Monday, March 21, 2011

Walking through history — addendum to Part IV

I didn't expect to revisit this series so soon, but sometimes extraordinary fortune comes at the most unexpected moments, in the most unexpected places, from the most unexpected people.

I'd been curious about Albert M. Hunter, whose gravestone I'd visited on my blogging tour of Lexington City Cemetery (see here). Hunter, who was born in Gettysburg, Pa., was a veteran of the Union Army during the Civil War, but sometime during his postwar lifetime, he'd come to Lexington, NC, to live and prosper.

He died in 1911 at the age of 78.

I wondered how a Yankee soldier came to be buried in a southern cemetery.

So today, I went to the genealogical section of the Davidson County Library, and with the help of a volunteer worker there, found a short obituary of Hunter that was printed in The Dispatch. In part, the obit noted that he'd come to Lexington 23 years earlier (in 1888) and had been a respected member of the community. High praise for a Yankee. It didn't say why he came to Lexington or what he did for a living.

But it added he was a member of Lexington's Presbyterian Church and that he lived four miles out of town on Linwood Road. The volunteer also offered that she knew of a Nancy Hunter somebody who still lived at the homestead site, but couldn't remember her married name.

Well, I thought, at least there's a living relative around here somewhere. I'll find out something sometime, sooner or later.

It turned out to be sooner. Less than an hour later, I ran into my friend Lee Jessup at the Black Chicken Coffee Shop. Lee said he had enjoyed my series on the cemetery, and I mentioned to him that I'd taken a few steps closer to finding out just who Albert M. Hunter was with the help of a librarian, who'd given me the name of a Nancy Hunter somebody.

Lee said he knew who she was, giving me her married name and thus filling in the blank. My world of six degrees of separation, which constantly gets smaller, shrank to maybe three degrees on this one. "Son," he said to me in his uniquely Jessup fashion, "Nancy loves to talk. She can help you. You're only a phone call away."

I made that phone call as fast as I could. What happened next can only be described as astounding. We talked for at least a half hour, maybe longer. I told her that I was a Civil War buff and that I found the gravestone of Albert M. Hunter and...

"Oh, he's my great grandfather," said Nancy, pretty much recounting his Civil War story that I described in Part IV.

But I was impatient for more.

"What brought him to North Carolina?" I asked, not at all trying to suppress the journalist in me.

Nancy was a little fuzzy on this part, but mentioned something about a knee injury Albert had suffered and was advised to go south.

"I'm not sure why he settled in Lexington," said Nancy, a retired school teacher. "But it's clear he liked the lay of the land here. It's very similar to where he came from in Pennsylvania. It's amazing how much alike the land is."

Albert built a house on the land he bought, a house that no longer exists but the very one in which Nancy was born 72 years ago. Trees planted by Albert still dot the landscape.

"What did he do for a living?" I asked.

"He was a farmer," said Nancy. "He grew corn and grains. Later, the family had cows and sold milk to Coble Dairy."

She said she was familiar with the story that he was a banker in Gettysburg before the war, but isn't sure whether to believe it or not. "I can't find anything in his personal items about that," she said.

"How is it that he has a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) marker at his grave site?" I asked. "That's a little unusual for a southern cemetery."

"I don't know the answer to that," said Nancy. "But I know he was a member of some organization (probably a local GAR post in Pennsylvania or Maryland. His unit, Cole's Cavalry, was from Emmitsburg, Md., which is just a spit in the wind from Gettysburg) and paid dues. Maybe that's how he got the marker."

I was entirely enchanted with this woman, who trusted me enough to tell a total stranger about a piece of her family history. She's invited me to come to her house in a few days, once she's assembled all of Albert's memorabilia, to have a look-see for myself.

I can't wait.

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