WHAT I KNOW ABOUT MY LESSLEY FAMILY
(by Wallace Eugene Lessley, 2002)((Gene))
We can trace our Lessley family to the early nineteenth century in the Piedmont region of South Carolina around the Abbeville area. The three families of Lessleys, Carmichaels and Thompsons who lived near each other moved together, and intermarried through much of the nineteenth century , migrated to this region from Northern Ireland.
“They probably were part of a Scotch-Irish colony from North Ireland,
especially the counties of Down and Antrim. They were
Seceder Presbyterians, later called Associate Reformed Presbyterians.
B. GENERATION NO. ONE: (Thomas Lessley & Susan
Our oldest know Lessley was Thomas who was born in Abbeville S.C. in 1802.
“In the 1880 Census, Joseph who was the brother of Thomas living in Ark. at
time of the Census listed that his father (name??) as born in Ireland and his
mother was born in Scotland. “ (Annabel Ballew website)
A paper written by Kellye Carmichael Short stated the following: “Thomas
Leslie (Tommy) ,married Susan Wilson while on a ship coming to America
from Ireland.” I don’t believe this to be true based on research by Annabel
Ballew, but this could have been his father and his name might have also
Another family story about the birth place of Thomas was given by Dr. John
Leslie Carmichael in his book he stated: “ Grandfather Lessley (Thomas) was
brought, when an infant from Ireland, presumably from Ulster, for they were a
Thomas Lessley: Born June 1802 Abbeville,
S.C. No documentation
Died March 21, 1882, Buried in Unity Cemetery, Coosa Co.
Alabama. (I have picture of his grave marker)
Married: Susan Wilson about 1820 in S.C.
Susan Wilson: Born June 1802, Abbeville, S. C. No documentation
Died 1-24-1893, Buried –Unity Cemetery, Coosa Co. Ala
(I have picture of her grave marker)
At this point we do not know for sure where Thomas was born or who his parents were.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THOMAS LESSLEY (source Annabel Ballew
1. Nathan Lessley ??
2. Joseph Lessley: born April 30, 1807 in S.C., died May 7, 1890 in New Edinburg, Ark. He married Rebecca Wilson the sister of Susan Wilson.
3. Robert Lessley: born 1816 in S.C. Died 1870 in Coosa Co. Ala
4. Jane Lessley: (Kennedy ?)
5. Mary Elizabeth Lessley: born 1825 in S.C. died 1860 in Coosa Co. Ala.
Married James McDill whose mother was Ann Leslie
The following are various notes and records know about Thomas Lessley and Susan Wilson:
1. From the website of Annabel Ballew: “ Joseph, Thomas, Nathan
and Robert Lesley moved to Coweta county Georgia from Abbeville, S.C. in
1838. They appear to be siblings. Evidence seems to point to
two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Lessley McDill and Jane Lessley Kennedy.
Joseph was married to Mary Rebecca Wilson and Thomas was married to Susan
Wilson. Thomas , Robert and their sister Mary McDill moved to Coosa
Co. Ala. In the 1840’s and1850’s.”
2. Annabel Ballew posted the following deed on the “Leslie Family Site”:
Deed: Coweta County Georgia
Grantor: Robert Wadel
Grantee: Thomas Leslie of Troupe County Georgia
Book E, Page 394
Date: 12-15-1837 filed June 1838
Thomas has his named spelled Thomas Lesley in the body of the deed. The selling price was $1,250.00. (Revision –Remove error of $1837)
Description of the land: “ Tract of parcel of land situated lying and being in the first district of Coweta county Georgia No. thirteen in said district as afore said containing two hundred and two and on half acres more or less.”
I noticed that on this deed Thomas was referred to as being from Troupe
County Georgia and not Abbeville, S.C. Could he have moved to Troupe County
2A From the Coweta County Website:( 1851 Coweta Co, GA-2nd District Tax Digest) “Thomas Lesley—W Pole: one---
--Slaves: 3--- Lands: 325---No. 13---- D’s & Section 2---County Cwta.
TIME SPENT IN COWETA COUNTY GA:----The Thompsons, Carmichaels and Lessleys
began moving into Coweta County from S. C. beginning around 1835.
3. In 1854, Thomas Lessley of Coweta County Georgia and James W Thompsn
Jr. of Coosa County Ala. Purchased 1,850 acres in Coosa County Alabama.
I have a copy of the deed given to me by Mary Alice Carmichael.
I believe that there is an error in this deed as it places this land in Range #19. Later deeds and history makes me believe this should have been Range #17 as this parcel fits together with later land purchases by both Thomas and his son Robert in the Unity Community. Thomas Lessley and James W. Thompson purchased this 1,850 acres from Mountain and Sarah Hill on April 14, 1854 for $1,500. It is interesting that Thomas purchased 202.5 acres in Coweta County Georgia in 1838 for $1,250 which was $6.17 per acre. In 1854 he was able to purchase 1,850 acres for $1500 which was only $.81 per acre. We can see why our ancestors continued to move west. James W. Thompson Jr. married Mary Elizabeth Lessley the daughter of Thomas.
4. NOTES ABOUT THOMAS LESSLEY FROM: “The Saga of an American Family”
By Dr. John Leslie Carmichael.
“Chapter 5, Pg. 49: Mother’s father (Robert) had married at 17, against his father’s (Thomas) wishes, a young lady three years his senior. He (Robert) left S.C. where his father (Thomas) had apparently had farming interests and a gristmill. His father (Thomas) probably owned no slaves.”(Tax records in 1851 showed that he owned three.)
Both families (Lessleys & Carmichaels) had high interests in religion and education. Both families belonged to their community Presbyterian Churches.
“Chapter 5, Pg 53: Whatever resentments developed in grandfather Lessley’s (Robert) family over his marriage at age 17 years of age was evidently soon dispelled, and his parents (Thomas & Susan) spent their declining years in his home.”
“A family tradition is that great grandmother Lessley(Susan) , a very
devout woman, went blind in her later years, evidently from cataracts.
She prayed that she might be able to see her children once more.
Her prayers were answered and the cataracts must have dissolved, as they
sometimes do in the very elderly, and she was granted her wish to see her
children again. It is also stated that she was able to read her Bible
through once more after her vision returned. She and her husband
(Thomas) are buried in the little cemetery of Unity Presbyterian Church
which his son (Robert) and his wife (Frances) helped found in 1858, and
these children, my grand mother and grandfather are buried in the little
cemetery not far from them.”
CHILDERN OF THOMAS AND SUSAN WILSON LESSLEY
1. Son?? 1825-1830
2. Robert Alexander 8-18-1830 in S.C. died 9-6-1912, Unity,Coosa Co. Ala.
3. Mary Elizabeth born 1831 in S.C. died 2-9-1907,Unity, Coosa, Co. Ala.
4. William M. born 3-9-1834 in S.C. died 12-7-1876,Kahatchee, Talladega, Co.
5. Sarah Jane born 1837 in S.C. died 1921, Mt. Olive, Coosa Co. Ala.
6. John Joseph born 1839 in Georgia died 1-9-1864
C GENERATION NUMBER TWO--- Robert Alexander Lessley &
Frances Elizabeth Thompson
Robert Alexander Lessley: Born 8-18-1830, South Carolina
Died 9-6-1912, Buried - Unity , Coosa Co.
Married Frances Elizabeth Thompson on 9-18-1847 in Coweta County Georgia.
(I have a photo copy of their marriage license from
Marriage Book B, Coweta Co, Ga. Page #349)
Frances Elizabeth Thompson: born 9-27-1827, South Carolina
Died 10-10-1898, Buried in Unity, Coosa Co.
(I have pictures of their grave Markers at Unity)
“Marriage Record” typed by Mary Alice Carmichael 7-28-1998”
(Robert A. Lessley to Frances E. Thompson, Marriage License and Certificate;
Coweta County, Georgia: Marriage Book B 1832-1847; page349)
“Georgia Coweta County
To any minister of the Gospel, Judges, Justice of the Inferior Court or Justice of the peace. You are hereby authorized to join Robert A Lessley and Frances E Thompson in The Holy State of Matrimony, according to the Constitution & laws of the State; and for so doing this shall be your Sufficient license.
Given under my hand & seal this 15th day of September 1847.
John M. Thomas C.C. O.(L.S.)
Georgia Coweta County
I do certify that Robert A. Lessley and Frances E. Thompson were duly joined in Matrimony by me this 18th day of September 1847.
A. Hardy J.P.
Recorded 5th Oct. 1847
John M. Thomas C.C.O.”
The following are various notes and records know about Robert A. Lessley and his wife Frances Elizabeth Thompson.
1. Here is another case of inter-family marriages. Robert’s sister,
Mary Elizabeth married the brother of Frances who was James W. Thompson
Jr. the same year, 2-18-1847.
2. The following is taken from “A Saga of an American Family” by Dr. John Leslie Carmichael, grandson to Robert and Frances Lessley.
3. I have inserted their names in place of his use of: (Mother’s Father, Mother’s Mother or Grandfather Lessley and Grand Mother Lessley.)
Ch. 5, Pg 49. “Robert had owned one slave which he sold to purchase a sawmill. (This slave was listed on the tax records in 1851 of the Coweta County, Ga. records) The sawmill burned but after the Civil War, he owned another sawmill which he operated for some time, along with his farming efforts. Both Carmichael and Lessley families gave high priority to providing good education for their children. Indeed, as noted elsewhere, the interest of Robert had in providing education for his children is what brought our mother and father together.
Robert was active in his church. He and his wife were two to the 10 people who founded the Unity Presbyterian Church in Coosa County in 1858. He, his father-in-law,((THIS WAS PROBABLY HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW AS HIS FATHER-IN-LAW, J.W. THOMPSON SR. DIED IN 1847 AND WAS BURIED IN COWETA COUNTY)) his brother-in-law, and his grandson-in-law successively served as the clerk of the session of this church for the first 100 years of its existence.
In father’s family before the Civil War, the home was relatively affluent
and was not affected a great deal by the war, since his father was too
old to serve in the war. On the other hand, Robert was called early
to serve in the war.
Frances was left with two teenage sons and two younger daughters, just older than our mother (Amanda), and one daughter younger than our mother. On July 2nd, just two months after Robert was inducted into the service which was May 3rd, 1862, a daughter was born to Frances. With the help of these sons, Frances provided for her family, and for one period of at least, some of her produce was commandeered to help support some of the poorer in the community. There was living in the community, but probably not with Frances, Robert’s mother and father (Thomas & Susan).
There was much disparity in the lives of the two families in the immediate
post-war period and in the reconstruction era. In the case of Robert’s
family, there had been few or no slaves in the area and, therefore, little
or no freed black labor. Another factor may have played some role
in the family’s life in the immediate post Civil War period,
Robert returned from the war late and thereby, a story has been handed down which may or may not be true. Robert lived with us for the last several years of his life. At his death in August 1912, I was 15 years of age. He remarked, apparently in a somewhat defensive manner, that General Hood in fighting in defense of Atlanta against the Union Army under General Sherman had remarked the he was going to fight to the last man. Robert remarked that it was obvious that the South had lost the war. Robert also mentioned when he lived with us, the farming operation he knew of in Ohio. His late return from the war, his acquaintance with farming in Ohio, and his defensive remarks to me on the Sunday made me wonder if he had been captured or had deserted from the Army toward the end of the war. (Those captured or deserted from the South were listed on the same Federal form). If he did do so, knowing the circumstances as he must have viewed them, I believe I would have to view the courage and the cool judgement he exercised with much admiration. He fought the enemy conscientiously; he had been wounded at least once in the thick of battle. The war appeared to be lost. He had a wife and seven children back home under adult age; the war had become largely a war to abolish slavery, an institution in which he had no vested interest and which he may at this time had disapproved of.
What happened to Robert immediately after the battle at Nashville, I do not know. General Hood resigned his command in January 1865, following the battle of Nashville in December. The State of Alabama Department of Archives and history contains the following: “The record roll made at Petersburg, Virginia, early in 1865 shows Robert Alexander Lessley with the command.” As I look back on the above record, I would guess that Robert Lessley left the army by desertion or capture sometime between April 18, and April 26, 1865.”
Additional information on Robert’s military service is revealed by information about his brother-in-law; James W. Thompson Jr. As I mentioned before, James married Robert’s sister and Robert married a sister of James. These must have been close families as James purchased land with Thomas. James and Robert served in the same unit during the war. (60th Infantry) The following are two pieces of information about James which pertain to Robert.
A. From Pam’s internet website: “He(James W. Thompson Jr.) enlisted
on 5-3-1862 in the confederate Army, Co. B, 60th Regt. , Ala. Infantry,
at Rockford, Coosa Co. Ala. He was at Chicamauga Battle when
General Longstreet and his forces were sent to Va. with them,and they were
in the siege of Petersburg Va. He was released 4-4-1865. His name
appeared on the register of (Refugees and Rebel Deserters), Washington,
D.C. He had taken the oath of allegiance to the U.S. and transportation
was furnished to Harrisburg, Pa.”
B. From a letter by Thomas Alexander Thompson in 1928. He was the son of James W. Thompson Jr. “Uncle Robert Lessley was in the 60th Regiment with my father. My father was in the Western Army with the 60thAla. Regiment and was in the Chicamagua Battle and when General Longstreet and forces were sent back to Virginia, my father’s brigade (which was General Gracies )was sent to Virginia with them. They were in the siege of Petersburg, Va.”
C. Concerning the question expounded by Dr. Carmichael above, concerning Robert’s capture or desertion from the army in 1865, I have copies of some of his military records. These were sent to me by Tim Leslie in Texas who is the great grand son of John Joseph Lessley, Robert’s youngest child.
(These forms were used for both those captured and deserted)
Hdqrs. Provost Marshal General, Defences North of the Potomac, Washington D. C.
Reg. No. 299, Part 766, page96
“R. A. Leslie, Pvt. 60 Regt Ala”
Appears on “Register” of Refugees and Rebel Deserters, Provost Marshal General Washington, D.C.
When Received-------------Feb. 24,1865
Where sent----------Army of the Potomac
Action taken--------Taken oath, train furnished to Cincinnati, Ohio”
This is almost the same as with his brother-in-law, James Thompson except
for the date and where he was sent.
POST WAR INFORMATION By Dr. John Leslie Carmichael
“The only child born to Robert and Frances after the Civil War was John Joseph Lessley who was born on March 25, 1866. Thus it appears that Robert was home by June 1865, which would have been about two months after Lee’s surrender.
In the Reconstruction and post-war periods, labor was scarce and unsatisfactory. The older sons had married and had homes of their own. The panic of 1873 had occurred. It must have been soon after this that Mother (Amanda) and her younger sister, recognizing the plight of Robert, approached him and proposed that they would do the plowing on the farm for that year. He must have accepted this hesitatingly but the proposal was carried out. Apparently, there was no detriment to the health of either sister.
As indicated above, after Robert’s return from the war, one child was born to the family, my mother’s youngest brother. To the three sons and five daughters were born 78 boys and girls, grandchildren of Robert Alexander Lessley and Frances Elizabeth Thompson.
When our father was brought to the community under the leadership of Robert Lessley to teach the community school, he could find no suitable place for lodging and boarding, so Robert and Frances provided a place for him in their home. This was probably in the fall of 1876. Our father was 28 years of age and our mother 18 years of age. By the end of the school term, father had proposed marriage to our mother and she had accepted.”
“He (Robert A. Lessley) was a man of untiring energy, supported a large family well, and was always enthusiastic about his work. Mother said he always “STOOD” for the salary of every teacher they hired in their school. He was the first person in the community to have a cook stove, a sewing machine, a buggy, a cotton gin, a sawmill, as these inventions came along. He was always a busy man, and a man of few words. I have been told that in the home he was never heard to criticize a neighbor.” Dr. Carmichael also stated that Robert played the violin.
From notes of Lurlean Leslie Watkins, compiled in 1961 & 1669: “When Robert A. Lessley died, he was dressed to go see his 75th grandchild (William Eddy Lessley) and his last grandchild. He died from a heart attack. The three sons carried on their father’s work. Their lands consisted of 6 Sections( 1 Section is 640 acres) of land. The land sold for fifty cents per acre. They also owned shingle, planer and stave mills, grist mills and cotton gins.”
At this point one can look back and ponder about these three families that were united through several generations from Ulster Northern Ireland, Abbeville, S.C., Coweta County, Ga. , and finally to Unity community in Coosa County, Ala. I think it ironical that the last location where the families lived together was called Unity. From Unity the families in successive generations spread in many directions.
It is interesting now to indulge a little mind travel into the life of our families as they lived in Unity community during the nineteenth century. We can do this by reading the following article taken from: “The Sylacauga Advance” newspaper dated 8-14-1958. The subject of the article was the founding of Unity Presbyterian Church and the celebration of its 100th birthday.
“To know something of the 100-year history of Unity Presbyterian Church located three miles from Weogufa is to appreciate the significance of the church—centered community. For surely in these parts there have been recorded no more interesting chapters on such a way of life than that at Unity.
Founded in March 1858 by a group of 10 Presbyterians who had settled in the community, the name of the church was first Mount Zion but was changed to Unity the next year.
Charter members of the church were Dr. John N. Slaughter, James W. Thompson, Robert A. Lessley, Mrs. Celia R. Slaughter, Malvina H. Thompson, Mary E. Thompson, Frances E. Lessley and Mary Ann Thompson. And descendents of several of these founders continue being pillows of strength in the church.
Some of these early settlers had traveled in ox wagons from Georgia and South Carolina and as soon as they cleared the land and built their homes, the organized the church.
The original church was used for less than 30 years when the present octagonal building was constructed by members giving of their time on “work days” which were so much a part of the community spirit. Hand-hewned lumber made the pews as well as the pulpit furniture.
It was the belief of the church builders that an octagonal-shaped structure would promote better music. They felt that since the church was rounded, the sound would be”brought to pitch in the center” for better harmony. It was always the custom for the women to sit on the left, the men on the right and children on the front. Since the women sang in a higher pitch and the men lower, it was felt that the sounds converged in center for perfect harmony. Many people have said that they have never heard better congregational singing than at Unity.
All community life revolved around the church and its members were closely united by spiritual bonds. Even as the Israelites were taught religious practice and schooled by their family members, so were the children at Unity. Mothers, aunts and grandmothers taught the youngsters while fathers, uncles and grandfathers took them to church.
Residents of Unity lived as one big family in so far as sharing schooling, recreation, and problems—and their church was always their strength. No social functions were ever held in the sanctuary but many were the good times enjoyed by all the community in the various homes. There were candy pullings, singings, and tacky parties attended by old and young alike.
Sundays were observed as taught in the Bible. Nothing but sacred music was played in the home, there was no cooking, and no reading except the Bible. Children did not play ball and did not study lessons. They met in the homes and sang spiritual songs or visited the sick or took walks in the woods.
In early records are found evidences of strict discipline. Any member guilty of misconduct was required to appear before the church and “get himself right” or he was no longer a member of Unity. In one recorded instance, a member took the Lord’s name in vain and he received a letter asking him to appear before the church to get himself “straightened out” and to apologize to the church. At another time, a member danced at a party and he was sent three letters which he ignored. Then when he went to war and returned, the church records show that his “misconduct was still a matter of concern.”
GENERATION # 3
JAMES THOMPSON LESSLEY