Genealogy Road Trip 2021 Vol 12
“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss
October 15th – Clarksdale MS
Neal -As Janice and I drove south from Shiloh on our way to Vicksburg I convinced her to take a small detour to Clarksdale. It’s sometimes referred to as the home of the Delta Blues. Many of you know that I am a huge fan of the “Blues.” So, coming here is a kind of pilgrimage for me.
In the 20th century Clarksdale played a central role in the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited there on May 29, 1958, for the first meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1960 a local pharmacist, Aaron Henry, was named president of the NAACP and organized a two-year boycott of Clarksdale businesses.
Located deep in cotton country for the past 200 years this once thriving town seems hollowed out and dirt poor at first glance. In the 19th and early 20th century this town supplied most of the labor on the surrounding Delta plantations, the majority African American. After 1940 cotton production became mechanized further pushing people north during the “Great Migration” from the south. It is now famous for the great music artist that grew up there and performed in its clubs. There are Mississippi Blues Trail Markers throughout the town commemorating the likes of Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner and John Lee Hooker. Morgan Freeman currently owns one of the clubs in town, Ground Zero. It is also home to the Delta Blues Museum.
I had zero expectation of actually hearing any music. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll let Janice pick up from here.
Janice- It was a beautiful early Saturday afternoon and we expected downtown to be bustling with commerce. What we met with were mostly empty streets. Many were boarded up businesses. It felt depressing and eerie. (See Clarksdale pics 1,2,3, 4). Looking for lunch, we met a small group of hanging-around guys who told us that there were blues bands playing at the New Roxy theater. (See New Roxy Marquee pic). On the way to the Roxy, we saw two other blues clubs. They looked bombed-out during the day but apparently came alive at night. (See blues club pic 1, 2)
The New Roxy had a small bar which extended into a huge room with no roof. At the far end was a stage. To sit we had a choice of plastic lawn chairs, wooden and metal kitchen chairs, folding chairs, and barstools. (See Roxy indoor pic). The 3 bathrooms were glorified outhouses. Anyone who knows me understands my special appreciation for flamingo decor (see Roxy BR pic 1,2).
On the way out of town we noted that Clarksdale is surrounded by blocks of “big box” chain stores. Clearly, their arrival was the death knell of small downtown family shops. We felt sad.
Neal -The two battles that most historians site as the biggest turning points in the Civil War are Gettysburg and Vicksburg. In the 1800s, control of the rivers, roads, and railroad tracks meant supplies for your troops and choking the enemy from theirs. It meant Victory for whoever controlled the River.
Vicksburg MS was the last Mississippi River town keeping the trade route to the west open for the Confederacy until General Ulysses S Grant laid siege to it in the spring of 1863. a combined army and navy, he surrounded the town by river and land from May to July. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/vicksburg-may-19-1963 Vicksburg was the most heavily fortified city in the Confederacy with trenches, a ring of forts and 170 cannons. On May 22nd Grant decided to assault the city. It failed, producing 9,362 Union casualties. (See Confederate cannon pic with line of sight to bomb Union ships in the Mississippi)With provisions within the city low, Grant’s Army of the Tennessee settled in for a War of Time. After 9 months defending the city and deprivation, rebel troops and Vicksburg citizens had been reduced to eating their dogs and cats. On July 4th, 1863, one day after the union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates surrendered Vicksburg. The citizens of Vicksburg didn’t celebrate the 4th of July for another century.
The Park today is like no other Civil War battlefield. It’s shaped like an elongated loop covering 2,500 acres. My Louisiana friend, Jim Lambert, came up from his home in Louisiana to meet us at the park. For the next 3 hours we stopped at the many monuments, overlooks, and walked through the USS Cairo, a Civil War iron-clad steamship that was raised and is now an exhibit in the park. (See the Cairo 1)
Every state that had regiments in the battle erected a monument. The largest and most beautiful was the Illinois State Memorial (coming from Illinois, Janice’s comment- “and they’re still taxing everyone to pay for their Edifice Complex”). The 62-foot-high building is a domed temple sitting on the highest point of the battlefield (see expensive monument pic). The large circular room’s walls were overlayed with bronze plaques naming every Illinois soldier who participated in the battle. My last name was Dilley before being adopted by my stepfather and, in keeping with the spirit of this journey’s “Dilley Genealogy Quest”, I asked Jim and Janice to help me find a “Dilley” in the plaques. I recalled that there were Dilley men in the 14th or 15th Illinois regimen who fought at nearby Shiloh. Sure enough, we found the a “Lewis G Dilly” served in the 15th Illinois. Note: Spelling of names before the late 1800s was not standard. My oldest ancestors in America were “Dilly” or “Dilley.” Chills. (See Lewis G. Dilly pic).
The Tomato Place
Neal-One of the greatest joys of any road trip is finding those unique, funky businesses that only can be found by accident or with the help of a local. Jim recommended that on our way to Louisiana we stop for lunch at the Tomato Place (See Tomato Place pic 1, 2, 3).
This combination produce market, shop, and restaurant is almost impossible to describe. You must see it to believe it. I had the best catfish “Po Boy” sandwich of my life with a side of crunchy/tangy fried green tomatoes. On the way out we filled three bags full of locally made BBQ and Hot Sauces (See sauces pic), homemade bread and boiled peanuts. YUM YUM! It’s doesn’t get any more southern than this!
Neal--Before we left Mississippi, our friend Barbara reminded Jim that we could stop and see the Emerald Mound site. The National Park Service manages at least eleven archeological parks on the National Register of Historic Places related to the great Mississippian Mound Builder culture that thrived on the continent from as long ago as 2100 years. The Emerald Mound was built during a later period from 1000 to 1700 A.D. The culture extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Janice and I spent the last 2 hours during our trip to Shiloh (see Volume 12) hiking the Mound Builder site within Shiloh Battlefield. It’s a park within the park and well worth the trip by itself. It’s a 2-mile loop (where we got a little lost) through the ancient mounds of a village that supported approx. a thousand inhabitants from about 1200 AD. Some mounds were as high as 30 feet and built with thousands of tons of soil. (See Shiloh mound pic). The mounds purpose was as a platform for houses of high status families. The higher the mound the higher the status. I imagine that the large mounds on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River must have supported some very powerful families. (See river view from mounds pic).
The Emerald Mound was something else entirely. This was likely a ceremonial center rather than a village. It’s located 10 miles northeast of Natchez, MS on the Natchez Trace. It measures 770 by 435 feet at the base and is 35 feet high. It was built sometime between 1250 and 1600 A.D. (See Emerald Mound pic). Standing on the site, it was easy to imagine thousands of people, playing ball games, holding religious ceremonies, walking the markets, and having a good time. (See
I could not help but reflect on an earlier trip to the Four Corners area of the Southwest (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona) I took with some friends. We visited the preserved historical sites of another great civilization. Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Aztec Pueblo and others all connected by common architecture, trade, and traditions. There is evidence that these Chacoan communities also traded with the Messapian Mound Builders during the same time period (1000 to 1300 A.D.).
Janice-We joined our friends, Jim and Barbara, who generously hosted us at their Lake House in Boyce, LA. The land has been in Jim’s family for decades and is now comprised of 3 modest houses right on Cotile Lake. Watching the sunsets off the dock, taking boat and canoe rides, enjoying Southern cuisine, and talking with our dear friends was exactly what we needed; moments to slow down, moments to just breathe. I got my first taste of fried okra and Frog Jam. I was so excited to see my first wild alligator (at least the snout) while we were on a hike. (See thing in lake pic-snout/spine/tail). Another wildlife encounter: after my shriek in the kitchen, Neal explained that cockroaches were common in the humid South and nothing to be alarmed about. They were huge, looking like they were on taking steroids and regularly worked out! He proceeded to be my Knight in Shining Armor by killing the heinous things.
The regional botany was cool. I saw my first banana plant, Cyprus tree, “elephant ear” plants, and these weird things growing out of trees known as “bark mushrooms.”
Here is one my favorite, yet disturbing signs: (See Bombing Range pic).
Neal – I want to express my deepest gratitude to Jim and Barbara. When we arrived we were beat. Their home on the lake was just what the doctor ordered. Hanging at the house, talking, breaking bread, and sitting on the dock with them watching the golden sunsets was pure heaven. (See Cotile lake sunset).
Janice --Jim and Barbara took us to the Melrose Plantation, the largest plantation built by and for free blacks. The land was granted to Louis Metoyer, who had the "Big House" built beginning about 1832. He was a son of Marie Therese Coincoin, a former slave who became a wealthy businesswoman in the area. She was born into slavery and her freedom was purchased in 1778 by Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had a long liaison and ten children. Their mixed-race children and their descendants became what we now call “Creoles.” The house was completed in 1833 after Louis' death by his son Jean Baptiste Louis Metoyer. The Metoyers were free people of color for four generations before the American Civil War. The plantation was sold several times before it was purchased by John H. Henry in 1884.
Born in 1887, she started working as a farm laborer when young, and never learned to read or write. In the late 1920s, Hunter began working as cook and housekeeper for Cammie Henry, the wife of John H. Henry. Clementine was known for her talent adapting traditional Creole recipes tending to the house's vegetable garden. Before long, Melrose evolved into a salon for artists and writers, hosted by Cammie Henry.
In the late 1930s, Clementine Hunter began to formally paint, using discarded tubes from the visiting artists at Melrose. Her most famous work depicts brightly colored depictions of important events like funerals, baptisms, and weddings and scenes of picking cotton or pecans. (see Hunter pics 1,2,4).
Initially she sold her first paintings for as little as 25 cents. But by the end of her life, her work was being exhibited in museums and sold by dealers for thousands of dollars. She died at age 101.
We took a wonderful, guided tour of the plantation; the main house, a mini museum of her art, and the visiting salon artist’s quarters. We also got our first look at Live Oak trees. In our Boston Travelogue we mentioned we visited the USS Constitution. The rock-hard Live Oak it was built from proved almost invulnerable to British cannon fire, hence it acquired the name, “Old Ironsides.” (See live oak pic).
Onto the last leg of our trip, Santa Fe…..
Neal and Janice
“It is better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times” – Asian Proverb
The Tomato Place
The Emerald Mound
The Tomato Place
Lewis G Dilly at Illinois Monument, Vicksburg MS battlefield
The New Roxy, Clarksdale MS
The Illinois Monument, Vicksburg MS battlefield
Lake Cotile, LA
Clementine Hunter - "The Pecan Pickers"
Clarksdale MS outside a Blues club
Clementine Hunter - The Wedding
Clarksdale MS Blues club
Clarksdale MS Blues club