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The Rhea's of Sneedville, TN


The end of John Carter Rhea

It was September 21, 1884 and the leaves were just turning on the trees in front of the house bordering the Clinch River. According to the story, John Carter Rhea was buying a piece of property from John Brewer.

The story I though I knew has just changed and now more research needs to be done. Apparently, John Brewer shot and killed John Carter Rhea in front of his home, (shown in the picture). I have to believe that John's wife, Martha, and their eight children were at home at the time. Martha was expecting their ninth.

John Carter Rhea was only 42-years-old when he died. William Ogden Rhea, the 7th child of John Carter Rhea and Martha Jane Rhea was three-years-old and my grandfather.

John Brewer fled to Texas to avoid prosecution and was never apprehended.

Fast forward to 1918 - there are 5 letters remaining that my great grandmother wrote to my grandmother. While they are mostly about family, when this information was posted on, another family I had never heard of contacted me. Martha J. Rhea was the great grandmother to both of us.

John Carter and Martha Jane Rhea had nine children. In the photo, taken somewhere in the 1980s are three of their grandchildren. Ernest Rhea was the son of William Ogden Rhea and Hugh and Howard Rhea, the sons of Washington Floyd Rhea.

Martha Jane (McColloam) Rhea


Martha Jane McColloam was born in Tennessee on January 1, 1848, the oldest of 3 children. There are no records to share her early life She married John Carter Rhea on March 4, 1860 at the age of 17. From the records it appears that she lived her whole life in Sneedville. She died on March 22, 1929 at the age of 81.

How she managed to raise all the children by herself was a testament to her spirit. There are records of her increasing her holdings when she bought property in her name in 1894.

The five letters included here were almost destroyed but fortunately rescued by my mother on a visit to my grandmother.

William Ogden Rhea and Mellie Farris

Married October 24, 1914

Mellie was born on January 20, 1883 in Missouri and apparently lived there most of the time. The only time the records indicate that she lived anywhere else was a brief time, in Oklahoma, where she lived with her brother.

My grandmother was a little tiny person and was as fierce as she could be. Her three boys all topped 6 feet but they never did anything less than what was expected. This is important information because it appears that as soon as she met and married my grandfather, they decided to move to Montana. Actually the story goes that they gathered up all their money and went northwest until it ran out in Billings, Montana.

I talk about my grandmother because she raised three boys, all of them overachievers. Education was important to her. She was a wonderful grandma but we all knew that nonsense would not be tolerated. She was very involved in the Democratic Party and was well known. She passed away in Billings, Montana on February 13, 1974 at the age of 91.

William Ogden Rhea was born on September 15, 1881 in Sneedville, TN. and passed away in Billings, MT. on July 1, 1962 at the age of 80. My grandfather stood very straight and tall and was very quiet. While I can't prove it, I don't think that he was the driving force in the relationship.

Track your family history

I use this software. I like that it ties into my account at Family Search, the LDS site. Between the two of them, I have been able to correct some date issues.

William Ogden Rhea


This is just before he got married and left home with Mellie. The photo was taken in 1913.

Mellie Farris Rhea


I don"t have a date for this picture but think it's probably in the 1920s.

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The Rhea's in Billings, Montana - Family photo taken December 1962


Back row: Ralph and Bernice Rhea, Howard and Anne Rhea, Ernest and Ruby Rhea

Front row: Gary, Patty, Ann Eliese, William Ogden Rhea, Marlin, Stewart, Mellie Farris Rhea, and Billy

Ralph and Bernice had no children. Gary, Patty, Stewart, and Billy are the children of Howard and Anne Rhea. Sharon, their oldest daughter, is not in the picture. Ann Eliese and Marlin are the children of Ernest and Ruby Rhea.

A little explanation

Genealogy is not static. It continues to grow as little pieces show up. I did not scan the letters because they are fragile. The letters are not edited and copied directly from the originals with spelling and grammar as it was written. To correct them would diminish their value.

What I really want to explain is why I talked about my grandparents and my great grandmother. Both of the women were very strong-willed and head-strong so I am certain that had they stayed in the same town, there might have been problems. By the time that these letters were written, I believe that while my great grandmother had family all around her, she missed William terribly.

Why am I telling you this? The letters make me sad. I know who my grandma was and I believe that the minute they left Tennessee, she planned never to set foot there again. And...she didn't.

Rhea family photo - People mentioned in the letters


In the back, William (my grandfather), Floyd, and Victor.

In the front, Lillie, Martha (my great grandmother), and Luvena.

The small child is Floyd's son John. Luvena was not mentioned in the letters as she had already passed on.

November 22, 1918

Mrs M J Rhea

Sneedville, Tenn.

Route 5 Box 2 Nov. 22 - 1918

Dear Wm, Nellie and Ralph,

Your Truly appreciated letter of the 13th Just Received. Extremely glad you are well. I hope you will Escape the Flue. It has been all around as Several have Died. I hope it is abating. There is lots of sickness here the past month. But I was expecting you to come. It is a heavy disappointment to me. I wanted you to come and try to farm or something that wouldnt leave you on Starvation if you get sick. It troubles me more than I can tell you. To think if you get sick or hurt you would have nothing to ward off starvation. You never can save anything on Public Works. The next 3 years will be hard to live. Prices will be so high, and nothing growing to you will make hard times for you. If you cant come I will rent the ground from the house down. Let me know soon. Wm, if you could see as I do you surely wouldnt depend on Public works for a living.

Wm, I havent been well for sometime but not confined to the bed all the time. Doc Campbell say my kidneys and indigestion is the trouble. I suppose Roy Hatfield and Leona's boys are living, was the last I heard. Surely you are rejoycing over the awful slaughter ending. Did you get questionare, Victor didnt. Victor wanted to go to the (unknown). Victor is in common health, his wife and baby have colds. Floyds family had colds, better now. His boys names is Homer, Garret and Hubert. Samps Williams lives where Jeff Rhea did. King Hutson paid 3900 for that piece of land after Ans Mathis had bought a strip next to him for 500 dollars, making that piece cost 4400. King Hutson let Samps Henry and Levi Hutson have it . John Jaynes paid 3000 for that strip between then and George Baker. Yes, Jack Baker his wife and boy of 7 or 8 years lives with his father and mother. They deeded the land to them at their death. James Wolf married a Davis and lives in the mountain valley. All of the Wolf boys is married. Magie Baker married Frank Seal, Jim and went to MO. Your Uncle Sterlings widow married a Quillin and lives on South side of Clinch Mountain. Has 2 children. Wm, I think this mineing Co will start things lively now the war is ended. They have brought in a boiler that has taken 2 month to bring it from the Mntn. They are mining and building. Some workhands are scarce. Della's Sam has been running their big motor trucks bringing supplies from the mountain. Wm you can hardly imagine what this farm will be worth in 4 years from now. The timber and ore. By that time the timber will be scarce and ours will be a price. You can mine your own ore have it crushed or sell it Raise poultry and vegetables. They are leasing to other companis so I am told.

Wm, if you had a few acres of the Burk place or there close before the boom comes. Be we have here good enough if we could improve it and (unknown) it shape, we are just the proper distance. For all but school, I would like for you to tell me just what your think of it. Floyds John is helping Victor saw wood today. We are not done gathering corn nor havent our potatos dug. you cant hire help on the farm.Wm, Nelson Snodgrass is sending a check for the rents, which is 5 dollars and 44 cts. Him and Lillie still lives where Floyd did live when you was here.

Ive yet have 5 good hogs to butcher Ive thought you would come and killed a shoat weighing 160 lbs. Pork has been selling for 25 cts. I think corn will be 2 dollars. The River got up on the bank corn and damaged a lot. We didnt lose much as we had stock to ate it. But Victor had to pull and throw up higher all day in the rain to keep the water off it. We have nice weather so far 2 or 3 white frosts (no snow). The Suckers where we raised tobaccco is green and blooming. I have enough green mustard in the garden for 20 families. lots of garden juckleberrys. The mining co didnt like Samps W and had him move out as soon as their contract expired. he wanted to with them this winter. He says he will stay at the Jeff place 2 or 3 months But he has been trying to buy Ans Mathis. He will not leave here if he can help it. But he can't rent land here.

Wm, there is scarsely any more logs run, The people saw crossties a run them but not half what they did 2 year ago. Timber nearly all used up. We all have the most timber I know of. Frank Rhea is sawing for the co for 3.50 per day. Boards himself. He has a boy baby 5 months old. The co has made Henry Hatfields land worth something. Henry wont sell. The CO have paid all the second payments. They clain the mineral is fine. Wm, take time and tell me what you think about all. Dont get vexed at my writing it is best I can do.


Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 - In one of the letters, Martha mentions pulling up the corn when the river flooded

Planting corn on riverside

Planting corn on riverside

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations. The photographs and captions are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

Not understand about river planting, I discovered this picture on Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943. This incredible site is worth a visit and all the information on the website is here. Plan to spend some time going through all the photos. There are 70 photos from the Denver Post.

Sneedville, Tennessee

November 25, 1918

25 Nov 1918 , Sneedville, Tennessee

Nellie, I am so glad Peace is made. Surely every person in the world is thankful. But I am very sorry you have decided not to come to see us. We are all sadly disappointed. I had Sulphured a six gallon jar of limbertwig apples for you and I havent been able to do hardly anything for six weeks only knit a little. I can stir about the house most of the time. We havent taken the Flue yet though it is all round us. Several have died. But I think the worst has passed, everyone that could stayed at home.

Nellie, I am sending Ralph one dollar for Xmas. Hope I can send you and Wm a little Reminder.

Nellie, Keep close as you can Keep the Flu off if possible. some people Here sprinkle a little sulphur in their shoes every morning to keep off disease. Write me soon for I shall be uneasy. So hoping God will bless you all. Will say By By. Be good.

Write me all you can for it is a pleasure to know you are well.


I have photos and letters that need to be organized

Taste of the culture in 1906

San Francisco was far removed from the rural area in Tennessee but this slice of life in 1906 adds flavor to the time period. The film is supposed to be four days before the earthquake that took down San Francisco.

John Carter Rhea's brother Sterling


He is mentioned in the letter dated November 22, 1918. Martha says "Your Uncle Sterlings widow married a Quillin and lives on South side of Clinch Mountain. Has 2 children."

1918 events

Even in 1918, small towns scattered all over America were not immune to the world swirling around them.

March 4 - The first confirmed case of the Spanish Flu is documented at Camp Fuston, Kansas
March 19 - Congress establishes time zones and approves daylight savings time to go into effect on March 31.
April 21 - "The Red Baron", Manfred Von Richthofen was shot down and dies in combat.
May 2 - General Motors buys Chevrolet Motor Company
May 15 - The United States Post Office Departments, later changed to the United States Postal Service, starts the first regular airmail service between New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
July 9 - Great train wreck of 1918, in Nashville, Tennessee kills 101.
July 17 -The RMS Carpathia, the rescue ship for the RMS Titanic, is sunk by a German submarine.
August - The Spanish Flu (influenza) becomes a pandemic and over 30 million people die in the following 6 months.
September 11 - The Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs for the 1918 World Series. The Boston Red Sox won't win again until 2004/
November 11 - World War I ends.
December 4 - President Woodrow Wilson leaves by ship to attend the Paris Peace Conference becoming the first US President to travel to a foreign country while holding office.

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January 1, 1919

Mrs. M.J. Rhea

Sneedville, Tenn

Route 5, Box 3 Jan. 1st, 1919

Dear Wm, Nellie and Ralph,

I hope you are well and happy and will Remain So Through life. I am well as I have been for the past 4 months. As far as I know all the Relatives here in common Health. I received your much appreciated presents. Also corset cover and apron from Leona. Della came and brought hers. Floyd did too. Xmas was very quiet. Wm, I am 71 years old this morning and I want to talk to my absent children. What I can and truly hope that when the end of their road is as near is Sight as mine They can Rejoice as I can, that Rest is near.

Wm. Times is dull here now, not much doing. The mining people is going slow. wages for common work is 1.50, carpenter 3 or 3.50. Frank Rhea is running their sawmill for 3 dollars for day. They have built 15 swelling houses and is building a large building for the machinery and a large store house. A man by the name of Coberly from Joplin, M.O. is here to setup their machinery. His family is here. They claim to have one million and quarter dollars worth of mineral in sight. Leonas and Dellas boys all right since the armstice was signed. dont know when they will be at home, Perhaps not soon. Roy Hatfield says he is homesick. It is raining now. When it clears up Victor wants to kill 3 large hogs. I wish you and Nellie and Ralph was here to help. Wm, can you use home made tobacco. tell me I will send you some. Did you get the check for rents in my last letter. I sent one dollar to Ralph last summer 3 times. it went to Billings and Back 3 times. I am sending you all 5 dollars and hope you will get it let me know soon.

Wm. when you mail any Roebuck catalouges address one me if you can without paying postage. Write me all you plans for the future Wm., coulndt you buy cheaper from people in the country and save something. Victor is husking corn today. Our corn crop short. There is a few cases of Flu here yet has killed several people but none closer us than Sneedville. We have Samps Williams living where Jeff Rhea did. Did you get a questionare. Victor didn't. I hope Peace will soon be made and made forever. Wm, write me soon as you can. I want to hear from you often all of you Be good Dear boy. Come to see me soon.

Nellie your Beautiful Present Received and Highly appreciated. I havent been in a store in 2 year so I send you all 5 dollars to use as you please.

Would like to send you something nice I am afraid to risk much in a letter. Nellie could you raise a pig or can you have chicks. I would want one or the other. A pig would grow dollars fast. Come out here I will give you one. Is Wm working of a Knight yet. I wish he had a daylight job. Nellie write me often if nothing but a postcard. Tell Ralph I want him to come here and play with Jewel so I can write. She tries to help so much I cant hardly do anything for her. All of you come to see me. Tell me how your sister is by now and everything you can think of. I enjoy reading your letters so much. Love to all

Family Roots

January 2, 1919

Jan 2, 1919

Well as I didnt Tell you all will say Lillies baby Ross, is a fine looking boy. He favors my Wm a good deal. is a large boy of his age. Lillies health some better the past 6 months. Floyds address same as mine except number of box 2 mine 3.

John and Guy can work lots. Homer Garret and Hubert well grown boys. Della has 4 grown, Roy, Jessie, Dewy and Carrie, 2 more nearly grown Sidney and John. Edna and Grant and Rhea the youngest 5 years old.

Jack Baker and Emma and son Willie lives with the old folks. Jack is a worker. John and George Jaynes have bought the strip of land between them and Baker. Paid $3000 for it. The Depew children is scattered. James lives at the home place. MC and Lenoir and Kenneth lives on powels River. Lee CO. VA Tome is Harlan KY.

Jeff Rhea has dropsy can stir about the house. I dont think he will get well. Frank has a baby boy calls him Dayton. Lucy Burk lines in Uncle Sterlings house. Milard, Henry and Earnest is married. 2 single Anna and Sterling. Wayne Mathis married Lyza Moles and Taylor Mathis married George Mathis Sarha. it is still raining guess the river will be large tomorrow. Well I dont think of any thing more you would care to read so will stop. With love and best wishes for your happiness and prosperity. By By Mother

1919 Events

anuary 1 - Edsel Ford becomes the head of the Ford Motor Company.
January 6 - Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President dies in his sleep at the age of 60.
January 15 - In Boston, a wave of molasses from an exploding storage tank sweeps through the town killing 21 and injuring 150. It was named the "Boston Molasses Disaster"
January 16 - Prohibition is sent to the states for ratification.
February 25- Oregon levies a one cent per gallon tax on gasoline making Oregon the first state to levy a gas tax.
February 26 - Congress establishes the Grand Canyon as a National Park.
June 4 - The United States Congress approves the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing suffrage to women and it is sent to the states to ratify.
June 28 - The Treaty of Versailles is signed, officially ending World War I.
July 7 - The US Army sends a convoy across America to assess the possibility of crossing North America by road. Leaving from Washington DC, they reached San Francisco on September 6th. This was the beginning of the US Highway System and the creation of Route 66.
October 2 - President Woodrow Wilson suffers a stroke and spends the rest of his life as an invalid.
October 28 - Prohibition is authorized but does not go into effect until January 20, 1920.
November 9 - Felix the Cat appears in Feline Follies and is the first cartoon character.
November 30 - Health officials declare the Spanish Flu Pandemic has ended.

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October 10, 1919

Mrs. M.J. Rhea

Sneedville, tenn

R 5 Box 3

Oct. 10 - 1919

Dear Wm, Nellie and Ralph.

I hope all is well with you . I have looked for a letter for 2 weeks. Nellie not being well makes me uneasy. I had a bruise and skinned place on the back of my hand, inflamed and came near killing me. I swelled all over bad I think I am nearly well of that. I have been gathering chestnuts the past week. Have 3 or 4 gallons. There was plenty of chinkapins. Wm, do you have to go out on a strike. Tell me all about it. Leona, Ross, Homer and Bobbie came over and Leona stayed 2 weeks. I havent saw Cov yet. Tell Ralph I want him to hurry here and help me with the chestnuts. Wm, the whistles are blowing at the mines now. They are running the crusher and sperater now. They havent had water tel recently. You can hear one of their whistles 40 miles. Roy and Sam still running trucks. They have the road graded in 2 1/2 miles of the county line. Rumor says they will make a road from the mines through the Sterling Hollow to Lawsons Mill and build another crusher there. and one at Keeton. Wm, do you think you will come here this fall. Wrtie me soon as possible tell me what you think of doing and how Nellie and all is getting along. All is well here. Della has a boy they call him Luke Michael. Floyd made 45 gallons molasses and Nelson is making now. We have no fruit and not many beans. We are near done ateing roasting ears out of the patch. We have ate them continually since they first come in. Nellie please take time and tell me all you know. Just how you are getting alon as to health. Have you recovered any more of your house plunder since you wrote. Tell Ralph Jewel sucks her thumb yet. Essie says tell you to come here and help her ate molasses and pick up chestnuts and roast some. They are good. We will send you some photos. Bobbie Cope made some when she was over here. Cornie says she has her bean gathered in and now wants to do some sewing. Lillie says come out and help her quilt some evening and she will help next evening. She is quilting 2 and want to quilt 3 more. Floyd and wife says tell you they fear that letter you was going to write them will be gray headed when it gets here. They all want to hear from you oftener and so do I.


Wm. Floyd has a fine crop of tobacco will have corn enough to do him. I think we will too. We are feeding 8 hogs to kill. Frank Rhea has moved to the camps. We havent had any frost yet. Tell Ralph to bring his wagon and get him a load of walnuts and hickory nuts. Wm, Tell me all about the strike will they bring you in it. If so, take no hand in the Rioting. Be just as quiet as you can. Spend some of your time writing to me or come and stay with me. Be sure to tell me if you think you will come this fall. Bill Jaynes has been home for a weeks stay he has 2 boys at his house in Texas. Wm, you will be tired reading my bad writing and I am tired trying to write. dont know what would interest you so write me soon as convenient and if I can tell you anything let me know.

Love to all Mother

Any comments?

April on May 27, 2019:

Hi sweet cuz! Just stumbled on this and thought I'd comment after reading. (Cause knowing me I won't think of it next time I'm on Facebook.) You done an awesome job putting this together! Thank you so much for sharing this. Much love and hugs to you!

David kitts on September 25, 2016:

Hello Ann glad to finally see some of your work my sister Angela Williams told me about my great grandfather was Abeja Ray(Rhea) from stinking creek Tennessee so I guess that makes us cousins Be Blessed.

jtpenny87 on August 20, 2015:

I actually went back through my Family Tree program and found John Carter Rhea. He is my 3rd great uncle so I'm thinking that makes us 4th cousins possibly....

Melody Lassalle from California on November 09, 2014:

Ann, this is such a touching tale. You may know, I also do genealogy. I have a copy of letter my great grandfather wrote back to France in the 1880s (from San Francisco). My cousins sent it to me a couple of months ago. It gave me chills to read the trials he, his brother, and sister were enduring. You are very fortunate to have the 5 letters and hear the stories from your great grandmother first hand.

The photos are wonderful as well. Thanks for sharing!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on April 24, 2013:

I was just reading Notable Southern Families Vol. 2 and it has a huge section on the Rhea family genealogy. Don't get the Kindle version as it has digitizing errors that mess up the names/places/text. The library can probably order it for you.

askformore lm on February 06, 2013:

Great lens! Thank you for sharing this family story!

anonymous on August 08, 2011:

My first name is Rhea named after my grandmother. We are related to John Sevier through a Miss Rhea, one of John Seviers wives. He was the first governor of Tennessee. I know there is a Rhea county in Tennessee. I wish I knew how to get in touch with you.

h you.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 20, 2011:

Nice addition of photos. I bet someday you'll be contacted by some long-lost relative after they stumble on this page on the Internet.

Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on May 07, 2011:

Terrific lens on fascinating subject. Family history and memoirs are so important to understand what hardships our families faced and how they overcame them. Thanks for sharing.

tiff0315 on April 22, 2011:

Wow! I love family history. You've got some great stuff here. Glad to be your 20th squidlike ;)

Barbara Radisavljevic from Paso Robles, CA on March 17, 2011:

You've done a good bit of detective work in putting this lens together to tell your family's story. I hope they appreciate it and treasure it. Bless by an angel.

capriliz lm on March 17, 2011:

Adding the letters is the perfect touch for your lens.


Chazz from New York on March 05, 2011:

What an interesting lens -- and such a great idea! Those letters are precious and I thank you for sharing the story.

Michey LM on February 17, 2011:

This is very interesting piece of history... Thanks for share with us.


Virginia Allain from Central Florida on February 14, 2011:

I stopped by with a Valentine's Day blessing for this lens and to wish you luck finding more about the family background.

GiftsBonanza on February 08, 2011:

I just loved this lens, as a fellow genealogy fan

dwnovacek on February 02, 2011:

I absolutely love family history, and am so glad you shared this with the world. Angel Blessings!

tssfacts on February 02, 2011:

Excellent article. You had me hooked from the first paragraph. How wonderful to have these treasures.

rlivermore on February 02, 2011:

As soon as I finished reading the first story, I handed my computer to my husband so he could read it. He's a real genealogy buff and I knew that he would love this. I was right. What a treasure. The only thing he suggested is that since the letters are fragile, it might be good to scan them while you still can, before they fall apart completely. Either way, you have an amazing treasure.

TheresaMarkham on February 02, 2011:

Wow! These letters & your personal commentary is awesome. I love this lens, very cool!

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on February 02, 2011:

Very unique. Love reading all about this.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on February 01, 2011:

How fabulous to have these original letters telling about the daily lives of your ancestors! This is a real treasure and sharing it online may help others connect. Really wonderful!

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