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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wiley and Jane Brown Scruggs Family

Photograph of the Wiley and Jane Scruggs of the Southall community,
 Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County & Rick Warwick;  
1st row. Cora Scruggs Blain, Wylie Scruggs, Jane Brown Scruggs, Willie Scruggs, Jr.,
2nd row. Pearl Scruggs Cunningham, Mary Lizzie Scruggs Cannon, Tom Scruggs

On June 5, 1941 an interview written by Jane Bowman Owen, the widow of local newspaper editor Dick Owen, appeared in the local paper.  Jane and Dick Owen happen to have built the house that my family live in today in the Hincheyville neighborhood of downtown Franklin.  Jane's interview was just one of hundreds that she conducted with local residents over the years in a column called "Who's Who in Williamson County." The interview that appeared on this day was with Wiley and Jane Scruggs, two formerly enslaved people from Williamson County.  Without the tireless work of Rick Warwick at the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County its possible this article and others like it may never have come to light.  I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude in making them so accessible in the edited volumes that he re-published.

I am going to transcribe the column below in italics with additional information and comments added in brackets for clarification. 


Three miles south of town on the Carter’s Creek Pike is the cleanest cabin anyone ever put foot in, and is the home of Wiley Scruggs and his faithful wife, Jane. 

On December 10, Mr. Scruggs will celebrate his 90th birthday and in August Mrs. Scruggs will reach 83.  They own a farm of 32 acres, which they bought in 1888 for $1,300 and they worked hard and paid for it in three years’ time.  

They married on his 21st birthday when his wife was only 15, and have “lived happily ever.”  
Wiley Scruggs and Jane Brown's
marriage license

Of their 10 children only 8 are living, one daughter Mary Lizzie lives across the road on another cared for place and Pearl, with her recently acquired husband lives with her parents.  

[Wiley and Jane had ten children - 
Lula, born 1875
John, born 1877
Pearl, born 1880
Mary Lizzie, born 1881
Thomas, born 1882
Cora, born 1886
Wylie Scruggs Jr., born 1889
Delia Scruggs, born 1891

At the time of the interview (1941), daughter Mary Lizzie and her husband Jim Cannon were living across the street from Wiley and Jane.  Mary Lizzie and Jim were about 60 years old and had three teenagers living at home - the youngest of their twelve children.  At the same time, Mary Lizzie's sister Pearl was living with her parents.  Pearl had recently married her husband John Cunningham.]  

Tom, the well-remembered porter at Jennette’s market, who died not so many moons ago, was a son.  

[Wiley and Jane's son Tom had died in October 1940 at Vanderbilt Hospital after a brief illness.]

Around the door [of Wiley and Jane Scruggs' house] grows all kinds of pretty flowers and the yard with its thick covering of grass is well kept.  Neatly trimmed box hedge lines each side of the walk leading from the stile at the pike.  The entrance hall and “spare” bedroom are covered with beautiful red carpeting which Mrs. Scruggs proudly said, “We bought them at Mr. Jim Harrison’s sale and we had taken good care of them.” And their condition shows this to be true.  Several pieces of antiques, especially the beds in both rooms, prove they have escaped the prey of antique hunters.  The kitchen, too, was spotless and a fire crackled in the stove where Pearl was preparing to make cherry preserves, made from fruit gathered from a tree in the yard.

Mr. and Mrs. Scruggs worked hard in their day and generation and now that old age has overtaken them they are fortunate enough to have a cow to furnish them milk, hens to lay eggs, and by frugality manage to pay their taxes, keep warm in winter and have enough to eat to stay well and healthy.  Mr. Scruggs says he “mostly” votes the Democratic ticket.  He says he has outlived all his medical advisors, Drs. Gentry, German, Shannon and Howlett, and now he takes what his wife prescribes.  His hair and beard are hoary, has lost all but two teeth, but he looks as if he will live well past the century mark.

When asked if he remembered the days of the Civil War he said, “I minds the days of Hood’s Battle of Franklin.  I was livin’ with Mr. Joe Scruggs, who owned me since I was born.  Our home was where the poorhouse is now and we could hear the roar of the battle.  The next morning, I came to town with Mr. Joe and saw all the dead soldiers lyin’ round, and I wanted to go home.” 

[The Williamson County Poorhouse was located at the time that Wiley Scruggs was speaking on Boyd Mill Pike, near Westhaven today. This photograph from the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, courtesy of Rick Warwick, is of the poorhouse manager's house.]

Portion of 1878 Map of Williamson County
showing Joe Scruggs home and land

He was raised in the house, attended “Miss Angeline’s” needs, set and waited on the table, made fires through the winter and always saw that there was plenty of cool water fresh from the spring.  At the close of the war his mother planned to leave, with the other slaves and told him when she came into the dining room at supper time with the last plate of hot biscuits she would clear her throat and that would be the signal for him to follow her.  Instead he crouched in the corner close to his mistress for he said he knew he was getting plenty to eat where he was and treated well.  Where they would go he knew nothing of.

His mother made the second trip for him and he still refused to go.  As he slept in the “big house” he did not hear the slaves leave in the night but he rose early the next morning and went to the quarters.  When he neared his mother’s cabin he could not keep the tears from his childish eyes and wailed, “Mammy.”  The door opened and there she stood for she could not go off and leave him.  

[Wiley would have been about 12 years old when this painful event occurred. Wiley's mother's name was Milly Glass and his father was Burton Glass, according to his death certificate.  Burton was probably originally owned by the neighboring Glass family.  During the Civil War, Wiley's father Burton appears on the list of men who helped to build the fortifications in Nashville, including Fort Negley, for the US Army. That is likely why he is not mentioned in this story about Wiley and his mother attempting to leave the Scruggs farm.  Perhaps Milly was planning to leave to go to Nashville to join her husband. After the War, Milly and Burton reunited in Franklin, lived together, and Burton registered to vote and farmed until his death around 1908.]

He said before the war he was so stout and healthy his master was offered $1,200 for him.  He scratched his head, chuckled and slyly remarked, “I sho’ aint never been worth that much since.”

Mrs. Scruggs gave him a drink in a clean dipper from the well in the yard.  He settled back in his chair, wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve, pushed his dog away from his feet and remarked, “At the close of the war, there was 45 of us whites and blacks and now Miss Nannie Scruggs [the daughter of his former enslavers Joe & Angeline Bennett Scruggs] and me are the only ones left.  Miss Florence’s children comes to see us sometimes.  Pretty little Miss Marie Kenneday was out here not long ago.  She sho’ is pretty and sweet, just like her great-grandma used to be.” 

[Nannie Scruggs was the youngest of Joe and Angeline Scruggs' four daughters. Florence was the third; she married David Kenneday. Marie Kenneday was their daughter. Its interesting to note how the children and grandchildren of Wiley's enslavers maintain such close relationships with him after he gained his emancipation.]

Mrs. Scruggs sat close by her husband keeping watch to see that he did not tire himself.  When asked to whom she belonged she was quick to say, Miss Irene and Miss Anna Brown is my white folks.  

[I think that Jane Brown Scruggs was enslaved by Benjamin Brown and his wife Virginia.  Two of their daughters, Irene and Anna never married.  They were retail coal dealers and lived on Columbia Avenue - these were the "white folks" to whom Jane Scruggs is referring.]

I was a daughter of Wash Brown, who belonged to Mr. Ben Brown, their father.  Early in life I began delivering babies.  I have a list of 335 white babies in my book.  I never kept an account of the colored babies. 

She said her mother pieces and quilted 150 quilts and she herself has made close to 100.  She displayed some of them giving their patterns, one in red and white she called “Ways of the World.”  The reason for the appellation she did not disclose but the work was well done, the stitches small and well placed.

Jane Scruggs' mother - Catherine Poyner
(daughter of Dick Poyner)
b. 1828
[Jane's mother - the quilter to whom she referred - was Catherine Poyner.  Catherine was the daughter of Williamson County's famous furniture maker Dick Poyner - who was emancipated before the end of the Civil War. I've already discussed the story of Catherine's sister Mary in some depth - she married William Holmes - a veteran of the US Army.]

The aged couple belongs to the Primitive Baptist Church and both were present on the fourth Sunday in May at the footwashing at Hard Bargain Church.  [The 4th Sunday in May foot washing services at the Primitive Baptist Church in the Hard Bargain neighborhood of Franklin were legendary.  Newspaper accounts beginning in the late 1800s describe crowds of thousands of African Americans arriving by train, wagon, carriage, car and on foot from Nashville and Columbia to participate.  You can read these articles here, here, here, here, and here.]

The 4th Sunday in May foot-washing service at Franklin Primitive Baptist Church on Mt. Hope St,, Hard Bargain, Franklin, Tennessee, May 1926
Photograph courtesy of Rick Warwick at the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County.

This photograph is from a newspaper article published July 20, 1947 in the Nashville, Tennesseean regarding the foot washing service at the Primitive Baptist Church.  This was just a few years after Wiley and Jane Scruggs were interviewed and shows the inside of the church and what the participants were wearing.
They have a good garden and have stored in the cellar fruit and vegetables gathered from their own place and prepared Mrs. Scruggs and Pearl for the long winter months when the earth refuses to yield.  The horse, “Dolly” and the buggy are about as ancient in comparison as the old folks but they can carry them safely to and from town, about the only trips they make.  They get their groceries at the store across the road from Mr. Yates. 

To see these old folks in a house as orderly as one can be kept, their bodies and clothes clean, nothing but respectful language coming from their mouths and with childlike faith in the Eternal it makes one wonder if we realize all that was meant in the words of the son of David when he said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit . . . .For in much wisdom is much grief: and in he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

[This condescending closing to the article is probably typical of the way that many white citizens viewed former slaves in Williamson County.  Despite the language, we are fortunate to have this description of Wiley and Jane's home and family as well as his childhood and experience during the War and Battle of Franklin - even if it is through the lens of a third party.]

Nashville Globe, February 16, 1912, p1
This newspaper article from 1912 describes some of the leading African American citizens and includes Wiley Scruggs as a prominent farmer in "close proximity to Franklin."

[On December 7, 1941 Wiley Scruggs died at his home in Franklin. According to his death certificate, he was buried in Franklin's Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetery but I cannot locate a headstone with his name on it. He and his brother Tom Glass had purchased a "family square" in the Cemetery and it is probably that he is buried there.]

[His will was filed in the County records leaving his assets to his wife, children and one grandson. He was providing for his family to the very end.]

An accounting of Wiley Scruggs' estate for probate.
It provides a good sense of what he was growing and selling on his farm.


  1. I loved reading this account and shared it with my mother and brother. Thank you so much for all your hard work and dedication to preserving the history of my people. It was such a pleasure and honor to meet you when my husband spoke at the church. We are looking forward to coming to Franklin again to visit the museum.

    grace and peace,
    pat greene(Kevin Douglass Greene)

    1. Thank you so much for your generous comments! I truly enjoyed meeting you and would love to stay in touch. Let me know when you will be in Franklin next. Say hello to your family! Tina