Ideas Don’t Fall Far from the Tree

I have a few new ideas for stories/novellas/novels.

Have you ever considered using your own genealogy as a source of inspiration? I happen to know two stories of interest in mine.

Cumberland Country, TN, site of the Tollett-Swafford feud.

My ancestor, Francis Monday, was friends with another man, John Tollett, Jr. during the Civil War in East Tennessee. Apparently Tollett was known to have some money, and “renegades” (I assume deserters, although I’m not sure which side they were on originally) came into the community and demanded the money from him. He claimed he didn’t have any money. They said they would be back, and he better have found it by then. He went home and collected up his money and Francis helped him hide it. When the renegades came back, Tollett continued to protest that he didn’t have any money. So the gang took him and Francis outside and shot one of them 9 times and stabbed him once, and stabbed the other one 9 times and shot him once. Neither man would give up the location of the money, so they were finally hanged.

And if that wasn’t interesting enough, apparently this not only took place against the backdrop of the Civil War, but also during a family feud between the Tollett’s and Swafford’s involving moonshining and murder. How could you not get a best-selling book out of a plot line like that? As my dad says about the song “Rocky Top”: “There’s a reason why it’s one of the best college fight songs in America; who wouldn’t like a song that talks about sex, moonshine, and the death of two Federal Revenue agents?”

(This feud is detailed in a book: The Swafford-Tollett Feud by Thomas V. Swafford which is, unfortunately, out of print. But I’m writing the publisher to see if I can find a copy.)

The second story is pieced together from family legend. Jesse Caldwell and Nannie Pritchett were neighbors in Georgia. They were both married; she had 2 children and he had about 6 at this point. They supposedly met at the creek where they went to get water. They ended up abandoning their families and running away together to Alabama. They had 4 children together before Nannie died. Jesse went to his first wife–who wouldn’t take him back–so he ended up marrying another woman and having a few more children before he died. He was buried beside Nannie.

I’m descended not just from one bigamist, but two! We actually learned the story from a descendent of his first family; we never knew either of them had been married before. They seem to have conveniently forgotten to mention it to their children and grandchildren.

I think it’s obvious that Jesse was a piece of work (certainly that’s what his first family thought of him), but at the same time, he and Nannie make a compelling story. Was he buried beside her because he loved her, or was my family the only one of the three that was forgiving (or ignorant) enough to give him a spot in the plot?

And I also have this awesome ancestor named “Blackjack Thurman.” I have no idea what story is behind that name, but I think I might have to invent one. I’d go with some Mississippi riverboat gambler theme, except he and his family are all from East TN and seem to have no connection to the Mighty Mississip. There is, however, a Black Mountain in Cumberland County, so it’s possible that his name references it.

I also have an idea to write a series of historical novels that has the same character in all of them. At the end of every novel, he dies, then he gets reincarnated into the next novel. Kind of like Blackadder, but with less comedy. Not sure if it would work or not, but it’s brewing in my brain.

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