A DAY OF DISCOVERY
Hope A. Hilton
The hand of God in genealogical research is often evidenced. On a trip to visit our daughter in Washington, D.C. we felt more than blessed as answers poured upon us. We were headed north on highway 85 out of Charlotte, N.C. in the summer of 1989. My husband said "I think we should go to Stokes County while we are the area." Stokes County was the home of my 5th great-grandfather Edwin Hickman Sr. during the Revolutionary War. Being the Hickman family genealogist I had always had an interest in his life and in 1964 made a trip with my teenaged daughter to look for family connections.
"I found everything there was to find in Stokes County and in Raleigh when I was here", I answered, a bit peeved that he was questioning my research abilities 24 years previous. I had found new facts in 1964 especially at the State Historical Society in Raleigh where State Censuses uncovered a Hickman family with 12 or 14 children, all unnamed.
My husband looked at me and said, "I feel we should go to Stokes County, something might have been missed in 1964."
There was that possibility of course and we turned in Greensboro toward Winston-Salem. From there we took secondary highway 311 to Walnut Cove, then highway 89 to Danbury the County seat. Stokes County in North Carolina is one of those rural counties in America that is crossed by no major highways. We were in the backwoods, thick strands of trees and rolling hills, mostly covered with family fields of green growing tobacco plants, punctuated by an occasional small farm house. This was the landscape, the place from which my William Hickman, son of Edwin, left home in 1810 for better land in Kentucky, and from there his grandson had found his way with the pioneers to Utah in 1849.
The new court house in the center of Danbury was where we started in the few hours we had left in the day. We began with old county maps. One old deed discovered 1964 indicated the Hickman family lived on "Lovins Creek". Where was Lovins Creek?, we asked around the court house. No one knew the answer and suggested we buy the new larger and more detailed county map. This gave a clue that Lovins Creek and McCullough Creeks were the same. We headed on a narrow paved county road to the McCullough Creek. It was a beautiful spot as green as a salad with the rushing water of what used to Lovins, Creek cascading under a narrow wooden bridge. A farmer in a nearby yard said he had never heard of any Hickmans living in the area because, "I am a newcomer, only been here 30 years". He pointed the way back toward the main 2 lane highway and said, "There's a white farm house on the road with a porch in front. Stop there and ask. They have lived here a lot longer than we have."
With no better directions we turned around and started driving, looking on each side of the road for a large white house with a porch. "There it is", I said in anticipation, "and someone is waiting for us on the porch." We drove down the long dirt driveway. "No" 9 she said. "I've never heard the name Hickman around these part and my family have lived here for 4 generations." Disappointed we were about to leave when she said, "Here comes my neighbor up from the hollow. Her family are old-timers, maybe she knows something." She called to her neighbor who took another 5 minutes to climb the steep hill to the farmhouse."
We asked the same question, "Have you heard of any Hickmans or Hickman property in this area?" We were there to do family research we told her. She thoughtfully answered, "No, not to my knowledge." Then a light seemed to go on in her head as she said, "My father, age 87, is named Hickman Simmons, but where he got the name Hickman from I don't know." I told her I was sure she had relatives in Utah.
She gave us directions to her father's farm, directions difficult to follow for there were no straight streets, only country lanes, some paved some not. We drove for about 30 minutes looking on the left-hand side of the road, for those were her instructions. As we headed for more dirt road, the name Hickman Simmons seemed to jump out at us from a rural mailbox. She had said it was a red brick home on a hill. The description fit and we followed the dirt road up the hill to the house. An elderly man was standing in the backyard. We asked him after introductions, "Why are you named Hickman?" He answered, "that was the name of my great-grandfather Edwin Hickman. More questions and answers as I gave him a hug and called him a long lost relative. "There are six graves where he's buried over yonder. His is the extra long grave. I was taken there when I was 10 years old by my grandfather and told 'Never to forget the spot, His great-grandfather Edwin Hickman Jr., we knew was a Revolutionary War veteran. "You'll find the burials next to the old Hickman cabin built when the family first came to North Carolina from Virginia. It's deep in the wood." He said he was too old to go with us but gave what to him were simple directions to find the place, long-forgotten in the piney woods, a mile from his home.
Twenty minutes later, across a bridged stream, and up and down hilly roads and lanes, we located the small white house at "the end of the road." There a woman told us she knew nothing about any Hickman graves, but added, "I've heard there are 2 old cabins down the road, half way back toward the highway, turn right at the opening in the trees."
By this time her large brown coon dog was by our side anxious to follow or escort us inside the large grove of trees, growing so thick the sunlight was dimly filtered through. We walked for 15 minutes along an abandoned wagon trail overgrown with trees and scrubs, and likely unused for 40 to 50 years, judging by the size of the trees between the wagon ruts. Then we saw the log foundations, of two small cabins, all but the outlines rotted away. Where the cabin doors had been the green undergrowth was especially verdant. "That's where the dish and bath water were poured out", I said.
Then I saw the 6 depressions, all in a line, obviously all graves. The bodies and the burial wooden boxes had decomposed, and now all that was left were six depressions the size of bodies, a foot deep, and filled in with years of accumulated leaves. "Six of them and one extra long", as Hickman Simmons had said.
"Here it is", I said in awed excitement. "A Revolutionary War Veteran buried in an unmarked grave, the brother of my 4th great- grandfather William Hickman. Was the father Edwin Hickman Sr. also buried there? We did not know. He had been a county road surveyor back in the early days and we had no clue.
The coon dog was exuberant with us. It was so peaceful, a true sylvan glen long forgotten. We felt it appropriate to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication at the site. I began to pray, the dog stopped his romping and jumping and lay down, his head on his stretched out paws as if he knew his ancestors had been found. At the end of the prayer he was off running again.
This was not the end of this day of discovery. We returned to the home of the grand niece of Hickman Simmons to ask if there were any family records, perhaps a Bible somewhere. Tobacco juice stained her chin as she told of a cousin, Gaither Simmons, who she thought might own a family Bible. "He's on vacation in California, here's his telephone number. He'll be home in two weeks."
Two weeks later on a Wednesday afternoon from my home in Salt Lake City I telephoned Gaither Simmons. His wife assured me that they owned an old family Bible but treasured it and would not loan it. She said there were pages of family vital statistics included, birth, deaths, and marriage dates. "Could she please have those pages zeroxed for me." She promised to do it, "next Sunday at my Baptist Church"
On Saturday morning two and one-half days after my telephone call, and before noon, there was a large envelope delivered to my door containing the copied pages. I wrote to the Postmaster in Salt Lake City congratulating his office on such a speedy delivery.
The Bible pages contained names and connections never before discovered, but sought after for 3-4 generations. Since this discovery scores of families from California to North Carolina, with Iowa, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, and Kansas in between have written for copies of the Bible pages. I continue to received inquiries about this family and the descendants of Edwin Hickman, and families named Hickman, Ketchum, Simmons and Hampton.
It was a day of discovery, one we can never forget.
Hope Hilton passed away 26 October 1999.
Though he had married into the family, her
husband Lynn remains a dedicated Hickman.
He can be contacted at the following address:
Lynn M. & Nancy Hilton
40 N. State Street, Apt. 8B
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
You can send him an email by clicking here.
To learn more about Hickmans in the American Revolution, click here. To return to the Hickman Index Page, click here.