The first time I ever saw the name George E Wadkins might have been the summer we helped Aunt Mickey, my Gran’s sister, clean out her house in preparation to sell. I just realized this because as I opened the book to find the author’s name I saw an inscription in front I never noticed before: “Mama, Happy Mother’s Day 1977. Love, Mickey and Wilma” in my Granny’s handwriting. Some of Mamaw’s things were still there several years after her death as she had lived with Aunt Mickey. I remember scouring this book, “History of McDowell County” by Mildred B Fossett, over numerous times that summer and ever since for “clues” to the Watkins family. The only one I found was the name George E Wadkins included on a list at the back of the book entitled “Bounty Paid to McDowell County Civil War Veterans.” I figured he must be related somehow. I never imagined how closely.
Like everything else, it took me years to put the pieces to the puzzle together. My first clue was my great-great-grandfather John Merido Watkins‘s death certificate. I knew it was his because the birth and death dates, as well as burial place, matched the grave I had been visiting with Gran at Macedonia Baptist Cemetery for so many years. The death certificate listed his father as Geo Watkins born in Tenn and Jemimie Poteat born in N.C.:
In searching for censuses for John Merido Watkins, I found him on the 1860 McDowell County, North Carolina census with his family. They lived in the Dysartsville post office district. In the household is Susan Poteet, 49, presumably John’s maternal grandmother; George Wadkins, 33-therefore born about 1827 (occupation, laborer), Jamimah Wadkins, 31, Elisha, 12, Bulow, 10, Ruphus, 7, George, 4, John, 2, and William, 1 month. Living nearby is John Wadkins-most likely George’s brother, listed as 42, wife Edy,a Matilda Poteet (Edy’s mother?), Joseph Poteet, 16 (Edy’s brother?), and their 3 children, William, age 5, Matilda, 3, and George, 1 month.
The 1860 census lists George and brother John as born in North Carolina. However, I believe this is an error on the enumerator’s part as searching further back, the 1850 census shows George W Wadkins, 24, in McDowell County, North Carolina and his neighbor John Wadkins, age 27, both born in Tennessee. George is mining.
When I first saw George’s occupation, I thought of him as a coal miner like all my dad’s West Virginia ancestors. Only as I began to study his historical context and environment of North Carolina more closely did I realize the area he lived in was a prime spot for gold mining. The first recorded discovery of gold in the United States was in North Carolina in 1799. The largest single piece of gold found in the area George lived in was five pounds! It seems there was a large North Carolina “gold rush” long before the California one we learn about in school. I have often wondered what drew George and his family from Tennessee to North Carolina. Historically, people remained in the same place as travel was difficult. I now wonder if his occupation in the census is the very clue to what brought him there. Perhaps he himself was part of that gold rush.
In the household with George in 1850 was Jemima, 22, Elisha, 2, Bulow, 3 months, as well as a 20-year-old mulatto laborer named John Jackson and a 21-year-old black laborer Levi Howell, both born in North Carolina. There were Howells and Jacksons listed on the same census page so they may have been neighbors working George’s farm while he mined. Next door to George’s household is Rachel Herman, 60, Anna Wadkins, 29, and John Wadkins, 27, all born in Tennessee. I am speculating these to be his siblings and possibly mother who had remarried. However, I have been unable to locate any birth, marriage, census, or other records for any of them in Tennessee or earlier in North Carolina. The search for that continues.
I began to search for George Wadkins in the 1870 census and could not locate him. But Gemima and the children are there. So he died between the 1860 and 1870 census, but when? What I discovered was heartbreaking. We’ll pick up George’s story again tomorrow.