The Key  Part III

Some places have an unwelcome air.  The kind that makes the hair rise on the back of your neck. The walking trail beyond the gate was such an area.  Many were the times I’d walked in the woods and fields over the years growing, but this wasn’t my home ground.
Uneasiness shadowed the trail as  I headed  over, with my camera, phone and sharp ended garden hoe turned walking stick.  The path twisted through the wilderness circling around a cluster of young trees and shrubs. From the hilltop it had appeared swamp like. It was only a cluster of young trees and shrubs. Whatever lingered there apparently judged me as non-threatening; the cloud of apprehension vanished as suddenly as it has appeared.

The ground leveled out as it appeared  it would end as a nice grassy bank on Stephens Creek. More like a small river than the seasonal creeks where I grew up. The creek bank didn’t make an appearance, so I walked back to a confluence of trails and veered to the right.

Small mounds peppered the forest floor paired with odd looking burrows.  “Fox dens”  I thought. Erring on the side of caution, I gave the fox den-like constructions a wide berth. Where the first trail leveled at the bottom of the hill, this one rose steadily. Greens of early spring decorated the trees. A wild dogwood lay broken on the ground. Blooms persevered on the tree, poignantly continuing its life cycle. Vegetation became thick as the path narrowed and the trail quickly wore out its welcome. The red painted gate  greeted me at my car. But I wasn’t ready to give up my search.

Another  trail entered the woods at the edge of the turnaround. It crossed the top of the hill and one way continued in the direction of Key Rd. The other direction took one around the edge of the hill, down a natural terrace and to yet another level. Green sprigs pushed their way through the forest floor, blackened from a recent controlled burn. A faint scent of charred wood rode the gentle breeze. Pine straw carpeted the ground here and there. Trees so big a grown person could not hug them spread their branches over the slopes.

A sharp drop off overlooked the creek.  It was imperative to take care lest a slip of the foot cause a tumble over the edge of the  bluff.  It was best to follow the slope to the next lower level.  It flattened out, like the next step of a broken stair. Not far from my feet, a queen yellow jacket went to ground, no doubt searching for her next underground lair. Taking care to escape her aggressive attentions I continued to follow the slope downward. Stalks of  flowers yet to bloom dotted the lower level. They became thicker and bordered by wild vegetation at the high edge of the bank. Lily perhaps, narcissus or daffodils. Planted there by someone who took joy in their bright blooms in days long gone.

My eyes swept the ground for sunken spots – telltale signs of a cemetery. Nothing  but more of those strange burrows.

I covered all the ground closest to the flowers. Finding  random sunken areas, probably decayed stumps of long dead trees, I moved on to the next section. Trees had fallen touching each other in a triangle, drawing my attention. This spot seemed ‘marked’ somehow and no inch was missed in my quest. Still no cemetery. Once on the opposite side the triangle of  fallen trees  morphed into a rectangle. Surely someone felled them in this configuration, it was too patterned to be a coincidence of nature.

I moved on circling around the base of the hill. My way was highlighted by the discovery of an armadillo carcass. So THAT’S what made those burrows!

In the next part of the bluff in a level spot, there were four sunken areas with the unmistakable characteristics of having had posts there. Taking in the size of the area, it became clear I was smack in the midst of a sunken spot between the four posts. I had walked right into the middle of the site where a house had stood. Whether it was the original house itself or an outbuilding I do not know. It was positioned such that it would have faced Stephens Creek which fits descriptions of the old house. Surprisingly, it was not at the top of the hill but at one of the lower levels behind it. If the current road follows an older road bed, someone would have passed the home without seeing it.

It was not as large as one might think.

The sun was closer to the horizon and shadows lay over the land. The birds began their last song of the evening. The breeze wafted through the green branches. A squirrel chattered in a tree and the call of a pileated woodpecker echoed across the creek.

I stopped and took it all in, thinking on the people who once lived there. All of them.

Something unspoken pierced the serene wilds of the Carolina countryside. It wanted to be known, yet did not wish to be found. Not by me, not on this day. Perhaps some things prefer to be remembered in the heart than marked outwardly. Alone there in the forest I spoke aloud to those who had gone many ages ago. What I said will remain there, with the memory of them.

It is somewhere, out there, in the deep woods high on a bluff overlooking Stephens Creek.

**Information has come to light since my last visit which indicates I was pretty much ‘all over it’ meaning I was walking all around the cemetery without realizing it. Apparently it’s just out of camera range of some of these photos. The last time I drove down the road (March 2016-2017) it was more overgrown and the road had deteriorated somewhat. And it still was eerie in places. Will I ever go back? Probably not.


Looking for the Key Part II: The Road There


It was a welcome contrast to the gauntlet of winding gravel road that wove its way through the dark and green tunnel of doom I had passed through. Not only was it gloomy but it seemed to  threaten to feed me to the old  rusted bridge suspended over the creek far below.

For the most part, the forestry service road appears to be reasonably maintained, scraped by dozers, trees held back by selective cutting and vegetation kept at bay with periodic controlled burns. The relative ease of navigation should not be allowed to lull one into overconfidence; rough spots require the driver to be keenly observant and patient.

Sandy dirt with a light mix of gravel was packed from recent traffic and rain. Said rain also resulted in sections of washboard soil; the forest corsets the road like a 19th century lady and the shoulder melts some 5-10 feet into the forest floor.  Travel too fast and one might find themself looking at the ground upside down. A bit further on, there is a puddle. A big puddle. Muddy and who knows how deep it goes? Might a catfish or two survive there? Surely crawfish would. Fortunately the road is wider here with room to ease slightly to the side and slowly splash one’s way through the ghastly murky depths. Which turned out to be a only couple of inches or so.

The road changes fairly frequently, but again, navigation is relatively easy for the careful driver. It narrows, then spreads out, the shoulder frequently melts to a dropoff of several feet in a few places,  then becomes more level with the sides of the road, and there are a couple of slight hills and curves.

After a bit of rolling on, an open meadow peeks through the pines. There in the center stands a massive tree, branches reaching to the heavens.

Having an fondness for trees, I parked the car to take in the serenity of this space so open to the sun and sky. A closer look reveals this to be a cluster of trees. I don’t know what kind. But it was magnificent.

Two smaller trees trailed behind the glorious tree, looking for all the world as if following their elder to an ENT moot.  They were moving too quickly for me to get a clear photo of them. 😉

Wandering around the edges of the meadow, this friendly little one showed its colors to me.

Returning to my vehicle, I moved on. There were places deep and dim in the woods that seemed to resent passing tourists. There were sunny places with grass that seemed as welcoming as the sun and blue sky.

The road continued forward and I along with it.

After traversing some 2 miles into the forest, the road ended in a turnaround. I had reached my destination. Now, to get to the business of meeting my self challenge…..find the homesite and to pay my respect in the cemeteries of Henry Key and the slaves that had lived and died there so very long ago.

to be continued…..

Looking for the Key Part I

It was the old family story that caused me to come across the story of Henry Key. Internet searches in efforts to discover what, if any connection of my family  to Francis Scott Key frequently brought up the name of Henry Key, or his son’s name Tandy Clarke Key.  Any possible lead seemed reasonable to follow up on , and in my genealogy beginner’s innocence,  my research often took me in quite a few  different directions. (It still does, on occasion)  Often they wound up at dead ends or irrelevant to my family tree.

In this case, this particular Henry Key apparently is not connected to the Key family from which I am descended. That would be Warren Key, who moved from South Carolina to the Adrian Ga area in the very late 1700-early 1800s and the founder of Key’s Methodist church, Adrian GA. A son, Burrel Key changed the spelling of his surname to Kea and some family members followed suit while others continued the original Key spelling.

It also turns out, according to other descendants who had a Y-DNA test done, that our branch of Keys are NOT related to Francis Scott Key.  Not even distantly. Research through documents supports this.

Sigh. Another cherished family story ripped apart and dashed to the ground.  Oh look, I’ve already recovered from the shock. 🙂   After all, folks in search of facts and truth in genealogical  research must learn to adapt and absorb what they find, whether it is what they think they want to know or not; good, bad, ugly and in between.

But I digress.

Henry Key was the son of John Key and Martha Tandy of Albermarle Va. He married Mary Clark and together with their children,  moved to Old Ninety Six District of South Carolina part of which later became Edgefield County.  He purchased some 2000 acres of land over time and built his family’s home on a high bluff  overlooking a large creek. Nearly every account I have found on this names Turkey Creek as the watercourse, while maps show it as Stephens/Stevens Creek.

Malinda Key Letcher (1755 – 1780)
John Alfred Key (1757 – 1840)
Henry Junior Key (1759 – 1810)
William Key (1761 – 1803)
Tandy Clark Key (1763 – 1801)
Mary Polly Key Martin (1765 – 1805)
Mary Isham Key Martin (1765 – 1855)
Naomi Key (1770 – 1775)

Tandy Clark(e) Key lived for some time in Jefferson County Ga. His name drew my attention while searching my Key family as well as my Stroud family. I have found no connection linking Tandy Clark Key to either of my family lines other than a recent mention of a man whose exact name  doesn’t come to mind but memory prompts me to state Tandy Clark Stroud. Additionally the particular passage mentioned a connection between T.C. Key and T.C. Stroud, who later moved to Alabama  Texas during the early 1800s. It is perhaps possible this may be a connection to my Stroud brick wall associated with my mysterious 3 great grandparents who first show up in records in Jefferson County GA about 1815.  Time and research will or will not show further evidence of this possibility.

Fascinated by the history of the locales and the families, it came to my attention that the Key homestead is not far from that of my current location.  Armed with details and information gleaned from the internet, I set out on a Sunday drive to attempt to locate the site and the rumored cemetery that remains there, both of the Key family and their slaves’ final resting places.

It’s not a long ride, nor a difficult one. Traveling from North Augusta Sc on Hwy 230-Martintown Rd, Key Road is on the left. Pastoral landscapes filled with gently rolling hills, dotted with cows, bordered with creeks and lined with open farmland and horse pastures. Once you cross Hwy 23 the landscape changes. Residential dwellings are non existent. There is little to no traffic.  For a short time, the road wanders atop a ridge.  A bit further on and the road narrows. The gravel is coarse and roars through the vehicle cabin as if  to warn you away.  Trees are tall and close, pushing the light away, making the traveler feel unwelcome and claustrophobic in the resulting gloom.

Doubts might begin to tease the back of one’s mind at the increasing gloom of the area, perhaps this is not the best choice of afternoon drives. Just as you begin to realize turnarounds are few, far between and rather sketchy looking, the descent begins. As if from childhood nightmares, the road curves and seems to disappear over the crest of a  hill.  But it continues downward and the further it descends, the deeper the gloom. When it seems the road can’t go any lower it levels out, but you’re not “safe” yet.  For the road has bottomed out at the precipice of a high bluff over a creek, spanned by one of the most unpleasant bridges I have ever seen.

The Key Road Bridge.

I stopped.  I weighed the value of my personal quest  against the menacing appearance of the rusted old construction straight out of my gephyrophobic nightmares. Knowing the road in question was less than two miles ahead I pushed forward.  Around the curve and up the next hill, the trees retreat and the daylight returns. There is an old ranger  – road maintenance station on the left. Just beyond that lies an unassuming dirt road on the left. At the end lies a popular recreational creek, walking and biking trails, two cemeteries, and an old historic home site.

But what would I find?

~ to be continued



Home of the brave Parts I and II

In the 1730s, an Indian path from Fort Moore to the Saluda ridge was used by traders going to the Cherokee Nation. Later, a wagon road from Ninety Six to Augusta followed the same route. Named for the Martin family who lived beside it and served well the cause of the Revolution, it was widely used during that conflict by Patriots, Tories, and British.

(Historic Marker) Erected by Martintown Road Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution – 1972

Marker ID  DAR 2-6 :on SC 230, 2 blocks S of intersection of SC230 (Martintown Rd.) and US 25 (Georgia Ave.), North Augusta


Some years ago  on one my Sunday afternoon larks, about 15-20 miles past I-20 out of North Augusta SC, I came upon a marker beside Hwy 230. It appeared to be a large headstone for a grave.

“Now who,” I thought ” would be buried beside a rather well known if not major, road in the area?”  Indulging my penchant for history and historical markers,  the car naturally turned itself around, found a good spot on the shoulder of the road and parked so that I may have a better view of the granite sentinel. It turned out to not be a grave marker, but rather, a marker indicating the settlement of Martintowne.

martintowne-marker-front      olde-martintowne-marker

The Martins were Scots Irish who migrated to America in the 17th century. They later migrated to various places;  Abram Martin married Elizabeth Marshall and they had seven sons and two daughters. Abram Martin was killed by American Indians in 1773 while he was surveying land.

Abram Martin-Elizabeth Marshall Martin at Rootsweb

All of the sons signed up to fight for America’s freedom from British rule. Mrs. Martin was a fervent patriot and when sneered at by a British officer who, learning that all of her seven sons fought the British, told her she’d had or sent enough. She answered she only wished she had more to send. Some stories tell that the British assailed the Martin women and their homesteads several times, destroying their belongings such as feather beds and pillows. Perhaps they were looking for silver or other treasures suspected to be hidden, or perhaps their deeds were intended to  serve as a demoralizing campaign.

All sons survived the war with the exception of William, who was killed during the siege of Augusta Ga in 1781. Family tradition tells that an English officer, while British held the fort at Ninety Six, (SC) road out one day (to Martintown) and asked the elder Mrs. Martin if she had a son who fought at Augusta. Daughter in law sitting nearby, she replied that she did. “Well I saw him get his head shot off” he told her while smiling maliciously. ” He could not have died in a better cause.” she responded.

Siege of Augusta

Steadfast patriotism and courage ran deep in these women, as in so many others.  Mrs. Martins’ two daughters in law lived in the home with her, as the men were all away at war. One day, the women heard that a courier along with British escorts would be passing through on the road near the homestead. Determined to intercept the courier, the two women, barely out of their teens, dressed in their husbands clothes and set off  on their mission. When the men  approached, the ladies stepped from their hiding place behind the rail fence and Grace Martin demanded the papers in the deepest voice she could conjure. Taken by complete surprise the courier and the escorts surrendered. Their captors generously paroled their prisoners after confiscating the papers.

The two women took a shortcut through the woods back to the house, just ahead of the British and changed back into their regular clothing.  The British men shortly thereafter stopped at the homestead asking for food and shelter. The elder Mrs. Martin asked why they returned so quickly when they had just passed by the home. The men showed her their paroles telling her of the two rebel men armed with rifles who had appeared so unexpectedly the British could not defend themselves. The men stayed the night  and went their way the next morning, never the wiser as to who had waylaid them the previous night.  The dispatches had been sent forward to General Nathaniel Greene.

Elizabeth, Grace and Rachel Martin, Women of the American Revolution.   

There are areas in the woods that look a bit different from the rest; trees seemingly planted in particular patterns, as if encircling homes that once stood in their shade. Everywhere one can look there are gentle slopes, dips,  and hills, good positions for a house to stand and to spot . Good spots to see passersby on the nearby road, or on their approach to the homestead, well in time to reach for Miss Brown Bess if need be. It is a place of serenity and simple beauty scattered with bits of wild forest standing ready to reclaim the forest if we should allow this place of importance to slip into memory.



martintown-woods martintown-knoll

Lick Fork Lake campground in the Sumter National Park is a short ride from the Martintown Marker. Information on Find a Grave indicates the Martin family cemetery lies between the marker at Martintown and Lick Fork Lake Roads. Provided the map is accurate, it could be surmised the house stood near the cemetery as people living in rural frontier areas often had their burying grounds close to their home.

This is a good place to wander the forest and ponder a dark night when two young ladies bravely captured enemy soldiers in support of forming a new, independent nation. Let us never forget their courage and the sacrifice of the many without whom the United States of America would not have been founded.

Map from Find a Grav


UPDATED 10.21.17

My K9s and my car recently convinced me to make a return trip to the old Martin family home site. That, and new information that came to my attention. A very small family cemetery is in the vicinity of the Martintown marker on Martintown Rd. It lies roughly .20 mile down the road that leads to Lick Fork Lake State Park. A couple of things would seem to indicate the original home place was in this area was the tendency of families to locate their burying grounds near their homes and several clusters of trees often seen on old homesites. The trace of an old sunken road can be spotted in the trees not far from the current road. The age of this sunken road area is unknown to me, though it’s possible it may date back to colonial days. The terrain and vegetation seemed more inviting to snakes than to traipsing around, so my camera stepped forward to provide visuals of the site.

Somewhere behind this gate lies the family burying ground and home site.  And lots of snakes.

Woods between the home site & Martintown Rd.  Lick Fork Lake Rd is on the right


Location area of possible original home site.

Sunken road bed to the right of Lick Fork Lake Rd.