A Halloween Tale From Old Tennessee
I was looking for information on Spicy Taylor Pryor of Overton County and thought I had stumbled upon her brother Pleasant Taylor. This isn’t really Pryor information, but I thought it was kind of interesting and am passing it along.
There was a Pleasant Taylor in Fentress County who wasn’t Spicy’s brother but a son Isaac Taylor and a grandson of George Taylor. George was a Revolutionary War veteran from VA and there is information on his family in the pension application filed by his wife. His wife was Catherine (last name unknown) and they married in Greene County, TN in 1782 and that George died in about 1797—he died of what sounds like a heart attack at about 37 to 40 years of age.
Revolutionary War service is interesting but maybe not as interesting as old-time, hill-folk medicine and spells? I found an article in August 8th, 1831 New York Evening Post. It’s titled Witchcraft and was originally published in the Nashville Herald on 22nd July, 1831. It speaks of young women in Fentress County who experienced possessions (similar to the days of the Salem witch trials). A Miss Rebecca French was the only woman who didn’t recover from the reported tremors, so the local witch doctors were called. And who were these witch doctors? Isaac Taylor and his son Pleasant Taylor!
I have to stop for a moment to ponder. — What the heck was going on in Fentress County that made this a large enough story for the Nashville papers and then brought the story into a big New York City newspaper! Good grief, what the east coast folks must have thought of the people out in Tennessee!
It talks about a Mr. Stout who brought a buckeye rope to Miss French’s house and her symptoms resumed. I’m presuming folks thought there was a magical power in buckeye rope or that Mr. Stout had put a hex on it. Rebecca French “procured a warrant” against Stout for witchcraft—that sounds like criminal proceedings to me. Stout took out a warrant against the Taylors. Rebecca didn’t show up to court so court costs were levied on her. Isaac Taylor was found guilty in the suit brought by Stout and his case at the time of the newspaper account had gone to the circuit court.
I tried to ID the parties. The Taylors were easy through George Taylor’s pension file and the 1830 Census. Isaac Taylor is on page 8. There was a William Stout counted on page 8. The newspaper article states Charles Staunton originally filed charges against Stout—Charles Stanton is on page 8 with Stout and Isaac Taylor.
Two French families were counted on page 9: Joseph and Martin L. were heads of households. The newspaper article describes Rebecca French as 40 years old—Joseph French has a woman in his house age 60 to 70 and another age 30 to 40, who may be Rebecca. There’s a Revolutionary War pension application filed by Joseph French in 1832 which states he was the father of Rebecca French.
I wondered what became of everyone after the trial—did they pick up stakes and move away? I found Charles Staunton (back to spelling in the news article) on page 15 of the 1840 Census of Fentress County. Martin French was counted in Overton County. Isaac Taylor was still in Fentress county in 1840, living near Spicy Taylor Pryor’s brother Hezekiah Taylor (Isaac and Hezekiah were counted on the same page among many of Spicy’s Garrett relatives). I found no signs of Rebecca French; neither on the 1840 nor on the 1850 Census. William Stout was in Overton County in 1840, no longer near Isaac Taylor or Charles Staunton. I wonder if the county lines changed or if people moved.
I’m still wondering if there was a connection between the two Taylor families. They were both from VA. They both had sons named Pleasant. They both lived in close proximity of each other on the 1840 Census.