Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chatauqua and the mystery of the Squirrell King's daughter

I have been invited to join the faculty for the Florida Chatauqua Assembly. This is quite an honor and I look forward to making a presentation on
Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 1:45 p.m. at the charming DeFuniak Springs Library. But, I will be there from Wednesday until Sunday selling my books. Joe and I are on an adventure -- into the world of books, assemblies, festivals, and speaking engagements. We will meet lots of new people and learn much along the way, I am sure. Perhaps they will be North Florida cousins!

Though Benjamin and Vashti Vann Jernigan first settled in the Burnt Corn Springs area and then near Fort Crawford, they eventually moved down to the Milton, Florida area where Benjamin started a saw mill. Vashti died of yellow fever in 1820 and is buried in Florida Town, Florida. I want to share with you a letter that a cousin of mine received because I think the grave he stumbled upon was that of my 5th great grandmother, the mother of Vashti Vann, Mary King, daughter of the Squirrel King of the Chickasaw of whom Edward Cashin writes in Guardians of the Valley. My relatives in North Florida may need to know this. I was told of this grave by another relative who lives in North Carolina. I did not remember this note until just recently, so it is obviously important.
Dear ___________:
I am sharing this with you because I believe you can understand the experiences I am about to describe. I must admit, the names could be biased but I don't think so.
I have always been drawn to the country and lands in this section of Southern Alabama. Many times I have traveled through the towns and backwoods roads while experiencing a kind of unexplained spiritual awe and connection to everything I encountered in the countryside and landscape. I would wonder myself at times why I was drawn to these places, these woodlands. I began by traveling through the Blackwater Forest up the Blackwater, Conecuh and Yellow rivers to the lands around Florala, Andalusia, Opp, Elba, and Troy. My uncle and I traveled these roads many, many years ago buying chickens from country farmers for his chicken business. My journeys moved ever westward and northward through Brewton, Flomaton, Atmore, McCullouch, Uria, Frisco City and Monroville. I traveled up the Alabama River through Bay Manette, Stockton, Tensaw, Little River, Chrysler, Manistee, and Perdue Hill, always experiencing a reverence and awe for the country I was exploring. From Perdue Hill I crossed to the west bank of the Alabama through Claiborne to the Old Line Road. I went up the Old Line Road through Vashti, Lower Peach Tree, Sunny South, and on through Miller's Ferry Lock and Dam to Camden. On the Old Line Road I met a stranger, who really wasn't a stranger after all, as we squatted together and drew maps on the ground of old places long forgotten, as we stood and experienced a spiritual bonding, a spiritual blessing. We became the brothers all men should strive so hard to become in a profound silence that words were never used to explain. Up the Little Escambia and Burnt Corn Creeks I traveled, intersecting the Old Stage Coach Road Five through Burnt Corn, Pine Orchard and Beatrice. I lived in Montgomery at one time, and traveled up through Wetumpka, Talladega, Sylacauga, and Lake Martin, through Birmingham, Gardendale, Culman and Welty. I could go on and on, but the story is now clear to me after searching through my ancestry on the Jernigan line. I was revisiting the lands of my ancestors, and experiencing the profound spiritual connection they had to their world in their time. I knew nothing of my connection to the Tombigbee, Alabama, Conecuh, and Coosa rivers, but I was drawn there to view and feel the awe of the land. My family related no indication of this connection, though our Indian heritage was often discussed. My Grandmother Jernigan shared with us only the Cherokee connection to our family through the Vann family of the Carolinas and Georgia. John Guidy visited our home when I was a child, asking about Creek Indian connections. We sat at the old oak table, which now sits in my home, and she explained what she knew about our Indian connections, always asserting that our Indian lineage was Cherokee through Vashti Vann. She related to us Indian stories of long ago. Stories about the Red Headed Vashti Vann and her connections to Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation.
Now I come to the reason I have written you this somewhat emotional account. I had surmised before I knew from you, or knew at all, that Benjamin Jernigan had been at Florida Town. I had thought about this possibility. When you related to me all of the activities of Benjamin Jernigan, I was taken aback and amazed that I had been all around his pursuits all of my life and never knew it. After visiting, and being moved by Joseph Jefferson's grave site off Martin Road, I began trying to recollect a similar grave site I had seen and reported to my family when I was a child. The effort to recollect its' location was persistent in my consciousness. I had seen it somewhere off the beaten path in a wooded area. I could not remember the incident clear enough to remember the significance or the details. I just knew I had seen a burial site like this and tried to remember where it was, but I could not. The other night, however, as I lay in bed in light sleep, a moving vision came to me. I saw a headstone and on the headstone were names. The name in scripted at the top moved off the marker into a cloud and I could vaguely make it out. This experience triggered some of my memory and the next morning, I was able to recollect some of the vague memories.
When I went to Florida Town that day I mentioned to you, I had no thought about a particular cemetery. I just thought I would look in the nearest one. When I asked the older resident, they directed me to the site. I thought I had never seen it before. It was just a plot of bushes and trees sandwiched between two home sites. I asked the gentleman if anyone had any knowledge about the people who were buried there. He said some people that had first come there might, but he did not. I asked him if there were markers and headstones. He said yes, when he first came there. I asked him if he had read, or had any knowledge of what they said. He said no, he did not recollect anything that might have been written on them. I asked about steel fencing or steel posts and raised brick graves. He confirmed pieces of steel fence and steel markers or posts in the ground.
At first I was dumbfounded by this dream, where I had seen this headstone, and wondered how it could possibly be me that had seen it, but then as I began my morning activities that morning, ever dwelling on the things I had seen, it came to me. When I was a child of about ten years of age, my Presbyterian Bible School took us to Florida Town to swim in the pool which was there. As we played around the old hotel and dance hall, we were directed by some adults, I believe, to and old grave site that lay obscured in the woods. We walked up the road we came in on for a short distance, and then spread out over a wooded ridge looking for the site. The group I was with never found the site and decided to return back to the old hotel, but I persisted and continued to search the wooded ridge. I came upon a steel fenced enclosure. The steel fence is vague in my memory, but it seemed to rise eight feet or more in height, surrounding a small space that contained grave sites. As I remember, it seemed difficult to enter but I did gain access. In the grave site was a raised burial marker with a headstone honoring a person of Indian ancestry. I read the marker. Isn't this remarkable?! I wondered that day if anyone had possibly read a marker in the site when I talked to the gentleman I mentioned before, not knowing at the time that it was I myself! What a startling, emotional realization that was, striking me with deep feeling. As I try hard to recollect, I know it did not mention Jernigan, Vashti, Vanns or Cherokees. I reported this to my family when I returned and they indicated it was not of our ancestry because it was not Cherokee. My sister confirms this report to my family. She vaguely remembers the incident. She is six years my senior. But guess what fragments I have been able to draw from such a dim view of so long ago. It is this for sure: The name of a person without an obvious Indian name, recognized as the daughter of an Indian Chief of a tribe of Indians, not Cherokee. As for the names, they are not certain since I have been biased by reading some names recently in my searches. I must admit to that, but in my own mind, I am sure. What comes to my mind is, believe it or not, Mary King, Daughter of Chief Squirrel King. Squirrel King is not clear but seems to be this. Succobee is also vaguely recalled. I remember being amused by the name. A tribe is given which seems to be Chickasaw. When I read the tribe name, my memory recalls a vague reference in my mind to Mobile and the town of Chickasaw. A thought as to how this was the wrong direction for our Indian ancestry arose. This may be biased, but I don't think so. The person's name was triggered in the dream. I saw it there also. That is why I was perplexed. I recognized it. I really don't know. I don't know very much anyway. I do know of stories, old stories, some vague stories possibly meant to be forgotten, told by my grandmother of individuals caught in the cultural and political turmoil existing between the tribes of Indians in the area and the white man ever encroaching on their land; Of struggles between British, French, Colonists and Indians, Of Upper Creek and Lower Creek, Of Chickasaw and Choctaw, Of Shawnee and Cherokee, Of divided loyalties, Of breed and mixed breed, Of love and hate, Of power politics, greed and destroyed lives. Of promises and broken promises, Of consequence and loyalty. Stories of people being responsible for the knowledge Andrew Jackson and other white men had of Indian strongholds, and their banishment from the lands of their people. Banishment to lie, even in death, removed from the people of their heartbeat. "This is no Indian Cemetery", a man told a researcher. "Indians don't bury their people like this." "There are no Indians buried here." "Well then," the researcher said, "I don't need to look here." This Indian lying in this cemetery was buried honorably by a white man with no mention of Vann. I can, if no one else can, guess why. But it is just a guess. She could have been with her own daughter, but where is her daughter? And like I said, I don't know much, but I can attest to this though. My experiences over the years have been extraordinary, always feeling a spiritual connection but unable to distinctly describe it. It does not come from without, from the towns and villages, forests and fields though initiated by them. It comes from within because it has been written into our genome, if we could somehow understand that, written into the essence of our being, into the literal material of our physical selves, by the experiences of our ancestors who came before us.
Remember Mr. Mitchell, I have a B.S. Degree in Medical Technology, an M. ED. Degree in Educational Administration. I taught science thirty five good and successful years in the public school, and worked over forty eight years in hospital laboratories. I have tried to give back what I was given by these great families, our ancestors. I consider myself a person of science, but I know from experience that life is more than science can describe.
This cemetery needs to be preserved. I will do what I can.
Reverently Yours,
Duane Broxson
 The discovery of my own Native American heritage has given me a new perspective on history. I hope others who have ancestors who kept their heritage secret will now come forth and share their story with me. I hope to add those stories to my website so that others who wondered and could not find confirmation will do so there. There is an incomplete history of our country. The rest of the story is yet to be written. I hope to contribute to collecting those stories.

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