Chapter One: The Beginning

Chapter Two: The Great Migration

Chapter Three: The Virginia Gambills

Chapter Four: The North Carolina Contingent

Chapter Five: The "Proverbial Brick Wall"

Chapter Six: The Next Generations

Chapter Seven: Grandparents are Important!

Chapter Eight:The Full Circle

Appendix A: Dad's Ledgers
Appendix B: Jim Gambill
Appendix C: My Mom-Amanda Brooks Gambill

  This is a recent photo of Walnut Grove Baptist church located near Trap Hill , NC in Wilkes County.  Many Gambills are buried in the cemetery.

  Our ancestor, William Gambill, deeded the land that the first church was built upon.  Our great aunt, Caroline Gambill May, Pap's sister, professed her christian faith here at the age of 15. 

  There is a beginning for everything, but the knowledge of our family's beginnings is lost in the mists of time.. The first fact that I know is that the root word origin of our family name, Gamel, means in the Old Norse language "The old one." I, also know there is, and I have visited it, a village in Cumbria, Northern England called Gambleby (home of the Gambles). And we know that our Scotch, or Scots- Irish, ancestors emigrated to America from a country surrounding the Irish Sea, probably England. So extrapolating these bits of knowledge I fantasize the following scenario as a possibility of our early beginnings.

"Back in time when dragons were real (at least on the prows of ships), in the seventh and eighth centuries, Norsemen/Vikings were plundering all the coasts of Europe. A raiding party entered one of the rivers of northern England, pillaged and raped, and one of them stayed to spread his progeny. Or maybe he just was dumped there by his co-Vikings/raiders because he was too old to continue pillaging and raping. You see they called him Gamel -the old one. There are still families all over the United Kingdom and the United States by that name, but Gamel has evolved and become Gamble, Gambill, Gambell, Gambrill, Gambrell, Gumbel-I have read that at least twelve different spellings are known."

The only other factual item that I have read about our ancestors prior to the early 1700's is that there was a Gamel fighting as a foot soldier with Henry V's English army at the battle of Agincourt in France. The year was 1415.

So now we fast forward to the early 1700's and come to the next chapter which is:

  In the intervening millennium since the "Old One" arrived on English shores, the Gamels have blended with the locals--tribes of Picts, Celts, Scots, Angles, Saxons, other Norsemen, and remnants of Romans -Whatever! We know, too, that early in the 17th century many Scots lowlanders and some English were invited by King James 1 to cross the Irish Sea to settle in Ulster, Ireland. Our Gambill ancestors considered themselves to be part of this group-the Scotch Irish.

The early part of the 18th century in England and Ireland were troublesome and oppressive times for the working classes Beginning in 1709 the English Parliament passed Acts requiring that private lands be enclosed, or fenced off, from common lands. This was designed to give the advantage to the sheep growers who produced the wool which in large part accounted for England's wealth at that time.The Scotch- Irish suffered especially from absentee landlords in England.  And they also suffered religious persecution in that Presbyterians (the religion brought to Ulster Ireland by the followers of John Knox) were denied many freedoms and opportunities. To escape, what better place was there than the American Colony where there was the possibility of free land! And a chance to escape the oppressive old world class system which favored landlords. And so began a mass migration from those countries surrounding the Irish Sea i.e. Northern England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland..

Some of those who migrated from England were the Scotch- Irish who had recently left Ireland after the linen war of 1700-1704. Our ancestors were thought to be part of this group(from an article by David Andrew Sturgill of Alleghany Genealogical Society).

Most of these immigrants came through the port of Philadelphia. From there, in their search for land, they moved westward into that part of Pennsylvania which was then the frontier. Some veered south settling in the mid-counties of Virginia. And this is where we pick up the first written evidence of our Gambill ancestors.

Footnote: Notwithstanding that there are scattered records of individual Gambills who landed on the shores of Maryland and Virginia between 1631 and 1745, I favor the above hypothesis , i.e. that our ancestors came to Virginia through Pennsylvania.

 Finally, we have moved beyond fantasy, conjecture and probabilities and we can talk about authentic people.

Henry Gambill was the first known in our line although there are some researchers who suspect that Thomas and Ann Gambill/Gamble.were. There are land records in 1729 from which could be drawn the inference that they were Henry's parents, but the records do not offer the absolute proof required of genealogists . So we will start with what we know of Henry and leave Thomas and Ann back there in those mists. Perhaps we will meet them again as additional research is done by new generations. .

Henry was born, we know not where, ca 1700. He died in Culpeper County, Virginia between 1762 and 1775.. He married Mary/Marie Davenport, the daughter of Martin Davenport and Dorothy Harralson around 1735, or earlier. They probably lived for a time in an area known as Gamble's Mountain in Culpeper,
We know that he and Mary had at least six sons and one daughter : William, Benjamin, Henry, John, Thomas, Martin and Sally.

North Carolina HollerThe following legal records have been discovered, documenting Henry's life:.    

    : He was a witness to the will of Martin Davenport of New Kent County, Va. in 1735.

    On September 3, 1735, according to the records of Hanover County, Virginia, Henry bought 175 acres of land on Little Rocky Creek from Thomas Carr of Caroline County.

On October 22, 1735 he bought nine hundred acres in Culpeper County, Virginia from Thomas Kennerly of South Carolina.

Records show he sold land to Mr. John Minor of Spotsylvania, County. On September 17, 1761 Henry, in deeding 180 acres in Bromfield Parish to William, pointed to William as his son toward whom he bore "good will, love and affection." He deeded land to George Strother on August 19, 1762. This seems to be his last legal record.

On November 20, 1775, William Gambill, seemingly the eldest son, sold land to Alpheus Beale of Maryland, the record including the words " Henry Gambill, Deceased." Thus we know that Henry died in Culpepper County between 1762 and November 20, 1775.

In regard to the children, we have a record that his daughter Sally, born around 1745, married John White of Virginia. According to parish records of Lafayette, Louisiana, she died there February 20, 1828..

Some of his sons' activities in Virginia are a matter of court and service-connected records during the 1760's and 1780's decades.

Benjamin, Henry, John, and William are listed as witnesses in the 1764 Culpeper Court Minutes.
Henry and John were Sergeants in the Culpeper Militia under Colonel Thomas Slaughter. The group organized in August 1755. For their service of approximately one year, Henry and John were each paid 1,710 pounds of tobacco in April 1758.
A payment was made to Thomas Gambrell, an infantry soldier, on 24 July, 1786.

The 1782 Virginia land tax shows no Gambill's living in Culpeper County. Instead the family of Henry seems to have migrated to the western districts of the state and also, in one large contingent, to western North Carolina. Our interest lies in three brothers, William , Martin and John who disappear from Virginia records and appear at the same time in Surry County (later Wilkes), North Carolina.

Footnote: All the information in Chapter 3 was extracted from the Winter 1987 publication of the Wilkes Genealogical Society. It results from the research of the late William Perry Johnson of Raleigh, NC. I only tried to reorganize, edit and write it so it would be easier to read. The variant spellings of the name are typical of the era.

   I found quite a lot of written information about this trio of pioneers, William, John and Martin, especially Martin who was the youngest and most colorful ..

William, the oldest, may have carried leadership. Born around 1740, deed books show that he sold land to Joseph Poindexter in Culpeper County Va. in 1776, to Richard Parks in 1771, and to Alpheus Beale in

1775..Meanwhile in the New River area of what became Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties, entries for land grants had been entered by the three men. William received several land grants totaling around one thousand acres of land near what is presently known as the west fork of Roaring River. Since Wilkes County was not formed until 1778 William's assets were first listed on Benjamin Cleveland's 1777 Surry County Tax List, with two improvements, along with four slaves, four horses, 11 cattle, and 75 pounds of money.

He was appointed Tax Assessor in Captain Allen's district in 1778, served as juryman, and was a planter and miller. According to family legend , the Gambill Mill was a landmark in Wilkes County for over 100 years . He donated land for the first Walnut Grove Baptist Church in the Gambill Creek area. The church is still there, but not the original building. Today, there remains a Cemetery adjoining the church. Many Gambill names are on the tombstones, but not William's.  It is believed his grave was washed away in  a flood.

William also served in the Revolutionary War as a private in the First North Carolina Battalion under Major John Baptista Ashe and Colonel Thomas Clark in 1777 and 1778.  Note: I have read that proving direct lineage with him will merit membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution).

William married, Mary Johnson Wash, daughter of Thomas Wash, probably in Culpeper County, Virginia around 1758/60. They had seven children, and this is what I have found written about them.
(1) Henry married Charity Morgan, daughter of Squire John Morgan, on Oct 6, 1778. This couple were settled in Davidson county, Tennessee by 1789.
(2) Thomas, born 1760, married Susey Brewer on April 8, 1780 . By 1783 he had sold out and probably was the Thomas Gamble or Gambill recorded on the Iredell County, NC census for 1790. Also, there is a land deed in Georgia in the late 1700's involving Thomas and Susannah (Susey?).
(3) William, either left Wilkes County, or died during the Revolutionary War period.
(4) James married Alice Morgan, Charity's sister, in July 1785. James and Alice became pioneers in Robertson County, Tennessee.
(5) Sarah married John Nall on March 21, 1785.
(6) Jesse married Nancy Johnson around 1805/07. This Jesse removed from Wilkes County to Ashe County between 1810 and 1820. He is back in Wilkes for the 1830 and 1840 censuses. (More about him later).
(7) Mary married Fielding Lewis around 1790 and they resided in Claiborne County, VA.

William died young in 1779 at around 39 years of age. Mary lived at least well into her seventies.. Because it is important to our story and because it provides interesting insights to the man's character and the way our ancestors lived, his will is inserted verbatim here:


In the name of God Amen this the 14th day of February 1779, I William Gambill of Wilkes County being very sick and weak in body but of perfect mind and memory. Thanks be giving unto Almighty God. Therefore calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all men once to die do make and ordain this my last will and testament: That is to say principally and first of all I give and commend my soul unto the hands of Almighty God that gave it and my body to the grave to be buried in a decent Christian burial at the direction of my executors, nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God. And as touching such worldly estate wherewith it has pleased God to bless me in this life I give and devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.

In primis I give and bequeath to Mary Gambill, my dearly beloved wife, that plantation that I now live (on) and the land joining of during her life of widowhood, then to my son Jessey Gambill. I do give and bequeath to my son Thomas Gambill the lower part of the land beginning with the location, then running south, then east, than west and so to the beginning. I do give and bequeath to my son Hennery Gambill the part of that land that he now lives on beginning at the mouth of the branch he lives on running (illegible). I do give and bequeath to my son James one hundred acres of land on New River Waters on the no-headed branch..

I do give and bequeath to my daughter, Sarah Gambill, one negro boy named Daniel.. I do give and bequeath to my daughter, Mary Gambill, one negro boy named Ben. If any one of the said girls should die without a lawful care of his body, her negro above named to belong to the surviving one and if both should die without lawful care of his body, the said negros above named to be returned to the estate.

I do give and bequeath to my beloved wife, Mary Gambill , the rest of my estate and mill that stands on my son Hennery Gambill land to be sold at her death or day of marriage and to be equally divided between all my children, namely Thomas Gambill, Hennery Gambill, William Gambill, James Gambill, Sarah Gambill, Mary Gambill, Jessey Gambill.. I likewise constitute my wife executrix, Thomas Gambill, Hennery Gambill executors of this my last will and testament.
Followed by signature and witnesses, James Ramey, James Gambill, and George Lewis.

Four beds and steds. A parsel of pewter. One case of knives and forks. A parsel of books. A pare of selyards. One chest. Three negroes. Two horses. Forty head of hogs. Ten head of sheep. Twenty head of cattle. One case and bottles. One slate. One waggon and gears. Three plows. Eight hose. Three pots and a Dutch oven. One mill, six jugs and butter pat and one hand bellows. Fore axes. Nine barrels. One hemp mill spindle. One gun shelf and parsel of other iron. One pare of fire tongs. Two sythe blades. One cross cut saw and a parsel of other tools, a parsel of files. One set of shew tools. One cutting knife and face. One box iron and one candle stick. One peper box. One box and wafers. One nuttermeg grater. One loome and gerse. Two pare wool cards. Two pare coten cards. One woolen wheel. Two spinner wheels. Three beehives. One table. Four water vessals and one chern. One market barrell, One frying pan. One flesh form and two saddles, Two raser and strap and hone. Seven repehooks. A curry comb. Five bells. One pare of wedges and groin stone.
The above inventory was returned to Sept. Court 1779 by Thomas Gambill, Exec.

Note. Spelling is exactly as written by the original researcher, Hazel Roche` My spellcheck went crazy!! All of the data in this chapter was published by Hazel or William Perry Johnson.

John, the second brother who moved with William to North Carolina, was born around 1750, married around 1770 to Catherine, or Caty. They had at least four sons and four daughters. Most of them continued westward in various settlements.

Martin, born in the 1750's was the youngest, the most famous, the most dynamic, and the one whose pedigree all the Gambills tend to claim. He settled in Ashe County. For his role in the Revolutionary war, they call him the Paul Revere of the South... Enough is known about him to publish a separate account as an Appendix, but since we are not of his direct line I will summarize his life in this body by quoting the Gambrella Newsletter, Winter 2002.
" Martin Gambill served in the Revolutionary War. John Hammon, in his pension application (N.C.. S9559, dated October 6, 1835} stated he was in a skirmish led by Capt Larkin Cleveland and when Cleveland was wounded, leadership was taken by Martin Gambill. John Hammon also stated he served under Capt. Martin Gambill at Kings Mountain, and elsewhere. After Ashe County was formed in 1799, Martin Gambill was elected its first sheriff and Tax Collector in 1806. His bond for each job was 2000 pounds--these bonds were signed by John Cox and Jesse Reeves. He also was elected in 1810 the first state senator from Ashe County and was a senator until his death. He was also interested in education, built the first school house in that area. His daughter Thursa Gambill, taught there."


  In genealogy research it is almost a given that after the first excitement of finding names,dates etc. one hits a brick wall, and I did.! All of the information in chapters three and four were out there, the real work done by researchers, some of them professionals. It took a long while to find and assimilate it, but no original research on my part was required.. In going backward from my father, J. C. Gambill, which is the correct way to research, I had arrived at my ggrandfather, James Martin Gambill aka in family lore as William Martin Gambill. I had learned from various sources the name of his wife, Phebe Brown, and of his nine children. I found him as either James, James M, or Martin on the 1850, 1860, 1870 census records respectively, thus we many conclude that the name William is in error. We may have confused him with his youngest son, William, buried in the same cemetery.

But now my problem was -Who were his parents? Maybe he was a son of the three original Gambill brothers. More than likely a grandson, since from the census records, we can determine he was born in 1813. It would be an enormous leap of three generations if I could find the link..

I established a time line and reviewed every thing that I could find about the families of William, John, and Martin. There was no place that I could find that he fit in John's and Martin's families.. Alice Billings, a lady of note where it concerns the research of the Gambills, seemed to think he was the son of Jesse and Nancy inWilliam's line , but no evidence to prove it. The only thing I could find out about Jesse was on the 1830 Wilkes County census. There he had three sons, identified only by gender and age grouping, and Alice knew all their names. And then I recalled reading that Jesse had removed himself to Ashe County in 1810 and 1820. By putting the census records of Ashe and Wilkes together, I could determine that Jesse indeed had four, instead of three, sons and the time line fit exactly for James Martin, born in 1813, to be his second son..

There were other facts pointing to this conclusion:. In 1850 he and Phebe were living at Trap Hill, NC a few houses from Jesse J. ( the third son). and Mary Gambill.  Also, in 1880 Jesse's youngest daughter, Chloe, who never married, had left Wilkes County and was living on Helton in Ashe County with a Blevins family who were neighbors of James Martin's widow, Phebe Gambill. The proximity of the families are probably not coincidence, but an indication of relationship.

Another clue, not proof, but a significant indication that he was part of Jesse's family, is the way that the family names were repeated through the generations---. Samuel, William, Jesse, James, Shadrack, Louisa, Nancy. This was a customary practice, a Scottish tradition, in those times.

.It was like fitting together a jigsaw puzzle, with one piece missing. When that final piece was found it was a fit!.. In conclusion , having tried and eliminated every possibility with all the other Gambills, I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt from the circumstantial evidence that I found that our ggrandfather, James Martin Gambill was the son of Jesse, who was the son of William, who was the son of old Henry who was the son of maybe Thomas? , who was the son of ? , who was the son of ? , all the way back to the "Old One " of legend. And from him who knows!

Notwithstanding, I will keep an open mind and continue my research to validate my conclusion.


  That elusive, hard-to-pin-down Jesse is part of the second generation of Gambills living in North Carolina. What did I find out about him? . .He was born ca 1785, probably in Wilkes County. He was living in Wilkes County in 1803 because we find his name on a Wilkes County Court order to lay off a road that runs up the South Fork of the Roaring River etc. etc.
He married Nancy Johnson, a daughter of Capt. Samuel Johnson, ca 1805. In 1810 they were in Ashe County with two children in the household under ten years of age. This turns out to be his daughter, Nancy, born 1808 and his son, Samuel, born 1810. In 1820 he was still in Ashe County with wife Nancy and they had two more sons under the age of nine. It works out that they are James Martin, born 1813, and Jesse J,. born 1818.  Of course, Samuel and young Nancy are still at home. Interestingly enough, three young adults were living with them, too. I have no guess as to their identity, but mountain people were notorious for their hospitality and it could have been any relative or friend.
There is a deed record in Ashe County that shows that in 1819 Jesse bought 275 acres on the South Fork of the New River from the heirs and administrators of the estate of Jesse's uncle, Martin Gambill. Purchase price $ 650.

After 1820 and before 1830, Jesse was back in Wilkes County. Although this is total conjecture on my part, it could have been that his mother died and he came into the inheritance he was promised at her death by the will of William, his father ( that will is printed in a previous chapter}.. This may have prompted his return.. The time line fits. He has a son under the age of five-Shadrack, born 1824, another son, -from the age we assume it was Jesse J,-- and a new daughter, Chloe, born 1830. Young Nancy, the eldest, is still at home and a daughter Louisa who was born around 1815. The two oldest sons, Samuel and James Martin, are unaccounted for.

By 1840, he was still in Wilkes. He had three daughters at home whom we can assume are Nancy, Louisa, and Chloe. Only three sons are at home---one has to be Shadrack, but of the other three it is impossible to determine by their age groupings which one is unaccounted for. But we know they were all alive at that time because we come to the 1850 census and find them by name.( The 1850 Census is the first one to list everyone in the household by name and age)

Jesse died after 1840 and before 1850 because we find his widow head of the household on the 1850 Wilkes Census with four of her children living with her. And for the first time we find, on the 1850 Census ggrandfather James Martin, by name, as head of a household with his wife, Phebe, and two children, Caroline and Samuel.

So what do we know of this recent ancestor, our ggrandfather, James Martin, besides the fact we always had his name wrong.
We know he was born in Ashe County in 1813. He is on the 1850 Wilkes County census as James Gambel , age 37, married to Phebe who is age 20 (robbed the cradle, he did! ). Two children, Caroline and Samuel are on board. Next door lives his brother Jesse J, age 32 with his bride, Mary, age 21, no children. (That is why I knew she was a bride!) His widowed mother, Nancy, age 61, lives nearby with the rest of his brothers and sisters, Nancy, Samuel, Shadrick, (sic) and Cloe {sic}. All are accounted for except Louisa who I am told married Johnson Caudill before 1850.

Jumping ahead to .the 1860 Census, we find him as James M., age 42-(uh oh, something is amiss. He must have given those years to Phebe who has now jumped to 37). Elizabeth, Jesse, Mary, Shadrack, and Louisa have joined the household.{ Notice the repetition of family names}.
His elderly mother, Nancy, is still in a separate household as the head with the same four adult unmarried children living with her. And a new name emerges, Samuel Gambill,15, origin unknown. Chloe is probably his mother.!

James Martin Gambill moved from Wilkes to Ashe County sometime after 1860 and before 1870. The folks that know why he did are dead, but it undoubtedly was connected with the Civil War. Aunt Gert Gambill Roberts used to say that the Gambill family had money and land in Wilkes County, but they were run out because they were Union sympathizers, or Republicans. She recalled hearing that one of her Denny relatives was put in the stocks by the Home Guard. Another one, or perhaps the same one, was hung by his heels. He was cut down before he died, but he never fully recovered.   Quoting from an article, Wilkes County and the Civil War, authored by Chris J. Hartly.    " The people of Wilkes were bitterly divided.  Brothers, families, friends, and neighbors were pitted against one another in philosphy and belief, if not in deed. There, in Wilkes County, the nation's Civil War struggles were being played out, in miniature." 

James Martin may have hidden in the highlands of Ashe County, perhaps joined family already there, to avoid this kind of conflict.

The politics of this era in the mountains of western North Carolina was interesting and sometimes violent.  I quote the following from a book, Grandpa's River, recording the memories of Mag Gambill.Taylor. She was not a Republican!. Families were seriously split during this period.
" Throughout that struggle ( the Civil War) the mountain region was a nest for bushwackers and bandits that preyed upon the aged and defenseless who were left at home while all the able bodied men were away fighting that losing battle.
The Republican Party was started in North Carolina on March 27, 1867. Negroes joined because they thought it had given them freedom. One half the party membership in the South was Negro--the rest were scalawags, squatters, and carpetbaggers.

A new state constitution was written in 1868. In the election of 1868, Republicans swept to victory---Holden was elected governor. Congress approved the new state constitution, and admitted N. C. Representatives and Senators. North Carolina was back in the union but in the control of the Republican party whose radical policies and negro carpetbag-scalawag membership were very distasteful to the native white majority.
"Yes", said Mag, "Yankees, bushwhackers, Republicans--as a little girl I heard about them all, but most about the Republicans, There were always lots of them around-pretty evenly matched up with the Democrats. That's the reason it was always right necessary to work hard on elections. As I remember, it was never the issue that made the difference; but, just the fact that it would never do for a Republican to win. So by hook or crook and plenty of corn liquor to pass around, the Democrats usually won.
It wasn't the Negroes that were segregated in the mountain- it was the Republicans!"

(Footnote. So now dear readers those of you who knew J. C. Gambill can understand why he was such a fanatical Republican as opposed to the radical Democrats. The roots for his fanaticism apparently go back to the Civil War)

In any event, our ggrandfather was on the 1870 Ashe County census as Martin. Three more children have joined the household--Anna, John Aaron , and William. Now there is a total of ten which is just about right for those prolific mountain people.
This is the last census James Martin appeared on. He died sometime after 1870 and before 1880.. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Helton Township. His youngest son, William, and some other Gambills are buried there, too
Footnote:. In 2003 his descendants placed a marker in James and Phebe Gambill's memory near their son, William.

His widow, Phebe, is on 1880 Ashe County census, Helton Township. . Five of the children are still at home. Living close with the F. M. Blevins family is Chloe, James Martin's youngest sister. The five children still at home with Phebe includes John Aaron, 16, who is the man we are interested in. We knew him as Pap, our flesh and blood grandfather.

  .Chapter Seven: Grandparents are Important! - Back to the top

  John Aaron, Pap, was born in 1864, married Martha Ellen Denny, Grandmaw, in 1889, the same year that his mother, Phebe, died. Their oldest child my Dad, JC Gambill, was born in a log cabin on Helton in 1890.. Cousin Tom Roberts told me that, at this juncture, Pap was working as a day laborer for a well to do farmer, named Perkins. The cabin probably belonged to Mr. Perkins. (We have a picture of that log cabin before it was dismantled sometime in the seventies for the logs}. Tom and I both remember hearing from family members that Pap worked in that impoverished post- Civil War economy for $1. a week. Later we know that Pap and Grandmaw bought a small mountain farm on Piney Creek from Grandmaw's parents, James T. and Nancy Denny.. They lived there until 1928 raising a family of six, J. Curtis, James Martin, Samuel, Nancy Louisa, Gertie, and Rettie.

But before we talk more about this family, we digress to tell about John Aaron's migration.. (Every generation it seems we find Gambill's moving.}

All of this is family lore, but we know it happened. As a very young lad he somehow or another went to Montana and stayed for a time on a cattle ranch. He was the foreman which meant that he got paid $6.per week for six days of work instead of $ did the others. How he got there and back and when and why he returned to the mountains we do not know. Maybe circumstances forced him to return--- the ranching industry in Montana suffered from freezes in the 1880's that wiped out some ranchers-or maybe he just got homesick. Unfortunately, he took this wonderful story to his grave. His descendants were not smart enough to record it. There is a lesson there for all future genealogists!

Grandmaw had her own bit of adventure as a young woman. Before she married, she had a job outside her home which was very unusual for those days and times. She worked for a Mr. Littlewood, an Englishman who brought textile machinery to Helton and set up a woolen mill on Helton Creek. The machinery was powered using the same raceway as the rolling mill which ground corn and wheat.. Lottie Adams tells me they made socks and linsey woolsey. Because transportation was so difficult in the mountains, Mr. Littlewood had a dormitory the working girls lived in. The mill and the dormitory are still standing on Helton. The old rolling mill is now converted to a private residence.

Footnote;  Since writing this I have found literature saying that Mr. Perkins, a local land owner, built the woolen mill and Littlewood bought it later.

We return to Pap, John Aaron, and Grandmaw, Matt. . Pap died when I was 11 and Grandmaw when I was 14. I knew my grandparents pretty well because they lived with us in their later years.. What were they like, what did they look like?
Well, I only knew them when they were old; if you want to know what they looked like while young, go back to the home page

Pap was of slight build, I expect he was never heavy...His hair was gray and thinning as you might expect, but he had a handlebar moustache that stayed bushy. He must have had it most of his life because a family picture made around 1912 showed him with it. He always wore bib overalls. I remember that he chewed plug tobacco .He smelt faintly like tobacco .When he was just "studying" he would sit and twiddle his thumbs.

My Grandmaw was a real granny. She wore long skirts, with petticoats and long bloomers underneath. Overall was a big apron. Her hair was white, long, rolled into a knot on the back of her head. She had high cheek bones, like an Indian ( I have been told she had some Indian ancestry from her Howell grandparents, but I do not know it is true) She dipped snuff and used a chewed twig to work it around in her mouth. Grandmaw had a pronounced tremor of her head, never diagnosed, but probably not Parkinsons.

I used to think that Pap represented the Scottish part of the Scots- Irish while Grandmaw was the Irish part. Pap was a stern man, not given to showing emotion, in fact a dour soul. As a child I always felt his regard for me, but I can't remember much petting ( a mountain term to denote showing affection) from him. I do remember thinking he favored me and I was very jealous when my youngest sister, Lorraine, was born and he was bragging about how pretty she was. I remember him as being a hard worker right up to his final illness. I recall when I was taking English Comp in college and required to write an essay about a relative, I wrote about him and referred to him as "indefatigable." I was learning big words then, but it fit.
.Grandmaw had a merry way about her which Pap frowned on He was a stern boss. She did pet her grandchildren. She made sure we all thought we were her favorite. . I remember she would save a fallen pear in her apron pocket and give it to me each morning on the sly.. She to let me comb and brush her hair and she allowed me to play with the loose skin on the back of her hands, making fascinating patterns. Now I have that same loose skin and absolutely no interest in making ridges and whorls with it!                                                                        

Asha County 1920s

They lost the farm that they owned on Piney Creek because Pap co-signed a note for my Dad to go in to the timbering business. (After train service came from Virginia many of the locals started up small sawmills and lumbering businesses.)  When this business failed, my family lost everything including livestock, but as a child growing up I never heard any recriminations from my grandparents.

The little house that they had on Piney is all gone now except for the chimney, but for its day and time and place, I expect it was an adequate homestead. My oldest sister, Ruby, tells me that where it is all grown over now, there was once a barn, a nice apple orchard and cleared fields for corn and garden, etc. A story, told me by cousin, Lottie Adams, is that there was one apple tree called the Nan apple tree because it was given to them by Grandmaw's sister, Nancy Denny..

I remember visiting there when I was about seven--my first trip to Ashe County since leaving as a baby.. Pap and Grandmaw were living temporarily in their old house... As I walked toward the house, I remember Pap was seated on the front porch twiddling his thumbs. I stayed for supper and overnight. The little house as I remember it had two rooms in front and a lean- to in back which was the kitchen. Grandmaw had a small cast iron stove with two eyes and a small oven in the side. It was not a real kitchen range.. I expect it provided the only heat, except for a fireplace in the front room. Grandmaw made cornbread for supper and it turned out poorly-it was flat with a dark yellow color. She kept apologizing saying she had ruined her cornbread with too much soda. I loved my Grandmaw and I remember saying "it was okay, I really liked cornbread made that way."

As said before they lost their home and in 1928 they emigrated with my father, J. C., to Pennsylvania where Dad became a tenant farmer. After that they made their home with us most of the time, but they regularly returned to Piney for long visits with their other children. Pap worked on the farm as long as he had his health, and Grandmaw helped cook, garden whatever needed to be done.. Pap died of cancer ( I have learned it was prostate, but that was not spoken of then). at our home in Zion, Md on August 8, 1939. His body was returned to Piney where he was buried. Grandmaw spent most of her remaining years on Piney with her oldest daughter, Lou Roberts, where she died one day after her 76th birthday, March 8, 1942  My memory is that she suffered a stroke. She is buried alongside Pap in the Sexton cemetery on Piney Creek.. .

  .Chapter Eight:The Full Circle - Back to the top

  Why do I call this chapter, the full circle?   Well it struck me as curious that the Gambills were migrating again and this time they returned to Pennsylvania, close to Philadelphia where we think the original Gambill immigrants landed when they arrived from Europe in the early 1700's.

As previously mentioned. Pap and Grandmaw lost their home in 1928 when their farm was sold out from under them to satisfy a note they had signed for my father. My Dad, J. C., was foreclosed on, too, and had to declare bankruptcy. They all left Ashe County with seven young children (Ruby stayed behind with Aunt Rett to complete the school year) -some say in a Model T Ford, some say in an Overland touring car. I remember my Mom saying that she and some of us kids came part way separately by train. That seems likely because I do not see how it would be physically possible for four adults and seven children to cram themselves into one car for what was in that day an arduous journey not of hours, but of days. Like Pap's trip out West the details were never recorded, so mostly lost. I was born in 1927 so I was there, but have no memory of it.

But before we take this family up north to Pennsylvania, we must record what we know about their life in Ashe County before they left.

Dad, JC, .b. 1890 was the oldest child. I am sure he did not have an easy childhood. Life was harsh and demanding in those days and place. Some folks had it better, but for most it was a very primitive, subsistence farming life style.. No modern machines were available. Plowing may have been done with mules, or oxen, but the planting and cultivating were done with a hoe on those steep hills. For cash crops they went to the woods to gather ginseng and chestnut bark. .
The simplest of conveniences that we take for granted just were not there------ remember that stove of Grandmaw's! Before that I expect she cooked over a fireplace. The wonder is that they survived .the harsh winters in mountain homes so poorly made from rough cut lumber that you could see through the cracks on the walls and floors.. I know that newspaper was pasted on the walls to provide cleanliness and some insulation. Anyway, they did survive and in the case of Dad, J. C., and our Uncle Jim even got some extra schooling.

At Trap Hill in Wilkes County the Baptists and the Methodists had boarding academies. Tom Roberts tells me that both Uncle Jim (the second son who was a Methodist minister), and Dad attended one of them after they completed the mountain school near them. They got the money by stripping bark off chestnut trees and selling it to a small factory which made acid using for tanning.

To illustrate the value that many of the mountain people placed on education I will include some more excerpts from an unpublished book written by Mildred Taylor, Grandpa's River. This book, written in the 1960's, comes from the tales told by Mildred's mother-in-law, Mag Gambill Taylor. As best I can determine Mag was born about ten years before my Dad. She says,---with some editing on my part:
"As for school, I can't remember when I didn't go to school a little bit. Already the new Gambill school had been built up here on Chestnut Hill. Of course it was not much of an improvement over the old one( Martin Gambill's first school for his family}. There were still the big log walls and a stone fireplace. But by the time I started to school we had a big modern pot-bellied stove, and were always red hot on one side and freezing on the other. We also had backs nailed to the old puncheon benches. We kept our slate, our lunch pail, and book ( if we had one) on the bench beside us, On the puncheon bench by the wall stood the big water bucket filled each morning at the spring, and one tin cup that everybody used. A broom of sage grass hung on the wall beside the hickory stick (In case you do not know that was for discipline)

It is true our school house was very crude, but we were lucky indeed to have one at all. The mountain people took education seriously because they had to work for it. And the mountaineers who were illiterate were not so because they wanted to be. We had the very best that our parents could provide. There was no help from the State or the Federal Government. There was a little money in the state set aside for education, called the Literary Fund, but none of it ever found its way across the mountains.. But even after the war,(she was talking about the Civil War) with the empty barns and cribs and smokehouses, the education of hungry and ragged children was never entirely abandoned. The old Gambill school was kept in repair and every generation had its chance to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling.
The summer schools were always taught by women or young girls; the winter school by men or boys. In the mountains these schools were called Subscription schools, organized by the parents or sometimes by a teacher, but always paid for by the parents.
When I was ten years old, I went with some of the older children up to Jones School. This school was two miles from home which we ran every morning through rain, sleet, or snow and jumped fourteen rail fences. This school was no better than our Gambill school--it had only benches to sit on, and the same old water bucket and tin cup-- the same kind of big pot-bellied stove for which the boys would have to chop wood every day at noon, and the girls would have to carry it in.. That year I studied "Sanford Intermediate Arithmetic,"" Holmes Second Reader,. and the " Blue Back Speller".
We had recitations and declamation and spelling bees."

Mag goes on many pages, and then she tells us that under a certain Governor Vance the legislature authorized a normal school for each race. County commissioners were to raise enough tax to keep schools open for four months. Academies were being established over the State-even a few in the mountain section.
"So when I was 17 years old, I went to "Nathan's Creek Academy" (Liberty Hill Methodist) .
There I studied English Grammar, US History, Sanford Higher Arithmetic, Latin, Physical Geography, Page's Practice Teaching, Mental Arithmetic and the Dictionary".
She stayed with an Aunt, and everyday there were eighteen sitting down at the table. And only three paid any board money.. Continuing on
" That year Aunt Neeley and Uncle John went to Charlotte on a trip. They brought back tablets and pencils for all their ten children and for Reeves and me. It was the first tablet I had ever seen! I was 17 years old, and we used them like they were gold."

After much more Mag tells us:
" I took the county teacher's examination given by Professor Jones, the county superintendent
While I was taking the examination that day, Sept 6, 1901 news came that President McKinley was assassinated.
That winter I taught in Garvey School, which was a four month public school, and I was paid $25 per month,
I stayed with Aunt Lydia and Uncle John Pierce that year and paid 50cents a week for board. I could now afford it.
Those were wonderful days for I could see a dream coming true--I would soon save enough money to go to college!".

There is a great deal more to Mag's memories, but I wanted to share this much. It tells so much about the mountain people and the value they placed on education. Incidentally, Mag did not go to college. She met a feller, married him, and helped him to become a medical doctor.

I do not remember Dad's saying that he went to Trap Hill in Wilkes Count to an Academy, but I know that he received a Permanent Certificate for County Elementary Teacher for North Carolina, signed by the County Superintendent of Ashe County Schools, Mr. C. M. Dickson on 17 Jume, 1918. My memory is that he received his teacher's training at Appalachian Training/Normal School at Boone. How much we miss by not paying attention!

I only remember one story that Dad told us about his teaching career. He was a new teacher to a small school which had a hard time keeping teachers. You see there was one family, with some mean large boys, who had a reputation for running off the school teachers. Right away they challenged my Dad with the idea of beating him up and sending him packing. When the first one attacked him, Dad picked up the axe that was used for chopping wood for the pot-bellied stove, hit the bully on the back of his head with the blunt end and then threw him out the window. He told his brothers to take him home. Class immediately came to order. However, my Dad was uneasy for a while as the boy almost died in which case he would have been tried for murder. Fortunately he survived and my Dad's teaching career did not end with a murder charge

Why and when he left teaching I do not know. Thelma, who remembers, said he would have to leave for a mountain school and be away for the week and come home on weekends. That and low pay could have been the reason. On the 1920 census records Dad was living near Pap on Piney and listed as a farmer. I do not know why he turned from teaching to farming, store keeping and the timbering business, but he did. And the timbering business at the beginning of the Great Depression is where he went bankrupt and as a result left Ashe County.

When Dad was a young man he had typhoid fever. It was usually fatal in those days, but he survived. He was out of it for most of one summer and when he gained consciousness he could not even speak loud enough to be heard. He lost all his hair and teeth. The hair came back and when he was in late middle age, I remember he grew a third set of a few of his teeth. They had to be pulled to accommodate his dentures.

Of Mom's younger years, I know little except her Dad was a preacher and her Mom was everything, including a midwife. She was raised very strictly. She said she was punished once for using the word " darn".. She was talking about fixing stockings! On the 1900 census I find Mom as Mandy O, a girl of nine who could not read or write and who had never gone to school (nor had her older sisters although they could read and write) Her brothers Joe and John had attended school for four years. What does the O stand for?. I asked Mom once if she had a middle name and she said "Orran" I thought she meant Irene. I found the name Orran on some old census records, so I guess she meant what she said.

The first place that our family lived up North, was on the Lutman farm a few miles outside of Oxford, Pa. in Chester County. I cannot imagine how the big extended family made it with no household goods and certainly little or no money. How they got that stuff and livestock and machinery together is incredible. I suppose it had to be on credit. My sister Doris told me that in the first months the family survived largely on potatoes that were left in the cellar there by the previous tenant--apparently it was obligatory to leave these when the farmers changed tenancy.

We stayed there one year and then moved to the Paul Cameron farm outside Rising Sun, Maryland on old Route One {then the major thoroughfare between Philadelphia and Baltimore } . One of my very earliest memories is Bill being born there in that old stone farmhouse. Dick was born there, too, a couple of years later-a Valentine baby. Mom got a comic valentine from an anonymous sender which brought a lot of snickers. I did not have a clue what was funny!
I remember we had a big timbered barn and dairy cows-the monthly milk check was the income. We grew corn, wheat, hay, alfalfa, tomatoes and soy beans. . Very labor intensive, I remember. Dad bought a tractor, a John Deere with big cleats, not tires, on the wheels. Long after newer tractors with tires were bought, this one was used to pull vehicles when they were really mired
.I had some wonderful times playing in that big barn where the hay and straw was stored. It was lovely with enormous timbers that we used for a jumping board. Sadly, it is gone. Burned down in recent memory, after a lightning strike.
While we lived there the state put a big curve in Route One right in front of our house. It replaced a dead end intersection, now called Sylmar Road. It was very exciting to me. We would find little pins with the American flag attached that the workers left there. We considered them treasures although I still am not sure what they were all about. I, also, remember so well that on that same stretch of land, Dad had all the older children grubbing out the roots and underbrush in order to make a field suitable for cultivation ( I remember tomatoes growing there later). We tried to make root beer. I do not recall how it tasted, but we did not make more, so I guess it did not turn out well.

We younger children attended Cherry Grove Elementary( a one room school) and the older ones Rising Sun High School. Cherry Grove was close enough to walk to, but the older ones, if they were lucky, rode to High School on the milk truck as Dad took milk to the creamery. In the Fall and Spring they were not so lucky, they usually had to stay home in the mornings to work in the fields. Then they missed school or went to school late! Life was hard in those depression years.

I remember well the 1932 election and how frustrated my Dad was when Roosevelt won the Presidency. He hated him for 12 + years.

Well, enough of my memories. We lived there until 1935 and moved to a farm near Barnsley, Pa. called the Patterson farm. I remember it had a beautiful, old brick house and lovely shrubbery and trees. Originally it was not the tenant house, because there was another smaller one which was for the tenants.. I know we were living there in 1936 when Alf Landon lost the election. Dad was riled again!
Lorraine, or Tootie was born here, the youngest of twelve starting with Ruby, Gwyn, Doris, Archie, Thelma, Robert Earl(died in infancy), Dean, Kathleen, Bobbie, Bill, Dick, and Lorraine.

I knew I had moved up because in the fourth grade, I was now in a four room elementary school at Barnsley, Pennsylvania.. The water bucket was gone, but the toilet was still outside. We had wonderful teachers in this school and I felt that we were taught a lot considering the facilities and class room size, etc.

We stayed one year only at the Patterson Farm. Then we moved to a farm closer to Oxford, Pa, {no name farm.} It was farther to walk to Barnsley school and that was a hardship in the winter months. We simply did not have clothing suitable for it, but there were no choices. It did have the advantage of making Oxford more accessible and we kids walked to the First Baptist Church Sunday School.. At this time Mom took in some boarders, single male immigrants from Ashe county, who were working at the Oxford Cabinet Factory. God only knows how she cooked for all of us and made do! We were crowded! What I remember politically about this place is that the Social Security Bill had been passed and my Dad was furious, foreseeing that we were heading toward Socialism. And he was right, but from this vantage point, I know ---with the overpopulation we have--- the independent life style of the mountains that my Dad espoused was doomed anyway.

In 1938, Dad-- with the help of the Federal Land Bank at Towson, Md.-- bought a 100 acre property from Rev Prettyman in Zion, Md. The house was a mess, no running water, not even electricity. In time, we got a sink in the kitchen and Les Sexton and Archie crudely wired the place. It was a long time, in the sixties, before there was a bathroom. Anyway it was theirs. There was a small dairy barn and within a few years, Dad built a larger one.. They spent many years of hard toil there right up to their deaths. One of the things Dad did to earn money was to go South periodically and buy cows.. He would buy them for a few dollars because the farmers there did not have adequate grain to keep them well fed over the winter. Then he would fatten them up before reselling them at the Barnsley sale.


JC Gambill-Zion Md
JC Gambill - Zion, Md. (Late 1950's)

Dad died in 1961 as a result of a farm accident when he was cultivating corn on a farm he owned jointly with my brother, Archie. Mom died eight years later of natural causes at home in 1969. They are both buried at Conowingo Baptist Church, Maryland, a lovely hilltop cemetery reminiscent of the old graveyards back home in Ashe County.

But I cannot end here without telling something about my parents which was at the core of their beings--that mountain hospitality. They helped so many people! There were many of our relatives and friends, even acquaintances, who joined that great out migration from Ashe County. Our home was like a way station. They would come to Curt's and Mandy's and always they were given shelter, food, and helped until they could find their own place. Dad sometimes would even move them in his old truck. I doubt if they even bought the gas. Tom Roberts remembers my Dad telling him that he borrowed money sometimes to do this. They gave 'til it really hurt!

The above cases are too numerous to mention individually--it was ongoing all my young life. There were two outstanding single cases that I must record, though.
. A severely handicapped, humpbacked man named Lester Sexton lived with us many years before he died around 1944. His own family rejected him because he was a cripple and illegitimate, so Dad and Mom just let him stay with us. He was no fool because he could fix about any vehicle or farm machinery we had,--- and he did. When he could get the booze, he would tie one on and we would find him sick in the old outhouse.. He had no income, so Mom would take a few pennies from her meager egg money and buy him loose tobacco which he used to roll his own cigarettes. Mom had a big heart.

The other instance involves my cousin, Lottie Roberts Adams. Lottie had polio as a toddler which left her with a withered leg. In the mountains in those days there were no hospitals or doctors who could help her. She walked, but barely, on the side of her foot with a very severe limp. Mom and Dad, through a doctor in Oxford, Pa, got her admitted to the Shriners Hospital for crippled children in Philadelphia. Lottie went through years of serious operations, braces, special shoes, isolation from her family. Dad always made sure she had the transportation to and from the hospital. Lottie grew up to touch the lives of many people, to marry and have a family and a career. She has been a blessing to everyone. And I know she praises God for my Mom and Dad's intercession. (Go to Family Writings and read Mommy's Story)

I think if I could write my parent's epitaph, I would put on their tombstone, the following:

Never have two who had so little, shared so much.

Not " the end', but a good place to stop


  .Epilogue - Back to the top

  Herewith ends my writing of the Gambill Family History. Much of my generation and of the succeeding ones are still alive. I do not consider it appropriate to write the history of people who are living and still making history. And, importantly, there is an issue of privacy.

Except in the early chapters where all I had to deal with were facts, this narrative was highly subjective, representing a small part of my perceptions and memories. Some of them may not coincide with yours. Feel free to differ.

Naturally, in a writing of this sort only a few of the players can be named. I have close to 600 individual records , many of whom I know little more than their name.

I invite family members to continue this History. We would love to add as Appendices any writings that you may care to submit.

Marie (Bobbie) Gambill Smith
October, 2002

 The truly marvelous thing about these ledgers is that they survived. The other truly marvelous thing about them is that they reveal a lot about my parents' lives in the decade from 1920 to 1930.

I thought I had concluded writing about my parents, J. C. and Amanda Gambill—not that I had told all that there was to tell, but I had shared enough. Then Ruth Gambill reminded me about old ledgers of Dads that she and Bill Gambill had in their safekeeping. She offered me long- term access to them and mailed them to me. I looked them over carefully with new eyes. As she said " There are many stories in those pages." Indeed there are and I thought it appropriate to record and share some them for future reference while I had a chance..

Footnote:  After my  brother, Bill Gambill, passed Ruth gave me the ledgers.   As of May 2010 they are in my safekeeping..

I know that prior to 1920, Dad's livelihood came, in part, from teaching school ( I have found his name recorded as a teacher at White Oak and Lansing, and have been told that he taught at White Top) On the 1920 census records he was living at house 6-6, adjacent to his father, John Gambill. He and Pap were listed as farmers, owning farms with no mortgage and working for themselves. A brother, Sam, and a sister, Rettie Wallace, married to Dennis, were living close by, the menfolk listing their occupations as timber laborers. On the 1930 census we find Dad and Pap in Cecil County, Md near Rising Sun, renting a farm and categorized as farm laborers.( We know this farm as the Paul Cameron farm on old Rt 1). What happened in those intervening ten years to bring them to such a changed position? My older siblings who may have known are dead, but there is much that can be inferred from the entries in these books.

From the ledgers and business letterheads we can determine that Dad went into business after 1920. There were two –one the timber and lumber business (Small sawmills and lumbering operations were located up every holler after the the train came from Virginia) and the other one, groceries. However. the entries in the books are intermingled as if a sole undertaking.

Old Saw Mil in Asha County .

First of all, there are two ledgers, pretty tattered.( I never saw these as a child and I wonder what prompted Mom and Dad to keep them all those years through all the moves they made) Within the pages someone has left a variety of loose documents, ranging from canceled checks to a hand written contract to buy timber, to a personal letter to my grandparents from my Uncle Jim Gambill. The first entries were in 1920 for notes that were apparently used to borrow the money to capitalize the business and the last ones were in 1928 when they were farming in Pennsylvania. The greater majority of the entries were in 1923 and 1924 when it was obvious that the business operations .were at their peak. I have found two loose pages, apparently from a third ledger(non-existent) and the entries were in 1927, listing payments made to some debtors.

I can tell he was in the timbering business, contracting stands of timber from which he, Pap, and others (hired by the hour) harvested chestnut oak bark which was sold to the Smethport Extract Co. of Damascus,Virginia (I understand this was used for tanning purposes). Also, of course, stands of timber were bought, felled, and skidded out of the woods by oxen This was sawed into board feet, etc. and sold for a variety of purposes including railroad ties. Ruby Gambill Kilby remembers a sawmill right outside of Lansing. As evidenced by notes and checks, he was backed by a Mr. W. T. Greer who was in the timber and lumber business and his father, our Pap, John Gambill.

In addition Dad had a small grocery business. Sometime in 1924, J. P. Roberts joined him in this. At least we know J. P. or Uncle Jeems, husband to Lou Gambill Roberts, did the bookkeeping using a beautiful script... He probably minded the store, too. Was he a partner or an employee.? Can't tell from the entries.

Family members who had accounts are numerous. At the top of the list is Sam Gambill. There were many entries under his name paying him for his labor; charging groceries and clothing to his account, even evidence of a bill that Dad paid Dr. Lester Jones in August 1924 in his behalf. It was a whopping, $32. Back when men were working for ten cents to twenty cents per hour that represented several weeks of work. There were accounts for Shade Gambill, Jesse Gambill,.uncles to my father, and Hamp and Lee Gambill who were Dad's first cousins(sons of Jesse). There is also a Bob Gambill whose relationship I cannot definitely establish, but I think he was a son of Jesse, another first cousin to Dad. Was he the Uncle(?) Bob I reputedly received my nickname of Bobbie from?

The most thought- provoking account is for Jim Gambill, Dad's brother, who became a Methodist minister and migrated to Ohio at about the same time Dad and Mom migrated to Pennsylvania.. The pages where his account was detailed have been torn out, apparently destroyed. Why? Well, all my life I knew there was some estrangement while they were still young men. And there is a letter, dated June 1928 from Uncle Jim, living then in Ohio, to Pap and Grandmaw, now living in Pennsylvania You can tell he is embittered–-perhaps because they lost their home and land by supporting my father's business ventures. This letter is lying loose within the pages. The mystery is why was it kept and in that place? I do not recall Uncle Jim visiting us while his parents were living with us.. I know that none of us ever visited him–I doubt we were ever invited.. In their later years there was a reconciliation between my Dad and Uncle Jim–he read a poem at the grave side ceremonies when my father died.. But all that is left in these ledgers are a couple of entries for checks made out to Jim and the aforementioned letter. I wish I could have seen those other pages which were his accounts.! I am sure they would fill in a lot of the blanks!

Some loose bills tell a story—there is a bill from Dr. Thomas Jones. It was for $4.00, charged for "greeting a child". It was paid in October 1924 with $4.00 worth of flour and salt-- from the grocery business I assume.. I surmise this bill was for delivering(greeting?) my brother, Robert Earl, who was born and died in 1924. In July there was a bill from Welch's store in Lansing which included $1.50 for 12 cans of milk. I have been told that Robert Earl did not thrive because Mom's milk failed. They had to send away for canned milk. Despite this the baby died in August, Mom used to say of cholera infantum–whatever that meant in that day and time. (My dictionary said it was a form of gastroenteritis occurring in infants, often fatal.) There are many stories in these accounts! This was a sad one! My Mom rarely talked about it, but always she grieved for this lost baby!

Some business peculiarities struck me. One was the use of a store for transactions normally thought of as banking. There are bits and scraps of paper where store customers, notably a Mr.Rowie Mc Neil who would scratch out " J. C. Gambill you please pay Marge Neaves a dollar and .05 cts for me" Then it would be noted on the scrap of paper by Uncle Jeems as " booked" Was it ever redeemed? In fact Mr. McNeil even used checks on the Lansing Bank, scratched out the name of the bank and put Mr. J. C. Gambill over it and wrote checks paying certain individuals. I can only assume Dad coughed up the money and honored these checks, but there is no evidence they were ever redeemed by Mr. McNeill, although they may have been .Mr. Mc Neill had a sizeable balance on his account and it was noted this was transferred to page 120 of a new book This annotation was a second bit of evidence I found that there must have been a third ledger which has not survived.

It seems that this pseudo form of banking was not an unusual practice. As a matter of fact Dad had two of his returned checks listed on his account at Welch's store in Lansing. The store apparently took care of it, charging it to Dad's bill..

Another peculiarity was the frequent use of the term and concept "indivigual" . I have a very good dictionary and cannot find that term. Was it meant to mean "individual?". That does not always make sense in the context it was used. Was it a local term of those days and time and what did it denote.? I have not been able to figure it out. Examples :" J. C. Gambill and Bob's indivigual acct.". Also "Roberts, J. P. and J. C, Gambill indivigual acct." and ‘J. C. and John Gambill's indivigual time". It must have denoted some legal or business relationship.

The records did substantiate, too, that for some part of the 1920's my parents left the old homestead on Piney Creek and moved and lived in Lansing, paying rent..

On a light hearted note. There is only one female customer on the books–Mrs Bessie Goss. Bessie apparently like her goodies as she was always charging something like candy, cake, etc.
At one time she had run up a bill for several months and there was a note to tell her she would have to pay. The next month she paid $28.00 by check, a sizeable sum when a cake cost 5 cents.. An interesting sidelight. Bessie not only charged to her own account, but sometimes to certain gentlemen's accounts. Mostly always the charges were for items considered luxuries in those days. Maybe these men were relatives, or had "relations.".

The last entries in the ledgers were in 1928 at the Lutman farm in Oxford, Pa. Dad was keeping records of milk sold to Abbott's Dairy in Philadelphia, breeding of cows, and for some labor provided to Mr. Lutman by himself and two boys. About mid year they stopped, probably never to go again. I never recall seeing my father maintaining farm records. I expect life got too hard, and after working all day it just wasn't something he could keep up with. He juggled a lot in his head, I do know that. And he never stopped borrowing and extending credit.

One thing is evident, J. C. was a hard worker and had a great deal of entrepreneurship. He might have been a business success in the 20's except for a few factors The economic times were against him–the Great Depression was beginning. Also, he used too much credit by borrowing, and extended too much credit especially to friends and relatives. And he did not have an adequate accounting system. He had volumes of transactions, meticulously listed, ( and was he ever great in "figuring!"), but from these lists there was no way he could see the overall picture at any given time. Double entry bookkeeping would have given him that tool. It had been in existence for centuries, but at least in Dad's case it was not used in that time and place. His record keeping system was just not adequate for the varied businesses he was in!

I hoped I could find something to substantiate why, when and wherefore Dad went bankrupt, and everything that he and Pap owned was sold to satisfy creditors.( I think this single event shaped him and our family for the rest of his life.) Ruby, the oldest child, wrote at one time Dad became a partner in the hardware business with Henry Gentry who promptly put all his assets into his wife's name and declared bankruptcy. Dad, as a legal partner, was left holding the bag for the whole schmear.. Although Mr. Gentry was a customer and many pages of entries were dedicated to his business transactions, I find no specific record or entry to substantiate this, but it has been part of our family lore since my early memories. I am sure there is a kernel of truth in it. The answer might lie in the missing third ledger.

One thing I do know, my parents did not lose everything in the late twenties because my father or his family, indulged themselves. My mother never knew what it was to have money, even for the barest necessities. No, it was not an extravagant, slothful life style that brought him down. It was probably an inadequate accounting system, naivete' in business, but mostly an unwillingness or inability to say "no" to any petitioner.

And he never changed.

April 2003

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