Apppeared in the December 2009 issue of The Southern Genealogists Exchange Quarterly


I am descended from Napoleon Bonaparte. In fact, I served under him for a few months. He more than once threatened me with the weapon he carried.  Actually, Napoleon Bonaparte was only his given names. His surname was Clark. He was known by most as Bone. He was my great-grandfather.

After my father’s death, my brother and I spent a few years being shuttled, separately, from relative to relative. While my brother luxuriated in the spoiling care of our father’s brother in Jacksonville, I spent my third grade school year having responsibility drummed into me at my mother’s parents, Robert Henry and Sarah “Sallie” Sessions, in Brunswick, Georgia. Grandma Sessions was a stern woman who didn’t mince her words. I wasn’t philosophical about her demeanor then, but looking back on it now through an adult’s perspective, I can easily see that she had every right to be no-nonsense.  She had raised four children to adulthood on Granddaddy’s meager salary as a saw filer during the lean days of the depression and still had two high school age children at home when she had taken in her father, Bone, four years earlier when he became to old to work as a carpenter. His being eighty-three at the time and not completely in control of all his working parts, she had to continually clean up after him. His presence constantly reminding her that he had turned to alcohol in his later years and had gambled away a pretty sizeable farm while drunk intensified her no-nonsense attitude. Then in 1938, to further stretch the Sessions family’s meager resources and heap an even heavier workload on an already fatigued fifty-five year old, her ornery, smart-mouthed eight year old grandson was dumped on her.

I have a lot of memories of my year’s stay at my grandparents’ house at 1701 Niles Avenue, on the corner of G Street, especially of Great-grandpa Bone. He is still as vivid in my mind’s eye as if I had seen him yesterday. A tall man, he had a full head of red hair and a red beard. Although he used a cane—the weapon with which he threatened me when I didn’t promptly obey his orders—to get around, he stood fairly erect. My first memory of him was his being called on by Grandma to say the blessing at the first meal after my arrival. You didn’t eat at Grandma’s house until thanks were given for the food. Having not been at a meal before where the blessing was said, out of curiosity I watched Bone.  He cracked one eye and moved it from bowl to bowl, “Lord, bless these turnips . . . and Lord, bless these field peas . . . and Lord, bless this rice . . .”

Early on in my sojourn, Grandma directed—she never suggested—Bone to find chores for me to do in the yard. I’m sure her dual motive was for me to start learning some responsibility and to get us both out of the house and from under her feet. He marched me out into back yard with all the air of the real Napoleon Bonaparte marshaling his troop for the attack against the Egyptians at Alexandria. He chose the garage as our first battlefield. Granddaddy Sessions periodically brought home a truckload of reject wood pieces used to frame the ends of fruit crates from Georgia Veneer and Packing Company, for whom he filed saws. Because Grandma used them as firewood for the old iron kitchen stove on which she did all the cooking, they were kept in a pile in the garage to shelter them from rain. Bone’s first order was for me to keep the woodpile neat. Any time he saw a piece of wood more than an inch or two from the stack, he pointed at it with his cane and sternly reprimanded me for not doing my job. Next, he ordered me to keep the wood bin by the kitchen stove full of pieces of wood from the garage. Our definitions of ‘full’ differed. To me, ‘full’ meant as long as you couldn’t see the bottom of the bin. To him, ‘full’ meant full. It was over this issue that he threatened me the most with his cane. Occasionally, when threats weren’t achieving the desired result, he whacked me sharply on the behind. It didn’t take too many whacks for my definition of ‘full’ to coincide with his.

Among other responsibilities Bone heaped on me were sweeping the back porch, keeping the ground under Grandma’s pecan trees cleared of dead limbs and leaves and picking up pecans that had fallen, feeding and watering chickens, gathering eggs, cleaning up the chicken pen, and raking the yard.

I slowly got the impression Bone took pleasure in my being there. In addition to having someone to boss around, he no longer was low man on the totem pole at Grandma’s. As the weeks passed, not only did he stand over me less and less with his ever threatening cane, we developed an enjoyable rapport in spite of the seventy-five years difference in our ages. Just when I began looking forward to his presence when I did my chores, rapidly failing health limited him first to the house then to his bed. I don’t know exactly when he died. My grandparents mercifully shielded me from the trauma of his death and funeral. For a reason unknown to me at the time, I was sent to another Brunswick relative’s house for a few days. When I returned, Bone was not there and I was given his feather bed instead of the hard cot on which I had been sleeping. I learned in later years that he died in 1938 during my stay.

In spite of a lot of earlier research efforts by other family members and lately by me, Bone’s paternal ancestry remains a mystery. Apparently Bone did not know the name of his father. If he knew it, he didn’t pass it on to his children. My grandmother and none of her siblings knew it. They knew his mother’s name, Alice Malinda McEachern. Bone must have known a little of his father, at least enough to be confused about his origin. He reported him on the 1880 census as being from North Carolina, on the 1900 census as being from South Carolina, and on the 1920 census as  being “(Foreign) (Unknown).”

Almost all that is known about Bone, genealogically, came from census records. The earliest is the 1860 Camden County, Georgia census, on which he appears twice as a four year old. One entry, on which his surname is given as “Clarke,” listed him as residing with C. W. Ferguson, a Methodist minister, and his wife. The other is with his mother, Malinda, and his step-father, John B(rewster) Jones, a wheelwright from Massachusetts who Malinda married in Wayne County, Georgia July 27, 1859. Both census entries are in the Clark’s District.

He is listed as a 14 year old on the 1870 Camden County census, “Kings Ferry or Satilla Mills District,” (that was the name of the district) in the household of his step-father, J. B. Jones, listed as a carriage maker, his mother, and three step-siblings. Bone’s future wife, Mary Angeline “Molly” Smith, age 12, is listed fifteen houses away with her parents.

On the 1880 Camden County census, Rose Creek District, he is listed as a 24 year old farmer with wife Mary. A., age 22, and 1 year old son John B(rewster) Clark living with a Bice family next door to his in-laws, John F. and Levisa Smith. His mother and J. B. Jones lived fifteen houses away. Apparently, “Kings Ferry or Satilla Mills District” has been renamed “Rose Creek District” since the last census. An interesting fact I had learned earlier was that Levisa Smith’s great-grandmother, Mary “Polly” Cook Bennett, who was my 5th great-grandmother on my mother’s side, was sister to Lucia Cook Braddock, my 4th great-grandmother on my father’s side. This makes me my own sixth cousin.

At a great loss of demographical, genealogical, and historical information, the 1890 census was destroyed by fire, water, and government ineptitude. Ten years later, on the 1900 census for Camden County, St. Marys Militia District #29, on which Bone’s first name is miswritten as “Epolien,” he is shown as being a house carpenter and owner of his home and farm, mortgage free. By then, the last of his and Molly’s nine children, Joseph, was 5. Only eight of the children were listed. John B., the oldest, had come of age, married, and moved out.  For some unknown reason, Sarah Elizabeth is listed as “Lottie.” The other children listed are Alice, Hardy (misspelled as Hardie ), Camden, Corrine (misspelled as “Corah”), Clyde, Archer, and Joseph. I saw many years ago an old photo of Bones six sons. They were a tall, husky bunch of young men. “Dressmaker” is given as occupation for Sarah and Alice on the census. In later years, my grandmother, Sarah Clark Sessions, enjoyed no small amount of fame in Brunswick for her ability to look at a dress in a shop window down on Newcastle Street, then go home and duplicate it. It was a common sight to see pattern parts she cut from old newspaper pages laid out on her dining table and spread out on the floor.

Bone could not be located on the 1910 census.

He and Molly were enumerated at 603 Cochran Avenue, a rented house in Brunswick, on the 1920 Glynn County census. He is listed as a house carpenter. Having reached adulthood and moved on, none of their children are listed. However, six of their son, John B. Clark’s, children, the oldest 13 years of age, are listed in their household. Their father had been shot to death by his brother-in-law three years earlier. Also enumerated in the household were 22 year old Melinda Marr, shown as a niece, and roomer 18 year old Dannie Thompson.

The 1930 census reveals that Bone and Molly had moved back to Camden County, where they were enumerated in Militia District 31, Satilla Mills. As Bone was self-employed, he had no pension on which to retire, and the Social Security Act would not be signed into law until August 14, 1935. Consequently, he still labored as a house carpenter at the age of 75.

In one of the few other historical records found of Bone other than censuses, “The Early Baptist Churches of the 1800s of Camden County,” he is mentioned as having donated the land near Kingsland for Ruhamah Baptist Church, which was founded in 1884. His mother Malinda and step-father J. B. Jones were listed among the constituting members.

Children of Bone and Molly were:

John Brewster Clark was born in 1877 in Camden County, Georgia. He married Eliza Jane "Lila" Sheffield June17, 1903. Their children were: George Washington Clark, born  July 10, 1906; John Vernon Clark, born  February 22, 1908; Annie Bell Clark, born  October 23, 1909; Robert E. Lee Clark, born,  Sepember 17, 1911; Hannah Louise Clark, born February 1914; Sarah Winifred Clark, born  July 21,1915; and Lila Christine “Tiny” Clark, born  September 10, 1917. John Brewster Clark was shot July 24, 1917 near Kingsland, Georgia by his brother-in-law, Herbert Sheffield, over ownership of some logs. He was carried to the hospital in Jacksonville, where he died two days later.

Alice Agnes Clark was born March 1882. She married James Austin. She died in 1900 at the age of 18.

Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Clark was born May 18, 1883 in Kingsland, Camden County, Georgia. She married Robert Henry Sessions July 17, 1904 in Waltertown, Georgia. Their children were: Rollie Hazel Sessions, born August 1, 1905; Delta Idonia Sessions, born October 17, 1907; Susan Blanche Sessions (my mother), born March 1, 1910; Henry Floyd Sessions, born January 13, 1912 and died the following June 1; Edna Alma Sessions, born April 4, 1914; Mary Lou Sessions, born August 28, 1916; and Bruce Hilton Sessions, born December 16, 1918.

Hardy Clark was born July 1882 in Camden County, Georgia. He married Alless Alice Kennison May 12, 1909 in Camden County, Georgia. Their children were: Virginia Clark, Chester Clark, and Walter Clark. Hardy died in 1934 in Camden County, Georgia.

Camden Clark was born in June 1887 and died in November 1929.

Corrine Clark was born in June 1889.  She married William Edward Allen. Their children were: William Edward Allen, Carl Allen, Allie Allen, Russell Allen, and Gary Allen. Corrine Clark later married Sam Williams.

Archer Clark was born in March 1891.

Clyde Cryder Clark was born in March 1891. He married Bernice Ryals May 10, 1925 in Camden County County, Georgia. He died December in 1951.

Joe Clark was born in February1895. He died in December 1930 from the result of being gassed while serving in the U. S. Army in France during World War I.

Bone is buried in Temple Creek Church Cemetery, near Kingsland, next to Molly, who died in 1934.