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Joshua Thomas Family

1847 – 1918

Joshua Thomas was born July 25, 1847, the year his parents came to Turniptown Road. His young years were spent much like that of other children, going to school and working on the family farm. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was 14 years old. Too young to follow his brother off to war without his parents’ permission, Thomas joined the Home Guards.

For his service in the Home Guards during the Civil War, Thomas drew three pension checks before he died.

 In 1869, at the age of 22, he married 17 year old Mary Stewart. Mary was the daughter of Edward and Lucretia Stewart who lived in the Turniptown area.

Thomas and Mary built a house up the road from John J. and Annie, alongside Stover Branch. The house was an impressive double-pen log. It had two large rooms with a dog-trot in between. (The term dog-trot has succumbed to a fancier word that is used today ... breezeway). There was a wide porch that ran the length of the front of the house.

Thomas was a successful farmer and prospered well above the average mountain family. One of his main sources of income was honey. He had a large number of bee gums (hives) in what came to be called “The Bee Cove”. Thomas made his gums from thick sections of hollowed logs.

In 1879, Thomas bought 20 acres of land from his mother-in-law, Lucretia Stewart. This land adjoined the John J. Lanning property. Thomas paid Lucretia $10 for the 20 acres.

Thomas and Mary had a large family. On September 18, 1890, Mary gave birth to their eighth child, Marion Thomas. Complications from childbirth may have attributed to her death, because within five weeks of the baby’s birth, Mary died. She was 38 years old. Following the mother’s death, young Marion had little chance to survive. Nine months later he also died.

Cotton Picking

Times were not always good for Thomas. Once, when there was no money to be made on Turniptown, Thomas and three or four men decided they would go across Cohutta Mountain and make them some needed, but easy money picking cotton. Thomas tried this adventure a few days, and found he didn’t enjoy it one bit. Fifty cents a hundred pounds for picking cotton weren’t enough for his hard labor. He told his companions they could stay if they wanted to, but he was leaving. The men didn’t want to leave, so Thomas left them and started back home. At a nearby store he stopped to buy him something to eat. All he could afford was a peck of meal, and a plug of tobacco for his pipe.

When Thomas got to the top of Fort Mountain, he decided to stop for a while and hunt ginseng ... a sure money crop. He stayed on the mountain for a week searching and gathering the plant. For food, he baked his corn meal, bran and all, with water, on the top of a heated flat rock. One day he ran out of tobacco for his pipe. After searching the area he found where someone had raised a patch. He gathered him a good store of the leaves.

 After a few days Thomas grew tired of eating corn meal cakes. He wanted something to go along with them. So, he left off hunting for ginseng to search for food. On Sunday morning he stopped to rest on a big mossy log when he spotted a big ground hog. It was down in the cove below where he was sitting. Thomas was very fond of the meat of this animal, and decided to catch it. He lay still, and quiet, letting the hog get as close as it would. When it got near enough he thought he could catch it, he made a grab for the animal’s tail. He missed! The hog fell down in a well between two big rocks out of Thomas’ reach.

When his corn meal supply ran out, Thomas gathered what ginseng he had and headed for home. Later, when he sold the roots, he found he had made double the amount he would have made picking cotton, and he had enjoyed the work a lot more.

From Cotton Picking To Cotton Mills

After the death of Mary, Thomas never remarried. He continued to live on Turniptown with his seven children until sometime around 1900. Then Thomas closed the doors of his house on Stover Branch, and packed his family off to Rome, Georgia. At that time Cotton Mills were drawing mountain people to the cities to work in their factories. The company would move the families; all expenses paid, and furnish them with houses to live in. Other families on the road also left to work in the mills. They simply closed the front door of the house and rode away with their few belongings in a wagon. When they got ready to return to the mountains, their homes were still there waiting for them. After a few years in Rome, Thomas moved back to Turniptown. He was living there when he died March 12, 1918 at age 71. He was buried on top of the mountain in the family cemetery, across and above his final home site.

Beloved Uncle Thomas

Thomas was well known for his kindness. If he ever bore ill feelings toward anyone, nobody knew it. He was so well loved, that after his death, a nephew, Andrew Lanning, bought and carried a double monument up the steep mountain by himself and placed it as a marker at the graves of Thomas and Mary. This show of love stands out because Andrew bypassed the rocks marking the graves of his grandparents, to put a “store-bought” monument at the grave of his beloved Uncle Thomas.

Young teen age boys enjoyed visiting Thomas. Bluford Smith recalls: “Back then there was no place for young people to go, so for entertainment we would go and spend the night with relatives. We enjoyed going to Uncle Thomas’s. We always had a good time there. When he got sick we would go sit with him at night. The night he died, Noah, Tom Henson, and me were sitting up with him. We were boys then, but we sat up all night. It was the first time I ever saw anybody die”.

After the death of Thomas, Caroline, Laurie, and Fronie lived on at the old home-place. They sold milk, butter, and honey and always seemed to have anything they needed. They raised hogs and kept the smoke house filled with meat. One day before Thomas died, Caroline or Laurie one, went to the meat box in the smoke house to get some meat to cook. When she lifted the lid of the box there was a rattlesnake inside. She had to get Thomas to come and get it out. Grady Lanning remembers hearing Caroline say that at night they would cover the chimney to keep out wild cats and painters (panthers).


Fronie, the youngest of the girls, was thought to be retarded and was a constant source of worry to Caroline and Laurie. Fronie smoked and loved an open fire. They had to watch her continually in the winter when a fire in the fireplace at all times was a necessity. At night the two sisters alternated sleeping in front of the fire. With two chairs pushed together for a bed they slept as best they could in order to keep Fronie out of the fire. They never knew what to expect from her. One day she was found wandering up the road from the house by a neighbor. She didn’t have on a stitch of clothing. Startled, the man didn’t know whether to run or what. What won, and he guided the naked Fronie home.

 Fronie was a great lover of coffee. She performed the art of delicately balancing a steaming saucer on three fingers. She would walk around holding the saucer aloft, and folks marveled at how she would never spill a drop. Daddy remembered an old man with white hair, and a long white moustache visiting the family one day. Fronie, with no mincing of words, took a long look at the man, and replied, “I thought Jesus was dead!”

 Caroline, Laurie and Fronie, lived together again in Rome during the latter part of their lives. As each one died, they were brought back to Turniptown and buried in the Church cemetery.

Grady’s Visit From Alabama

Grady Lanning, grandson of Thomas, recalls a visit to Turniptown in the early 1900’s. He lived in Alabama and had just married. He was introducing his new wife, Ocie, to the mountains for the first time. “I stopped in Ellijay and bought a watermelon. My wife asked, ‘When are we going to eat the melon?’ I told her we would eat it when we got to Turniptown. When we passed Turniptown Church, I pulled off the road, got the melon, and cut it. My wife said, ‘Hon, you said we would cut that melon when we got to Turniptown.’ I laughed, and told her she was in the heart of Turniptown! The next morning Ocie woke me up crying, and wanting to go home to Alabama. But, after Emma served a good old country breakfast, with a good cup of coffee (Emma was a good cook, Ocie was feeling better. We spent a week with Uncle Enos, and when it came time to leave, Ocie was having a ball. Now, when I say something about going to Turniptown, she is always ready.”

Source: Nathaniel Painter, Daddy, Bluford Smith, Uncle Andrew, and Grady Lanning

See Appendix B for Joshua Thomas Lanning Family Tree

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This page last updated on 01/06/2004 11:51 AM