The first time I saw a picture of my great-great-great grandparents, my heart did a little flip-flop because the big photo was so eerie. My 3x great-grandpa, Blind Dan Headrick, looked ghostly—partly because his eyes were “blind”, possibly from cataracts.
I had heard my whole life from my Grandpa Don Abbott that when he would spend the night with his grandparents, this same photo would scare him and keep him awake at night.
Now here I am gazing up at it, and the eeriness doesn’t last long for me. I can see past the vintage frame and the smoky photo to see two real people. Two amazing people who settled this area. They prospered and raised a great big family. They started one of the oldest churches in our county. They have left a legacy that’s pretty amazing.
Daniel Headrick was born in Greene County, Tennessee in 1817, on Horse Creek. The Headrick family moved to Tuckaleechee Cove, otherwise known as Townsend, when Daniel was two years old. They were one of several founding families of Tuckaleechee Cove. (Daniel’s grandfather was William Headrick, a soldier in the Revolutionary War from Lancaster, PA. He is buried in Headrick’s Chapel on Wears Valley Road in Sevier Co, TN.)
I should first explain that “Blind” Dan was nicknamed for two reasons. First, there were many Daniel Headrick’s around. The sheer number of Daniel’s would make your head spin! And it makes genealogy work sometimes confusing.
Secondly, he was a blacksmith by trade, and it was told that he had some kind of blacksmithing accident that blinded him. (Another possibility could have been cataracts.)
Daniel first married Polly Jones in 1836, and had eleven children. Their second son was killed in the Civil War. Polly passed away in 1865, and he married a second time to Margaret McKeldery in 1868. (McKelder and McKeldry is interchangeable. Appalachian speech is responsible for that.) Dan was twenty years older than his second wife.
Margaret’s parents were named Edmond (Edd) and Hester (Hettie) Roddy McKeldery. They were married in 1821. They lived in Cades Cove for a time around 1850, and then it seems that they moved into Tuckaleechee Cove (or Rowan’s Creek, or Little Cove) around 1860. Margaret’s sister, Modena McKeldry married into Cades Cove families. I say families plural because I found Modena’s name as Modena McKeldry Spradlin Feezell. She was the mother of Cades Cove Spradlin’s and Feezell’s.
There is not much documentation left of the McKelders, or where they came from. Some say they were out of Virginia or Upper East Tennessee to Sevier County, but they seemed to have moved. It was told that Margaret’s sister Martha married Joseph Phillips and moved to Graham County in the 1860’s.
Margaret and Blind Dan had five children. Darthula, Minerva, Nancy, Hettie, and Daniel. This son Daniel went by “Smoker” Dan. Hettie and Dan were twins. Darthula married Levi Roberts, and lived in Sevier County. Minerva married Levi Perry Abbott. (My great-great grandparents.) Nancy married Marion Burns, who inherited the Headrick house. Hettie married William Adams and lived in Rudd Hollow. They had six daughters (including my husband’s great great grandmother!). Smoker Dan married Josephine Caylor. Smoker Dan and Pheenie, as she was called, moved into Wear’s Valley. “Elvira’s Café” right off Wear’s Valley Road was their house. Their descendants still live in the area.
The Headricks, like any other family in Tuckaleechee Cove at this time, lived close to the land and close to the Lord. They were a few of the founding families of Bethel Baptist Church. Minerva Headrick Abbott remembered meeting in the original log cabin where the church first met. In fact, the river spot where Bethel baptisms were held was named the “McKeldry Hole” and is still known as such by the locals.
Back decades ago, church singings were social events that everyone in the community looked forward to. In this photo below of Blind Dan and Margaret, she’s holding her Songland Messenger hymnal. It must have been important to her. I can imagine she must have been a talented shape-note singer.
The Headricks, like the other families in early Townsend, were farmers. This always held great meaning to me, because of course, I like to live as close to the land as I can! Their resilience and strength are my inspiration for doing things “old-timey”.
“Blind” Dan and Margaret’s descendants are sprinkled all over the county. I have met many folks that can also claim them as grandparents.
I was told several stories about Blind Dan from my distant cousin Earl Adams. Although he never met him, Cora, Earl’s mother, remembered her grandpa Dan. She remembered him sitting on the front porch of his home on Cedar Creek Road. He liked to visit with folks passing by.
“Blind” Dan died in May of 1910 and is buried in Myers Cemetery in Townsend, TN. His gravestone is tall, with inscriptions of a hammer and anvil.
I hope I’ve conveyed how incredible these early pioneers were. I also hope I haven’t written any wrong info, if I have and you notice, let me know. I’ve written everything I know from my research and talking to my relatives. Also if you know something about the Headricks, email me, because I love learning more and more.
Dates taken from The Connection in East Tennessee by Olga Jones Edwards and Izora Waters Frizzell.
Other info passed down from Earl Adams, Jr., and Laverne Farmer. Both distant cousins of mine.