The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Martin Family

By Lucille Thomas Muckenfuss © 1985

Issue: December, 1985

I have done a lot of research in genealogy in my lifetime, but my research on the Martin family has been limited.

My great-grandfather was D. Richard Martin. He was born in Virginia and served in the Confederate army. I have been told that his father was Marshall Martin, but it has never been confirmed. These things have been passed down to me by my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Martin who was the daughter of Richard Martin. She was the mother of my father, John Benny Thomas, who was born in Virginia, but moved at an early age to West Virginia.

Richard Martin was taken prisoner by the Yankees and was a prisoner of war at Moundsville, West Virginia. He was released and returned home in Virginia.

Mary Elizabeth Martin was 12 years old at the time of the Civil War and she used to tell me stories about how hard it was on them during the war. They didn't have pins or needles and never could make a cake. She told that she often pinned tears and rips in her clothing with thorns from the bushes because they had no needles and pins for mending. They had to bury their food because the Yankees would come in and take what was there. Her mother was a very mild, gentle woman named Martha Chewning. There were once three Yanks sitting on the fence watching another Yank chase Martha's chickens for dinner. Martha nearly beat the Yank to death with a broom because she wasn't going to let him have her chicken. The other Yanks on the fence sat and laughed and watched.

After the War, Martha made the first cake in many years. She made it out of corn meal, pinched off a bite when it came out of the oven, and said, "Golly, that's good!"

When Richard Martin came back from the war, he moved his family from near Bedford, Virginia to Narrows, Virginia, on the border of West Virginia, which was now a separate state.

He had a large farm and also bred cattle. Mary Elizabeth was known for her courage and mischievous nature. She was red headed and tall and slender. When they were moving, she was still very young. She was walking behind the wagon. She got tired and sat down on a rock. She got far behind. Along came a Doctor and his family and picked her up and caught up with her family. The doctor and his family offered to take her and give her a good home with more opportunities but the Martin family declined.

Although Richard Martin returned from the Civil War, he had a brother named John Martin who was in the battle at Cloyds Mountain, Virginia, near Pearisburg. I was driving from West Virginia to Virginia and stopped at a monument to read. It was about the battle at Cloyds Mountain. It stated that 800 fell that day. My memory came back about what my father had told me about his Uncle John Martin, who was wounded at Cloyds Mountain that day. During the battle the grass caught fire and John Martin was so wounded that he could not get away and he burned to death at Cloyds Mountain. I am sorry that I did not learn more about John Martin. I wish I knew if he had family other than my great-grandfather, Richard Martin.

I had another great-grandfather from Kentucky who was Captain James Kitchen, who wore the Blue uniform and fought four years under Grant. His brother was four years a spy for the South.

As I write this today, I think how sad in our country such a war took place, truly tearing family and loved ones apart.

Mary Elizabeth Martin married William Flem Thomas from Franklin County, Virginia. She and her husband moved to West Virginia to a very mountainous region. There they raised their family. Mary Elizabeth lived out her life in West Virginia, but she always longed for the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. She would say, "I am just down in a hole. Here is a mountain and there is a mountain" (speaking of West Virginia).

We had plenty of coal in West Virginia which was bituminous or soft coal. One day a train came and stopped in front of my grandmothers house, but it contained anthracite coal, which was nice, large, shinny lumps. Grandma decided she wanted some of that nice coal from on top of the train car. Although she wore a long dress, she climbed up on top of the coal car and started throwing off big chunks of coal. Another granddaughter was standing watching and laughing because the train was starting to move. When the train started to move, she struggled to climb from the coal train which was going bump-t-bump. She gathered her long skirts up and climbed down the side and jumped down from the side. She was successful in getting the coal.

My grandfather, William Flem Thomas drove the first street car through Bluefield, West Virginia. It was pulled by mules.

The early roads of McDowell County, West Virginia were built about the time my father was a young boy. He was a water boy and helped in the road construction. He also helped to open many of the early mines of this region.

I have wonderful memories of my Grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Martin Thomas. Although I'm in my old age and a grandmother myself, these are still such wonderful memories to me. I loved her very much. She was a mother to me. She was buried at Twin Branch, West Virginia on the side of a mountain and was never able to return to the beautiful Blue Ridge.