JOHN OVERTON AUSTIN LETTER
This remarkable letter was written by John Overton Austin in 1907 at the age of 88. He recounts the Austin family story, starting with his great-grandfather who came to Virginia about 1750.
The original letter to his sister Emily Jones was probably hand-written. Thomas Austin of Eagle River, AK provided this researcher with an often-duplicated, type-written version--which he got from his cousin Jim Austin of Willits, CA. They are both descendants of Granville Thompson Austin.
All the information relating to John Overton Austinís
has been verified.
The intriguing story about his great-grandfather who didnít believe in "hobgoblins" and accidentally murdered someone in England has not been independently confirmed. But itís too original a story not to be true!
This researcher has retyped the text since the copy provided proved to be illegible in this format.
Bonham, Fannin Co., Texas,
Apr. 3rd, 1907.
At the request of my dear, good sister M.E. Jones, who has come from California, to visit me, in my last days: and, also, to please her good Children, and my brothers, and children, I write some of the things, about the Austin family, from the time that Our Great Grandfather came to England to America.
I write things that I remember, that my Grandfather and Uncle Wat Austin told me, when I was a boy. What I write, I remember well,--being 10 or 12 years old. My Great Grandfather was banished from England, to the Colonies, in America for killing a man. The circumstances were about this. The people of England were divided, in their opinion, about witches, hobgoblins, and other scary things that appeared after dark. Some believed there was such things others did not. My G-Grandfather, made fun of those who believed such nonsence (sic).
One man said he would bet $100.00 dollars that no man could cross a certain old bridge, built on a mill dam, that was said to be haunted; that no man could cross that bridge, after dark--that he would be scared back, by scary things.
Now said he, "I will bet 100 dollars with any one, who will undertake it. Our Great Grandfather was then a young man, and was not afraid of anything. So he took their bet and the money was put up. When the day came there was a crowd on each side of the bridge, to see him cross. He was not allowed to have any weapons but a finger stone in each hand.
When he got about midway the bridge he saw a white object rise up before him: he stopped that near the "hobgoblin." He spoke in a loud voice, "Who comes there" 3 times: not a word was said. The thing stood still. It looked like a man wrapped in a white sheet. It stood in his way. He stepped a few steps nearer, and stopped. Now, said he, "Man or spirit, or whoever you are, get out of my way. I am going to cross this bridge." But the thing stood still. He threw a rock. They heard the rock strike the ghost, and Mr. Ghost fell dead, and young Austin walked by him across the bridge, and won the money.
The next morning, they found the ghost to be a dead man, wrapped in a white sheet. This caused great excitement. A search was made, and they found, that a gang of men had a den in the old dam making counterfeit money. The discovery of this den, of counterfeiters, pleased the English people so much, that fearing that some of his enemies might seek his life, they put him on a ship and sent him to America, to the English Colonies for safety.
Now, when he got to America, he went to Louisa Co., Virginia, and fell in with some of, what was called "The first families of Virginia." Among them were the Henries, the Sheltons, the Canlies, and other rich aristocratic families. About the richest among them, was Peter Shelton. He owned a 7 mile Land of Tamonkrey river, and about 100 negroes (sic).
This brave young Austin soon won the favor of these rich families so that he married a relative of the great orator and statesman Patrick Henry.
I donít remember whether she was the Sister, Aunt or Cousin. But she was a relative of Patrick Henry, who said "Give me liberty or give me death." They raised 7 sons, who all served in the Revolutionary war.
At the close of the war, the 7 brothers scattered about, and I canít remember where they settled. But Grandfather, and Uncle Wat, settled in Louisa County, and married a daughter of the rich, old Peter Shelton.
Now comes the great calamity that took the property from old Peter Shelton and his children. He went security for everyone that asked him, for large sums of money- and there came a financial crash. He was sued as endorser on the notes, and his land and negroes (sic) sold: and his children left poor. One John L. Harris began the raid on him, and the sheriff sold, 60 negroes (sic) at one time.
My Grandfather, and Uncle Wat, told me about these things, when I was a boy.
Now I have given a brief sketch of the Austins, from England, to my Father. And I am proud to be able to say, that there is not one of the name, that was ever accused of crime.
Now, I will begin with my Father. He married the oldest daughter of Overton Lowrey. I know some of his traits of character: he taught us children to be honest, and truthful. He said, "If you steal a pin, you are a "pin thief," and if you tell one lie, you are a liar. And I do abominate a liar, in my sight. Uncle Flemming was of the same type, and taught his children the same lessons. Neither of them would ever associate with a man, who was known to be a thief or a liar. He also taught us children perfect obedience to parents. Now, having been taught the henuous (sic) crime of lying we could not tell him a lie- and he believed everything we told him. And, if any of my brothers, or sisters told a lie (only in a joke) I never knew it. I have taught my children the same. And, if any of them has ever told a lie, since they were old enough to know the sin of lying, I never knew it. I do not boast of this- but aim to show the importance of early
teaching. Thomas says, "train up a child in the way it should go and when its old, it will not depart, from its ways."
I have told you how my Father and Mother taught their children. They have tried to live as near right, as they could. John Overton, William Shelton, David Brice, Lucy Ann, Albert Warren, Thomas Jordin, Matthew Jones, Maria Eliza, Mary Emily, Granville Thompson.
I am the oldest. I will give a few of the incidents of my life, to show the Austin disposition. And, if you don't like it, I cant help it God made me so.
I was born, and raised to 13 years old in Louisa County, Virginia.
When I was a small boy, Uncle Wat Austin took me in his lap and made me promise that I would never get whipped. He said "There never was an Austin whipped and, that I must promise him, that I would never get whipped, only by my parents. I have kept my promise.
Hillard Jones remembers my last fight with Arch Hook. He weighted 240; I 175. I knocked him down the second lick. I was scared at his size and struck hard, see he undertook to whip me for another man, but failed. He got religious at the next camp meeting and learned to behave himself. I got applause for whipping the "bully," as I was on the right side. At that time I made the acquaintance of the Jones family and also the Jennings family, and found them to be the right kind.
I married Missouri Jones. Yes, I found, that my wifeís Father--old Billy Jones, was one of the best men in the country- and Allen Jennings her Uncle, was the right stripe. And, her brothers stood well in the community. I never found 4 better young men. They were proud of their ancestors. Lean Jimmie Jones, as he was called, was once governor of Tennessee. He was their Fatherís cousin. So, I find no dark spot in my wifeís kin.
I will now give a few incidents of my own life, of my "ups, and downs-more down than ups. I went to California, in 49, with 4 brothers. Came to Texas - bought 1500 acres of land--made a farm--sold it. Sued for the money, gained the suit about 17 years - came out loser - expense took it all, left me broke.
My brothers have all had the same kind of poor luck. I spent a while in polyticks (sic). That didnít pay, only those who sold their vote. I could have made $5,000 dollars by changing my vote, on one bill. I said "No." I lost $5000 Dollars but I am thankful that I had the fortitude to with stand the temptation and not leave a stain on the Austin name.
My Father, and Mother had 10 children, all members of the Church of Christ and the happy thought that we shall all meet soon in Heaven is worth more than all the gold.
In closing, I will say to the younger relatives, "Never do anything, that will leave a stain on the name of Austin, Jones, or any of the family connection." I know of none so far. I am proud of the name. I hope you will still keep it up when I am gone.
Nearly all the connections have obeyed the Gospell (sic). I hope the ballence (sic) will soon, so if we cant be together here, we may be in the world beyond. That is my last prair (sic).
John O. Austin