By Linda Gilbert
“The STANDARD had a pleasant call last Wednesday from Mr. J.R. P. Goodson, the largest man in Warren County. Mr. Goodson tips the beam at 325 pound, and is a solid friend of the STANDARD.”
– Aug.28, 1886
You are invited to travel back in time with me, and meet my 6’6” 325 pound great, great grandfather, James Roland Patton Goodson.
James Roland Patton Goodson, son of Micheal and Lydia Vestal, was born Feb. 11, 1825, in Lincoln County, N.C., and died May 12, 1890 in Warren County. He was married on Aug. 15, 1846, in Warren County, to Sophronia Temperance (Tempey) Goodson, born Jan. 27, 1827, in Warren County, and died Jan. 1, 1901, in Warren County.
In her book, The Goodsons of Tennessee, Marchetta Goodson wrote:
“James Roland Patton Goodson married his cousin Tempey Goodson. He was a man of high personal honor and character, with a will and determination that caused him to do the right as he saw the right in the face of all opposition. He was scrupulously honest and expected everyone to be likewise. There is not the slightest evidence that he evaded any issue in life, whether the solution was one requiring high physical courage, deep moral conviction or a decision in the realm of the spiritual.
"Uncle Roland, as he was respectfully and affectionately known by his neighbors, was the epitome of the most fitting term that has been used to describe the people who made this country and preserved its glorious traditions down through the years. He was a rugged individual, hard worker, thrifty and had an abiding faith in Almighty God. He carved out with his own powerful hands, a domain of countless acres in the Virgin Forest that once spread like a majestic green sea over the Cumberland Mountain foothills of Middle Tennessee.
"Uncle Roland was not a small man in any sense of the word. Physically he was a giant of a man, standing, it is estimated 6’6” to his stocking feet and weighing a maximum of 350 pounds. It has been said that ‘once upon time’ when a rail splitting contest was in progress, a more exact determination of the ample girth of Uncle Rowland was needed than appeared to be possible at that particular time. Uncle Roland commanded four men, each to pick up a rail and form a square around him, waist high with the rails. Much to the surprise of all present, the rails formed a satisfactory and graphic estimate of his true dimensions. The square formed a tight fit around his waist." Warren County Marriage book 1B-1871-1874 Pages 113-148. Marcheta Goodson Worley, The Goodsons of Tennessee, 1980, pages 18-20.
My quest to find more about JRP Goodson:
It started at the Farmer’s Market in McMinnville, when I stopped to buy goat milk soap from Donna Summerford. The soap label listed her business as being located in the Allen Bend in Smithville. I told her I had relatives who used to live in the Allen Bend. Donna said that, as a matter of fact, there was an old cemetery close to her home. It was overgrown and cows had overrun the cemetery, but she would be glad to take me there. She thought there was a Goodson buried there.
Meanwhile, I made a trip to talk with DeKalb County historian, Tommy Webb, who told me that my great, great grandfather, JRP Goodson, was buried in the cemetery that Donna had described.
Next I called Donna, and met her at her home in the Allen Bend, in DeKalb County. She and her husband, Phillip, took me to the cemetery on a bush hog through high weeds, and we climbed over a barbed wire fence. We found the one monument I hoped to find, JRP Goodson’s. It was broken but the initials were plain, JRPG. Donna and Phillip said there was a back entrance to the cemetery.
About a year later, I went back to the cemetery and took four of JRP Goodson’s great, great grandchildren with me. Among them were Dr. Mary Evins Overton, research professor for Historic Preservation, and history professor at MTSU, and her two sisters, Jane Evins Leonard and Joanna Evins Cornahn, daughters of Congressman Joe L. Evins. The other person with us was JRP’s great, great grandson, from California, Dr. Ray Redmon. Again the Summerfords took us to the cemetery on the bush hog.
Another year went by and I read an article in the Southern Standard entitled “Preserving history, McMinnville’s oldest cemetery holds wealth of stories of town’s earliest days." Meanwhile, I learned that one of JRP Goodson’s sons, James Roland Vestal Goodson, R.V. Goodson, was buried in the old town cemetery with his wife, Mary Potter Goodson, from Dibrell. R.V. Goodson was an attorney, a gauger, an IRS agent, a “knight of the grip” (aka traveling salesman) and the featured speaker in Chattanooga who welcomed out-of-town merchants, inviting them to consider doing business in Chattanooga, according to an article in the Chattanooga Daily Times, dated Sept. 12, 1912.
Next, I attended a workshop, which focused on tombstone preservation, presented by Dr. Stacey Graham from MTSU. I wanted to find a way to repair JRP Goodson’s tombstone and, fortunately at the meeting, someone said that the Sons of the Confederacy restored tombstones of deceased Confederate soldiers. JRP had been a Confederate soldier. He had enlisted in McMinnville, had been captured more than once, and served at a hospital in McMinnville. I recalled that local attorney, Mike Corley, was a history buff, and might be of help.
The next time my husband and I drove to the Allen Bend, we tried to find the back entrance to the cemetery. As providence would have it, we headed down a steep incline toward Center Hill Lake, across from Pates Ford, and turned into the driveway of the last cabin by the water. A gentleman, Richard (Ritchie) McKelvey, quickly stepped out of the cabin and greeted us. I told him we were looking for the back entrance to an old cemetery. He asked if we were looking for the Goodson Cemetery, which he discovered on property he had bought. He hoped someone would repair and preserve it. He graciously drove us to the cemetery in his Jeep, and told us he had done research on James Roland Patton Goodson.
Then I called Mike Corley, who had grown up in Smithville, and asked him if he would help. After checking with the Savage Goodner Camp 1513, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Mike said they were willing to take on the project. They ordered a sign, and put it near the grave. They enlisted the help of Wayne Fuson to repair the monument, and asked Justin Adcock, owner of J & A Fence in Smithville, to put a fence around the area, which he did at his own expense.
Some of JRP Goodson’s descendants are Joe L. Evins, who served in Congress for thirty years, Danny Evins, founder of the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants, former local physician, Dr. John T. Mason, Dr. William Goodson, retired psychiatrist and author and his two sisters Pat Goodson and Mary Lou Walker, of Huntsville, Ala., Mrs. James (Donna Gribble) of Goolsby’s Sausage, Mrs. David (Janice) Mayfield, Mark and Darrell Gribble, Lonnie Ray Gribble McKnight, Carol Womack Chambers and her brother, Morris Womack, Paul Albert Moore, and brothers Mark and Jonathan Moore, James Glenn, Seth Wright, the Redmons, and many more whom I have not met, but perhaps, James Roland Patton Goodson will bring us together. Family researcher extraordinaire, Lee Blackburn, recently told me I am the second cousin third time removed, of James Franklin Goodson, founder of JFG Coffee. The company now operates under the name of Goodson Bros. Coffee in Lenoir City. Goodson Brothers Coffee recently sent me a box of their specialty coffee.
On November 12th there was a lunch at the home of Gale Moore Grosch, widow of Leslie Moore, great great grandson of JRP. Afterward there was a rededication of the monument of JRP Goodson, at the Goodson Cemetery, led by the Savage Goodner Camp 1513, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Mertie Goodson Evins, i.e., Mrs. Edgar Evins, said that when her grandfather, JRP Goodson died, he gave each child a cook stove and 100 acres of land. Mertie’s granddaughter, Dr. Mary Evins shared the only picture I have of JRP. She also has some furniture that he made.
His tombstone reads: “Died May 12, 1890, 65 years 3 months and 1 day. ‘Tis hard to break the tender cord when love has bound the heart. Tis hard so hard to speak thy words, must we forever part. Dearest loved one we have laid thee in the peaceful grave embraced, but the memory will ever be cherished till we see thy heavenly face.’ “