Well, I was able to sleep in a bit this morning thank goodness. Because tomorrow the adventure really begins. We had a small breakfast at the hotel and then headed for Greeneville. It was a nice drive and as we got close you could see the snow covered Great Smoky Mountains with clouds nestled among the peaks. It was a very pleasant site.
Years ago, when I first applied to work for the National Park Service, I could apply to two parks. I put in for Mesa Verde and the Great Smoky Mountains. I was actually contacted by both parks but Mesa Verde came first and I moved to Colorado. While I never became a permanent Ranger, my time at Mesa Verde is what brought me back to Colorado. I had met my future wife Tracey while working at the Santa Monica Mountains in California. I fell in love and proposed and then convinced her to move to Colorado. I love living in the Mountains. But sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I had gone to the Great Smoky Mountains instead?
After checking in to the Quality Inn, we went out to find some food and drove through Historic Greeneville. Today, I got my first glimpse into the town where my father was born and live during his childhood. He grew up as a Sharecropping Farmer and moved around quite a bit between Florida and Greene Co. Tennessee. However, Historic Downtown Greeneville on a Sunday is a very desolate place and we ended up getting some food on the main highway nearby.
But I am looking forward to exploring the multitude of historical markers, monuments and buildings around here. My Uncle Ross will be arriving tomorrow and we can make some plans for the week to see the many places of their youth. While many of the buildings are now gone, it will still be great to see the locations and imagine of a time long past.
Tonight I was able to meet Hayley Stills for the first time. We have emailed and talked on the phone for the past five years and it was great to see her in person. We spent a few hours reviewing what we knew of the Stills line and of William Henry Stills, the progenitor of all the Stills in this area. William is something of an enigma, we know of his time in Greeneville but we only have hints of his time in South Carolina and Virginia. Whispers from old Census records and stories passed down through generations. We know not who his parents are. Our conversation concluded with the idea that the science of a new generation, Y-DNA testing may be our only fruitful path forward. Hayley and I will meet up again a few more times this week to track down stories from old generations and hunt for ghosts in Kelley’s Gap. Named for our Ancestor John Kelly.
John is supposedly from Ireland and a recent DNA test of my father reveals that my dad is 23% Irish and this supports that believe. His origin story goes something like this.
John Kelley, Sr. came from Armagh, Ireland about 1771 and landed in North Carolina on the captain’s pretense of having lost his bearings, some say because of the slave trade. Apparently, so the story goes, their vessel drifted so far south that the heat was intense, and they were thirteen weeks in reaching their destination and then only because, after fourteen days in such heat that the ship’s chains would sizzle as they touched the water, they persuaded the captain with the rather forcible argument that they would throw him overboard if he didn’t change his course. John landed on the North Carolina coast, taught school, and finally married Anna Hunter, by whom he became the father of three children: John, Joseph, and Andrew. He crossed the mountains at Kelley’s Gap, and settled in Greene county, where some of his descendents still live, and hold as a relic his old chest brought from his native land.
Hayley and I will visit Kelley’s gap and we hope to meet up with a Kelley relative to hear the stories in person.
But tomorrow morning belongs to TnBreeze, Cemetery Hunters Extraordinaire who post their accomplishments on Findagrave. Like Hayley, we have corresponded over the years. I brought my boots just for them and we will be hunting ghosts, thankfully my cousins, Brian and Tammy Clouse, know just where to look.