Thomas W. and Esther (Graves) Wilson

Submitted by Steve M. Wilson

If you look closely at a local map you will find that the southeastern tip of Winston County is actually isolated from the rest of the county. The rising waters of Smith Lake covered the bridges and roads that once provided direct access to this land without traveling first through a neighboring county. Within that isolated Winston community is Wilson Cemetery, located on what once was a large farm where Thomas W. and Esther Graves Wilson resided as early as 1862.

Thomas W. Wilson was born in 1830 in South Carolina among siblings or half-siblings believed to include B.F. (Ben) Wilson, Abigale (Abbie) Wilson Flannagan, and Sarah (Sally) Wilson. In 1851 Thomas married Esther Graves in DeKalb County, Alabama. Esther Graves Wilson was a true granddaughter of the American Revolution. She was the first child of Hiram and Juda (Judy) Brown Graves of DeKalb Co., Alabama. Hiram Graves was the son of John and Betty Beeson Graves and the grandson of James Graves (b. cir. 1750). Betty Beeson Graves (b. 1776) was the daughter of the American Revolutionary Army Officer, Captain Edward Beeson (b. cir. 1757) and his wife, Selena Lamb Beeson. Captain Edward Beeson was the son of Benjamin (b. 1739) and Elizabeth Beeson. Benjamin Beeson was the son of Richard (b. 1684) and Charity Grubb (b. 1687) Beeson. Richard Beeson was the son of Edward and Rachel Pennington (b. 1650) Beeson, Sr. who left England between 1682-84 with the Penn emigrants.

By 1862, when Thomas relocated his family from Walker County to the southeast corner of Winston County, the Wilson children numbered five: John L., William, Alexander, Susan Juda and Hiram. Also living with Thomas was Ordrel Wilson (possibly his 57-year old mother). Thomas did not own any slaves and, like many other residents of the Winston County hills, he believed in "The Free State of Winston" choosing not to take up either cause in the Civil War. Thomas avoided the Confederate conscription troops by hiding out in caves along the Rock Creek bluffs. In these caves, which are still visible when the Smith Lake water level is low, Thomas made boots and shoes for the people of his community. He would periodically emerge to provide his neighbors with these shoes or help with their crops.

Living near Thomas were his good friends, James and Delilah Calvert. James, also, sought to avoid the conscription troops but was found and taken off to war. In a letter to his wife, Delilah, James wrote asking for news about his neighbors with a specific message for his friend, Thomas Wilson:

"... I have herd that the yankes is in Walker. I want to hear from thare whether it is so or not. I want you to right. tell me whether you have got whet sode or not, what you have dun and what you can get dun. right what all the nabers is doing. tell thomas wilson to sell that jack if he can sell him to any advantage ..."

James never returned to Winston County. He died of pneumonia in a Union prisoner of war camp.

Following the Civil War the last two of Thomas' seven children, Henry and Sarah, were born. In a single deed executed in 1870, Thomas purchased 840 acres of land from John L. Reed of Winston County, which included the land where Wilson Cemetery had already been established.

In 1877 and 1879, Thomas and Esther saw their sons, William and John L., marry Nancy Ann and Susan Agnes Blevins, daughters of John and Elizabeth Blevins. John L. eventually moved away and settled in Lampasas County, Texas. In 1879 and 1889, Alexander Wilson and his sister, Sarah, married Sarah Elizabeth and James, Jr. Calvert, children of their neighbors James and Delilah Stewart Calvert.

By 1900, Thomas and Esther again lived alone in Winston County having raised their seven children. Esther is believed to have died of tuberculosis in 1903 and Tom died in 1905. They are both buried under a large cedar in Wilson Cemetery overlooking the Rock Creek branch of Smith Lake. Their sons, Hiram and Henry, and daughters, Juda and Sarah, are also buried in the same cemetery.

Submitted by: Steve M. Wilson, 5212 Kirkwall Lane, Birmingham, AL 35242. Sources: Census, marriage, and land records, genealogical text by Aubrey Graves, newspaper article, recollections of Johnny and Milton Sinyard.