Question: What’s in your attic?
In late August of 2005, I was invited to make a talk before a group of retired federal workers. They received me graciously at a steakhouse in Waveland Ms. I spoke, as I recall, about the history of Andrew Jackson, Jr. and his presence in Hancock County.
At the end of the evening, one of the audience, a little lady whom I did not know, told me that she would like to give me a collection of old papers for the historic society. She was Mrs. Tim Whitworth and identified the documents as having been owned by DR. Ira Cook Mayfield, Jr.
She delivered those papers to the Lobrano House a couple of days later. My file show that I received them on August 22, a Monday. They were truly in an old cigar box, filling it to point that the tattered cover did not fit tightly. A red ribbon was tied around them, keeping them together.
I began work of them, at first listing some 56 items with a brief description in a notebook. Clearly, it became evident early on that these were historically important, the first to be studied, a will, was dated August 20, 1800. I could not, however, relate any to Hancock County.
After completing a basic list, I put the documents back into the cigar box. Because they looked like they might be of more than passing significance, I put them into our fire-proof walk-in safe, thinking I would get back to them soon.
In a couple of days, we were beginning to get concerned about a hurricane in the Gulf. It was named Katrina. My home in Mississippi being near the beach and on low land, I packed a few things in order to go to New Orleans, where my apartment is on the Esplanade Ridge in a strong, old building.
I still remember wistfully that I had four rods and reels clutched together in one fist and started to take them to my car, and then changed my mind, thinking, “I’ve done this so many times before, always then returning in a day or two.” I put the rods back, but did take about four of my oil paintings. The others would stay.
Fast Forward to March 2007
My home in Clermont Harbor had been gone since August 29, 2005. The fishing rods, the paintings – just about everything – were gone. In fact, Clermont Harbor was gone from that date. After things in Bay St. Louis got cleaned up a bit, I rented a room in a motel a couple of times, eventually being given a FEMA trailer.
It was nice to get back to the Lobrano House of the Hancock County Historical Society for a change. It was not unscathed, but had survived surprisingly well, being sheltered from the wind by the courthouse. There was some water damage, but not on the shelves of the safe.
Sometime in early March of 2007, I remembered the cigar box. The papers inside were still tied with the ribbon.
I saw names like Stafford, Hawkins, Stern, Collier, Netherclift, Spaulding. None was familiar to me. Place names were Camden, Stockton, Cook’s Island, St. Mary’s, Cumberland Island, and others. The papers related to deeds, wills, auctions, shares in the Bank of the United States, a receipt signed by J.P. Morgan.
My file shows the first Google searches about the Staffords were on March 7, 2007. Numerous copies tell of the names and places in my notes. They were important in their day, and are still important historically.
I began to try to find Mrs. Whitworth, who had donated the documents. She and her husband had evacuated, I found, moving to Florida. No one I could find knew their new address. Someone gave me an email adr, but my email was not answered. On March 20, I wrote a letter to her last known address in Waveland, with a request to the post office to forward. I never received a reply, not did it ever come back to me.
Meanwhile, the various pieces from Google having centered on Georgia, I tried a couple of phone numbers that seemed likely but I did not elicit interest. I then settled on the Camden County Historical Society. My first email to that organization was sent on March 18, and read in part:
“I am a volunteer researcher with the Hancock County MS Historical Society. A donation of a cigar box full of old documents has been given to me for study. These appear to be original documents dating back to 1800 and later, including such as wills of Robert and Thomas Stafford, Lucy Bernardy and others such as deeds and promissory notes. At this point, I do not see how these relate to Hancock County MS, but I feel they are of significance to Georgia. I would appreciate a phone call….”
Tara Fields answered on March 19:
“I'm fascinated by your find! Robert Stafford was a large-scale plantation owner on Cumberland Island. He was the largest slave-holder in the area, and he grew the coveted Sea Island cotton. Thomas was a brother of Robert, and their father was also named Thomas. Robert's sister married into the Hawkins family. Robert Stafford had a mulatto common-law wife/slave named Elizabeth Bernardy. Elizabeth's ("Zabette") father was Peter Bernardy, son of Margaret. Margaret sold Elizabeth to Robert for a nominal fee – apparently she knew of their relationship and knew that Robert would care for her granddaughter after her own death. Robert and Elizabeth had 6 children. Robert Stafford took them to New England and provided for them well.
“Certainly they are of a great significance to us! I am currently the president of the Guale (Camden County) Historical Society and a member of the Bryan-Lang Historical Library – a county-funded entity authorized to care for documents such as old wills.
“Thank you so much for contacting me! Our own library has managed to acquire documents from distant locations. I too would like to see them returned to their home counties.”
I then sent my list of the documents. This was answered on March 27 as below:
“I read the document list with much interest! The library board is VERY excited and very interested in knowing more. They're happy that I will be visiting to see them in person!
“I want to run the list by the Stafford researcher – she probably knows more about what documents are known to exist (related to these families) than anybody else.
The Donation and Its Analysis
Numerous phone calls and emails between Ms Fields and me ensued, resulting eventually in her visit to the Lobrano House to view the papers. Prior to her arrival, I consulted with the executive director of HCHS, and we decided to transfer the collection to her, conditioned upon a receipt by which it could be recalled if necessary.
Tara Fields came to Bay St. Louis in early May, and the transfer was accomplished.
On June 12, she wrote, “I made it home safe and sound with papers intact. I have spent quite some time…making several copies of the documents for various interested parties before officially turning the documents over to the library.
“I have yet to find the connection between the Whitworths/Mayfields and the main parties of the documents (Staffords and Hawkins). However, one envelope was interesting – it listed the contents as belonging to the law firm involved several of the documents. Possibly, the documents were held by the law firm and not by family members after all. I'll keep you posted. I found a phone number for Mrs. Ira Cook, Jr. I'm going to try to give her a call and see if she can contribute any information.”
Later, on June 16, I received the following from Ms Fields:
“Well, I finally found the right Mayfield/Whitworth line, but so far no questions answered.
“Ira Cook Mayfield married Clytee Smith who died in 2006. Their daughter Ann Mayfield married H. Tim Whitworth. Ann is the one who donated the docs. I was not able to find Ann in the phone directory, so I contacted Clytee Smith Mayfield's sister/brother-in-law, Grace Smith (R. C.) Pitts. Mr. Pitts said that he would pass my message to Ann….So far, I haven't heard anything, but I just left my message today.
“I just wanted to keep you updated. The newspaper will be meeting us for the official "handing-over" of the documents on Tuesday, right after our library board meeting. I decided to do it after the meeting so that board members could be there if they wanted to be.”
Meanwhile, the Tribune and Georgian, a newspaper of Camden County, reported the donation and its acceptance by the Bryan-Lang Historical Library. The article included a description of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the fact that had the papers remained at the Whitworth house in Waveland they would have been destroyed.
Included by the newspaper was a photo of one of the most curious pieces of the collection. It was a handwritten note saying that a substantial amount of money had been received, about which instructions were awaited to determine what to do with it. The note was on the letterhead of J.P. Morgan and was signed by him.
On June 28, Tara followed with another report of her analysis.
“Well, I think I found the Mayfield-Cook connection, but I'm still not
sure how that related to Camden.
Ira Cook Mayfield, Jr., owner of the Hancock Co. papers, was the son of Ira Cook and Naomi Jane Mayfield, Sr.Ira Sr. was the son of Thomas Mayfield and Celestia Cook. Thomas also married Sarah E. Cook – or possibly they are actually the same person. Regardless, Celestia and Thomas had both been married before marrying each other.
Celestia Cook was the daughter of John Hancock Cook of NC and Elizabeth O. Harper of Mississippi. John Hancock Cook had a brother named Absolom D. Cook. John Hancock was born Abt. 1820 in South Carolina.
“How they may related to Lucy Ann Tompkins Udall's daughter, Mary E., who
married Isaac Cook, I'm not sure yet. I do know that Isaac Cook was born Bet. 1816 – 1820 in North Carolina and was married to Hannah before he married Mary E. Udall.
“Maybe John Hancock and Isaac were brothers? Who knows. I'll have to do more digging on that one.
“Btw, I found out that Mary E. Udall's mother, Lucy Ann Tompkins of Camden County, GA who married Cyrus Udall of Vermont (later Kenosha County, Wisconsin), remarried after his death to a Henry Jennison/Jenison of Kenosha Co., Wisconsin. Don't know if they had kids together.
At about the same time, I received from Eloise Thompson, Chairperson of the Bryan-Lang Historical Library, a letter of appreciation. Along with the letter was a personal contribution to the Hancock County Historical Society from Ms Thompson.
That contribution, together with other offerings since Katrina, will one day restore our society to its former state.
It was indeed appreciated.
The Odyssey of the cigar box had ended.