Thursday, October 11, 2007

John "Chicken" Stephens

And speaking of ancestry ...

When I first found out that a person can send into FamilyTreeDNA and find out, roughly anyway, where his mitochondrial DNA, and therefore his direct matrilineal ancestors came from, I jumped at the chance.

My "mtDNA haplogroup" came back as H11, a somewhat rare group, but clearly European.

You see, at first I didn't have much in terms of paper records to go on from my direct matrilineal line.

What I did find was a cousin who told me that his daughter has interviewed by great-aunt before she died and that she told a tale that her mother's mother's mother had an older brother from North Carolina who "became a Senator".

Well, I knew his name was Stephens, but there never was a US Senator named Stephens from North Carolina.

However, as I later found out, there WAS a STATE Senator by the name of John Stephens who was assassinated in the basement of the Caswell County courthouse by apparently one of the first members of the Ku Klux Klan - a certain George Lea.

This George Lea apparently made some sort of tape-recorded deathbed confession to the crime.

So I started doing some research to try to find out what could have upset someone enough to off this estimable uncle of mine.

I found a number of accounts, but the one that sounded the most plausible about how he got the nickname "Chicken" had nothing at all to do with any lack of courage, but rather referred to an incident where supposedly his neighbor's chickens were destroying his garden, and, in a fit of rage, my uncle John Stephens slaughtered those chickens and delivered them, fully dressed with all the trimmings, to their owners.

Now, of course a terrible temper DOES run quite strongly on my mother's side of the family, so I can see something like this happening.

However, I didn't think sending someone's chickens to meet their maker would be enough to move someone to garrote someone in the basement of the Caswell County Courthouse.

Nope - as my research progressed I discovered the much more likely explanation.

Turns out John Stephens had been helping the recently freed slaves sue their former owners, and, by one account, when that endeavor wasn't moving fast enough, he organized the former slaves into setting fire to the crops and businesses of their former masters.

Now THIS I can see someone getting murderously angry about.

In fact, I found myself wondering if there might be some TINY grain of truth to some of the mess from Birth Of A Nation - that maybe in the midst of the rest of the carpet bagging activity that this relative of mine, in, perhaps, a bit of seething hatred for the "Power Elite" of his time, just might have decided to cause them a wee bit of a problem with the assistance of his newly freed friends.

It's entirely possible that, at least at first, the Ku Klux Klan may have been some sort of "defense mechanism" against what my uncle and his friends were attempting.

If that be the case, then, yes, ironically enough, a relative of mine - one with the very same "brand" of mitochondrial DNA I have - may very well have set into motion the events that led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Oh yes ... that temper on that side of the family CAN cause trouble I tell you ...

Related:
Senator John Walter Stephens - Rootsweb / Caswell County Historical Association

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