The Family Treasure
I am fortunate in that my family has preserved a good deal of our family history down through the years, the artifacts and stories that reveal at least to some extent the people that came together to give me my life. It is important that a lot of this history is unvarnished; yes, we have some ’embellished’ stories, but for the most part there is a fairly accurate picture of many of my ancestors, both the good and bad. The recognition of the honest story is in itself what gives us meaning in life; we have to be honest with ourselves if we ever hope to be honest to others. I am proud that my people have attempted to tell me the truth of those that came before me; I consider it a priceless gift that they have trusted me to be able to give the straight story to my own children. I do not think there is a more important gift that I can give them.
Among the artifacts that have come into my possession over the years is a sword. Bequeathed to me by my grandfather, Walter D. Hampton, Sr, shortly after my birth Granddad took the old weapon to the Galax Gazette office and was photographed with it, and made his declaration that the sword would be mine. The history of this implement of war is sketchy at best, but we do know that Granddad received the sword from his mother (my great-grandmother) Ann Elizabeth Cox Hampton, who received it from her father, Thomas Marion Cox. Thomas was First Lieutenant of Company C, 45th Virginia Infantry, CSA, and was said to have carried the old sword at the battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, where he was wounded in the ankle. From what I can gather Thomas received the sword from a Lewis York, who was a pioneer minister in Grayson County, and although it is unclear, may have himself received the sword from either Lt. David Cox or Capt. John Cox, both of whom fought in both the Revolution and the French and Indian Wars.
From childhood I can remember the sword being called the “Cox sword”.
Great-grandmother Ann hand-wrote a short poem about the sword and I have that document, written on a piece of paper glued to a cardboard page. Written in her beautiful cursive, along with the sword it is a wonderful glimpse into the mind of that remarkable woman, a teacher whose love for writing I seem to have inherited (although my scrawl is far below her caliber of readable writing!). I cannot begin to thank her for these fine gifts.
Some years ago I had the sword examined by some friends with an archaeological contracting company that was doing some work on a construction site I was managing for the military and they confirmed that the sword was of sufficient age to have been used as Great-grandmother reported. In keeping with the tradition Granddad Hampton started, I am leaving this sword and its written history to my first-born grandson, Leif Ezra Hampton, the first born of my youngest son, Jesse, and his wife Kari. It is my hope that one day Leif will pass these mementos of family history to his grandson.
As I write about Appalachia and I want to make sure we are clear on a couple of things; in writing about my Appalachian home and my family I am not trying to tribalize Appalachia in contrast to any other area of America. Rather I am only attempting to remind us all that there are traditions and beliefs we must honor and keep sacred, and that these important things are not exclusive to the people of the Appalachian Mountains. In order to move forward in the pursuit of a meaningful life there are bedrock principles that must guide us; our Appalachian ancestors knew this and left for us a legacy of survival and continuity, that concept of how we live our own individual lives has impacts far beyond what we perceive. Embrace your history, find out who you are, hold the truth above all else.
There is no treasure more important.
The Old Sword
Ann Elizabeth Cox Hampton
I helped the colonists to gain
Their freedom from the hands
Of British tyranny, and then
I went to guard their lands.
In 1812 my fame was spread,
My face received this scar
By cutting off a Briton’s head
In conflict in this war.
Then came the War with Mexico,
Brave Houston in command;
I gladly volunteered to go
And take an active hand.
The fourth and last in which I served
Was the War Between the States;
Though I was very well preserved,
Was then much out of date.
My spirit broke when Dixie fell
Near six decades ago.
I bade my comrades all farewell,
My history now you know.