A SOUTHERN FARM BOY
AND A GALLANT LOVER
by Dr. Rhodes B. Holliman of Dublin, Virginia,
his great great nephew. First published in Southern Times, Magazine of Tuscaloosa and West Alabama, Issue 130.
He (James Franklin Holliman) returned to Bluff Community in Fayette County, AL, to resume farming and became the local school teacher. He had a large number of relatives on his class rolls including his brothers and sisters. He married Rebecca Utley Stewart, his wartime sweetheart, on July 2nd, 1865.
Her birth date remains in contention. Her ornate grave marker says: "Nov. 26, 1829". Other sources of family information say: "Oct. 6, 1839", but it is generally conceded that Rebecca was older than James - if her grave marker is correct, she was 10 years older. This disparity in their ages would be unusual for that era and place. men of that time usually married women who were younger.
A love letter written by him at some time during the War is reputed to be his proposal of marriage. It shows a remarkable expression of sensitivity considering that it was composed by a self-taught, back-woods, farm boy whose parents and siblings were mostly illiterate.
“Miss, for the first time I undertake the pleasant task of addressing you by letter with feelings that you can better imagine than I can describe; to attempt to describe the feelings that pervaded my bosom the last time I had the pleasure of your company would be useless. They would baffel (sic) all descriptions; neither could I at that time, owing to the intensity of my feelings, express them, but my pen obeys the impuls (sic) of my heart, and I can with pleasure in this way communicate (sic) my thoughts and the tender sentiments of my soul to her I love, to her I adore.
It affords me unaffected pleasure to hold correspondence with one so pure, so inicent (sic), so lovely, and you will reseive (sic) thes (sic) lines as a token of the love of one whos (sic) heart you posess (sic), one who from the first moment in which he beheld you has never ceast (sic) to love you with all the tenderness that the human heart is capable of feeling. I, who never can enjoy life except in your society; what would all the world be to me without you to share its pleasures, a caotic (sic) nothing.
Often does my imagination fly to where you are and hover around you and fancy that I see your beautiful form and the angel like beauty and simplicity that is continually beaming from your face. O (sic) when shall my fondest hopes of hapiness (sic) be realized ? When shall I press you to my heart, and call you mine, my one, my lovely. Then would I in the language of the poets, be content and blest whenever I hear the voice of her I love.
Love, that word is full of meaning to me. Could I express that devotion of heart and soul, that enables both lover and love, that undying impulse of attachment that rules my breast; that union of thought, feeling and existence, by which two persons are bound together, that lasts for life and never knows ending; but language fails, and I alone can fel (sic), and you can realize the extent of what cant (sic) be expressed lovely girl. These are of one who will ever remain your faithful lover.”
Rebecca (“Becca”) bore him 4 children: 3 boys and a girl. She died on November 2nd, 1883. An exhaustive search for a picture of her has yielded nothing.
He remained single until he was 57 years old (1896) whereupon he married a former student, Bertha Lee Powell, who was 18 years old! She bore him 5 children: 3 boys, 2 girls. He was 67 years old when his last child was born. He died on May 13,1911. Bertha Lee assumed the roll of head of household and reared her brood to be responsible and productive citizens.
In James' Last Will and Testament dated September 16, 1910, he bequeathed 40 acres of farm land to each of his children by Rebecca and Bertha Lee and he appointed Bertha Lee as his executrix and guardian of his children. He bequeathed to her 20 acres of choice land all of his personal property.
His cause of death, as listed on the Alabama Death Certificate, was "softing of the brain." The duration of his terminal illness was listed as "8 months." The accuracy of medical diagnostics in rural Fayette County in 1911 was profoundly primitive!
The above photo is of Bertha Lee Powell Holliman and her third child, Janet, b 1903 and who passed away in 2002. Bertha Lee died March 21, 1948. Photos on this post courtesy of Dr. Holliman.
The last of Bertha's children to die was Janet, who, in 2002, had survived for 99 years and 10 months. He, both wives, and a number of his offspring and in-laws are buried in the Holliman-Stewart Cemetery just south of the Bluff Community in northern Fayette County, AL. The ruins of his old homestead have been recently discovered just south of the family cemetery and isolated from any current or historic road bed.