Integrity

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Integrity – I’ll get to it.  I have over 25,000 cousins on Ancestry.com, never mind the other sites.  Of the closest 20 relatives or so, perhaps half include their family trees, which may cover hundreds of years or just a generation.  As an adoptee, I don’t know where I fit.  So, for a third cousin, for example, I have to identify a great-great-grandparent on their tree as a possible common ancestor.  From this, I trace all their kids, connect them to their spouses, then their kids to their spouses and so, hoping to arrive as close I can to those living today who might match another DNA test.  Each DNA relative I can place on my prospective tree rules out a direct path of the linked ancestors – else they would be more closely related.  This doesn’t provide answers, but gradually removes options.  It’s tedious and time consuming, but occasionally there are unexpected and welcome distractions.   

What would that be?  Some people take great care in documenting their genealogy, including photos of their ancestors or attaching documents may include obituaries, photos of grave markers, military draft papers, deeds, wills, and passenger receipts on trains even.  And, sometimes, there’s a brief recollection about an ancestor, a story, or even a biography, often with reference materials.

Which brings us (finally!) to Thomas Shelton.  Though he may be related to me, he’s just another name along the fairly mindless process of building out a prospective tree.  He was born in 1813 in Pittsylvania County, VA.  Along comes the Civil War, with what I think is a captivating story brings to mind the movie, Cold Mountain.  The pinned note reads:

Thomas Shelton and wife Elizabeth D. Allen of Patrick County, Virginia had twelve children. They were hard working farmers like most of my closest ancestors who lived in the hills of Southwestern Virginia.  Elizabeth gave birth to seven sons.  When the political conversation turned to talk of the south seceding from the US, my ancestor, Thomas did not think it a good idea.  He debated the issue with his family, friends and neighbors on many occasions. 

When the war came to Patrick Co. VA, he had five sons who served for the southern cause and two who did not. Two of the Confederate sons died and two more, including my great-grandfather, became so-called “Galvanized Yankees” by changing allegiance for the Union and serving "out west" for the remainder of the war (a controversial topic in its own right). 

As a young girl, while visiting my grand-aunts in Patrick and Henry Counties, I came to inherit a leather photo album and was told to show it to no one. This hand tooled leather album contained rare cabinet photos of Amer-Indians of Yankton, SD including that of "White Swan".  Also in this album were family photos of C. M. "Maddy" Shelton's wife, mother and his younger first-cousin of the same name, Charles "Charlie" M. Shelton, in uniform, who was also a galvanized soldier. [Now property of Bassett Historical Society].

When the War officially began, Shelton recalls that two of his sons joined the Confederacy right away of their own accord and two stayed back. Soon Thomas was asked to sign an oath of allegiance to the Confederate cause and as expected, he did not sign.  On two occasions Confederate officers came to his home and arrested him because he would not sign something in which he did not believe. 

On their third attempt they were successful in obtaining a signature but not in changing his point of view.  He signed in order to save his family, since pistols had been drawn and aimed at two of his sons who were then conscripted and forced into the rebel ranks. Soon they each made their way home despite threats of harm to the Shelton family. Thomas tells the story of how he kept them well hidden in the woods until he could arrange to have one of them safely transported to Franklin Co., TN where he joined the Union Army. From his affidavit :

"In a claims Interview with the US Southern Claims Commissions, Oct 1877, page 6, Thomas states that he is age 63; born in Pittsylvania, moved with parents as a child to Patrick Co., VA. Page 7, he states he had two sons in the Union Army - one enlisted in Franklin Co., TN and one in VA. Page 12-Two other sons volunteered into the Confederate service. Two others were conscripted in Virginia and one other was living in the state of Missouri and went into Rebel service. The names of those sons were Josiah A, William J, James P, Charles M, Peter T., aged respectively upon entering the service, 25-23-22-19-17. James P was killed in the Army and Josiah A died of disease in the Army. The other three are living in Patrick County."

During the war, when Confederate soldiers came to the Thomas Shelton farm looking for help, Thomas and Elizabeth took them in, clothed and fed them, gave them supplies and helped them to get back to the lines even though they did not themselves believe in the southern cause.  Then there was the time when on the 7th day of April in 1865, General Stoneman's Yankee regiment was encamped at Patrick Courthouse overnight.  The next day some of Stoneman's troops came to the Shelton farm and in broad daylight, took the Shelton's horses, all their bacon, corn, ducks, chickens, fodder, household goods including silver, and everything of value.

Thomas tells of how he asked them not to take his own favorite mare.  He was told that no harm would come to her and they would give her back to him tomorrow if he would meet up with them at a certain place.  Thomas managed to make that journey in anticipation of recovering his treasured horse.  They greeted him in a friendly manner.  Then they asked him to sign a Union allegiance document.  He explained he could not do so, regardless of his political views.  By then, the Sheltons had already lost two Confederate sons: James P Shelton, a medic who was killed in battle in May of 1862 at Williamsburg and son Josiah A Shelton who died of disease at Manassas while in the 24th Virginia Infantry in 1861.  The commander's demeanor turned. Thomas was sent away that day and was told he would never again see his fine sorrell mare and that he should be afraid for her as they had already sent her out into battle with the regiment.

After the war, a friend of the family, Atty. Benjamin Campbell assured the Sheltons he would file claims to recover the money due them for the two deceased sons and for the plundering of the farm.  However, Mr. Campbell soon passed away, and Thomas began the long process of trying to support his family and at the same time filing his own claim.  His first attempts failed since his attorney’s heirs would not return the Shelton's documents and letters of proof that were being kept on file in the attorney's office. 

The U.S. Southern Claims Commission has available for viewing a 58 page document of the claims filed by Thomas Shelton describing his ordeal.  His wife, Elizabeth, and son, Peter, also made sworn statements regarding the losses.  Many residents of Patrick Co., VA came out to swear affidavits as to the good character and honesty of Thomas Shelton.  They knew him to be a man worthy of this claim, and even though his political views were different from theirs, he was admired for his courage. The long list of predetermined questions asked by the Commission were answered truthfully as Thomas told of how in his heart he had remained loyal to his beliefs against the war.  He was asked and gave account of his reactions upon hearing the outcome of each battle and how elated he was to hear of the surrender. 

Special Agent Andrew Stedman was sent to Patrick County to collect information about Thomas Shelton's Claim.  He did not expect the dozens of people who came to Patrick County Courthouse to speak with him.  Neighbors told of how, during the war, they saw Thomas struggling to work and live after his farm was all but destroyed.  Stedman recorded the signed affidavits from the community that banded together in support of Thomas Shelton, the Union sympathizer.  Agent Stedman wrote that each man acknowledged that they didn't agree with Shelton when it came to the war but Shelton's loyalties had been well known before the war; that he made no attempt to conceal his beliefs, how they had openly discussed issues before the war and talked about how they voted; yet they knew Thomas Shelton to be a man of his word, above question in his honesty and a worthy man of the highest character. 

Amongst those who came to the courthouse and gave statements in support of Shelton were Larkin Rucker, John L. Anglin, CaptureJames L Harbour, Joseph T Flippin, Thomas D. Rorrer, Col. Abram Staples. Asa Wood, George Rogers, James B Taylor, Mark A. Howell, D. Howell, Wm. W. Stoops, Dr. W. G. B. Taylor, James Light, Dr. Joseph Bishop, Samuel G. Staples and many others.

Remarkable in my opinion, at a time when emotions were still running so high regarding the War Between the States, yet peace and compassion was found amongst friends who respected the rights of a neighbor.  The ideals of the individual freedoms given Americans by our founding fathers were obviously of great importance to all these fine folks of Patrick Co., VA.


It’s a story that shouldn’t be lost, and though it’s not likely to be found by many here, it’s where I can find it, and that’s good enough.  In reference to the title of this post, this strikes me as a moving example of the outworking of a person’s internal moral consistency, framed against intimidation and threats.  Would I have chosen the easier path?  Would you?

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