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Portrait of an Abandoned Family

Every photo tells a story. This photo tells the sad story of the aftermath left by a person not in the picture. Mack Henry James 1878-1945 ran out on this abandoned family. He left his wife and his children, shown here, with no support. With few resources, they successfully reorganized themselves into extended family.


Identified by Dean Watkins Conely, Feb 18, 2016: Center: Ivadean James Elliott & her 3 chrildren Patricia Ann, Gerald, & Rod Elliott. 4th Child is Del Watkins, sister of Dean Watkins Conley. 2nd Row L-R: Zena James Randall, Ada James Watkins, Geneva “Ginny” James Randall, Dora James, & Canzada Watkins. Back Row L-R: Lareen Randall Phelps, possibly Boyd Phelps, & Leonard Watkins.

Mac died terribly. He was a junkyard man woefully ridden by  Buerger’s disease. His two legs were amputated. Mac was left entirely to the care of one of the women for whom he abandoned his family. Following Mac’s death, his third wife Flora Audra Spencer, after caring for Mac and watching him die, would enter her own descent into the cruel underworld of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mac’s abandoned family progressed forward painfully. They were more successful. Generations of them, demonstrating high respect for family, have followed. Mac only survives as a lost memory and a sad story. The legacy of Mac’s family lives in his children and theirs.


The Abandoned Family in the Picture

Canzada Frances Gregory-Watkins:  From her apron, it is evident Canzada Watkins is the hostess of this group on the day the photo was taken. Born in 1872, she is the mother of Leonard Watkins, a twin born in 1905.

Leonard Watkins :  Leonard is a son of Canzada Watkins. Leonard also is a 6th great-grandson of Samuel Sallee of Culpeper County, Virginia. Just how Samuel is related to Guillaume “William” Sallee, the associate of Frank and Jesse James’ grandfather John M. James, remains undefined.

Ada James-Watkins :  Ada James, one of the daughters abandoned by Mack Henry James, stands to her husband Leonard’s right. All the descendants of Leonard and Ada James Watkins share a unique combination of James and Sallee kinship.

Delma “Del” Watkins:  The child standing far right is the daughter of Leonard Watkins & Ada James.

Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James:  Standing to the right of Canzada Watkins, Dora is the first wife of Mack Henry James. She is the mother of his children. All were left to be Mac’s abandoned family shortly after the birth of their 5th child, Ivadean James in 1915. The 1920 census lists Dora at age 37 as head of household with four children between the ages of twelve and four and a half years. She had been head of household for almost four years.

Ivadean James-Elliott:  Standing front and center is the youngest child of Mack Henry James. Ivadean James inherited the genetic tall gene that is occasional among James siblings. Over the years, the unhappiness of her expression in the photo would turn into resignation and peaceful acceptance.

James Family History Is Lost & Unknown

When interviewed in 1999, Ivadean James-Elliott misidentified her paternal great-grandfather. She knew her grandfather Judge John Thomas James, who tragically was dragged under an automobile and killed when Ivadean was 8 years old. But she knew nothing about her actual paternal great- grandfather, the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James.

Leaving his family in embarrassment and defrocked due to his alcoholism, outrageous misbehavior, and bigamy, Rev. Joe married Permelia Estepp bigamously, while he still was married to his second wife Rhoda May. Rev. Joe continued to father children in alternate years as he lived with his two wives in their houses in alternate years.

The community of Flat Lick Baptist Church and Pulaski County branded the offspring of Rev. Joe and Permelia Estepp as “the bastard bunch.” They were socially ostracized by a communal silence. Children and grandchildren of this line did not know or recognize one another. Nor were they regarded as family by others of the James family. Today, that has changed.

More Abandoned Family

Ronald “Ron,” Patricia Ann, & Gerald Elliott: The three children Ivadean James bore to Gid Chester Elliott, who also abandoned Ivadean as her father did. When Ivadean died in 2000, ironically Gid Elliott also passed 12 hours later.

Zena James-Randall:  Another child in the abandoned family of Mack Henry James, Zena married Rev. Clifford Randall Sr. They had 6 children. Zena operated a mercantile store in Science Hill. She was known to often forgive unpaid due balances. Her kindness and consideration, together with her children and their progeny, salvaged their lost ancestry. She restored dignity and respect.

Geneva “Ginny” James:  Geneva married Rev. William Lesbert Randall, known casually as Willie. Their 7 children moved in a world beyond Pulaski County. Five years after they married, Rev. Randall in 1928 began to conduct missionary work in China. For a year following September, 1936, he furloughed in Victoria of Vancouver, Canada. He returned to China until 1940, when Ginny and he finally returned to Pulaski County, he conducted Baptist evangelism.

Missionary Family

Missionary Family – Rev. William Lesbart Randall & Geneva James, with their youngest son Robert Randall.

Other Outlaw Kin

Through their ancestry in the Randall family, the descendants of Zena & Geneva James also are 3rd cousins, twice removed of Western outlaw & lawman Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp 1848-1929. The common ancestors they share are William H. Earp 1720-1778 & Priscilla Nichols.

Laurene “Lareen” Randall-Phelps:  The daughter of Zena James & Rev. Clifford Randall Sr., she married Boyd Bertram Phelps. The couple produced 4 children.

Boyd Bertram Phelps, possibly:  Zena’s husband.

 

Omer James:  Omer does not appear in this photo above. He is the sole male sibling of Zena, Ada, Geneva, and Ivadean James. Omer was known to visit his father Mack Henry James in Bloomington, Illinois on several occasions. He appears here with a friend identified as Clettie.

Contributors

William Hurt:  The subject photograph above was brought to the attention of Stray Leaves by William Hurt. He is the husband of Mitzi Elaine Watkins, a daughter of Leland Elaine Watkins and a granddaughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.


Dean Watkins Conley:  Dean provided William Hurt with the subject photo initially. She provided furthermore identification of the individuals in the picture. Dean Watkins Conley is a daughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.


Ada James Watkins’ Lore about Frank & Jesse James

Contributor William Hurt provided Stray Leaves with this following family lore back in 2010.

“Hi. My name is William Hurt (not the actor). I was at my wife’s family reunion sitting with her grandmother Ada James Watkins. We were all sitting around talking and she was sitting quietly enjoying the presence of all the young people around her when a popular cousin arrived and caused a big stir of people wanting to see him.

Ada James-Watkins

“Well, out of the blue she [Ada] started telling a story. I was totally amazed. She said, ‘I can remember when I was a young’un at our reunions when Frank would show up he would cause an even bigger commotion.’

She went on to explain that she was talking about Frank James. I knew that she was somehow related to Frank and Jesse James, but I didn’t know that she actually knew one of them, let alone that Frank would come to Pulaski County to a James family reunion. Unfortunately, she stopped talking and a few months later suffered a stroke and forgot everything and everybody.

“I grew up in Campground close to where The James Gang hid out after an aborted attempt at robbing The Bank of Somerset, according to stories. It seems they rode into town and saw some young men with shotguns and thought someone had tipped them off. In all reality, the boys [with the shotguns] were going rabbit hunting and never even noticed the James gang. The gang returned to Campground and hid out a few days then rode on to rob the bank in Jamestown so the story was told to me. The cabin they hid out in burned when I was very young but the chimneys are still standing.

“My wife has been wanting to find out exactly what her relation to Frank and Jesse really is. Lots of people around here claim relation but most I do not believe. I didn’t really think my wife was related until her grandmother told that story and one of her cousins tried to explain the blood tie. Thank you for your time. I no longer live in Campground I now live in what locals call the Halloween house in Stanford.”

Ada James-Watkins (c) with daughters L-R Dean, Delma, and twins Zena and Lena Watkins.

The Facts about Ada James Watkins Lore

Alexander Franklin “Frank” James died February 15, 1915, when Ada James was still only 4 years old. Other James family relate stories of the James brothers visiting Rev. Joseph Martin James’ stone house in Shopville, but none of the stories are substantiated.  If Ada recalled a Frank James, it probably was another Frank James among the family and not the notorious Civil War partisan who had surrendered.

The attempted robbery of the First National Bank of Somerset, KY occurred in either 1876 or 1877 as reported in Alma Tibbal’s book The History of Pulaski County.  As is widely known and documented, Jesse James lived in Nashville and secondly in Waverly, Tennessee. Frank also lived in Nashville. Both were pursuing the turf trade and racing. Frank was pursuing a lucrative career as a race starter. They had little need for robbing banks.

Lastly, the Campground site mentioned has been researched and documented HERE on Stray Leaves.

Descendants of Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James, 2017

RELATED

Descendants of Mack Henry James & Dorinda “Dora” Phelps

Descendants of Geneva James

Ivadean James & Bernadine “Deanie’ James

James Family Dirt, Literall – Tombstones – Bastard Bunch – Ivadean & Gid Elliott

James & Earp Cousin Rev. Bernard Patton Randall Passes

Flora Audra Spencer, The Other Woman in The Life of Mack Henry James

HISTORIC TINTYPE of RHODA MAY-JAMES

Rhoda May-James

RHODA MAY (1806-1889) is the stalwart spouse of the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James (1791-1848).

Rhoda withstood all transgressions, indignities, & social ostracism that her husband created with admirable Teutonic stoicism.

When acute alcoholism took Joe’s life at age fifty-seven, Rhoda became a forty-two year old widow, left alone to raise nine children.

For the next forty-one years of her life, Rhoda May James resolutely carried the social burden of her husband’s disgrace. She watched as the Civil War divided her children and tore apart her family. She never remarried.

Home of Rhoda May & Joseph Martin James, built circa 1854

Thanks to Gwen Smith-Gershwin, who is a fourth great granddaughter of Rev. Joseph Martin James & Martha  McAlister, Joe’s first wife, this tintype image of Rhoda May now can be appreciated.

The original tintype was handed down in the family through Rhoda Alice Owens-Cole-Dowell, Rhoda May’s granddaughter & namesake.

Rhoda May

Prior to the contribution of this tintype image to The James Preservation Trust, the only known image of Rhoda May was a framed oval colored photograph. This colored image still hangs in the home of Nelva Anne Herrin, a great granddaughter of Joe Martin & Rhoda May James. Nelva Anne’s contemporary home, built by her father Lem Garland Herrin, sits opposite the decayed ruin of the home built & occupied by her great grandparents Joseph Allen Herrin & Susan Harriet James on the original settlement lands of John M. James at Shopville in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Susan Harriet James is a daughter of Joe Martin James & Rhoda May.

SOME CHILDREN OF RHODA MAY-JAMES

Edward Perry James & his family. Namesake Rhoda May James sitting at her father's knee.

EDWARD PERRY JAMES (1847-1931) was only a year old when his father died. He grew up in his father’s stone house in Shopville, married Elizabeth Langford, & raised a family of nine children in the same house. His youngest child, he named Rhoda May James, after his beloved mother. Progressively selling off his land holdings in Shopville, he removed his family to a new home he built in Berea, Kentucky, where he died.

Susan Harriet James-Herrin

SUSAN HARRIET JAMES (1843-1920) was five years old when Joseph Martin James died. She was thirty years old when she married Joseph Allen Herrin, a Union veteran of the Civil War.

In a diary Herrin kept during the war, he noted the wounding of Susan Harriet’s brother, Andrew James.

Home of Susan Harriet James & Allen Custer Herrin

Herrin was returned from the war for almost a decade, when he and Susan Harriet married in the home of Rhoda May.

On the land of Susan Harriet’s grandfather, John M. James, in Shopville, the couple built themselves a new home. The home remained occupied by her descendants until about 1947, when the couple’s grandson, Lem Garland Herrin, built his bride, Thelma Hayes, a new home directly opposite the lane of the old home.

Mary Harriet James-Owens

MARY HARRIET JAMES (1842-1935), nicknamed Mary Jane, was age ten when her father died. Left alone with Rhoda May to defend the family home during the Battle of Mill Springs, she successfully retained hold of the single horse they owned against marauding soldiers, by claiming half her family fought on one side while the other half fought on the other. Shortly after the war, she married Union veteran Daniel J. Owens, who had been imprisoned during the conflict. She was mother to ten children.  At age ninety, she flew in an airplane for the first time. Flying over five states, she sang “Glory, Glory Halleluiah” and exited the airplane singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Rev. Martin Nall James

Rev. MARTIN NALL JAMES (1833-1911) was fifteen when Joe Martin James died. He became a Baptist preacher, but not one like his father. At twenty-five he married Susannah Elizabeth Matthews. The couple elected themselves Baptist missionaries & migrated into Missouri. During the war, he fought on the Confederate side. The couple bore eight children.

Rhoda Ann James, granddaughter & namesake of Rhoda May

CYRENIUS WAITE JAMES (1831-1911) was age seventeen at the time of his father’s death He was Rhoda’s second eldest child. Cy bore witness to much of the abuse suffered by his mother. He and his other siblings also suffered the social stigma brought upon their family by their father’s bigamous third marriage to the youthful Permelia Estepp. Though his half-siblings with Permelia lived in plain view across Flat Lick Creek, the two families remained completely estranged from each other. Cy fought for the Union in the war and was taken prisoner. In prison in Georgia, he awoke to a nightmare of his daughter dying, at the same time she choked to death on some corn In Illinois. Prior to the war he removed his family there. Afterward, he walked them to Texas, where his descendants live today. No picture of Cy is known to exist.  His daughter, Rhoda Ann James, named for his mother and shown here, operated his bank in Rhone, Texas.

A NEPHEW OF RHODA MAY-JAMES

John Smith May, nephew of Rhoda May. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

JOHN SMITH MAY (1835-Aft. 1891) was a farmer and a teacher before the Civil War started. Shortly after joining the Confederate Army he was captured & imprisoned in Ohio. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was exchanged. He joined John Hunt Morgan in Sparta, Tennessee, but was captured later again with Morgan, David Hunt James, & Richard Skinner James. He was secondly incarcerated at Camp Douglas in Chicago, but later sent to Virginia. He surrendered with Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Afterwards he returned to Kentucky to resume teaching. By Elizabeth McQueary he had ten children and by Sallie Thurmond two more. In Pulaski County, he became Superintendent of Schools, the Court Clerk for the county, and was elected to the lower house of the Kentucky State Legislature. He and Rhoda May-James died within a few years of one another.