Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wedding Wednesday: James Steven Evans and Laura Ann Scruggs

Being in the South for the past few months has provided me with both a great opportunity and great motivation to learn more about the lives of my paternal grandmother’s parents, Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson and Beatrice Harris, and even about their parents. For my most recent Wedding Wednesday post, I shared what I knew about the marriage of Beatrice’s parents, my great-great-grandparents Ardenia Jackson and Solomon Harris. This week, I’d like to share what I know about the marriage of Steve Evans/ Theodore Johnson’s parents, my great-great-grandparents Laura Ann Scruggs and James Steven Evans. Given how much I’ve been writing about their son, they may already feel familiar to you, but hopefully this adds some more context to their lives.

(And, first things first: although I’ve referred to James Steven as Steve or Steve Sr. in previous posts, I am now shifting to calling him James Steven or James because this, my cousin tells me, is the name he went by with his family, though official documents list him as Steve, Steven or Stephen.)

Originally located at the Montgomery County, AL Probate Court, this version is from the AL Dept. of Archives & History.

This is the official marriage license and return for James and Laura Ann. You saw a similar one for Solomon and Ardenia Harris. And as with Solomon and Ardenia, there is also a second, decorative certificate!

Located at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL.
What do you all notice about when they were married? Look at that date!

(Credit at Bottom of Page)
December 24th, 1901 - Christmas Eve! Now, I can’t make any definitive statements about the significance of this date to them in particular, whether it was mere convenience or chosen specifically, but Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century were definitely captured by the magic of Christmas. Gift-giving and Christmas cards were popular, Virginia O’Hanlon had famously received an affirmative answer to her question “Is there a Santa Claus?” from the New York Sun in 1897, and by 1900, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans had a Christmas Tree. So it was absolutely a special time to get married.

It was also just one year after the turn of the century. James and Laura Ann had recently said goodbye to the final century during which chattel slavery was legal in the U.S., and here they are, embarking on a life together, probably with dreams of the future their children might be able to experience. I’m probably romanticizing this, but really, imagine the promise of this moment. (Of course, by contrast, the decade beginning with 1891 - as in, the decade leading up to their marriage - saw the greatest number of African American lynchings out of all the decades for which the Tuskegee Institute tallied them (1882 – 1968). 1900 saw 106 alone and 1901 saw 105.)


In any case, James and Laura Ann were married on December 24th, 1901 in Oak Grove, Montgomery County, Alabama, by Reverend. J.T. Golson.

So what do we know about James and Laura Ann’s life together? Well, it was certainly filled with hard work: in the only census record we have where they appear together, both are listed as farm laborers and are working for wages. Given this and they fact that they are renting the land on which they live, plus their location in Alabama’s Black Belt (named originally for the rich, black soil, and not for the presence of African Americans), it’s likely that they were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Both of these groups of workers were generally individuals with little material resources to their names who worked land owned by others in return for the ability to keep some portion of the crop.

The Evans Family lived in Dooley, AL at least between 1910 and 1915. Credit Below.
(This was generally an exploitative system that left most sharecroppers and tenant farmers – of all racial backgrounds – impoverished, as they often had to buy on credit their necessities for farming and for life from the people for whom they worked. When the credit came due annually, they owed money, signed up for another year of working and thus the cycle continued.) As late as 1918, when James registered for the draft, he was still working as a farm laborer; his employer was an L.D. Zuber in Montgomery County.

We also know that Steve and Laura built a large family together – according to my Alabama cousins (so helpful!) – they had 14 children together.

Sadly, their time together was cut short, when Laura Ann was injured in a tragic accident. As my cousin (their great-granddaughter, who heard it from their oldest daughter) tells it, while Laura Ann was expecting another child, she saw that one of the family’s hogs or pigs had escaped its enclosure and was running around the farm. As she tried to corner and return it, it kicked her in the stomach. The injury was too serious for either Laura Ann or the baby to survive.

James Steven was left with a gaggle of children from teenagers to toddlers to take care of, and no wife. We know that in 1930 he was a traveling Methodist minister and my cousin says that he was already living this life when his wife died, which would have made the situation even more difficult. (Let’s also acknowledge the difficulty of Laura Ann’s life with all of these children while he was traveling!) It is perhaps no surprise, then, that James remarried fairly quickly – he wed Ella Smith in 1920, and then Florence Donovan, in 1924. He also moved from Montgomery County to Jefferson County, at whose heart was and is Birmingham, with its lure of coal mining and steel jobs that paid better than farming work.  

I wish I knew more about James and Laura Ann’s life together. I have no guesses on how they met and no concrete information about their lives before 1901. I do know that they have descendants spread out across the U.S. and that among them are students, college graduates, educators, lawyers, civil servants, businesspeople, medical professionals, information technology professionals, clergy, and more. When you think about the path of opportunities that lead from farming and coal mining to the present, that’s a pretty cool thing, indeed!

Do you have any pictures of James Steven and Laura Ann (Scruggs) Evans, or of their children? Do you have more information about their life together? Please share! 

Image Credit: Cover art for Dear Santa Claus, by Various Authors. Published by By W. B. Conkey Company in 1901 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Map Credit: This is cropped from the Map of Montgomery County, AL created for the Board of Revenue by J.M. Garrett and published in Chicago by Rand McNally & Co in 1901. Full map located here and the original source is the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

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