First-hand Account of Pryor Line (and Ballew and Childress) in Nashville

jane-h-thomas

Miss Jane H. Thomas is my favorite lady of the week! Her memoir published in 1897 is titled Old Days in Nashville, TN Reminiscences. And of course, there’s some gold nuggets of Pryor information!

I have a method of examining personal histories. I want to know when the person lived, if they had a relationship to the people they wrote about. I also like to know how old they were when they were recounting the information (Did they have a clear recollection?) and also the age they were when the reported events occurred (Is it reasonable to expect they would have a memory of something that happened when they were two years old? Or were they told the story so it’s second-hand information? ). The person who wrote the book’s introduction states that Miss Jane was in possession of all her mental faculties. That’s a good start!

The introduction states that Miss Jane H Thomas was born in 1800 in Cumberland County, VA. That makes me interested in her since my own suspected Pryor line (and the Talley family of Gallatin they married into) has connections to Cumberland County! It states “her great-great grandfather on her mother’s side of the family, William Ballew, a Huguenot refugee, came to Virginia to live, and there he married Dorothy Parker.” Remember David Pryor and his wife Susannah Ballow (Balieu/Ballew) of Buckingham County, VA who moved to Nashville? Also of note, David owned land in Cumberland County.

It also states that Thomas Ballew married Jane Thomas who came to the Colonies from England in a ship with Isham Randolph. AND Miss Jane’s father was Jesse Thomas who married Micah Ballew.  There’s almost too much juicy information in her family line! David and Susannah’s daughter, Mitchie Pryor, married into the Jefferson family who were connected to the Randolphs. David and Susannah’s son, Nicholas Ballow Pryor, married Sally Thomas. More to research: Was Sally Thomas related to Miss Jane H. Thomas?

Now, it also sounds like her Thomas family didn’t step off the boat in Virginia: “Job Thomas the great-grandfather of Jane H. Thomas on her father’s side of the family, came from Pennsylvania to Virginia.”

Miss Jane came to Nashville in 1804 when she was a four year old. Some of her reminiscences state events at that time. While I’m doubtful she is drawing from her own personal memory of that time, she is still discussing people and events that occurred in Nashville and may have been from stories passed around her family and community. The tough part of Miss Jane’s book is that it doesn’t put into a clear context the timeframe of her memories.

So, here are the excerpts of the Pryors.

About the corner of Spruce and Cedar Streets a man by the name of Pryor, a carpenter, had a frame house.

She mentions some of his neighbors: Thomas Kirkman, James Irvin, John Beard. I wonder if this has a connection to a McCullough family who were living in Nashville at the time of the 1850 Census with an Elizabeth Pryor in their household.

Where the Normal College grounds now are Pryor, Anderson, & Rutherford had a race-track. Old Mr. Rains had a farm just beyond this. He used to come to town, and sometimes stay very late at night. When he went home he had to pass the race-track, and he always said he saw Dick Pryor, Patton Anderson, and the devil killing race-horses.

Isn’t this fun? Are you asking the same questions as me? Who was Dick Pryor or Richard Pryor? Where was the Normal College in the 1890’s? Who was Patton Anderson? When Miss Jane says he stayed late at night, does that imply some drinking was involved?

I found that Patton Anderson was shot dead at the Bedford County Courthouse in 1811 (see news article (Wayback Machine Link)). The shooters were let off the hook and it’s noted in the James K Polk, A Political Biography (Yes, the Polk who was President) that Anderson was a personal friend of Andrew Jackson (also a President) and when the suspects were let free Jackson pointed at a juror and said, “I’ll mark you young man!”**

There an interesting story about The Belmont Domestic Academy, a school that opened in 1815, started by French immigrant Mr. Ambercrombie and his wife. It was a girls’ school where they learned French, music, dancing and literature. This sounds very high-brow, not a place that was teaching frontier girls homemaking skills like soap making and canning. She seems to have a great memory because she came up with the names of numerous classmates, like Harriet Overton who was General Overton’s daughter. The names that piqued my interest were the numerous Childress girls:

Maria Childress, and also Elizabeth Childress, Sarah and Susan Childress, of Murfeesboro… Lucy Tally from Gallatin*… They married as follows: Jane Childress and Sam Marshall; Matilda Childress and Judge Catron; Minerva Childress and Ben Litton, a brother of Mrs. Jesse Thomas; Maria Childress and Judge Brown; Elizabeth Childress and V. K. Stevenson; Sarah Childress and Dr. Rucker; Susan Childress and James K. Polk, President of the United States.

Why are the Childress girls so important? David Pryor (husband of Susannah Ballow)– his mother was a Miss Childress, daughter of Abraham Childress. Were these his cousins?

I think we got some good family researching fodder from this book!

* NOTE: I included Lucy Tally because my ancestor Allen L. Pryor of Gallatin married Elizabeth Talley also of Gallatin. Sumner County Pryors may wish to figure out Lucy’s relationship to the Elizabeth as her Talley family was from Cumberland Co., VA — same  place as Jane H. Thomas.

** NOTE:  If you want to read more about President Jackson and Patton Anderson, I found an article published in Sports Illustrated on 16 Jul 1956 (see article) that discusses their involvement in horse racing.