The Knox Family : Ulster Scots

Matthew Knox was the first of his family to cross the mountains and enter Mississippi.  The covered wagon he drove pulled a milk cow while two sows and a collie dog trailed along, and his wife sat in the back. Under the tarpaulin, among the farm implements, resting neatly next to a jug of clear whiskey medicine, was a small bible his grandfather, Jeremiah Knox, had given him in 1862 when he went off to fight in the Confederate War. Together Matthew and this bible had survived the war and would stay together throughout the tense aftermath.

Matthew cared nothing for the book itself. He placed no stock in anything as speculative as religion and was even suspicious of those who preached from a bible despite coming from a family that boasted of no fewer than six Presbyterian ministers.  No, the significance of the book lay solely in the list of names written in a careful scrawl by different hands over more than 200 years: his Knox progenitors.

Matthew went to Meridian, Mississippi in 1866, just after the end of the Confederate War in which he’d served.  He’d heard that the new territory was ripe for an industrious young man looking to make his mark.  A new start is what he needed, after his grandfather’s farm had nearly burned up when a spark from the fire under a pot of molasses jumped loose and set fire to the dry field grass which had seen no rain for more than six weeks.

Matthew only heard about the fire well after the fact.  When he rode up to the farm, months had elapsed since that dreadful day of the fire that had taken not only grass and trees, but his grandfather’s life as well.

Jeremiah and his daughter-in-law Cora had fought that fire all afternoon and into the evening, digging fire breaks and throwing the dirt on the fire.  But a steady wind fueled the fire that leapt over each break they created and burned everything on the near side short of the house and barn before finally burning itself out at the springhouse.  Jeremiah had inhaled too much smoke; burns to his head and hands, as well as the stress of the physical exertion, it combined to be too much for the tough 90 year old man.  He lingered for almost three weeks before dying in his sleep.

Matthew’s father Josiah did not arrive back at the farm until mid-1865, almost a year after the fire.  However, once the full impact of the devastation had sunk in, his father told him, “you go; your mother and I might have just enough strength to rebuild this farm even if it takes the rest of our lives.  You’re still young, at the start of your life and can make something of yourself in a new territory.”

This Matthew did.  With him into the wilderness of Mississippi he brought the bible with the list of names: a tether to his past and his Ulster family.

Family Bible

Tristan Knox, Scotland, (1622), to Ulster in 1656
Angus Knox, Scotland, (1645), to Ulster in 1656
Jacob Knox, Ulster, (1670)
James Knox, Ulster, (1701)
Nathaniel Knox, Ulster, 1722, later to Pennsylvania in 1756, then Carolina, 1783, d. 1799
Bartholomew Knox, Nathaniel’s son, Ulster, 1750, Pennsylvania after 1756, Carolina 1783, d. 1829
Jeremiah Knox, Nathaniel’s grandson, Pennsylvania, 1774, North Carolina in 1783, dies in fire 1864
Josiah Knox, Jeremiah’s son, 1804, North Carolina, d. 1886
Matthew Knox, Jeremiah’s grandson, North Carolina, 1833, Meridian, Mississippi, 1865, d. 1909

The first name in the bible was put there by Matthew’s sixth great-grandfather, whose name was unknown to him, but this anonymous Scotsman notated the name of his eldest son, born in 1621 in County Galway, Scotland.  The name he wrote was Tristan Knox.

Tristan was born during the first great wave of migration from Scotland to northern Ireland begun by King James the VI  known as the Ulster Plantation.  His father decided against relocated across the channel.  However, Tristan left Scotland in 1656 along with other Scotch Presbyterians.  The Tristan Knox family went to Donegal, where a few  kinsmen had staked out some land.

Several generations of Knoxes lived on this land in Donegal, the names written under Tristan Knox on the list were Angus (b. 1645), Jacob (b. 1670), James (b. 1701) and Nathaniel (b. 1722).

But by now, Scots in Ulster were feeling the pinch between the Irish Catholics and the English Anglicans.  Scots left Ulster in growing numbers for religious tension but they also left for economic reasons forced upon them by rising rents imposed by English overlords. Those were the sticks driving them out, the carrots were stories of a bountiful and rich the land, with no overlords or religious persecution, that waited for them across the Atlantic.

Almost exactly 100 years after Tristan left Scotland for Ulster, Nathaniel left Ulster for America.

Nathaniel Knox did what many Ulster Scots did in order to find a ship for America, he signed a contract for himself and his family for five years of labor.  Indentured service was common and often the only method a tenant farmer in Ulster could pay for passage across the ocean.

The Knox family entered the New World through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the largest Colonial city, and a common port of entry.  The service contract Nathaniel Knox had signed placed him on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, within view of the Allegheny Mountains.  Nathaniel’s son Bartholomew was just six when they stepped off the boat, and by the time the family had worked out of the indenture, he was nearly a teenager.

Marriage was going to be a possibility for Bartholomew in a few years, so Nathaniel started looking for some acreage of his own. The first Knox farm was a 66 acre tract of Pennsylvania land that was covered with rich topsoil and timber.  Nathaniel increased his holdings whenever he could and over the next twenty years amassed nearly 200 acres of productive land.

Also over that time Pennsylvania was becoming more crowded and government intrusion becoming more and more of a bothersome thing for Scots-Irish immigrants and something of which they were decidedly intolerant. Eventually, Nathaniel and the Knox family packed up and moved once again in 1783, this time to North Carolina. Along with Nathaniel came Bartholomew’s growing family, whose oldest son, Jeremiah, at nine years old was the first native born American Knox.

Nathaniel and Bartholomew invested the money from the sale of their Pennsylvania farm into even more acreage in Carolina, where there were fewer people and less government.  They might still be on the east side of the mountains, but they were well into the frontier.

This is the land where Jeremiah grew into a young man.  The Knox farm produced tobacco, corn, sugar cane, and barley; and provided a good living for the Knox family.  Jeremiah married a local girl, Kathleen Kerby, in 1799.  Kathleen lost two infants before finally carrying to term a boy, whom they named Josiah after Kathleen’s father, Joseph, but also following in the Knox family tradition of choosing biblical names for their male children.

Josiah began helping his father with the farm work when he was eight years old and by the time he was 25, he was ready to take over the day-to-day operations and find a wife.  That was Cora Adams, whom he married in 1830.

Our story began with their son Matthew, who married Willa Thomas in 1855, had their first child, Georgiana in 1856 and together they went to Mississippi, in the tarp-covered wagon with the bible, to continue the Knox family adventure in America .  Having experienced the precarious nature of farm life, at the mercy of the elements, Matthew chose instead to operate a mercantile store in Meridian, Mississippi. Later he became quite successful as a cotton agent in Jackson.

Matthew and Willa were the grandparents of Elijah “Lige” Langford, and the great-great-great-great-grandparents, on his mother’s side, of Levi Hooper (see songs “The Langfords and the Littlejohns” and “Mildred’s House of Values”).

Although he knew of the bible, Levi Hooper was only vaguely aware of the entire history of his mother’s family.  He’d heard how the bible had been carefully handed down from Scotland all the way to his maternal grandmother Marjy Littlejohn, the daughter of Emily Langford and George Littlejohn.  Mamaw Littlejohn in turn gave it to her daughter Mildred Langford Motts, Levi’s mother.  Mildred was saving this bible for her oldest grandchild, if and when Levi ever found a nice girl and settled down.

“Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster man
A staunch Presbyterian
Sold his labor for a six week voyage
With a wife and two small boys

Traced his line to 1621
To his great-great-grandad Tristan
They came to Ulster from County Galway
Nathaniel Knox will sail away

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

Nathaniel Knox went to Carolina
With a grandson Jeremiah
Who was the first Knox American-born
In seventeen seventy-four

It was a small thing that he took …

It ain’ rained for six weeks now
Jeremiah watched his fields turn brown
One minute he’s cooking molasses from sugar cane
Then everything he’s built goes up in flames

Matthew Knox was Jeremiah’s grandson
He left Carolina for Meridian
Mississippi soil is rich and dark
Matthew Knox has an Ulster heart

It was a small thing that he took …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Marjy Littlejohn (1921-1982)

Majorie “Marjy” Littlejohn was the daughter of George and Emily Littlejohn, the maternal grandmother of Levi Hooper.  Marjy not unlike her own mother married into a somewhat disreputable family, the Motts.  However, also like her mother, the Motts she chose for a husband, Donald, was one of the better characters among the rest.

 

Mildred Motts Hooper (1944-2014) )

Mildred Motts Hooper was born in Tallulah, Louisiana in 1944, the half sister of Molly Motts Raney. Mildred married Leon Hooper and had one son, Levi Hooper, and passed away in 2014 at the age of 69 just before her 70th birthday.

Mildred liked to cook and crochet and was happy as a homemaker.  One of her favorite dishes to prepare was baked cheese grits which she would serve with breaded pork chops and homemade rolls.

She and Leon were married in 1963 shortly before Leon was shipped off to Vietnam.  When Leon returned from his tour of service they settled down in Jackson, Mississippi where Leon worked as a welder and they raised their only son, Levi, who was born in 1973.

However, Leon only lived another two years, dying in 1975, and Levi had no memories of his father.  To help make ends meet Mildred began to sell items from her home, establishing a thrift store at her residence (see song, “Mildred’s House of Values“).

Mildred passed away in 2014 after suffering a stroke.

Leon Hooper (1933-1975)

Leon Hooper made a good living as a welder and hardly spoke of his war years.  However, he was quietly proud of his Marine service, first in the infantry in Korea later in a support unit in Vietnam, and kept in touch with his buddies from the war.  Leon did not drink hard liquor as a rule, but on those occasions when he got together with his Marine buddies, mostly those who were with him in Korea, he would have a few shots of  bourbon and turn a bright shade of red if the talk became bawdy.

Leon was born in Jackson, Mississippi and lived his entire life there with his wife, Mildred, and son, Levi.  He did not see Levi grow up, however, because Leon died in 1975 just two years after Levi was born.

Leon would repair bicycles and give them to the neighborhood kids and he also created steam powered folk art which he would roll out and run on the Fourth of July each year.

 

“Mildred’s House of Values”

Mildred’s House of Values
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
A price tag hung from every table and chair
Things for sale like any other shop
But it was Mildred’s home and she still lived there

Her son Levi would come by and do odd jobs
Help his momma with what she needed done
Rustin’ on blocks, a ’68 Dodge
Levi never could get to run

A person does all they can do
Full time job just gettin’ through
Rise in the morning, close your eyes at night
In between, try to get it right

Mildred was widowed nineteen-seventy-five
Leon Hooper was a good man
Price tags went up, year after he died
Life don’ turn out nothin’ like we plan

The ’68 Dodge, last car Leon bought
Rest of his stuff, sittin’ in a shed
You can see in Levi, Leon’s walk
Are the ones we love ever really dead?

A person does all they can do …

Mildred’s “House of Values,” on a corner lot
From every stick of furniture a price tag hung
A ‘68 Dodge rustin’ on blocks
Levi never could get to run

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Elijah “Lige” Langford (1874-1925)

Elijah “Lige” Langford was the patriarch of a strict Presbyterian family of Scots-Irish descent from Mississippi by way of North Carolina (see article “The Knox Family” and song “Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”).  His daughter Emily married into a less religious family, the Littlejohns, and eventually along came Levi Hooper.

Alma Prescott Langford (1875-1958)

Alma Prescott Langford was the daughter of a minister and the granddaughter of a Cherokee chief.  Alma was a serious woman, but would display uncommon compassion given the right circumstances.  Those circumstances arose concerning her daughter Emily Langford.

Her maternal grandfather was a Cherokee chief, Franklin Largo, who married a white woman, Hilary Cosgrove, and helped her operate the general store her father started.  The Prescotts were a Calvinist Presbyterian family whose men were often called to preach.

People said she got the “Italian” look from the Indian side. It’s true she had her  grandpa’a’s black eyes and prominent cheek bones but she got her mama’s fair skin and height.

When George Littlejohn came to court her daughter Emily, it was Alma who softened up Lige Langford enough to allow the match to proceed.  She had a keen understanding about love cropping up in places that a straight-laced Calvinist community frowned upon (see song “The Langfords and the Littlejohns“).

Emily Langford (1900-1977)

langfords-and-littlejohns-family-tree-e1526455149929.jpg

Emily Lankford was the sweet daughter of Elijah Langford a strict religious man who raised her to certainly not fall in love and marry someone like George Littlejohn. At least he didn’t think he wanted George Littlejohn in his family.  But as it turned out George was a good husband to Emily and became someone Lize liked and respected.

The Littlejohns were a family of hell-raisers and Lize Langford wanted nothing to do with them.  However, George was not cut out of the same cloth, and Emily saw him for who he really was.  George had a good singing voice and the story goes that when Lize Langford would not let him in his house to see Emily, George stayed outside on the porch and sang all night.  He usually accompanying himself on a handmade dulcimer.

George and Emily left North Carolina and moved to Mississippi, their daughter Marjy Littlejohn was Levi Hooper’s maternal grandmother.

Anse Littlejohn (1871-1961)

Anse Littlejohn was Levi Hooper’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side.  Anse was the patriarch of a family of ner-do-wells.  His son George, however, fell in love with Emily Langford, one of the children from a church going family.  When George and Emily married these two families merged, softening the Littlejohns but also undercutting the piety of the Langfords.