For this week I am going to do something am little different. I want to do a two part series on Celia Sams Tweed, my great-great grandmother who was born in 1822 and died in 1883.
Growing up in these mountains we love, most of our history has been handed down to us orally through stories, tales and sometimes legend. Usually, the only written records involve names and dates listed in the Family Bible.
Unfortunately, the former is how family history gets lost for the most part.
Like most, the family history I did know was what had been handed down to me orally which I had memorized. As time went on, I tried to utilize the internet in order to trace my family history on my father’s side.
Every time I would go back through all of the search engines and databases, I would come to one “Tom Tweed” (my great-great grandfather) and hit a brick wall.
Zip. Zero. Nothing. Nada.
Then Tweed Historian Diana Chesser Smith released a full on genealogical profile of the Tweed family about 2003. This opened a whole new world to me, as far as family history goes. I found out that “Tom Tweed” was actually Thomas Tweed (1820-1863) and that his wife was Celia Sams Tweed.
When a source of history like this happens, it opens the door to a wealth of information, especially when you start talking to the “old-timers”. At that point a revelation of family history will come spewing forth, along with the darkest of family secrets.
Enter Ruth Tweed Landers (1921-2005).
Now, Miss Ruth as she was called was my buddy and also a cousin. Her grandfather, Jimerson Sevier Tweed and my great-grandfather, Rufus Lowery Tweed, were brothers. Jimerson & Rufus also happened to be the children of Thomas and Celia Sams Tweed.
Miss Ruth was a retired school teacher. She was abruptly direct & honest; never ask Miss Ruth a question if you weren’t prepared for the answer.
One Sunday afternoon about the same time as the release of Diana’s book, I went door to check on Miss Ruth. She was watching a NASCAR race, cheering on her favorite driver, Jeff Gordon.
Miss Ruth and I began conversing and family history came up, as I had a copy of Diana’s new book with me hot off the press.
As I started calling off dates and history, Miss Ruth would say “Yes, Steven. I knew that” and would continue to repeat that phrase as I would call off names and dates. She didn’t become weary at my excitement. She found joy in my eagerness to learn.
However, when it came to Thomas and Celia she offered me something not in the book that stunned me to the core. A legend told to me that will never leave me and one which I will pass on:
Miss Ruth “Well, one time when I was a teenager in the 1930’s, I was walking to church with Matilda Tweed. We were heading to Whiterock Presbyterian Church like we did every Sunday morning. We were actually talking about Thomas and Celia. Matilda then began to tell me about Celia who was better known as ‘Celie’. Matilda told me that Celia Tweed was ‘The most beautiful woman to ever walk the waters of The Shelton Laurel.”
I was floored.
I have always been very good with memorizing and categorizing dates and stats, a talent I think I honed in childhood memorizing stats from my prized baseball collection.
When Miss Ruth told me the legend, I KNEW. I opened up the book to Matilda’s page and noted that she was born in 1881. That is no big deal until you consider that Celia died in 1883 at age 61 while Matilda would have been just 2 years old. There was absolutely no way Matilda could have remembered Celia much less the beauty of Celia’s youth.
Matilda had told a legend that had obviously been handed down to her and has now survived almost 200 years since Celia’s birth!
Celia Sams Tweed must have been a sight to behold in the 1830’s & 1840’s!
When I decided to do this story, I was frustrated. There are absolutely zero surviving photographs of Celia that I know of, if there were ever any at all.
I sought out the help of my friend Laura Judson, a local artist. Laura was kind enough to offer up the attached painting which leaves you to wonder about Celia and her beauty.
Next week, I will be giving you the reality of Celia’s life; a stark contrast to Celia’s legend.
Y’all have a great week!