Big Fish in a Small Northwest Florida Pond: William Franklin and Mary Ann Malissa Hart King

The Kings were latecomers to the Oak Grove area, arriving sometime between 1880 and 1885. It isn’t known what motivated them to move west from Walton County and settle in the small, rural community of Oak Grove. But they are there by the 1885 Florida census and William Franklin is teaching, running a general store and functioning as postmaster by 1898. Unlike the couple in my previous post, I know what Grandma and Grandpa King looked like and I have some insight into their personalities by stories told by their grandchildren and items given to me by my grandmother. Let’s back up a bit from their arrival in Oak Grove and start by exploring the family’s actions during the Civil War.

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Wm. C. King Jr.

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Roseda Sawyer King

William Franklin’s parents, William Coplin Jr. and Roseda Sawyer King met and married in Coffee Co, AL in the early to mid-1840s. William Coplin Jr. had arrived in Alabama from South Carolina with his parents, William Coplin Sr. and Nancy Cole King, sometime between 1832 and 1835. William Coplin Sr. died about 1845 leaving his wife to raise five of her seven children. Her oldest, William Coplin Jr. was already out of the house and John C. would have been considered grown and able to help for a time.  She was head of household in 1850 and 1860 in Coffee Co. In 1860 she was living next door to Thomas Delorum Cole, a wealthy merchant and likely cousin, and his invalid wife. Judge Marion Brunson in his book, Pea River Reflections: Intimate Glimpses of Area Life During Two Centuries (Story #13 entitled “A Hidden Treasure”) indicates that Nancy was working in Thomas Cole’s household taking care of his wife. Whether she was hired help or volunteering as a family member is really not known. But after Thomas’ wife died sometime during the war, he and Nancy appear to have married.

Judge Brunson also states that her sons came from Georgia and took her back to Georgia which isn’t borne out by facts. Her sons were already in Coffee Co, AL when the war started and they didn’t return to Georgia but moved south into Florida. What is fact is Thomas was wealthy and as the war wore on and the gangs in the area became more aggressive, he expressed concern about becoming a target, according to Brunson. That happened on 29 April 1865 when he and one of his male enslaved servants were murdered by several men trying to extract information about the whereabouts of his gold and silver. Neither he, nor his servant, apparently gave the information up and his stash of money has never been found.

William Coplin Sr., and brother Michael, both moved their families south during the war.   Based on William’s responses to the questions in the 1867 voters registration, it was likely in 1862 or 1863 for his family. So why did much of the family start moving south during the war? Opportunity or avoidance? The other question there is no answer to is when did Nancy King Cole leave Alabama and joined her sons?  There is no tell-all diary that clears up the mysteries but we can piece together documented and circumstantial evidence and draw some possible conclusions:

  1. It is possible that Thomas Delorum decided that some of his money needed to be out of the area and he sent his new wife/likely cousin with some of it south to be with her sons sometime near the end of the war. Years later the Kings had quite a number of gold coins that were dated a few years before the war.  We know they were held and passed down, we don’t know how they came to have them.
  2. Younger brother Hiram was drafted into the 1st Battalion Alabama Artillery, Co E in September 1862. He was taken prisoner after the fall of Ft. Morgan in August 1864 and in his statement to the prison officials at Elmira he indicated that he was a “Unionist” and just wanted to get back home where he had family near Pensacola. He didn’t get that opportunity. He died of pneumonia in the frigid weather and abysmal conditions of Elmira in the winter of 1864.  Brother John C. may have also been drafted but the name is so common I’ve not been able yet to figure out which John King might be the right John King. I’ve not been able to find him after the war either, something unusual for the Kings who tended to live reasonably close to each other. If the family were Unionists, with two brothers drafted they may have felt they needed to become a bit more scarce as the age for drafting increased and Florida was a good choice.
  3. William Coplin Jr. did not serve with the Confederacy and one of his granddaughters told me in the 1990s that the family had been Unionists and did not approve of slavery.  There is no evidence that this King family ever held enslaved persons.
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State Normal College at DeFuniak Springs, FL

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Malissa Hart and William Franklin King

William Coplin Jr. and Roseda’s family stayed in Walton Co until after 1880. Michael and family remained above DeFuniak Springs. Once in Oak Grove, it appears the Kings either built or bought a general store that was located today where Yellow River Church Rd and Old River Rd meet just north of Highway 2. Some time around 1890 William Franklin left to attend the State Normal College in DeFuniak Springs. He graduated in 1892 and returned to Oak Grove, possibly to teach. He certainly did that a bit later. On 13 August 1893, William Franklin married Mary Ann Malissa Hart, daughter of Allen and Mary Jane Gaskin Hart.  In 1894 W. F.’s father, William Coplin Jr. died and was buried in the new Yellow River Baptist Church Cemetery (the church had recently bought property where it now stands and was in the process of building a new church building).

William Franklin became the postmaster for Oak Grove in October 1898; operating the post office from his store.  He served as postmaster until it was moved out of Oak Grove in December 1916.

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Store with P.O. at right window

He taught school in Oak Grove (in the church building) until the state moved the school to Blackman. Some of his grandchildren remembered the state sending him a small pension check after he “retired” from teaching, though he had never been an employee of the State. He sent it back with a note that he had not done anything for the money and therefore he was returning it. He served as a deacon, church clerk, music teacher and song leader at Yellow River Baptist Church and during the bleak period between 1916 and 1938 when the church did not have a pastor, he kept the doors open for the community. They would still occasionally gather and sing, read the Bible and pray and still had homecoming each June. He was a passionate advocate for Sacred Harp music, teaching it every summer to the community children. Some are still around that remember learning FA – SO – LA – MI during summer vacation.

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W. F. & Malissa’s children

He lost his mother in 1907 and she was buried next to her husband in Yellow River Church cemetery. He and his wife, Malissa, had eleven children all of whom grew to adulthood:

  1. Allen Jefferson and William Michael were born 5 Jun 1894. Allen remained in Oak Grove near his parents but William was a wanderer, leaving and reappearing throughout his life. Allen married Maggie Lee Kirkland and had 2 daughters and William married Maggie Viola Barrow and had 2 sons and 2 daughters. Allen died in 1962 and William died in 1958. Both are buried at Good Hope Baptist Church in Blackman.
  2. Bertha Alma was born 26 July 1897. She was described by her future husband, John Jesse Barrow, Jr as the “prettiest girl in the county” with coal black hair and blue eyes. She and Jesse had 8 children, 7 daughters and 1 son that we will meet in the next post. They lived in Oak Grove on what is now Highway 2 just west of Yellow River Church Rd. She died in 1981 and is buried at Yellow River Baptist Church with her husband.
  3. Mary Lillian was born 26 October 1898. She married William Burl Sconiers and had 1 son. They lived in Wing, Covington Co, AL. She died in 1986 and is buried at Wayside Church in Wing with her husband.
  4. John Franklin was born 3 February 1900. He was a wonderful storyteller who at times stuttered, especially when it would make the story funnier. He married Velma Gibson and they had one daughter. He died in 1973 and is also buried at Cotton Cemetery at Good Hope Baptist Church with his wife.
  5. Rubie Roezelle was born 5 November 1902. She married James Marlin Cook and they had 2 sons and 2 daughters. They lived in Escambia Co, AL.  She is buried at Douglas Chapel Cemetery in Escambia Co, AL with her husband.
  6. Anna Belle was born 10 March 1905. She married Walker Sconiers and they had 2 sons. They lived near DeFuniak Springs, then she moved to Biloxi after Walker’s death.  She died there in 1988 and is buried at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery in Walton Co, FL with her husband.
  7. Della Mae was born 4 August 1907.  She married Leslie Bartlett Peaden and they had 6 children.  They lived in Washington and Jackson Co, FL.  Leslie died in 1952 and Della died in 1994.  They are both buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Suwanee Co, FL.
  8. Ira Estelle was born 26 October 1909. She married Joseph Mallory Steele and they had 2 daughters. She died in 1980 and is buried at Old Ebenezer Cemetery near Laurel Hill, FL with her husband.
  9. Miles Jerome was born 11 August 1912. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1933 at Maxwell Field in Alabama. He served in WWII in the Pacific and worked his way up to Master Sergeant. After the war he stayed with the new Air Force and went to Officer Candidate School. He served in various locations from Alaska to England as a medical administrator and likely met his wife, Dorothy Marie Rice, in either Arizona or Texas. She was a nurse who also served in the Pacific in WWII. They married after they both retired from active duty. She was a Lt. Colonel at discharge. He was a Major. They settled in Bexar Co, TX and are both buried at Garden of Memories in Kerrville.
  10. Milbria Ovella was born 5 March 1915. She married James William Moore. They had 1 son. She was a teacher and school administrator and a wonderful letter writer, though her penmanship was pretty challenging to read. I remember my grandmother trying to read Aunt Ovella’s letters and asking others to help interpret the words.  In the early 2000s she and I took up exchanging letters and I have to admit, it was a challenge.  She died in 2002 and is buried at Cotton Cemetery at Good Hope Baptist Church.

Mary Ann Malissa Hart King died 4 September 1935 in Oak Grove. At the time Yellow River Baptist Church was struggling to get back on its feet. The cemetery was in disrepair so William Franklin buried her at Good Hope where her parents had moved their membership years earlier and where they are likely both buried. He kept himself busy with family and helped get the church going again in 1938 with a new pastor. He served as church clerk for a time, continued to teach music and singing and on occasion would entertain his grandchildren with a little buck dancing and fiddle playing. His son William also played the fiddle and I am privileged to have one. He was especially close to the two youngest (for many years before the “baby” arrived) of Bertha Alma’s children. He took them to Sacred Harp sings in his 1929 Model-A Ford Tudor. My Mom, who was one of those two granddaughters, remembers driving on the Old Spanish Trail between Crestview and Milton and remembers the constant jarring as the tires bumped along on the bricks. She says it was easier after they widened the road with a partial lane of concrete. If you drove half on and half off the bricks, the teeth jarring wasn’t quite so noticeable!

William Franklin died on 7 December 1946 at home. He had refused to go to the hospital but his son Miles, who was trained in the medical services in the Air Force, thought he had cancer. He was buried next to his wife at Cotton Cemetery. On the day of his funeral Escambia Farms school was closed in his honor and reportedly bused some of the children to his funeral.

Grandpa King died just a few years before I was born but I’ve heard about him from his daughter Alma, most of her children and a few of her sisters and brothers. He was a stern man, with a strong sense of right and wrong. But though stern he always had a piece of stick candy for the kids and they could on occasion get him to sing, dance and play the fiddle.  He was deeply spiritual.  He loved music and education. He inspired my grandfather to go to Madison Normal College to get his license to teach, though Granddaddy was too smitten with William Franklin’s daughter Alma to finish his education. And that love of education and music was passed down to some of his great-grandchildren. His penmanship was beautiful and flowing, unlike some of his children’s. I remember my Grandmother and me sitting in the living room and reading through his letters to his future wife while he was at the State Normal College. I remember going through some of his books and papers that was in his desk that was in my grandparents’ house after he died.  I often wonder what aspects of my personality might have flowed from the Kings. Unfortunately, I received pigheadedness from nearly all sides so I can’t blame any one family for that but I did develop a love of music and education and I credit the Kings for my desire to fill my days with both.

Until next time when we will meet Jesse and Alma King Barrow’s children. I will tell some stories on them and share some of my favorite photos.  And I’ll share an audio recording of my family singing acapella in the 1970s at my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary.

Suggested Resources:

  1. Most Sacred Harp song books have a section in the front explaining music in 4 notes rather than the usual 7 notes.  A good web source is at Sacred Harp Singing.  If you saw the movie Cold Mountain you’ve heard Sacred Harp singing. But if not, two of my favorites are: Nearer My God to Thee and I’m Going Home (the song from the movie).  And if you want a good view of the time keeping and the seating arrangements in a traditional sing see I’m Going Home at the Second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention 2012.  There are active sings in the south Alabama area throughout the year, and some still in Florida.  You can find info at the website listed above.
  2. Elmira: Death Camp of the North by Michael Horigan
  3. Yellow River Baptist Church Membership Records: 1840-1950 by Sharon D. Marsh
Books for Sell:
1st FLORIDA UNION CAVALRY VOLUNTEERS IN THE CIVIL WAR
YELLOW RIVER BAPTIST CHURCH MEMBERSHIP RECORDS: 1840-1950
BARROW-KING FAMILY HISTORY

11 thoughts on “Big Fish in a Small Northwest Florida Pond: William Franklin and Mary Ann Malissa Hart King

  1. Try playing with how their surnames might be spelled and if using Amazon I find searching for one or more of the children in the household or searching with just initials helps. In what year have you found them in SC? Is there a gap between SC and AL. Maybe a stop in GA for a while. Good luck.

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  2. Pingback: Seven Sisters (and a Brother) in 1930s Oak Grove, FL – Northwest Florida History

  3. Pingback: The Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs, FL – Northwest Florida History

  4. I missed this one earlier! Thomas Delorum Cole is Joab Horne’s son-in-law. Thomas’ wife was Elizabeth Horn. The story about the gold coin’s from our end is that Thomas was attached and tortured by holligans near the end of the war but he would not tell where he had hid the gold. Many people have searched but no one ever found the gold. So, his wife may have taken it to Florida!

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  5. Oh, wow, I knew she was a Horne but I had never thought to see if she was connected to Joab. That might explain how the Kings knew to move into Florida during the war. My sense on the gold was he likely split it up to ensure at least some would survive. And since he and Nancy were likely related though I’ve not figured out how yet (she was a Cole from SC) it seems likely he would have sent some of it south with her. The Kings were not big into banks and were always inclined to gold coins, so it is hard to be sure but some of the coins were prior to 1860 so I think it is a possibility. If you keep reading we may find we are related!

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  6. How can I get in touch with you? Ovella King was my grandmother. I have some pictures and I am very interested in knowing some more information about this family. Please contact me!!!

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    • Amanda, good to hear from you. I have fond memories of your Dad. We exchanged many emails over the years. You can email me through my author website, http://www.sharondmarshauthor.com/. Go to the contact page and send me your email address. That will come directly to me and then I can email you directly. Your sister should have my email as well. We’ve exchanged a couple. I will be glad to share what I have and know. There are several other posts here that reference or mention our great-grandparents and their ancestors on both sides. Look forward to hearing from you.

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  7. Pingback: Bertha Alma King Barrow, 1897-1981 – Northwest Florida History

  8. Pingback: Yellow River Baptist Church, Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL – Northwest Florida History

  9. Pingback: The Little Red (or White or Log) Schoolhouse in Northwest Florida: The Student Experience – Northwest Florida History

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