My Dad’s birthday is today. He is 91. I did this interview with him in January 2005, when I was still writing for The Harris County Journal…hope you enjoy.
“Uncle Rob was a good politician. He never went to Hamilton unless he was dressed up in a suit and tie and smoking a fresh cigar.”
My dad sat back in his chair and relaxed into his account of my great-grandfather, Thomas Robinson Stripling.
“He got along with everyone and never cast any aspersions toward his neighbors. Once he was asked if a certain acquaintance of his told the truth. He answered very diplomatically, ‘Well…his brother does.’ ”
Uncle Rob was born in Harris County nine years after the Civil War ended. In 1897 he married Leila Anne Davidson. She was eighteen. He was twenty-three. And age was not the only difference between them.
Potch, (the name given to my great-grandmother by my dad, her first grandchild) was the daughter of a Harris County plantation owner. The first Davidson family migrated here from Virginia via Warren County, Georgia, in the late 1700’s. They owned a considerable amount of land and were considered to be socially prominent.
Robinson Stripling, on the other hand, was a farmer of very modest means.
The events surrounding their marriage are not clear, but all the stories agree on one point — they eloped. “I always heard he picked her up in a buggy, took her to Union Baptist Church and married her,” said my dad with a grin.
Potch and Uncle Rob first lived about a mile north of Jones Crossroads. My grandmother, the first of their ten children, was born there in 1899. After living several different places in the Union community, Uncle Rob moved his family to Chipley (Pine Mountain), and then back to the Hopewell community, where they settled for good in the early 1920’s.
For eight years, most of which were during the Depression, Uncle Rob was the only Harris County tax collector.
“My mother — your grandmother — kept the tax digests for him. We lived in the old house at the Crossroads then. I can remember their discussions of unpaid taxes and pending foreclosures. It was a sad time. Folks who did not pay their taxes lost their land — the county would take control of the farms and auction them on the courthouse steps. Many of the current large property holdings in the county were put together from that seized property.”
During the first decades of the twentieth century, Harris County was extremely rural and remote. Automobiles, of which there were very few, did not make the scene until the early twenties. The only paved road was U.S. 27. The main mode of transportation was the mule drawn wagon or horse and buggy.
“People didn’t go to town back then. There were little country stores everywhere, where people bought staples — mainly coffee, sugar, overalls, and work shoes. Folks raised hogs for meat, grew all their vegetables, and canned or dried enough produce to carry them through until the next growing season. In fact, Uncle Rob had a community preserving plant at one time — I guess you could call it a co-op — where the folks in the Hopewell and surrounding communities could bring their produce to be canned.”
During this interview with my father, I learned that the biggest difference in the Harris County then and the Harris County today is what our claim to fame was. “During the twenties and thirties, we were famous, or should I say infamous for, being the best place around to buy corn liquor — white lightning.”
And that topic is another story for another day.
As the interview wound down, my dad looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “Your great grandfather was, above all, a man of great patience. He raised eight daughters, and that, my dear daughter, takes a great deal of endurance.”