SMITH FAMILY STORIES
Whiteford Fleming Smith and Rosa Baine Thornton
Whiteford Fleming Smith, son of Stephen Whiteford Smith and Ella Boatright, was born in 1876 in Mullins, SC. He died on Wednesday, December 19th, 1951 in a nursing home in White Rock, SC. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Greenville, SC.
Rosa Baine Thornton, daughter of Elias Smith Thornton and Mary Jane Elliott, was born Friday, February 27th, 1874 in Deep River, High Point, Guilford County, NC. She died in 1958 and is buried in Millers Methodist Church Cemetery, Marion County, SC.
Family of Whiteford Fleming Smith and Rosa Baine Thornton
Sometime around 1900 Whiteford Fleming & Rosa Baine Thornton married. Since Grandmother Rosa grew up in the Deep River Community (Quaker community) in Guilford County, NC, we assume that she and Grandfather Smith met when she visited her brother Oscar Fontaine Thornton, who had moved to Mullins, SC. They were married by The Rev. Scroggs at the First Methodist Church in High Point, NC. After the wedding, they moved to Mullins and Rosa Baine became a member of Millers Methodist Church, where Whiteford Fleming had his membership. Whiteford Fleming and Rosa Baine Thornton Smith had eight (8) children.
- Mildred Smith (infant)
- Fleming Carlisle Smith (1902-1994)
- Whiteford Ralph Smith (1903-1940)
- Alton Boatright Smith (1905-1976)
- Thornton Beckham Smith (1908-1999)
- Harry Reed Smith (1911-1979)
- Mary Ella Smith (1913-1988)
- Rosa Lena Smith (infant)
Mildred Smith and Rosa Lena
Mildred and Rosa Lena died as infants. Rosa Lena was named after Grandmother Rosa's sister Lena.
Fleming Carlisle Smith
Fleming Carlisle Smith was born on Saturday, March 1st, 1902. Before becoming a Methodist minister, he worked in vaudeville. After graduating from Wofford College in Spartanburg, he studied at Combs Conservatory of Music. He married Nancy Elizabeth Harrelson, and they had 3 children.
Whiteford Ralph Smith
Whiteford Ralph was born in 1903 (exact date unknown at this time) in Mullins, SC. There is little that is known about him - partially because he died in 1940 without a wife or children to know as our aunt and cousins. He was mostly not talked about by the family because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death in 1940 at the age of 37. The "usual" family story is that he was an alcoholic (an inherited tendency in the Smith family genes), and accumulated failed job opportunities with a failed romance "to top it off". He supposedly came home one day (in 1940), told his mother (Rosa) that he was sorry for everything, went upstairs to his bedroom, and immediately died of a heart attack. Grandmother Rosa was heartbroken by yet another loss.
According to the other story, he went upstairs to his bedroom and committed suicide (shot himself). That would explain why his death was "hush-hush" and his funeral was arranged so quickly - the same day (according to the family story). His little sister, Mary Ella, loved him dearly, and kept a glass (with an inscription about Seattle, Washington painted on it) that he gave her as a remembrance. Mary Ella's daughter has the glass now.
In 2001, Uncle Alton Smith's son sent me a scrapbook that Uncle Ralph had made during the high point of his life. Ralph gave it to his brother Alton to keep, and Alton's son wanted to pass it on to the rest of the Smith family so that it would not get lost or possibly thrown away. From the scrapbook (and memories of other cousins), the following facts have been gathered.
Ralph graduated from Wofford College in 1922. He was in the Wofford Glee Club, and an officer in the group, while a student there.
Between 1926 and 1928 Ralph was the photographer with "Around the World" motor car tour with Nell Wanderwell. The scrapbook mostly pertains to this period of his life. It contains many newspaper articles, pictures (mostly of the touring team), a few letters (a couple from creditors/courts), address "book" (including Maxine Jennings, "Miss Portland of 1926"), etc. There was a photograph of a beautiful woman - (possibly the woman who jilted him?). The "Around the World" tour started in September, 1919. Ralph joined them in 1926. Following is a copy of the earliest newspaper article that he kept in his scrapbook - dated 1926.
"Mrs. Nell Wanderwell, her car, and party of friends who have just completed 211, 675 miles of a world-girdling journey, have attracted a great deal of attention and admiration in Michigan City. They are riding in a Jordan motor car and were greeted here by A. C . Reicher, Jordan distributor, and making their headquarters at the Jordan salesroom, corner Michigan and Franklin streets.
"The group in the Wanderwell car here is known as Unit No. 1, and another car is piloted by Mrs. Wanderwell's husband, Captain Wanderwell, now in the west, and they are planning a world endurance test. Both cars left Atlanta September 22, 1919. Educational motion pictures are taken in every country.
Has Extra Tanks
"Mrs. Wanderwell's car is equipped with a specially constructed body of her own design, with extra gasoline, water and oil tanks for desert countries.
"Autographs of famous men are among the souvenirs they cherish including those of Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Marshal Foch, Warren G. Harding and many other notables from all over the world.
"Souvenir collecting is one of the pastimes of this unique troop, and their car bears tokens from every part of the globe. They possess the insignia of 150 automobile clubs and carry 15 sets of license plates.
Famed Globe Trotter
"Mrs. Nell Wanderwell, the youthful feminine pilot of this expedition, wears knickers, fashioned into a charming costume with fresh white blouses and a leather jacket. Mrs. Wanderwell has just wound up six years and nine months of her tour that will consume nearly eight years.
[The rest of the article has the left side torn off. This is what remains]
..".probably one of the most... the globe trotters. With... Wanderwell are: Ralph Smith, photographer; Chris Harbour, secretary; and Tom Harrison, mechanic. They are going to... and will be there on... returning to Michigan... day... equipped with an... and they have visited.... station."
Ralph went goose hunting in Oregon while living in Tacoma, Washington. There were pictures in the scrapbook. Aunt Mary remembered that he worked for a pickle company at one point - some time after 1930.
He was a member of Washington Street Methodist Church in Columbia, SC where he sang tenor in the choir, along with his brother Fleming Carlisle Smith who sang bass .Carlisle Smith was also on the church's board of stewards (source - church bulletin - Sunday, March 26, 1939). Both Ralph and Carlisle Smith sang bass in the Shandon Choral Society (source - "The Columbia Music Festival Association" program in which the Shandon Choral Society were a part of the final concert on Saturday, April 1st, 1939 at 8:30 pm. They sang a concert presentation of the opera "Samson and Delilah" by Camille Saint-Saens.)
Alton Boatright Smith Sr.
On Monday, December 18, 1905 Alton Boatright Smith was born. He was named Boatright after Whiteford's mother, Ella Boatright. Alton Smith's son said that at one time his father played the trombone in Philadelphia in a nightclub that was owned by Al Capone.
Alton Boatright married Ora Lee O'Bryan and they had one (1) son. Alton later married Mary Mann.
Of all of Whiteford Fleming and Rosa Baine's children and their spouses, only Mary Mann Smith (Alton Boatright's 2nd wife) was still living, as of 2002.
I wrote her in March 2002 and received the following letter in response.
Monday, 25 Mar 2002
I am so glad to get your letter and telling who you are. They both are very nice people. Who is this H__ you said gave you my address. Not seeing or hearing from people it's hard for me to know who they are. I am 96 years old and am still up and about except I don't drive a car. You said Thornton and Ida Lillian had moved to South Carolina. What is their address down there. I live in a trailer with books and papers piled high. I hope to get rid of most of the papers soon which will give me more room. And I want you to come to see me. I love you.
We are having a rather cold winter. Aunt Mary
I wrote (typed) her a letter at the end of March in response so that she could more easily read it and use it as a reference - who's who and related to whom how. I haven't heard from her since then. Her memory of recent events and relationships (who is related to whom how) is apparently poor.
Thornton Beckham Smith
On Monday, September 14, 1908 Thornton Beckham Smith was born. We always heard that they named him Beckham after a Methodist bishop. Uncle Carlisle and Aunt Nancy were married in 1924 at Millers Methodist Church in Mullins, SC by The Rev. W. A. Beckham, a former minister at Millers Methodist Church. The Rev. Beckham was a much-beloved minister at Millers Church. Possibly he went on to become a Methodist bishop. Thornton Beckham married Ida Lillian Mims and had six (6) children. three (3) sons and three (3) daughters. The first two (2) sons were still-born.
Harry Reed Smith
Harry Reed Smith was born on Friday, June 9, 1911. Harry Reed married Geraldine Galloway and had two (2) children.
Mary Ella Smith
On Wednesday, October 8, 1913 Mary Ella Smith was born. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Ella Boatright. Mary Ella married Richard F. Jackson Jr. and they had two (2) children.
Whiteford Fleming and Rosa Baine Thornton Smith
Whiteford Fleming Smith
Whiteford Fleming always seemed to have a rough time trying to "make it" in life. His father and grandfather before him had been VERY successful, accumulating more and more land and being leaders in the community. His father gave him some land (when he got married, I think) where he built his house. While Dad was growing up their house burned to the ground twice. With the Big Depression of the 20's, he had trouble getting a good job.
Dad's father (Whiteford Fleming) worked at various jobs during the early 1900's. For awhile he bought cotton bales for others. Then he worked for the post office as a mail carrier. At first he used a horse-drawn wagon, but people's dogs were a problem, nipping at the feet and legs of the horses. So he bought a motorcycle - an Indian Runner. This didn't work very well either, so he got rid of that and bought a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar to carry the mail. Dad said that his father gave him a ride in the sidecar once. Of course, his mother didn't like that because she thought that it was too dangerous.
For a long time Whiteford Fleming worked at the bank as an accountant, including during WWI. Dad said that many times his father had to work late into the night balancing the day's work. So Dad would drive the buggy pulled by their horse Charlie to the bank to pick up his father, and he'd end up sleeping for awhile in the back of the bank, sometimes as late as 3:00 am, while the bank directors held meetings.
When the 1920's depression hit, he lost that job and took temporary accounting jobs wherever he could find one. He left his wife and family - supposedly for the purpose of finding work in another state and sending money back to the family. The other story that we later heard was that he ran away with another bank employee (or a hair dresser) named Irene. Irene later left him, and he came back to the Carolinas.
According to one family story (told in the last couple of years before Mom and Dad died), the KKK burned a cross in the front yard of Rosa and Whiteford Fleming's house after he ran off with the bank teller. She was told to get out of town with her family. That may have been one of the deciding factors in the family's (those still at home) move to Durham with Dad when he went to seminary at Duke University.
Rosa Baine Thornton Smith
Rosa grew up around High Point, North Carolina in the Deep River Community. Her family were members of the Deep River Friends Community. The one time that our family visited relatives in High Point, we stayed with some Quaker cousins in their house. One of my sisters remembers climbing the ladder to the sleeping loft which was for the children. I was a baby at the time, and remember absolutely nothing, of course. The family story is that she went to Guilford College (Quaker) where she graduated, and then taught school until she married Whiteford Fleming Smith and moved to Mullins, SC with him - becoming a Methodist (the Smith tradition). Her deep faith as a Quaker kept her in good stead throughout her life. Dad said that when any of the children did something wrong, she made them memorize an appropriate passage of Scripture. She loved singing hymns.
The owl and the liqueur bottle
One time Thornton Smith and his mother went walking in the woods looking for wood. He said that he remembers seeing an owl sitting in a tree watching them. While in the woods they saw something that was partially buried in the dirt. It was a bottle of liqueur, unopened. So she took it home, cleaned it off, and saved it to use for "medicinal purposes".
The answer to "What did you do for fun, Dad?"
Dad said that he didn't have much time for having fun. However he liked to run (track), and he had an exercise bar which he made and put up for exercise. He also went swimming occasionally. He took their horse Charley swimming with him sometimes.
The first time that their house burned down.
Dad rarely talked of his father, but once told me a good story about him. One Friday when Dad was about 12 years old (about 1919 or 1920) their house caught on fire and burned to the ground. His mother personally moved the piano out of the house before it caught on fire. However Dad's schoolbooks were in the house at the time. When he went to school the next Monday, the teacher asked him why he didn't have his books with him. He and the principal didn't believe Dad when he told them that his books had burned up with their house, and the schoolmaster gave him a whipping. When Dad's father found out what happened, he went to the school and told the schoolmaster that if he ever touched his son again, he'd use the whip on him.
The second time their house burned down.
Dad was visiting his grandfather one afternoon and saw smoke in the distance. He figured that it was in the wrong direction to be their house, and didn't worry about it. It WAS their house that burned to the ground a second time. His mother and one other person moved the piano (for the second time) out of the house before it caught on fire.
The family piano
This same piano was the one on which we learned to play. It had a personality all of its own - sticky ivory keys and all. Whenever we moved to a new parsonage in a new town, the movers always hated moving that piano. They said that it was the heaviest thing that they had EVER had to move. Mom always enjoyed telling them that tiny Grandmother Smith had moved it out of a burning house by herself, and the movers were always amazed.
That piano remained a part of the family until we were in high school. We were having trouble getting it to stay in tune. After a long struggle with the problem, Dad and Mom finally decided to get a new piano so that we children could practice on a "decent" piano. I hate to think that it was because of me, but they also probably figured by that time that I was going to major in music in college and needed a better piano on which to practice. It was a tough decision. I vividly remember the men loading the family piano onto a truck to take to an American Legion hut somewhere in the vicinity. It was hard watching it go - for all of us, but particularly for Dad. We even took pictures of it in the truck before they left with it. Dad thought we were joking about the picture-taking. It was hard on us too - though not as hard as it was with Dad. When the pictures came back, we had trouble remembering what the picture was supposed to be since it was covered with blankets and didn't look like a piano at all. I don't really remember the new piano being moved into the house. I'm sure that it was easier to practice on a piano that stayed in tune. In fact, that new piano is the one that is in our family home in the LowCountry. However it isn't half as valuable in our memories as the piano that survived two house fires.
Grandfather Whiteford Fleming Smith's later life
In 1926 Dad's father bought a car, putting it in Dad's name because of the bankruptcy. His father wouldn't let him drive it very much though.
(Mentioned in #10) Later Whiteford Fleming got a job with the railroad as an accountant. Unfortunately it was in Alabama, so he left the family in Mullins while he went to Alabama. It was also only a temporary job, but he probably figured that it was better than no job at all. He came back to see the family occasionally, but that was basically all they saw of him after that.
The "other story" was that Grandfather Whiteford Fleming "ran away" with a local hair dresser named Irene. Irene later left him, and he returned to SC wanting Grandmother Rosa to take him back. The story that I heard from Uncle Carlisle's family was that Uncle Carlisle and another sibling met him and told him (in no uncertain terms) to leave and not come back - after the way that he treated her previously. According to memories passed on by Uncle Carlisle, Grandfather Whiteford had been verbally abusive (at the least) to Grandmother Rosa.
Possibly around the same time Dad (Thornton), who was in seminary at Duke University, got a message to meet his father at the Melbourne Hotel, and to tell his brother Carlisle to come too. Dad was getting ready for a biology exam that day. He did go to the hotel and talk with his father who said that he wasn't planning to stay or anything, he just wanted to see them. It upset Dad so much that he did terrible on the biology exam. The teacher later let him take the test over. Whether this was the same conversation as that with Uncle Carlisle (mentioned above) or a different conversation is uncertain.
That was about the last time that Dad saw his father until 1950 when his father needed help getting into a rest home.
When Grandfather Whiteford died penniless (in a nursing home at White Rock, SC), Dad paid for the funeral. Whiteford Fleming Smith died on Dec. 20, 1951 and was buried on Dec. 21, 1951 in an unmarked grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Greenville, SC. In going through family records in 2000, the receipt for payment of the funeral expenses was found - along with receipts for seemingly everything for the past 50 years.
18. Letter from Rosa Baine Thornton Smith to Thornton Beckham Smith
Following are two (2) letters that Grandmother Rosa wrote to Thornton Beckham (1949 & 1950):
8 Feb 1949
It was so good of you to bring your family to see us for a while and I am thinking of Oscar more and more as the days go by. When I finished high school, he wrote to my mother saying that if she would pay my board at Guilford College he would pay my tuition. That was before he was married, when he was buying tobacco with Mr. James Neal at Winston, NC. He paid my tuition and my mother paid my board at Guilford, and after school had closed, I taught school at Deep River and made good money, walking to school 4 miles, each morning there and back home each day.
The Briggs men were neighbors, and trustees of the school and ask me to take the school. Later on we rented our farms and moved to High Point where I worked in a milliner store until I was married there, in the First Methodist Church Rev. Scroggs officiating minister. Then we took the train for South Carolina. It seems that I have lived more than 74 years, is that right? 74?
Well, "I've about done my work, and sung my song, I've done some good and done some wrong", The Lord has blessed me with five good living children for which I am thankful. And all of their wives have been good to me. Kiss J____. for me, also M____. Take care of them, best you can.
Love to all, Mother
Carlisle has bought me old lady comfort shoes at price $4.00 and dress shoes at $10. Ain't the prices of everything awful now! Then the nice coat suit and white blouse. Just dresses me up perfectly. Thank you! Many, many thanks and all good wishes for your health and happiness.
Do take good care of those fine children.
* * * * * * *
23 Jan 1950 (postmark)
18 Jan 1950
Dear Thornton and family:
It was nice seeing you all a few weeks ago and I hope all members of your family are well and doing fine. Carlisle has a good attendance at his church here, and all members seem right cooperative and interested.
I enjoyed meeting the members of your church. They seem so friendly, that it makes one feel at ease in their presence. I know you all enjoyed the Christmas season with the Mims family, they can always make one feel interested and free. I spent a few days Christmas with Mary Jackson and family. They seem to be doing well, Mary seems to enjoy her work in the bank there. I hope you all can come see us some time.
Love to all, Mother Smith