I have always been very interested in family history. Even when I was a little girl, I loved looking at old photos and learning the names of my ancestors. There was always an old photo of my paternal great-great grandparents in our downstairs bedroom and I was sort of fascinated by it. Their names were Levi Perry and Minerva Headrick Abbott.
Then, when I finally got to see where they had lived, it’s almost like they came to life in my mind.
When I was a little older, a few family members and I visited the old home place that had been abandoned for years. We salvaged a few belongings, and those things that I have from my great-great grandparents I hold as priceless treasures!
Levi Perry Abbott was born on December 5, 1874 to Pleasant A. Witt and Nancy Ann Dunn Abbott. Sadly, Nancy Ann died from typhoid fever when Perry was only 10 years old. He grew up with relatives, as his father was a carpenter and had to work for a living. It’s uncertain who he stayed with the most, but he was raised in the Dunn Hollow.
Perry spent all of his 98 years in that hollow. This was Dunn property, so I believe it is safe to assume he grew up with the Dunn’s, his mother’s family. Perry’s father Witt remarried Catherine Myers Walker, also a widow. They had several more children. Known as “Aunt Cass” to much of her family, she was the daughter of Sleepy John and Peg Myers of Townsend.
Witt Abbott was raised by his grandparents, as his mother Naomi Abbott had him out of wedlock. His father is said to have been a Dunn, but the man who had a relationship with his mother ran away because he didn’t want to be married to her. Naomi was the daughter of a Primitive Baptist preacher, Absalom Abbott. Absalom and Annis Stillwell Abbott lived in Cades Cove for a time, but moved around a lot. Absalom was also the father of Noah Abbott, the main line of Abbott’s from the Cove.
Naomi later married John “Jack” Tipton (his second wife) and this is the main line of the Cades Cove Tiptons. (See how we’re all connected here? If you’re a bit confused…it’s because genealogy is a bit confusing!)
Minerva Headrick was the daughter of “Blind” Dan and Margaret McKeldry Headrick. She was born on November 13, 1875. I do not know too much about Minerva’s early life. Like any other girl in the mountains, I’d say she had her share of chores around the house and in the garden. She would have learned to cook and sew, not to mention canning and preserving the garden. The Headrick’s attended church on Sunday’s at Bethel Baptist Church, and as Minerva grew older, she attended singings where she would meet friends. Shaped note hymnals and singings were very popular during the early 20th century. Minerva attended plenty of harp singings, and as I am a lover of romantic tales, I would like to think this is where she started courting her husband.
One interesting aspect of Perry’s life was that he was a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge, the Townsend chapter. This organization was sort of a precursor to the Free Masons. They focused on right Christian living, charitable acts, and being an overall good citizen. Perry paid dues to this organization most of his twenties. Perry was also trained as a carpenter like his father and his brothers.
Minerva and Perry were married September 1, 1900. Perry was 25 and Minerva, “Nervie”, was 24. They lived in a cabin in the Dunn Hollow, and a short time later their first son, Carl Israel, my great-grandad, was born in March 1901.
They then had a daughter, Nina Edna, in November 1902. Lou Ella was born in December 1904. Five years later in December 1909 twin boys were born, Ed Witt and Joe Levi. Finally, their last son Perry Dunn was born in February 1917.
In December 1908, Perry built their permanent home right by the road in the Dunn Hollow. Being a fantastic carpenter, this house is still standing strong, even though the ivy is creeping in and the elements are threatening it.
The Abbott’s moved all their belongings on a sled because it was snowing on move-in day. How nice it must have been to move into this house from a little cabin! It had two bedrooms, big parlor and kitchen, and an upstairs attic used for the boys’ room. The home had a nice fireplace and plenty of room for the family. I’m sure it still became crowded, but Carl moved out when he was 25. The youngest son Perry would have been just 7 when the older siblings started moving away or going to school.
The Abbott’s were farmers. Perry owned a great deal of land. At one time he had over 300 acres in Townsend and Sevier County. He had to quit his job as a carpenter full time to run his farm. Of course, Minerva and the kids had to help out. Big wheat, corn, and oat fields had to be plowed, sowed, and harvested. Eventually they acquired tractors for the big farm. At first everything was done by teams of mules and horses. The house was shadowed by apple trees and berry bushes. One type of apple they grew was called a “mare” apple, according to my Grandpa Don. The garden grew enough food to dry and can for the winter. Minerva planted flowers around her yard like any other housewife would. Beauty was everywhere.
The children attended Coker Hill School. This was right at the entrance of Dunn Hollow Rd, up the hill on the right. This school was just through the 8th grade. The firstborn son Carl went to business school in Maryville and married Stella McNeilly out of West Millers Cove in Walland. His father helped him buy his first car, a Model A Ford. This vehicle must have been used to get Carl to and from school and work—maybe a little courting, too.
Perry and Nervie was known as Pawpaw and Mawmaw to their grandkids.
Based on pictures I have collected, family meant everything to them. They were surrounded by loved ones in every photo. My Grandpa Don recalls Mawmaw remembering everyone’s birthday in the community. “She had the memory of an elephant”, he says, “and knew everything that was happening in the family”.
Mawmaw always wore an apron over her dress or skirt. The generation her daughters grew up in seemed to throw the idea of aprons out the window, and the idea has not been fashionable ever since. The Appalachian housewife had to keep her clothes clean somehow.
My daddy, Donny, says, “I can remember going to visit mawmaw and pawpaw, and that she liked to hug the little ones. We have pictures of me and my sister with her, so this helps keep those memories alive. I remember him much the same as I do Mawmaw; same house, same porch, same front door. But he was always seated in his rocking chair to the left of the door in the corner. There was a closet door on the left side of his chair with a walking stick hung from the doorknob. He and Mawmaw were always happy to see us.”
My grandpa said when Pawpaw got older, he would sit in a chair in the yard and watch the work getting done. He always had a piece of wood and a knife. Whittling away at the wood, he’d shave off perfect little curly-q’s.
Perry and Nervie lived a wonderful life back in the Dunn Hollow. I’m not going to make it so idyllic as to say they never had hard times…but in honoring them through this story, I want folks to know how blessed this family was.
They loved the Lord and their life and legacy proves it. Generations of their family are reaping the benefits of godly raising, I believe. I’m so thankful to look back on the past and know that my family honored God.
In a Daily Times article written about Perry in June 1972, the writer has asked him what he attributes his long life to. This was his reply: “Loving God. I trusted Him when I was young and lived close to Him all my life because He is my Creator.”
Mawmaw died in 1972 at 96 years of age. Nina, their oldest daughter, lived with them, and continued to take care of her dad after her mother passed away.
My Daddy said, “It’s like Pawpaw just quit when he lost her. His chair had curled wooden ends on the arm rests, and I can remember him just rhythmically tapping the armrest with his knuckles.”
Perry died in 1973 at 98 years of age. They are buried in Bethel Baptist’s cemetery.
A good long life. A good long legacy of faith and love. This story was too precious not to share.