Settle Northeast Arkansas
The Taylors, Raneys, Fortenberrys and Finleys
By Joseph G. Taylor (1867-1956)
In the fall of 1816 three brother-in-laws, William Taylor and his wife, Mary Fortenberry Taylor, Samuel Raney and his wife, Margaret (Fortenberry) Raney, and Jacob (Jake) Fortenberry and wife, Nancy (Taylor) Fortenberry, with their young families, came from New Madrid county, Missouri, on pack horses to what is now Lawrence county, Arkansas, (then Lawrence county, Missouri Territory), and settled within four miles of the place at which the old Taylor mill was established on Strawberry river, about five miles south of Smithville. William Taylor and his wife, mentioned above, and James Finley and wife, mentioned later, were grandparents of the writer.
William Taylor, ancestor of many Taylor families in Lawrence county, was born in Rone county, Tennessee, near Kingston, across which the great Norris dam of TVA has recently been built. When William was 16, he ran away from his mother and step-father and went to New Madrid county, Missouri. He called at a farm house and inquired for work and was employed by the owner, whose name was Fortenberry. He remained in this home and the employment of the Fortenberrys for five years, at the end of which time he married the daughter of the family, Mary, about 1811. Here their two eldest sons were born. Millard, 1812, and John, 1814. In 1816 he and his family came with the two other above named families and settled on Strawberry river. There he built a house, cleared a farm, and about 1833 built and operated the first grist mill on lower Strawberry river. There three other sons were born to him and his first wife, Mary. They were James,1816, Wesley,1819, and Joseph, my father,1823.
In 1825 his first wife, Mary, died and William married Miss Leah Williams to which union, Nancy, William, Elijah and Elie were born. After building his home, clearing the farm, and acquiring a few slaves and other property, he built a house nearby for his mother and step-father, and brought them from east Tennessee and supported them the rest of their lives. They died and were buried near their home. William and his wife, Mary, were buried in the same place. Mary in 1825 and William in 1844.
Thirty seven of this Fortenberry-Raney-Taylor family and closely related were enlisted in the Confederate army. Wesley Taylor, son of William Taylor, was a captain in Gen. Sterling Price's army, M. D. Baber's regiment. His company was organized at the William Taylor Mill on Strawberry river. Those of whose company whose names I recall hearing older members of the family mention were: William, Oliver, Ashley, Millage and Cicero Taylor, Seviere and Jackson Fortenberry, "Little" Morg Raney, John Whitlow, Morris Howard and John Catron, all of whom were quite young. Older members of the family had enlisted earlier in the war. Three Fortenberrys, two Taylors, and one Raney lost their lives in the Confederate service. Capt. Wesley Taylor, who moved his company with the rest of the company from the old mill place into Missouri, was killed at Thomasville, Mo. William Taylor, his nephew, who was first lieutenant, became captain at the death of Capt. Wesley Taylor. Another William Taylor, an older half-brother of the writer, had enlisted earlier and was killed before the fall of Atlanta.
Samuel Raney, the ancestor of the Raney family in Lawrence county, settled on Cooper's creek about two miles south of Smithville and three miles north of the Taylor mill, near a fine spring. The original Samuel Raney place was sold by Mrs. Angeline (Gibson) Raney, widow of Samuel Raney Jr., about 1875, to John B. "Frank' Turnbow, (grandfather of Cleo, Turnbow, Smithville). Here Samuel Raney reared six sons, John, William, Bradford, Radford E., Jackson, Morgan, and a sister, Nancy. Jacob Fortenberry, ancestor of the Fortenberrys in Lawrence county, settled on Reed's creek three miles west of the Taylor mill. There Jacob Fortenberry reared six sons, Henry, Seviere, Taylor, Oliver, James, William and a daughter, Matilda. All the pioneer Fortenberrys and Raneys were originally from Virginia.
James Finley and wife, whose family name was Debbins, came from Kentucky and settled on Strawberry river, about two miles southwest of Smithville in 1816. James Finley was a descendant of John Finley who went with Daniel Boone into the wilds of Kentucky in 1769. There was a large connection of the Finleys in Kentucky in the pioneer days of that state. They were originally Pennsylvanians, though John Finley and Daniel Boone went to Kentucky from North Carolina. All descended from one Michael Finley, born in Scotland in 1682.
A Miss Jane Tilton of Carlisle, Kentucky, whose mother was a Finley of this same family, and seems to be an authority on the Finley history, in a letter to the writer a few years ago, stated that her grandfather, or great-grandfather, John Finley, was a judge advocate in the Revolution army and his brother, Samuel Finley, was a general. They were cousins to John Finley, who was Boone's associate, and nephews of Dr. Samuel Finley, who was president of Princeton College (1761). Dr. Finley also established the West Nottingham Academy, (1741), America's oldest Presbyterian school. From this school came two signers of the Declaration of Independence, four members of the Continental Congress, nine founders of colleges, three sergeant-generals. and two chaplains in the Revolutionary army.
John Finley and his wife, who settled on Strawberry river at the place and time above named, reared 11 children, four sons and seven daughters. The family was known in the community as "The Family of Seven Sisters", named as follows: Joe, Jasper, Mary, Walker, (a daughter), Harriet, Martha, Margaret, Amanda, Lucy, Newton, Nancy and John. Newt and John died in Missouri9 Jasper left for Texas during the Civil War and was never heard from again. Joe died near Walnut Ridge and the grandfather of J. Newt Childers of Walnut Ridge and great-grandfather of W. H. Childers, formerly a member of the Arkansas Corporation Commission. The other children of the Finley family died near Smithville. The four pioneer families named above came to what is now western Lawrence county just a year before Arkansas's first post office was established at Davidsonville in 1817, and just one year after the last small herd of buffalo had left northeast Arkansas. There was a buffalo trail through the piece of land on which my grandfather, William Taylor, settled on Strawberry river in 1816. The trail crossed the river at what was known as the Buffalo ford, about a mile above the Taylor mill. Grandfather was told by his pioneer neighbors that the small herd ranged in the Black river bottoms in the fall and winter, but in the spring, to escape the gnats, the flies and the floods of Black river lowlands, they traveled across to the hills of White river, returning again in the fall. But in the spring; of 1815 when the herd left the lowlands of Black river, headed west for the hills of White river, it kept forever to the west and was never seen again in northeast Arkansas. The above named families came at least l5 years before gray or wharf rats came. The rats came on the steamboats which came up Black river first in 1829. It took them several years to become scattered through the country. My father, born in 1823, said he was 15 years old before he had ever seen a rat.
These pioneer families were in Lawrence county at least 19 years before a steam whistle had been heard. Whistles were put on steamboats and railway engines first about 1835. Steamboats had been running on Black river since 1829 - six years without whistles. "Uncle" Rube Cravens, an ex-slave who lived to be almost 100 years of age, had his cab in in a little field where the townof Black Rock is now located. One day he started to the boat landing at Powhatan, two miles below, heard a boat whistle for the landing and he went back and got his gun. He had heard no such sound before. Descendants of the above pioneers are living in every town and hamlet in Lawrence county and all the surrounding counties from Mountain Home to the Mississippi, from the Missouri state line to Little Rock, in Memphis, Nashville, Tennessee, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington D. C., state of Washington, Oklahoma City and San Francisco. There are probably no less than 500 of them living in west Texas.
Reprinted courtesy Arkansas Gazette
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