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Granny Mary Polly Beck, A Real Pioneer Woman

December 2nd, 2015

A few months ago I received an email from a distant cousin in College Station, Texas containing a few old family photos and the names of the people in them. My cousin had been doing some extensive work on the genealogy of our family and had run across the photos and names. There was one photo in particular that caught my eye as I pondered every element contained in it. There was an old woman sitting in front of a log cabin. This old woman, I learned, was the 2nd Great Grandmother of my Grandfather, Emmett Hethcox. Now that may not be of much interest to you, but when you consider that my old Granddad was born in 1898, that would make his Great, Great Grandmother ancient, and most interesting to me.
My cousin told me that her name was Mary Polly Beck and that she had married to a man named William Stewart. I affectionately call her Granny Mary Polly Beck. That old woman in the photograph is my 4th Great Grandmother. She may have been poor and old but she won my admiration and affection; it was love at first sight for me. My mind swirled with all the questions I had about her and her life.
She was born in Anderson County, South Carolina in 1812 and died in Carroll County, Georgia in 1908. As far as I am concerned she was a true pioneer woman whose personal history parallels that of our nation. The photo is of her in her later years, sitting in front of a simple, one-room log cabin. She is wearing an ankle-length simple cotton dress and an old-fashioned sun bonnet on her precious old pate.
A close look at the photo will show how simple she lived; not even a door on the cabin that I can see. All that is visible of her earthly possessions is a wash pan, a dipper and a couple of old straight back chairs. The old cabin’s wood-shingle roof is in need of some repair. The spaces between the logs have some cracks that let in the winter’s cold wind. The old fireplace is her only comfort for warmth on a cold winter’s night.
One more observation about the old home place is that the yard doesn’t have one blade of grass growing in it. Those old homesteads back then were like that. The woman of the house would make a brush broom out of a bundle of dog fennel or some other weed. She kept the yards swept clean of any grass, leaves, rocks or debris. That’s just the way they kept their yards back then; there were no grass lawns at homesteads. I guess it was kept clean so you could see an approaching snake or other varmint, and it just looked good to have a clean yard. I have seen old folks keep their yards swept clean like this.
Granny Mary Polly Beck lived to be 96 years old. The year she was born, James Madison (1808-1812) was President of the United States. Madison was the 4th US President.  She lived through 24 U.S. Presidents; from James Madison to William Howard Taft.  Amazing! Think about it; she was born the same year as the War of 1812, our second war against Great Britain, and just six years after the Louisiana Purchase. She also lived through The Creek War (1813-14), the Indian Wars of 1817-1821, the First Seminole War (1817-18), the Monroe Doctrine (1823), Black Hawk War (1832), Second Seminole War (1835-42), Mexican War (1846-48), Third Seminole War (1855-58), War Between the States (1861-65), Battle of Little Big Horn (1876), Apache Wars Against Geronimo (1876-86) and the Spanish-American War (1898).
When she was born there were only 18 states in the Union. They were, in order of admission: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana (added in 1812).
The photo looks like it was made near the end of her life.  During her lifetime there was no electricity, no running water, no automobiles, no airplanes, no telephones, no cell phones, no Facebook (thank God), no GPS; none of the modern amenities we have today. She didn’t own an iPhone. The only thing she might have owned that started with an “I” was maybe an iron.  Life was really hard during her lifetime.  Imagine what stories she could tell if we could sit down and chat with her.  Maybe someday God will allow that, who knows?
She married William Stewart in Fayette County, Georgia in 1827.  Young Mary was just 15 and William was 22 when they were married.  William was born in 1805 in South Carolina and died in 1880 in Carroll County, Georgia.  He was 75 when he died.  When William was born, Thomas Jefferson was finishing his first term as US President.  William died when Rutherford Hayes was President; he lived through 17 U.S. Presidents. I haven’t been able to trace back further than Mary Polly Beck and William Stewart on that family line. 
I had that old photo enlarged and it is now on display in my living room with other valuable family photos.  I wish my children and their children would take an interest in their genealogy.  These family treasures are more valuable than gold to me. Do you see how the history of Mary Polly and William are so aligned with the history of our great nation? Those old family members help me to realize that my bloodline is a part of the fabric of our nation. It causes me to know that we have much invested in this nation, since much of my family’s blood was shed through the history of this nation. It also causes me to be jealous of anyone who might try to harm or destroy it today.
That little old lady sitting in a straight-back chair in front of that old one-room log cabin somewhere in Georgia really perks my interest in family history.  She lived 96 years on this earth.  I don’t know about you but this kind of stuff really intrigues and humbles me.  It makes me proud of my heritage when I see what humble diggings I come from.
And to think, God in His Sovereign will caused all those old ancestors to survive ship wrecks, Indian attacks, snake bites, diseases, accidents, battles and wars long enough to reproduce just so YOU could be born at the time and place He designed for you to be on this earth.  It humbles me to think that He would care enough for you and me to know us from before the foundation of the world and cause all the affairs of men to be handled just so, with you in mind.  Amazing!

hisservant Jim's America, Jim's Journal

  1. chethcox
    December 2nd, 2015 at 22:18 | #1

    Amazing indeed! Very interesting family history.

  2. darbonne
    December 3rd, 2015 at 20:32 | #2

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you for taking an old family photograph and bringing it to life with your prose. You certainly have a gift for writing and I would encourage you to consider writing more stories about the Hethcox family. I, for one, would find it most enjoyable. While I am dealing with the facts and figures of the lives of our ancestors you are bringing them to life. Hope to be able to visit with you and your lovely wife when we return to Columbus sometime next spring.

    Cousin Ronny

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