Cousins in Chatfield hosted a reunion of the Hodge, Persons, Pannill, Witherspoon, and Marchbanks families. Chatfield – a small agricultural community – sits about 12 miles from Corsicana. The reunion began July 7 with lunch at the annual meeting of the Chatfield Cemetery Association, so we took a watermelon and drove over.
Our cousin Judge Rob Jones organized the reunion with his mother, now in her 90th year. Rob and wife, Jennifer, were showing off their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Mary Page Pannill Jones. The Joneses named the baby for his mother’s grandmother Mary Page Pannill, who married Robert Lewis Hodge. Rob showed us through his mother’s old Hodge home with its artifacts of a century ago (prayer books and Bibles: the valuable stuff he moved some years ago after a burglary).
Then – back at work sorting out my late brother’s effects – I came across a letter from my grandfather Judge William Pannill to his brother Fitzhugh Carter Pannill. Uncle Fitz lived then in New York City, where he worked in Rockefeller Center for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Will dated the letter August 6, 1935 – 77 years ago next month:
Last Sunday I went to Chatfield to see Aunt Page [Pannill Hodge, Rob’s great-grandmother] and on the way drove out to the old Chancellor church and cemetery, and for the first time visited our Grandfather’s grave.
The old plantation has, of course, been divided. The original house and out-buildings are gone, except one of the negro cabins which is now across the road from the site of the old house. We found the place where the house was located. The same church building is there. The tombstones are in a splendid state of preservation and they are: Geo. C. Jones, Grandma’s brother; Joseph [Pannill], born Petersburg, [Virginia,] 1860, died 1867; Fitzhugh Carter [Pannill], born 1867, died 1870; Charles Carter [Pannill], born Dec. 1873, died 1874; Grandpa [Henry] Pannill, born Aug. 13, 1829, died June 30, 1873. I had forgotten that Charles Carter was a post humous child.
These scenes arouse unexpected emotions, which I cannot explain. These people, all of whom died before I was born [in 1876], always seemed mythical, but as I stood in the little church yard, and with the same surroundings of more than sixty years ago, my imagination reconstructed the scene enacted there so long ago.
The old house stood upon a gently sloping hill from which a valley gradually fell away to the Trinity River. In this valley was several hundred acres of farm land, then covered with tall corn and luxuriant cotton. To the southwest of the main house stretched the row of cabins, which housed the hundred and fifty negroes on the plantation. Beyond them was the [cotton] gin, and now, on the 1st day of July, the Master of the Broad acres of Red Bank and Battersea [plantations] had come to the end of the trail. The funeral procession wound from the hill down to the frontier church, the family in the carriage, drawn by the white mules. The neighbors from the sparsely settled community had gathered; on one side stood the negroes brought [in 1864] from Louisiana. Grandma, just turned forty, was burying her husband by the side of the two little boys and her brother. Misfortune had come “not in single spies, but in battalions” since they had sought refuge in this isolated spot from the disaster of the war, and more were speedily to follow [Hamlet, Act 4, scene 5]. Grouped around her were Papa [Dr. William Pannill], just 22, Aunt Caddie 20, Uncle Harry 12, Aunt Maggie 10, Aunt Page 8 and Aunt Georgia 6,and with them sat Aunt Phyllis “Mamma” to the children, with her apron over her head, stricken with uncontrollable grief at the death of him who to her was still Master.
I seemed to hear the words of the Episcopalian service, but the sound was from the preacher in the little church. The shadowy figures vanished. There was no plantation. No negroes, and I suppose the only witnesses to that scene now living are Aunt Page and Aunt Georgia. Perhaps the reason for my state of retrospection was the fact that the situation then was almost a page from history of the old South.
The place where Judge Pannill stood we now know as Telico. The one-room Episcopal church, which Henry Pannill built, became Baptist. But the Telico Cemetery Association (http://telicotxcemetery.com/) continues to maintain the graves.