Eady Caroline Willis Ballenger – Happy 171st Birthday

Eady Caroline Willis was the fifth (known) child of William J. and Judah Collins Willis. She was born August 19, 1839 in Fayette County, Alabama. Her parents were both born in South Carolina and had moved to Alabama between the birth of her brother, Jabez, about 1830 in South Carolina and her sister, Martha, born in Alabama in 1833, along with her grandparents, John M. and Edith McCarter Collins, and several other Spartanburg neighbors.

Caroline’s mother, Judah, died in about 1842, possibly in childbirth, and her father married his sister-in-law, Amy Edith Collins, in about 1850. William and Amy Collins Willis are my great-great-grandparents and Eady Caroline was my half-great-grandaunt.

Caroline married James Hamilton Ballenger on April 24, 1859. In the book written by her great-grandson, Conley Linton Ballinger, he writes, “Eady Caroline Willis Ballenger related to her grandson, James Hamilton Ballinger, on numerous occasions that she and her girl friends were sitting in one of these church services (which church is unknown but was in the area between where Jabez Willis lived near the Mt. Lebanon old cemetery area and where John Ballenger lived at the Yellow Creek area), when Hamilton and some other men entered the church for the service. She told her girl friends immediately after seeing him that she was going to marry that man. She never related how she accomplished this sudden prediction, but she was successful.” [p. 99]

An interesting, but unexplained [to me], note for anyone who may have noticed the variation in spelling on the Ballenger last name – although James Hamilton and David Jasper Ballenger maintained the spelling with the center ‘e,’ James William and his descendants use the center ‘i’ making their name Ballinger. The Fayette County road named for the family and on which several of them still live is the Ballinger Road.

Conley states Hamilton was both a farmer and a stonemason and Caroline and Hamilton set up housekeeping in the general area where their parents lived. They had two sons fairly soon after their marriage: James William (Jimmy) born on January 8, 1860 and David Jasper (Buddy) born March 10, 1861.

When her husband, Hamilton, enlisted in the Confederate army May 3, 1862 Caroline was left to take care of the home, farm, and their sons during his absence. Hamilton wrote a number of letters to her, which she kept in a trunk at her home for the rest of her life. Both copies and transcriptions of his letters have been printed in the book written by her great-grandson. The letters indicate he offered both advice on how to manage in his absence, and commendations for the way she handled her responsibilities.

In a letter written by T.K. Godfrey on April 27, 1863, Caroline received word that Hamilton had died on April 25 from pneumonia in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee and had been buried there. That letter is also copied and transcribed in the Ballenger family book (pages 94-96) ; it is a wonderfully written and compassionate account of Hamilton’s passing, aimed at easing the pain of loss for his family.

Following Hamilton’s death, Caroline and two other widows – her step-mother, Amy Collins Willis, and her sister, Sarah Collins Graham, lived together for many years in order to provide for their sons. The location of their shared farm  land was approximately at the intersection of Old Gin Road and Ballinger Road.  As the boys grew, they took over a large share of the labor involved in making a farm equal to the charge of providing for their families.

Caroline’s sons married two Bobo sisters, Sally Trophesie and Judy Della. Bobo. Jimmy and Sally had six daughters and one son, while Jasper (Buddy) and Judy had two daughters and one son, though only their daughter, Hassie, lived to adulthood.

On our recent trip to Fayette County, Kay scanned a photo of Caroline with her sons, their wives and children [prior to the birth of her only grandson that survived] and her half-brother, James Franklin Willis taken approximately in 1900.

Back: Tory, Betty Sally, Lucy, J. F. Judy Front: Eady, Connie, Jim, Caroline, Carrie, Jasper and Hassie

Conley Ballinger also reported in his book, “An interesting side note about Caroline is that after the night meal she would sit in her little rocking chair next to the open wood heated fireplace and smoke her pipe. A burning splinter from the wood would be used to light the pipe. In early days the tobacco she used was grown in their vegetable garden. It is interesting to note that neither her sons, and only one of her grandchildren, Tory, followed her in using tobacco.” (p.102)

Her sons and daughters-in-laws lived in separate homes on the land the boys bought on credit while they were still in their teens. Caroline lived in the home of her older son, Jimmy, for the remainder of her life. She died December 9, 1930 and was buried in the Old Mount Lebanon Cemetery where her father and perhaps her mother, her step-mother, and her son David Jasper were buried. Her other son and both daughers-in-law are also buried there, as is her half-brother, James Franklin.

In an 1978 article in the Fayette County Broadcaster entitled “The Ballenger Family” by Sharlene McGee Foster, [even though the first name is in error]: “Sarah Caroline, both sons, their wives and their wives’ parents are buried in the Old Mt. Lebanon Cemetery. This old deserted cemetery is located on a dirt road off of Highway 107 which is the road going to Bluff. Part of the ‘Ballenger Road’ runs nearby. This Ballenger Road is the road which leads from Highway 107 to Highway 18 coming out just below Mt. Vernon Church. It passes through the original farm that Sarah and her sons struggled for nearly 100 years ago. Think of the old Ballinger, Willis and Bobo families who settled this land. Most of all think of it as Sarah Caroline’s land. She’s a fine example of an early Fayette County pioneer.”

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