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Yalobusha Historical Society Minutes – May 21, 2009

Rowan Oak

The Yalobusha Historical Society met May 21 in its headquarters, the Presbyterian Church, in Coffeeville. There were 55 members and guests present, representing five counties. President Mike Worsham welcomed everyone, especially the speaker and her family members: Sally Stone Trotter, her husband, Bill, son, Ike Stone Trotter and his wife, and cousins Betty Bryant Pechak, Nancy Stone Kimbrough, Lillian Bailey Standridge and Pitt Kimbrough. (his wife, Lisa, joined the group after she got off work)

   The opening prayer was spoken by Chaplain John Moorman. Mike spoke of the recent workday, when most of the Mackey Collection was moved to the new building and shelved. If anyone would like to help with the library work, please call Mike at 662-623-7360. Plans are to make the Bell Tower Room, in the vestibule on the right as you enter, a welcome center. The other room will be called “The Chris Morgan Room,” and his vast collection of genealogical material will be placed there.

  Prior to introducing the day’s speaker, Program Chairman Opal Wright announced that the June 18 speaker will be Katrina Estes Hill, of Louisville, MS. She describes herself as an artist/story teller/writer. She loves to share her stories with any group that wants to hear good, clean homespun humor. The public, as always, is invited.

    One of Coffeeville’s own, Sally Stone Trotter, was the guest speaker. She graduated from Coffeeville High School, and Ole Miss. Her parents were the late Ike and Maggie Lea Bryant Stone. The Bryants and Stones were prominent families in Coffeeville. The town of Bryant, south of Coffeeville, was named after the Bryant family. They were active members of the Presbyterian Church, the very building which we were meeting. Sally married  William C. Trotter, Jr. and they have two sons, Cham and Ike Stone Trotter                                                 Sally‘s subject was “Rowan Oak – Before Faulkner.’  This stately old home and the “Bailey Woods” acreage was home to members of the John M. Bailey family for 58 years, and Sally’s grandmother, Sallie Bailey, was a member of that family, along with her sister, Ellen Bailey. The house acquired the name “Rowan Oak” when it was purchased by William Faulkner, who, of course, is one of our state’s most famous writers.  Members of the Bailey family never referred to it by that name, however. To them, it was always “the old home in Oxford.”

  The home, built in the 1840s, I believe, was home to the Robert Shegog family for many years. Mr. Shegog owned a large store in Oxford, and although Sally can’t verify it, she believes it was the present-day Neilson’s, on the Square. The Shegogs had come to the area from the eastern part of the country, and when the Shegog children decided to move further west, Mr. Shegog decided to sell the store and go with them.

   About the time that Mr. Shegog was considering a move, the John M. Bailey family in Clarksville, TN, was also thinking about moving to this area, to be nearer John Bailey’s brother, James Spencer Bailey and his family, who lived in Tallahatchie County. James Spencer Bailey, an attorney and interim Judge, had been a Colonel in the Home Guard of the Confederate Army at Charleston,  was actually the father of Sallie Bailey, Sally Trotter’s grandmother. Sallie, related the sad story about the reason her grandmother and her baby sister, Ellen, came to be members of the John M. Bailey family. The two brothers had married sisters, Sarah and Cynthia Ellen  Lea, daughters of  Judge Pryor Lea. The John Baileys were childless, but Col. Bailey had seven  children. Sadly, when the eighth child, a girl was born, Sarah, the mother, died. John Bailey and his wife traveled to Tallahatchie County as soon as they could, and were met at the door by Col. Bailey, holding the new baby in his arms. He handed the infant to his sister-in-law and said “Auntie, here’s your baby.”

He knew that the baby would be loved as much as if she were with her real parents, and knew it was the right thing to do. He let them take three-year old Sallie, so that the the baby would not be raised alone.

  John M. and Auntie returned to Clarksville, saddened over the loss of Sarah,  but delighted to have the two nieces to raise and cherish as daughters.

  John, Auntie and the girls visited the Col. Bailey family as often as they could, but John realized it would be better it the girls lived closer, so they could know their father and siblings. That is when he started looking into purchasing a business in the area. He learned that the Shegog store was for sale, and also his large home, just what he was looking for. So, in the fall of 1872, he bought the store and house from Mr. Shegaog. Col. Bailey was a silent partner in this purchase.  Sally found evidence that the house and eight lots only cost $6,000.00, made in three payments. Mr. Shegog went on to TX to be with his family. (Sally has had correspondence with one of his descendants, and she has visited Rowan Oak, grateful that it is being so well-maintained)

  The family was very happy In their new home, and loved being able to visit often with Sally and Ellen’s family in Tallahatchie. Their father, whom they called “Papa,” often visited their home, also. One of the upstairs bedrooms, where he always slept, was always called “Papa’s room,” and nobody else used the room. They called their adoptive mother “Auntie,” and she was a wonderful mother to them, and John, of course, was a loving father. The beautiful home and large acreage was an ideal place to raise a family, and it was home to the Bailey family for 58 years.. John Bailey contracted Smallpox and died within three days but Auntie and the girls continued to live there. Auntie took in boarders, students from the University, to supplement her income. Ellen never married and lived in the home alone after her mother’s death, until she died in 1922. Ellen was a talented artist, and Sally has most of her work in her home.

  The speaker’s mother, Salie  Bailey, inherited the house in Oxford upon Ellen’s death. Sallie, by that time, had married Will Bryant, and they lived in Coffeeville. The house was rented out part of the time, but in the late 1920s, a man approached Mrs. Bryant about living in the house, doing repairs as he could afford it, in return for living there. He said  he didn’t have money to pay rent, or to buy the property.  That man, of course, was William Faulkner.  In time, he was able to get money to make a payment on the house, and purchased it in 1930.  Sally said that he would come to Coffeeville and give the payments to her grandmother, in person.  He and his wife, Estelle, and their daughter, Jill Faulkner (Summers) loved living in the home. He died in 1962, and Jill sold the house to the University. She retained some of the rooms for herself, but has since given the University the deed, not only to the entire  house, but to “Bailey Woods” as well. That is the original acreage that came with the house when John Bailey bought it.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, the next time you hear something about “Rowan Oak,” or better yet, visit the historic home, think of the happy families who lived there – before Faulkner! Sally said that all the people who ever lived in the house just loved it. It is now a major tourist attraction, perfectly restored and maintained for posterity, thanks to the University.

  Thank you, Sally, for telling this interesting story of your forebears and their beautiful home. It was a wonderful program, and we look forward to hearing you speak again in the future.

ATTENDING: (other than those previously mentioned) Dick and Jackie Weibley, Janie Womble, Hugh Bill and Alice McGuire, Joy Herron, Carl and Mae Vick, Martha Short, James W. “Bill” Adams, Frances Stewart,  Tom and Alma Moorman,  Jean M. Scobey, Sylvia Parker, Sarah H. Williams, Rachel Bolick, Alice G. Landreth, Billy Gene and Josephine Davis, Herb Hayward, Dot Criss, Mary S. Minnix, Sarah Saucier, Helen Jones, Lena Jones, Maxine Johnson, Kathryn French, Thelma Rae Harbour,  Ray Cox, Steve Cox, Eddie Nelson, James Person, Dave Hovey, Raymond Bruner, Betty R. Miller, Mike Ayers, Barbara Brandon Perry, Gerry Jones Marshall, Jimmie Pinnix,  Kay McCulley, James and Polly Simpson.

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