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Tracing heritage: AAHS recognizes Fleming family

 It has become a tradition during the African American Heritage Society’s Black Tie Affair to recognize a pioneer family—one that can document its Williamson County roots back to 1850. 


Next Friday, Feb. 7 the AAHS will recognize the Fleming family as the 2014 Pioneer Family during the evening gala themed “Struggle for Freedom”. 
 
Family members will be presented with certificates and a family lineage prepared by author and historian Thelma Battle and Jason Gavin, of Williamson County Public Library’s (WCPL) Special Collections Division.
 
Discovering the early ancestry of African Americans can be challenging because much is dependent on the record keeping of plantation owners, court records and newspaper articles, Gavin said recently. 
Tennessee, he explained, is one of the easiest states to trace because it was federally occupied during the Civil War. Unlike the Carolinas and Georgia, Tennessee cities were not destroyed. 
 
Research preserves legacy
Through the WCPL’s Pioneer Family Program, Battle has been able to preserve the accomplishments of those who helped establish this community. 
It has become her mission to tell their stories,  keeping memories alive of their contributions to the county. 
 
The role slaves played during and after the Civil War has not been fully addressed, Battle expressed in a letter to members of the Fleming family announcing their award.
 
To understand the present, she said, we must know, remember and honor the past.
 
“We must recognize the strengths of our beloved ancestors; those who were free and those who were ex-slaves who witnessed countless inhuman deeds to their existence.”
 
There are four sets of Fleming families in the county. Through research, Battle has traced all four to Daniel Fleming, born around 1819. 
Slave records from the Sunnyside Plantation in southern Williamson County provided information.
 
Sunnyside, then located on Columbia Pike seven miles south of Franklin, was part of a 2,000-acre parcel along the headwaters of the West Harpeth River. 
 
It spanned the area between Independence High and Lewisburg Pike, which was purchased by John Thompson in 1812.
 
Thompson’s daughter Mixey married William Fleming in 1815, and in 1824 Thompson gave the couple 420 acres carved out of the original 2,000 acres. 
That acreage—and 133 acres the couple purchased in 1821 from Thomas Cayce—became Sunnyside.
 
Slaves of Sunnyside
Daniel Fleming, whom Battle referred to as an ex-slave in her letter to family members, married a woman named Angelina. The couple had six children. 
Nat Fleming was about seven years old when his name first appeared on a census in 1870. Nat married Mollie Kinnard/White in 1884. 
 
His brother Charles Fleming was born around 1840. 
Charles married Pricilla Stewart and they had Abel (Abe) around 1856 and Lucinda in 1867.
 
Abe and wife Sallie Bettie had seven children, according to census records. Jessie, Thomas, Jimmie, Hattie (Hat), Simon, Lara and Abe Jr.
When Charles’ wife Pricilla died between 1900 and 1920 he moved in with his son Abe between 1920 and 1930. 
 
Ten years later, after Abe’s wife Sallie Bettie died, Abe went to live with his son, Jessie, and Jessie’s wife Amy until his death in 1941.
 
Fleming descendants in Franklin
In 1926, Alice Fleming, the granddaughter of Abe Fleming and great-granddaughter of Charles was born to Simon and Willie Mai Fleming. Alice eventually married into the Flye family.
 
Today, at 88, she is the oldest known living member of the Fleming family.
 
That status in history earns her a special seat at the Black Tie Affair. 
 
During a recent interview, Alice spoke of her grandmother Sallie Bettie and her grandfather Abe, a sharecropper she described as “very nice.”
Alice remembered how he lived with her family in a large house on Dr. J.W. Greer’s farm in the West Harpeth Community.
 
“[Abe] was good to his grandchildren. Later, he stayed with Jessie and Amy where Georgia Boot and the old jail used to be,” Alice recalled about a time when her grandfather moved to Bridge Street in downtown Franklin.
 
“He always had a garden and he raised everything you would want in that garden – except rice.” She spoke of her father, Simon, also a sharecropper, and her two sisters—Janie Thunie and Nannie Clara.
“He made sure we had whatever we would need,” Alice shared. “Life on the farm—it was great. We had beautiful buggies to ride in…we had a rumble seat in the back—two of us could ride in it. When we went over to Franklin, we thought we was going to heaven. We thought we were going somewhere. Back in that time, blacks and whites played ball together. We’d watch the games.”
 
Moving to ‘town’
 
Alice recalled that her family moved into town “when I started school.” 
 
For a while, ‘town’ was Eleventh Avenue in the Hard Bargain community of what was then North Franklin. Later, the family moved to Mt. Hope Street. 
 
Alice shared that her father, Simon Fleming, took a job at the Jewell Tobacco Warehouse, while his brother Abe maintained a garden behind the tobacco barn. 
 
When Alice left the Franklin Training School, she married Nashvillian Edward Flye, also a farmer. The couple settled in the Mt. Hope area of North Franklin. 
 
They had four children, two boys—Henry Edward and Orris David—and two girls—Hilda Flye (Scruggs) and Ernestine Flye (Jerden). Orris and Ernestine are now deceased.
 
“All my children went to college,” Alice said proudly. 
 
Three went to Tennessee State University and Ernestine attended Denison College in Granville, Ohio on a basketball scholarship.
 
“Now I got so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great, great-grandchildren,” Alice beamed. “You see those big yellow school buses? I can fill one of them.”

Posted on: 1/30/2014

 
 

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