a down payment. Thomas could have been helping his father and hiring out to other farmers during the crop season. Somehow he and Hannah saved up or were able to borrow $1000 dollars and on October 17, 1870, got a deed for 72 acres in two tracts from Harrison Shumate. These two tracts were part of the original farm of Daniel Shumate, one of the earliest settlers in now Meade County. The farm was next to his father’s first cousin, Griffin Stith’s farm, (now Charlie Larimore’s place) and about a mile and a half as the crow flies from his father Henry’s place.

There was a structure on the land, probably built of logs, and a source tells us that it was a two room house, a kitchen and living quarters under one roof separated by an open space. This was done to prevent a kitchen fire from burning down the whole house. Irene describes in her memoirs that the kitchen was closed and had no windows, and her room was in the attic of the living quarters. She reported taking care of her younger siblings and riding a horse to her grandmother Mary Ann’s house over the ridge road. Another brother, William Allen arrived on August 2, 1871, and brother Strother was born on May 11, 1873.

That fall, on October 24, Irene lost her beloved grandmother—Mary Ann Stith died at the age of only 53. Mary Ann’s husband Henry eventually sold the farm to his son-in –law and daughter, Gilbert and Nancy Wright, and lived there with them until he passed away at the age of 75 in 1890.

Some time in the early 1870’s, Thomas Jefferson bought an additional tract of land from John P. Jones. He purchased 30 acres for $250.00, which added on to his farm in the back behind his house. He paid cash but didn’t actually receive a deed for the land until June 3, 1898. To have saved up $250.00 and even $1000.00 in the middle 1800’s was an extraordinary achievement for a farmer who spent all of his time tending to the needs of his family. But sources say he was a very good farmer who raised cows, hogs, and other livestock, and planted hundreds of fruit trees and sold his fruit. Even into the 1930’s, apples were hauled off by the barrels to Louisville and over to Ekron where there was a brandy distillery.

Another son Arvin, was born on May 9, 1875, which gave Thomas and Hannah four strong sons to help him farm. Irene finally got a little sister, Mable, on April 17, 1877, when she was 9 years old. A brother Leonard was born on February 22, 1879, and another sister, Mary Rachel came along two years later on April 4, 1881. Thomas was forty years old, and he and Hannah now had eight children and needed to increase the size of their farm to support their growing family. Another son, Thomas Enfield, was born on March 8, 1883. And on April 4 of that year, Thomas and Hannah more than doubled the size of their farm by buying 98 acres from Bettie Taylor for $850.00. This tract of land bordered the whole south of their farm and brought much needed pasturage and crop ground into their hands. Their farm now totaled about 200 acres.

A daughter, Hannah Wivie, was born April 10, 1885. The oldest daughter Irene was now almost 18, and began looking outwards to begin her own life. She married the next year to Charles Fontaine and left the farm. Her younger brothers apparently were very industrious and busy helping their father, for not another child married for the next 16 years. Thomas and Hannah’s last surviving child, Fred was born in 1889. Another daughter was stillborn on September 6, 1891.

Thomas and Hannah apparently instilled in their children a sense of pride and accomplishment. Their oldest son, Sam Henry entered college and got his medical degree in Nashville in 1901. He moved back to Meade County, practiced for awhile under Dr. W.H. Strother at Big Spring and became one of the resident doctors of Meade County. Dr. Stith delivered many of his kinfolk in the following years. Their next son, William Allen was elected as a representative to the Kentucky State Legislature in the early 1900’s. He married Lena Drury in 1902 and they spent their honeymoon in Frankfort. They eventually moved back to Stith Valley and began acquiring land to build a huge Hereford cattle and hybrid seed corn farm. Strother married Bertha Foushee, Mable married Hamilton Moreman, Leonard married Emma Gardner in 1905, and Dr. Stith married Mable Coleman in 1906.

In 1911, a family reunion was held at the home of Thomas and Hannah to celebrate his 70th birthday. A picture was taken of this event of the whole family in the side yard of the big house. An interesting thing about this is that five of their children were still single and living at home. During this year or shortly thereafter, Thomas and Hannah moved away from the farm to Ekron near the railroad track. Now they were living in town, close to stores and businesses. Fred married Truman Wiseman the next year. My father (Harold) reports that his father told him that the four remaining children, Tom, Rachel, Wivie and Arvin lived for a while on the farm by themselves. Then later in 1912, Mary Rachel married Ray Keith and moved out. Thomas Enfield married Dona Belle Miller in 1914 and lived in one of the rooms of the big house. Then Wivie married Rev. Sanford Shipp in 1915, and Arvin married Nannie Hicks in 1916. Arvin and Nannie moved to Ekron and lived in a house beside the railroad tracks near where Ekron Baptist Church is now and a short distance across the track from Thomas and Hannah.

With their children all married off, Thomas and Hannah sold their 200 acre farm to their son Thomas and Dona in December 1917 for $1000.00. So now another Thomas Stith owned the home place. Thomas and Hannah lived in Ekron several years until the tragic day of August 24, 1921. Thomas was crossing the railroad tracks to visit his son Arvin’s house and was struck by a train and killed, 4 days short of his 80th birthday. Hannah survived to November 14, 1930 and was buried beside her husband in the Ekron Baptist church cemetery. The house where Thomas and Hannah lived is still standing.

Thomas and Dona ran the farm for 29 years. A son Harold was born in 1916, Elizabeth was born in 1919, and Helen Thomas was born in 1928. Harold in his later years wrote a story about growing up on the farm during the Depression. The 200 acre farm was getting run down by 1943 and the equipment was getting old. Thomas was 60 years old and decided it was time to leave. He and Dona traded the farm for the $3000.00 inventory in a grocery store located in Garrett owned by Mr. Emmet Miller. He and Dona with their son Harold’s help operated the store for five years and then he and Dona retired and sold the store in 1948 to H.C. Wallace and Kelly Dowell.

Bruce W. Stith 2008