My second 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks blog. The theme is King, but having no proof of royalty in my family (as yet), I decided to go a different path. A King is the head of a country, so I decided to write about the head of one branch of my family.
Patriarch of the Gaither Family
I descend from John Gater of England. In fact, I have three Gaither lines from this same man. Much has been written about him and his descendants. Even with DNA proof of descendandcy, exactly how the relationship develops between John Gater and John J Gaither is still a mystery. I want to focus on the most direct patriarch of my family line.
John Jefferson Gaither was born 24 Aug 1839 in Huntsville, AL. Although his parents are thought to be William and Margrett, more research is needed in that area. Most of what is known about his early years is speculation, circumstantial evidence and family lore that has yet to be proven.
I first found John and a lady named Margarett, who was probably his mother, living with the Calvin Bass family. Their post office was Sterretts, in Shelby Co, AL, in 1860. It’s interesting that John Bass, 25, also living with them, is a school teacher and John, 19, is listed as attending school. I can’t help but wonder what type of school John was attending at that age in 1860 and what he was studying. Did he have plans of becoming a teacher, preacher, businessman, merchant, scholar, or simply the best husband and father he could be?
Regardless of his plans for the future, the next few years were quite a change for the young man, as for everyone else in the country. In the fall of 1861, John left his job as a grocery keeper and joined with many other men to fight for their way of life, which was threatened by the Yankees. In the South it’s known as ‘The War of Northern Aggression’. History calls it the Civil War.
John joined the Confederate States Army at Harpersville, Shelby Co, AL, and served as a Private in the 18th Regiment, Co I, AL. He was sick almost the entire first year of his enrollment, and was admitted to the First Mississippi CSA Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, on 20 March 1862. Just eight days later, he was discharged due to an enlarged heart and final settlement made.
If not for John’s medical condition, this may well have been the end of his story, and I may not have been born to write it. On April 6, 1862, just days after he was discharged, his regiment was engaged in the first day of battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, where 125 men were killed or wounded out of 420 who fought just in his regiment. His Capt. Peter F. Hunley was among those wounded.
Not to be deterred, John re-joined almost immediately and went to work in the Navy Yards at Mobile, AL. He was there until the end of the war. His pension papers state that although he was also in the Navy, his Regiment never changed and research has shown Army personnel were used in the building of ships. John was released by Capt. Swopes at Mobile in the Spring of 1865, and paroled at Talladega, AL in May or June 1865.
During the Reconstruction Era of the South, John probably worked several jobs and seemed to move around. 1870 found him in Selma, AL, living in a boarding house and working as a Rail Road Engineer. Shortly after this, John moved to Clay Co, AL, where he purchased land in 1872. There is a possibility that John had a brother, William, who lived in Clay Co, as the land he purchased was close to him.
On Jan. 19, 1873, John married Frances Ester Gunter, daughter of Josiah and Caroline Riddlehoover Gunter, at her father’s house in Talladega. John was 15 years older than Frances, and they wasted little time deciding to enlarge their family. Their oldest child, Oscar was born in Nov, 1873, followed by Archie in Jan 1875, William in Dec 1876, Irvin in Jul 1882, Grover in Oct 1884, Mary in Sept 1887, Joseph in Jan 1890 and Emma in Apr 1893.
Over the next few years, John moved back and forth between Talladega and Clay Counties, residing in Talladega County at his death. Most of the time, they lived near the county line, which would help explain the moves. John was listed as a farmer on the last two census’ he appears on, but we know from family that wasn’t his only occupation. He was also a circuit-riding preacher, of the Baptist faith.
As in most cases of family researching, there are conflicting dates and places in many areas. John stated in several places that he was born in Huntsville, AL, in 1839. However, his headstone has the date of 1842. On one of his pension application papers, his age is listed as 67, which would make his birth year as 1833. According to the Elmore, AL 1839 map, the city of Huntsville was in Madison Co, AL. On the 1907 Confederate Census he is listed as being born in Limestone Co, AL. I wonder if he stated that or if he may have said Huntsville, and the recorder wrote the county as Limestone.
In September 1908, John was awarded the SOUTHERN CROSS OF HONOR from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He received it in a ceremony directed by the Talladega Chapter of the UDC. The medal is described as “…a Maltese cross with a wreath of laurel surrounding the words “Deo Vindice (God our Vindicator) 1861-1865” and the inscription, “Southern Cross of Honor” on the face. On the reverse side is a Confederate battle flag surrounded by a laurel wreath and the words “United Daughters of the Confederacy to the UCV.” “Only a Confederate veteran could wear the Southern Cross of Honor and it could only be bestowed through the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Money could not buy the Cross; they were bought by loyal, honorable service to the South and were given in recognition of this devotion.” John was extremely proud of this medal, as he was wearing it when he had his photo taken.
John’s grandson, Erie, told about the time he was about 5 or 6 years old and John took him to Talladega in a wagon pulled by an old mule, named Rhody. One of the wagon wheels slipped off the road into the ditch leaving the harness at an awkward angle on the mule. The mule could not easily pull the wagon out of the ditch from such an angle. John worked and fussed with the mule, calling it almost every name in the book, when finally the mule was able to pull the wagon back on the road. They then proceeded to town. When they got there, Erie wanted a certain kind of candy and John went all over town looking for it. He found it, (I think it was licorice), and Erie was happy. It is amazing the things kids remember. Erie was almost 90 years old when he recalled this story, and it brought a huge smile to his face.
John died on 16 Sept 1915 due to Bright’s Disease, (kidney disease), and is buried in Providence Baptist church Cemetery, Clay Co, AL. There are several Providence Cemeteries in Clay Co. This one is just across the line from Woolfork, Talladega Co, AL, near where he lived.
The Gaither’s were fortunate to see all their children grown, all survived John, and all but two survived Frances. They had eight children, at least 66 grandchildren, and more descendants than I can ever hope to find.
Regardless of his mysterious beginnings, John Jefferson Gaither is definitely deserving of the title of Patriarch of the Gaither family. And I thank him most profoundly!