History has always been a favorite subject of mine but family history takes that to a whole new level for me, especially when the process of researching it leads to me to uncover new facts about that history. As far back as I can remember, I’ve known that my family roots extended back two centuries into the past, several years before the founding of the county that would become home to our family but beyond names and dates, I didn’t know very much about them. I have to admit that I really didn’t know the meaning of the family name, Woodward or the origins of our people other than we migrated over at some point in time from Great Britain. Sometimes though, when you least expect it, history opens a window into the past and allows us to see a glimpse into the lives of the people who are responsible for our being here today and I got to look through such a window this week.
Aaron Woodward, Sr. was the first member of my family to arrive in the western part of the county in 1800 at the age of 30. He had been born a citizen of the British Crown in New Jersey and later lived in Pennsylvania, becoming an American citizen when the United States declared and then secured its independence from Great Britain. Like so many of the new Americans, independence brought out the pioneering spirit in him and he made his way to the South to makes his fortune and family. When he arrived here, he built for himself and his wife a log house along the banks of the Towaliga River, an ideal place for a man with a love for hunting and fishing and this location was well suited to his pursuits, being completely rural and isolated from anything remotely resembling a town. He and his young bride, Chloe Ann Ousley, formerly of Hancock County Georgia, set up house and built a farm which they found necessary to defend from wolves, bears and the occasional hungry Creek Indian that wandered by. He later relocated his home closer to the McIntosh Trail and they raised a family there. Five daughters, Sarah, Hanna, Nancy, Polly and Matilda were born to them, followed by four sons, Aaron Jr., William J., Newdigate H. and Robert J. Woodward. Aaron Woodward Sr. was my great-great-great-great grandfather and his youngest son, Robert J. Woodward, was my great-great-great grandfather. He was born in 1824; the following year, Butts County Georgia was formed by the Georgia General Assembly.
Aaron Sr., living along the McIntosh Trail soon befriended General William McIntosh, the Creek Indian leader who travelled frequently from his home in Carrolton to his hotel at Indian Springs. His son, Chili is said to have befriended young Robert Woodward and taught him to count in several Indian dialects, which Robert would use years later to entertain his own children. This much of the family history I already knew from the research my Aunt Charlotte had compiled but after doing some research this week, I would come to know much more about my early family and like families today, things weren’t always harmonious.
I knew that Aaron was presumably buried in the Woodward family cemetery on the west side of the county; in fact, in 1938, his living grandchildren and great-grandchildren placed a new monument in the Woodward cemetery, carved from a granite boulder drawn out of the Towaliga River, commemorating Aaron and his wife for being pioneers that brought the family into this area. Underneath their names are carved the names of their eight children, Hanna, Nancy, Polly, Matilda, Aaron Jr., William, Newdigate and Robert and on the left side, a great tree and on the right, the seal of Georgia. But wait a minute….did I say eight children? That can’t be right because there were in fact nine of them. What about Sarah Woodward, the oldest? Why was she omitted from the monument? And I get the seal of Georgia being on there but why the tree? Did it have something to do with a family tree or did it have some other meaning?
Turns out, there were reasons for both of them; the omission of Sarah and the inclusion of the great tree and I learned all this the past few days from my research, visits to both the Woodward cemetery and the cemetery at Fellowship Presbyterian, where my Woodward ancestors were members of the congregation there. As I mentioned earlier, there were things I didn’t know about Aaron Woodward Sr. and I didn’t even know when Aaron actually died or what the meaning of the name Woodward was. The date of Aaron’s death was omitted from his monument and there was nothing in my Aunt’s history to give me a clue to this but all would become clearer.
It seems that about the last eight years of Aaron Woodward’s life, he became increasingly infirm from age and that he suffered from senility. By this time, he owned a great deal of land, crops, livestock, the Woodward home, stocks, bonds and other properties. Because he was no longer able to manage it himself, his sons, particularly Newdigate, stepped in and helped and take over the management of his plantation. Over the course of time, Aaron deeded portions of his properties over to his sons and other members of his family as well, divesting himself of much of his possessions. At the time of his death, on January 16th, 1851, the eighty-five year old man had distributed most of his estate that was valued at $40,000.00 ($997,000.00 in today’s money) and he had made the largest distributions to his four sons, as was the custom of the time and on top of that, he left no Last Will.
The Probate Court of Butts County (known as the Court of the Ordinary at the time) appointed William Woodward as the Administrator of the estate and he distributed the remaining assets to the others in the family. This didn’t sit very well with oldest daughter Sarah, who had married in Jackson County, Georgia to a man named Thomas McClendon, possibly over the objections of Aaron. Author’s note: Within days of this writing, I recieved new information that changed this entire paragraph; for the proper explanation, see my article. “Finding Sarah Woodward”, subsequent to this article.
Sarah Woodward McClendon decided to sue her brothers for return of all property to the estate of Aaron Woodward, where it could then be divided evenly among the nine children (it is believed that Chloe Ann had died a few years before Aaron did). Since she was a married woman, the courts did not recognize her legal ability to instigate legal proceedings so she appealed to her husband, Thomas and he filed the suit on her behalf, naming her four brothers as defendants. Somehow, the case made its way all the way up to the Georgia Supreme Court where the case was heard by Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin, the co-founder of the University Of Georgia School Of Law. The case apparently went badly for Sarah and she and Thomas never returned to Butts County, moving instead to North Georgia. (Author’s Note: See “Finding Sarah Woodward for the real story here).
It would seem that the four brothers and the other sisters never forgave Sarah for airing the “family laundry” in public because she was effectively expunged from the Woodward family and intentionally left off the monument that was erected eighty years after the case was lost. Chief Justice Lumpkin wrote a very detailed summation and opinion of the case which is still on file in the Georgia Archives and raises questions as to his doubts in the case but in the end, he went with the majority of the other justices.
This document just scratches the surface of what all happened in the case of McClendon vs. Woodward; no doubt there was much bitterness and anger amongst all of the children over this case which had drug on for over seven years after Aaron Woodward departed from this life, but was her actions really severe enough for her to be cut off from her family and her very existence denied? Apparently so, because this is effectively what happened and so complete was this excommunication from the family that when my Aunt Charlotte did the genealogical research that completed the entire line of Aaron Woodward, she herself missed the existence of this other daughter. Perhaps these answers will be uncovered in time; in the meanwhile, I have a lot of digging to do and will have a lot of fun doing it. (Author’s Note: Much of this paragraph will merit a second look as new information came to light. See my next article, “Finding Sarah Woodward”.
I also uncovered in my research the meaning of the name Woodward…it was derived from a title given by an English King to one of the original Woodward progenitors and means “Warden of the Wood” or more specifically, the Guardian of the Forrest….which might explain why there is an Oak tree engraved on Aaron’s monument as well other trees on other Woodward family graves in my home county….but then again, in that time the tree was also a symbol of the dead or for someone at rest. Whether or not the tree was a symbol of the Woodward family or not, the name and trees are intertwined and I know for a fact that several of my ancestors worked with wood in their chosent professions. It sounds like they were an interesting bunch and despite their obvious family feuding and faults, I am proud of their history and proud to be a part of them. I look forward to getting to know them all better.
Many thanks to the early research of my Aunt, Charlotte Woodward Caston Barber and to the more recent research of Linda Woodward Geiger for providing a treasurehouse of new Woodward information from her website, WoodwardsWeSeek.com.