Say My Name

An African-American Family History

     After the emancipation, all mention of Amy disappeared. The children stayed with Solomon and lived with him and his new wife, Mrs. Cherry Jelks Cole. They married in 1867. Cherry brought with her a young son named Jim Cole from a previous union. Soon after they were married,  they began to add more children to the Koonce clan. There were 13 in all. According to the 1870 Tennessee census, Solomon lived in a community called Johnston Grove with Cherry and his family of seven. His oldest daughter Mosella was married to a Joe Dodson and lived next door.

      While many Blacks suffered poverty after the Civil war, Solomon was fortunate to own his own farmland valued at $350. According to the oral history, the land was given to Solomon by Isaac Koonce. They were neighbors after the war. Solomon purchased 250 acres of land from Isaac in 1873. He paid for it with $1,200 cash in hand. The land was described as undeveloped woodland with a creek running through it. With the help of his three oldest sons, James, Solomon and Bethel, Solomon was able to work the land and provide for his family from the fruits of his labor.

      By 1880 the family had expanded. The three oldest sons were now married. James was married to Jane Roberts and already had three children of his own. Solomon Jr. had married a woman named Tishy and was the father of a two-month old girl. Bethel was married to a woman named Sue and they were also the parents of one child. Augustus, Moses and Charlie remained at home with their new siblings by Cherry.

      Solomon was also prospering as a landowner. According to the agricultural census of 1880, he owned 175 acres of underdeveloped woodland. The rest of his property was cultivated for various purposes. His farm was now valued at $3,000. He had double the value of his farm production from $400 to $800. He owned livestock valued at $350. He raised chickens, sold dairy products to neighboring dairy factories and profited from a crop yield of grain and cotton. He even sold cords of wood from his own forest.

      The census of 1890 has been lost due to a fire that destroyed nearly all of the U.S. Census for that year. Little is known about Solomonís life during that decade. By the 1900 census he was 74 and living with Cherry and his three youngest children. He also had a live-in servant named James Drake.

      In 1910, Solomon, now 84 years old, had given up farming. He and Cherry lived with his youngest son Whitman, Whitman's new wife Mabel Midgett and their children. Solomon and Cherry had many years ahead of them. What was very evident was his great concern for his family. In turbulent times, during the war, and in times of peace, Solomon had kept his children close. He even gave each one of his adult children 25 acres from his holdings to help them get started in life.

      He was also a religious man. He aided in establishing a local Baptist church. Although he could not read nor write, he treasured his family bible that he had acquired after his marriage to Cherry. The bible was large--the size of a pulpit bible. It was covered with hand-tooled leather. The late Ophelia Koonce Sawyer remembered being taught how to read from it. It also included the records of births, deaths and marriages of the members of the Koonce clan. The bible still exist today making it a valuable family heirloom.

      In 1922, Solomon lost his companion of 55 years. Cherry died of old age. The year of her birth was approximately 1838 making her around 84 years old when she died. On the death certificate, her motherís name is listed as Tildy Jelks and her father as Peter Randolph. Six years later, Solomon joined her in eternity. He had lived over a full century.

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