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Rasor family papers

This collection of four hundred sixty-five manuscripts documents the Rasor family of Ware Shoals through several generations and different branches of the family tree. The range of history covered would do credit to a triple-decker historical novel.

The family patriarch, Christian Rasor (1760-1848), a Revolutionary War veteran, moved to the area from Virginia about 1791 and is buried at Greenville Presbyterian Church near Donalds. The collection includes a manuscript copy of his will, dated 26 January 1844, and a typescript of his Revolutionary War pension application in the National Archives.

The collection centers around the family of Christian's second son, Ezekiel Rasor (1797-1876). Most of the letters were written to family members in Greenwood County by relatives who had moved west. Ezekiel's older sister Elizabeth, for instance, married the Rev. Thomas Pharr, a Presbyterian clergyman. Pharr's pastoral duties took him to Itawamba County, Miss., where Elizabeth corresponded with Ezekiel during the 1850s and after the Civil War. She died in 1882 while visiting in South Carolina and is buried at Turkey Creek Baptist Church.

Ezekiel's son-in-law, the Rev. Samuel Milton Pyles (1816-1898) and his daughter Nancy Almina Rasor (1819-1912), wrote occasionally from Farmersville (near Summerville), Ga. Pyles was a Baptist clergyman who conducted his ministry in a true sectarian spirit. On 25 June 1856 he reported, "We have no religious news, only there are great efforts being made by some of our Baptist brethren, to build up the cause of Christ & equally great being made by pedoBaptist to pull down, and build up manism. God has said for our encouragement that his kingdom (the Gosple kingdom) shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and that it shall be given (not to pedobaptists, who baptize unconcious & unbelieving infants) but to the [Bapti]sts of the most high God."

On 26 April 1858 he wrote, "I have now before me a verry difficult and laborious work..., It is to preach a sermon before the `General Meeting' on the subject of the Image of the beast, (This is by appointment of 12 months standing). You can form some Idea of the Labour, I shall have to go to—the rise of the beast, show his origin, character and works, then I shall be expected to present his Image in suficiently forcibly and vivid coulors for the peculiar characteristicks of the beast to be seen in the Image. This will not only array `Rome' or Roman catholicks (`The beast') But all protestants against me afresh...but there is consolation. I will have some of the best orators of Georgia to back me, and they think I can present the historical fact and sustain them....Give our love to all the friends & tell The Baptists of the Saluda for the Lords sake & sake of the Baptist caus which is His, Never to let Fuller, Justin, & Johnson make Pedoes of them."

Near the end of the Civil War, Pyles and his wife moved to Florida. During Reconstruction they left the United States and emigrated to Brazil with a group of Confederate exiles who departed in the brig Derby from Galveston, Tx. Rarely do the postwar family papers make reference to them, but when Ezekiel died in 1876, his son Ezekiel Barmore Rasor (1833-1907) wrote them via registered mail concerning the estate settlement. Then in 1899, Ezekiel Barmore's older brother James Christian Rasor (b. 1822), made inquiries about their long-absent sister, and on 19 September he received a reply from her son A. Judson Pyles (1851-1911), in which he spoke at length about the family's experience in Brazil:

My parents came to Brazil in 67 from Florida where we had been living for three years. There were seven of us came with them, four boys an[d] three girls. My second sister Julia was maried in the states. The others all maried in this country and up to a year and a half ago were all living. My father died and one sister and a brother-in-law....My mother has forty one grandchildren living and three dead.

Our children all speak portugues and the larger ones speak english....All of them that are large enough to go to school study english and we speak it allmost entirely at home but the little ones take to the portugues mainly because the servants and laborers speak it and I believe it is easier to learn than english anyway.

I think up to two years ago this was a better country for a poor man than the States but things are going badly wrong now, in fact the country almost bankrupt owing to bad government and various causes....The country has been spending immense sums bri[n]ging immigrants and now they are leaving by the thousand on account of the hard times, the immigrants are mostly Italians with a good many portuguese and spanish. Our laborers here are a mixture of brazillian, negroes, Spanish, portuguese & Italians with a few from northern Europe. We have a number of american boarding schools nearly all run by missionaries, mostly Methodist. The Presbyterians come next and then the Baptists.

While the correspondence mainly deals with out-of-state Rasor kinfolks, the legal records document events at home. Land plats, deeds, and mortgages record family titles to land on Turkey Creek beginning in 1812 and extending well into the twentieth century. There are photographs, Bible records, probate records, accounts, and receipts—including statements for tombstones of deceased family members.

A manuscript account book dated 1849-1850, shortly after Christian Rasor's death, contains a register of names, birth dates, and parentage of Christian's slaves. A labor contract dated 21 September 1865 records the agreement between John M. Rasor, Ezekiel's brother, and "Reuben a Freedman formerly the property of the said J.M. Rasor."

The collection includes three bound volumes. One contains the minutes of the Turkey Creek Baptist Church Women's Missionary Society, 1911-1925. Ezekiel Barmore Rasor's daughter-in-law and granddaughters were members of the organization. The other two volumes are vintage 1850s "garland albums" in which young ladies had their friends write sentimental verses. The albums belonged to Susan Spearman [Coleman], a Rasor in-law, and Ann Eliza Latimer (1841-1889), who became Mrs. Ezekiel Barmore Rasor. One page of Ann Latimer's album is inscribed "To Miss Ann. Your Album, prithee what is it; A something I always shun; A Book thats filled with others wit; By people who have none. Your Friend, Incog."

A particular curiosity is Ezekiel Barmore Rasor, Jr.'s certificate of title—issued by South Carolina's new State Highway Department Motor Vehicle Division—to a 1920 model Chalmers Tourer. The Chalmers, a vehicle popular with American motorists, shared the country's highways with the rival Maxwell until Chrysler bought out both ailing companies in the mid-1920s. Chalmers stopped production in 1923, and by the time Rasor's title was issued on 11 April 1925, it was already a defunct automobile.

A group of newspaper obituaries includes items relating to the sensational 1931 William Christian Rasor murder case. William, the son of James Christian Rasor, was a prosperous retired banker of Cross Hill. On 9 May 1932, a Laurens County jury convicted his son Henry and two other men of knifing and bludgeoning him to death at his home. The alleged motive was financial. Henry had accumulated large debts, state lawmen had learned, and his father had refused to give him any more money. Henry never confessed to the crime, but he died serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary.

Some interesting correspondence was bequeathed to the Rasor family by Mary Jane Calhoun (b. ca. 1826), the stepmother-in-law of Ezekiel Barmore Rasor's son Harrison Latimer Rasor (b. 1870). Mary Jane had married three times and died childless. Her first husband, the Rev. H. Judge Glenn, was a Methodist clergyman; her second, Robert Brownlee, was a Presbyterian elder; and her third, William Agnew, was a Baptist deacon. She survived all of them, and the Rasors acquired her papers through her stepdaughter Lucia Maude Agnew, who married Harrison Latimer Rasor.

Mary Jane's kinfolks, the Calhouns, had the westward urge worse than the Rasors. In 1851, her newlywed sister Lucinda Calhoun Beavers (1832-1873) wrote her from Perry County, Ala. She and her husband Joseph had made a recent excursion down the Alabama River to Mobile. By 1854, they had moved to Crockett, Tx., and Lucinda told her sister about the town's Independence Day celebration: "There was a big barbecue given at Crockett. Nearly every person in the county was out....There was several speeches dellivered by the candidates; also a good band of music. There was a big ball given at night."

Mary Jane and her first husband considered the idea of moving to Texas and discussed the prospect with relatives in Chattooga County, Ga. On 25 July 1855 her father, Squires Calhoun (b. 1797), wrote, "I read yours of June which gave me much satisfaction to hear that you & Judge was well bute supprised to see your letter backed from South Carolina as I was in formed that you had sold and was going to Collerado County which was the reason that I had not written to you."

Apparently, Squires moved to Texas from Summerville, Ga., during the 1850s. But the Lone Star State failed to attract Mary Jane's brother Dr. John Abe Calhoun (1830-1916): "I have been to Texas. It wont do. The water is too bad and scarce and too much subject to droughts. The population is a mixture of Yankees, Southerners & Dutch, half cow and half Buffalo, half Dog & Wolf, Hog and Panther, Barn burners & union croakers, Black Devils & Dun Bulls, big Indian and free [Negro], and all other horned animals and long tailed serpents. I am not at all surprised to hear of their recent troubles there with such a mixed up set as they have."

But by casting his lot with the state of Georgia, John found himself in a grim situation four years later, as William Tecumseh Sherman marched toward Atlanta. On 6 July 1864 he wrote Mary Jane from the hospital at Stevenson's Division Headquarters: "This is the fourth time I have written to you since the beginning of this stupendous protracted campaign which began on the 7th day of May 5 miles north of Dalton, and to day the 6th of July finds us strung along the north bank of Chattahoochie 8 miles north of Atlanta, the fighting has not been desperate at any time, no general engagement has occurred, but we have kept pegging away at the Yankeys and they at us evry day. This has been the case now for 60 days."

He goes on to discuss in detail his division's human losses, the low morale of the troops, the strength and persistence of Sherman's army, the coming test of strength, and "our prospects"—"Human efforts seem unavailing, and our only hope is in the justice and mercy of a ritious god who will in his own good time grant us success or stamp us with ignominious defeat as we deserve. Lord help for vain is the help of man."

On 18 August brother Hewlett Calhoun (b. ca. 1834) wrote from Atlanta, entrenched with his outfit, the Fourteenth Texas Brigade, Army of Mississippi: "We are in the diches & have bin ever since the first of may. We have had several little fights & scrumishing all the time. Our losses have bin conciderable but not as much as one would suppose. The enemy is shelling our lines now so much so that it confuses me so that I can hardly write [at this point, the manuscript contains marked out passages and interlineations]. Their is nothing going on only the usual cannonadeing & scrumishing. It is thought that we will have a big fight hear but it has bin exspected so long that it hardly knows what two think about it. Their lines are now in 12 hundred yards of us now & the outpost in 2 hundred of each other."

Another brother, Thomas J. Calhoun (b. ca. 1824), served with the Texas Rangers in Virginia and lost a leg there. No wartime letters survive, but on 16 April 1867, he wrote Mary Jane from Crockett, Tx., and made reference to conditions in Reconstruction—"I do not know whether I will be able to visit you all this summer or not, as the office I am holding is subject to be wrenched from me at any time under the present rule of the Military Authorities, and I do not wish to be absent when it is done. I have had to work verry laboriously to keep the buisness up and under the existing laws of the State have not realized anything, but had to pay for assistance out of my private funds, it is just becoming to pay me something, as a large amount of my official fees are now becoming due and collectible by law."

On 17 June 1867 Mary Jane's father, Squires, who had gotten into serious financial trouble, sent a gloomy assessment from Pine Hill, Tx.: "I am broak up. My loss was Grate 15 thousand Dollars in Confedrete money & bondes 35 negroes all in one day which has put me to work again. I am yet single. I obtaind a deverse from my laste wife last fall corte. She was one cause of my ruin, ran through & wasted fully half I had before she left me." (In a prewar letter, Lucinda had described the wife as "loud and verry fleshy, black eyed and haired, a verry pleasant woman but rather too dressy for her age.")

In 1868 more relatives moved from South Carolina to Texas. Mary Jane's sister Elizabeth "Lizzy" Calhoun (d. 1897) had married Dr. E. Carter Ragsdale, who practiced medicine in Laurens and Spartanburg counties; the childless Mary Jane doted on her sister's sons. But financial troubles caused the Ragsdales to join the wave of Texas immigrants. On 5 May Lizzy wrote Mary Jane from Cowhouse Valley, Bell County, Tx., characterizing the country as "durtyer...than enny one could immagine that ever lived in a freestone water and sand country. The land all looks as black as enny cowpen you ever saw and sticks to evry thing when wet...when it rains worse than the red sand does in Carolina and gets on the floors. You have to scrape it off, wont sweep off like our sand and clay soil does." She remarked that "Society" there was "not as good as I expected to find. I have met with some few pasably inteligent, not polished by no means. People hear do not take as much interes in haveing sunday schools nor comon schools as they aught. They seem to be careless about preaching and loos in the observance of the sabbath."

Of further interest is an account, 13 May 1870, of the adventures of Mary Jane's nephew McArthur Ragsdale as a wagoner on the Texas prairie. Here he writes of such experiences as getting lost on the prairie on Christmas eve, 1869, "with but little cover and no bedfellow except a dog"; breaking in wild mules; and hearing accounts of Indian attacks on wagons in a neighboring county—"after fighting for some time the wagoners had to save themselves by running."

By 1897 McArthur owned his own photography business in San Angelo, with letterhead advertising "Views of the Concho Country and Mexican life for sale." "The Holidays are always a busy time with a picture man," he wrote on 23 December, "and Jinnie has been helping me at the gallery now for almost a month every day."

He proceeds to describe the place as "great stock country" where things were "looking up now owing to the high price of cattle and the increase in price of wool and sheep." It was, however, "not as pleasant to live in as where you are. Fruit and Vegetable are scarce and high and building houses of any kind is expensive." He mentions that year's big pecan crop, and how much his children enjoyed gathering pecans and having dinner out under the trees, and takes the occasion to reminisce—"Do you remember going out with me when I was a boy to gather berries and nuts? It was always a pleasure to me to be with you and I love to remember those dear days."

The papers indicate that Mary Jane was not answering letters as punctually as she once did, so she may have been in bad health. After 1899, the correspondence breaks off.

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