Sunday, February 18, 2018

Henry Merritt: Amazon Cousins

Gordon and Ann Stewart
"The Henry Merritt is the same George Henry Merritt to which you referred. ...All my records show that this Lydia A. Stewart Webb was the daughter of my great-great grandfather, Gordon S. Stewart."  
E-Mail from William Stewart 
Gordon S and Ann (Taylor) Stewart are our third great grandparents*. Their daughter, Lydia, married and had a family with William J Webb. He was killed fighting for the South in the Civil War. Then she took up with a former Union soldier from Connecticut, George Leonard Merritt. Our great grandfather George 'Henry' Merritt was their only surviving child.


Grandma Lydia's oldest sister married William Smith. William and Elizabeth (aka Sarah) (Stewart) Smith had one son and seven daughters.

Lydia 'Queen of the Okefenokee and 'Big Six' Nancy
Lydia and Nancy Smith
"Four of the seven sisters were amazons, approximately six feet and four inches tall.... Their exploits are legendary in South Georgia and South Florida. The most noted was Lydia Smith-Stone-Crews, the 'Queen of the Okefenokee'. The others were: Sarah Smith-McClain, the 'Ox Woman'; Hannah Smith, 'Big Six'; and Nancy Smith, 'Big Nancy'."  
Queen of the Okefenokee
The short story, 'Four Female Giants' - told on page 61 of the book, Tellable Cracker Tales - is about them. We've already blogged about our cousin Lydia.  'Big Nancy' worked for and lived near her sister, Lydia, her entire life.

Sarah 'Ox Woman' Smith-McClain


None of the large sisters had children. Their oldest sister - of average size - never married. Two of their sisters - Georgia Ann and Keziah Caroline (Kizzy) - married Johns brothers. Through their family comes the following story about Sarah.

"Some say the Ox-Woman was as strong as - well, any man. And perhaps the Widow McClain, who moved from South Georgia to south Florida in the early part of this century, had to sacrifice her femininity to survive in the wilderness of the Okefenokee and the Everglades. 
Sarah (Smith) McClain
What is known about this 6' and 2" female giant is sparse. For many South Georgians she immediately compares with Lydia Stone, Queen of the Okefenokee. She should! She is one of Mrs. Stone's four "big sisters". The others who also claimed fame by their size are Hannah Smith (Big Six) and Nancy Smith (Big Nancy). Other parallels besides size are also apparent. Widow McClain did not desire fashion; her apparel, usually, was a shapeless dress, sun bonnet, and men's heavy work shoes. 
After her husband was hung for murder, she journeyed from Racepond in Charlton County, Ga. to South Dade County, Fl in 1907. When she crossed the swamp on her ox cart, hacking her way, her reputation was made; on her first appearance- a muscular woman carrying a shotgun and driving a noisy cart led by two poor beasts and followed by two hounds - the citizens, especially the women, stayed out of her path. 
Sarah 'Ox-Woman' McClain Smith
In the evening, after working in the fields, the Widow would entertain those who had befriended her by singing English ballads Okefenok- style; or as she rocked on the porch, she would read the Bible, probably strengthening her belief that those Seminoles she saw roaming the Everglades were members of that lost tribe of Israel. And when bedtime approached, the merchant refused to sleep in a bed. The floor was her bed. 
In spring of 1911 she pulled up stakes and crossed the Glades to Everglades City. She farmed around Immokalee unti 1919, when she had a stroke and died. Her death was confused in one newspaper article with that of her sister who was killed by Mr. Watson." 
Genealogy page of Jacob Johns
Hannah 'Big Six' Smith and Ed Watson

"Around 1900, Lydia's sister Hannah left the Okefenokee and moved south to the 'Ten Thousand Islands' region along Florida's Gulf Coast." 
Queen of the Okefenokee page 28
Hannah worked on Edgar Watson's farm.
Edgar Watson
"(Watson ed.) had supposedly gotten into trouble in Columbia County in northern Florida,...then gone out to the Indian territory (later known as the Oklahoma Territory) where he allegedly killed Belle Starr, herself allegedly an outlaw. He then returned to Florida and killed a man in Arcadia, apparently in self-defense. After that Ed Watson moved to the Ten Thousand Islands area... ." 
Wikipedia
Watson hired transients and outlaws to live on and work his fields. When they were ready to move on and asked for their pay, Watson killed them. Hannah was one of the casualties on his farm.

Around this time,

"...Sarah received a letter from her family, asking her to see if everything was OK with Hannah. 
Big Cypress Swamp 1917
The only problem was that Hannah lived on the other side of the state and at that time there was no route crossing Florida. If she followed established roads, she would have to go in a circuitous manner that would take three months and cover more than 300 miles. Not the Ox-Woman. 
Packing up her cart, she set off for the other side of the state - directly across the Everglades. No man had crossed the Everglades, or at least, no one survived to tell. For six weeks the Ox-Woman chopped her way across Florida, walking ahead of the ox cart to clear the way. Panthers, bears, snakes and alligators were fended off by Sarah and her two dogs. 
Orlando Sentinel October 1, 1989

The Notorious Edgar J. Watson



*NoteRelationships, such as grandmother, 2nd great, etc., are expressed from the perspective of the grandchildren of Willis Edgar and Carrie (known as) Mae (Merritt) Musgrove.

Terms of relationship - grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc.  - are used here generically to include  relatives such as fourth great grandfathers, great grand uncles, second cousins twice removed, etc.

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