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Francis Marion Lanning

1851 -1929

Francis Marion was born September 8, 1851. According to his sister, Rebecca (Aunt Becky), he was named for the legendary Revolutionary War figure, Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”.

On May 38, 1880, Francis made the trip from Turniptown to the Ellijay courthouse for the purpose of obtaining a marriage license. After the required two day wait of that time, he married Sarah Melissa Henson, daughter of neighbors Lloyd and Millie Henson. The wedding ceremony was performed by W. J. Tillerman, Minister of the Gospel. Francis was 29 years old; Melissa, 19.

Francis and Melissa set up housekeeping down the road, and across the creek from Annie, Miranda, and Margaret (Margaret married later that year). The two room house was built of clapboard, and had a front porch that faced Turniptown Creek. A lean-to on the back served as a kitchen. Francis farmed and raised a number of hogs. He let these animals roam the mountains to fatten on chestnuts and other mast. Once a year, he would round up the hogs and drive them [on foot] to the stock yards in Atlanta to be sold.

Keeping To Himself 

Francis was not known as an out-going person. He kept pretty much to himself, not wanting to bother anyone and not wanting to be bothered. One person who knew him well had this to say, “I never heard Francis say a harm word about anyone. In fact, I never heard him say anything good either!” the meaning, quite clear; he said nothing one way or the other. The story is told that in 1879, he was summoned to appear in court as a witness in the trial of a neighbor woman charged with a misdemeanor. Francis refused to acknowledge the summons and hid out in the wilds of Turniptown during the trial.

Francis had two favorite expletives. “Gee, buck a-mighty!” and “By Gad!” were the nearest he ever got to cursing.

Raising The Family

Children Of Francis and Sarah

George Lester   [1881- 1953] Rebecca              [1882 - 1958]
John Western    [1884 -          ] William Lloyd       [1886 - 1947]
Carrie Ethel       [1888 - 1974] Andrew Thomas  [1891 - 1975]
Sarah Delaney  [1892 - 1972] Vida Viola            [1894 - 1971]
Noah Richard    [1897 - 1969] Nora Lee              [1901 - 1979]

To rear his family that eventually numbered ten children, Francis did many different jobs in addition to farming. He cut tan bark, gathered chestnuts, sold animal hides, and for a while he worked as a laborer at the White Path Gold Mine across the mountain. The job at the mine was hard and the $1 a day was well earned.

Often walking across the mountains at night going home from work in a cold freezing rain, his children recall how he would arrive at home with his beard frozen stiff.

Times were hard and though their cupboard wasn’t bare, it was very lean at times. For school, the children’s lunch often consisted of cornbread or biscuit filled with syrup or a slice of fat back. Occasionally they got a baked potato.

In 1900, Francis and Thomas moved from Turniptown to Rome, Georgia to work in the cotton mill. Francis went to work as a carder. His six oldest children also went to work in the mill. Lester, age 18, and Rebecca, age 17, were employed as weavers. Western, 15, Will, 13, Carrie, 11, and Andrew, 10, worked as spinners. Sally went to work when she was 9. This was before child labor laws were enforced forbidding the hiring of children, and it wasn’t unusual for large numbers of children to be employed in factories. It was common knowledge that the family with the largest number of children was given preference to jobs over smaller families. Mountain people were lured by steady paying jobs and low rent mill owned houses. 

Francis moved to Cherokee County after a short stay in Rome. Canton was nearer to Turniptown, and he developed a pattern of working in the mill during the winter months, then returning to Turniptown in early spring to make a crop. His children would be left to board with relatives, working on in the mill.

Pa Got Religion

Francis was not the devout Christian his wife, Liss was. He did not go with her to church, although he professed to be a Christian. Liss, prayed for him, and often asked the Lord to let her know the condition of her husband’s soul. One day her prayer was answered. Francis was standing at the spring in the back yard, his mind seemingly occupied with deep thoughts. Liss stood at the kitchen window watching him. Shortly, she heard him give a “little whoop of praise to the Lord”. She said she never worried about his soul from then on. That day became known as the day, “Pa got religion at the spout in the yard”.


Dogs were as important to a mountain man as the air he breathed. They often provided the food the family ate, and were treated with great kindness. Francis always owned a dog, but never in his lifetime did he buy, or sell one. To him it was a sin, going on the Bible reference that mentions the buying and selling of dogs as being such.

Final Days 

Francis enjoyed retiring early at night and demanded absolute quiet from the children. This pleased Liss who enjoyed sitting alone in the peace and quiet. One night as she sat alone by the fire, something disturbed a rattlesnake near the chimney rocks and it commenced singing, a sound that chills body and soul. That night, she retired earlier than usual. Ma was a large woman and one morning she had gone outside and found where a snake had shed its outer skin. She said the snake’s skin was as large as her thigh.

 Francis was at Will Nabell’s home in Acworth, Georgia when he died. A rather strange thing happened before his death. He had been sick with Bright’s disease, and three days before he died, a summer rose, dormant and lifeless, suddenly burst into bloom, producing one large red blossom. It was said that neighbors, and passersby, would stop and stare at the rose in wonderment.  

Aunt Vida had been called and told that he was near death, and to come. When she walked into the yard and saw the blossom, she cried; “Oh, Lord! My daddy’s going to die!” Three days later, this prophecy became reality on March 2, 1929.

 Ma Lanning

 Strange Omens And Warnings Of Death

 Ma Lanning claimed she was often forewarned of approaching death to her relatives. The signs or warnings came in different and unusual ways.

 One such instance came the night before her father, Lloyd Henson, died. That night, she had gone to bed as usual. Shortly before day of the following morning, she woke to the loud sounds of a mocking bird singing underneath her bedroom window. Aunt Sally Frady, said, “The mocking bird sung for the longest time. It sung every song it knew ... then it flew away. A little while later, they came and told her Pap was dead. Ma, said, the mocking bird never returned.”

 In the early 1900’s, Ma and Pa were living in the old Canton Mill Village, then known as Roosterville. One evening they were sitting on the front porch, quietly enjoying the evening when suddenly, out in the yard, two lights rose up and out of the ground! The lights rose up into the air only a few feet, and then one dropped back to the ground and went out. The other light continued to rise. Ma and Pa watched it go out of sight. Turning to Pa, Ma asked, “Francis, did you see that?” “Yes”, he answered. “There’s going to be a death”, she said, “and it’s going to be a little one”. The following morning they got the word a grandchild had been born that night. It lived only for a few hours. (This child was mama and daddy’s firstborn [Noah and Mattie]).

 One time when Ma was staying with us, Frances and me had measles. One night Ma saw two lights go by the window. She didn’t tell anyone about this right then, but mama said Ma appeared troubled, that she looked worried and didn’t talk much until Frances and me began to get better. Then Ma told about seeing the lights. Mama said, “I told her it was car lights, but Ma said it wasn’t, that it was a warning to her of coming death, that she was afraid it was Frances and me that were going to die. That’s why she waited until we got better before she told.” Several days after this incident, Ma got word one of her nephews, and a cousin, had died.

 The evening Western’s baby died, Ma Lanning said whippoorwills covered their porch. Whippoorwills were uncommon in the area where Ma and Pa lived, and she said they never did hear them around. For them all at once to suddenly swarm, and begin screaming and hollering, was an awful thing and she knew it meant bad news.

 Liss The Joker

 After the death of Francis, Liss Lanning lived among her children. Liss was well known as a practical joker, and enjoyed making little children the objects of her jokes. One of the pranks she enjoyed most was to ram a large sweet potato in her mouth, throw back her head, wall her eyes, and appear to be choking to death. Needless to say, Liss had a horrible impact on innocent children. However, it didn’t bother Liss, who sat patiently in wait for the next innocent victim to come by.

 One evening upon leaving a prayer meeting at the home of Emma Del Ray, in Canton, Liss was stricken with one of the three strokes that would eventually lead to her death. She had always prayed that whenever she died she would just go to sleep and never wake. She was at the home of her son, Andrew Lanning on Turniptown Road, when the 3rd and final stroke paralyzed her left side and she fell into a deep natural sleep. She slept for three days, and none of the family made any attempt to wake her. On the third day, the final day of her life, as she lay dying, a solitary tear dropped from her left eye and rolled gently down the paralyzed left side of her face. Ma always said the Lord had answered every prayer she had prayed. Now, in death, HE had answered her final one.

Most of this information was taken from the book, "The Lannings Of Turniptown Road" which is available on this web site.


2004 Picture taken by Bill Griffin


Francis and Sarah were the first Lannings to be buried in Turniptown Baptist Church Cemetery (Picture furnished by Lou Holcombe)

Francis, Liss, and two of the young children. The boy on the right is Andrew.

The children of Francis and Sarah - grown up

Ma Lanning (Sarah) with some of her children and grandchildren

A postcard to Francis from Noah

Courtesy of Lou Lanning Holcombe

Francis Lanning court summons 1879





Tax receipts for Francis Lanning for taxes paid in Gilmer County, GA


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