Her Son, Franklin

Her Son, Franklin

At the turn of the century in Wolfe County, Kentucky there lived two sets of Centers: the "light set" and the "dark set". Although Franklin had helped rear his younger half brothers and sisters that his mother had by the mulatto, George Freeman, he never forgave her.

According to his Civil War Discharge, Franklin Centers was born in August 1837, in Harlan County, Kentucky. He married Martha McCarty, from Clay County, around 1857. For a period of time, Frank and Martha moved into Old Virginia. There William Wiley, their first son, was born in 1858. From Virginia they moved back to Clay County, Kentucky where most of heir children were born: Lydia Francis b. 1865, James Bascom b. 1870, Laura b.1874, Elza Franklin b. May 3,1878, Ann b. March 23, 1882, Benton (illegitimate) b. unknown, Molly and Amanda Marilyn Bertha Lindon, daughter of James Bascom, says she heard that there were two other children who died young: Mack and Johnny. Although still married to Martha, Franklin had one son, Benton, by Rachel Wallen. When Benton grew up, he lived close to his father and was always recognized as a son.

Franklin joined the Union Army, 45th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, in 1863 and served as a private for one year. Two anecdotes were passed down to his grandchildren, Russell Center and James Kelly Center, from those youthful days. Russell heard it said that Franklin was well-known for taking worn out nags and fattening them up.One of the armies, probably Confederate, confiscated one of his fat horses and left him with a skinny, sorry nag in exchange. The story goes that within the year, Franklin had fattened it up and made that nag into a fine-looking mount.

James Kelly Centers always told the story that Franklin, as a young man, swam the Ohio River. Also, Kelly told that the family had sawed off Franklin's Civil War rifle and used it to kill hogs.

No one today remembers Franklin when he was in his prime. Charlie Goodman (Sizemore), his grandson, remembers that he was a kind man and that he gave each of his children money at Christmas. Although he had little money, his Civil War pension of $20 a month made him well off compared to many around him. Late in his life, hardening of the arteries and a stroke affected his reasoning. His grandchildren remember him as stubborn but with a good sense of humor and a kind heart.

Julie Mullins, his granddaughter, describes Franklin when he was quite old. "If you've ever seen Archie Bunker on TV, well, that's Grandpa. Archie and him was brothers. He was made just like Archie and just as hateful. He was fair-skinned and fat and short just exactly like Archie. I remember Grandpa before he ever lost his mind, and he lost his mind when I was just a child. His memory was so bad, he'd come over to our house to eat dinner and Grandma would send him to the store to buy some groceries and he forgot what it was that he went after. Mommy had to go with him, and she had to show him everything in the store. He wanted to make soap, you know? And that's what he got; and he went back home."

Julie says that Franklin and Martha came to Wolfe County from Knott County when her mother, Ann, was around two years old, in 1884. Julie continues, "Well, Pappy and Mammy told me that they came from Knott County and everybody was dying with smallpox as they came through, but they didn't get them somehow." They moved into the Will Rudd place in Belknap,Wolfe County. Edison Dyke's father was a cousin to Grandma Martha and Grandma had another cousin who lived at Helechawa too".

"Rachel Wallen must have lived in Knott County, cause that's where Uncle Benton was born. Benton was a grown man before he ever come into Wolfe County where his relatives lived. He lived in Red River when I was just a girl. I never did know any of his children." Julie says.

Grandmother Martha died June 5, 1899. Franklin married Jane Huff on September 5, 1899. He knew that Jane was a widow so he called on her and made his intentions known. Julie says, "After Grandma, Grandpa went and got Jane Huff. They all thought that he went back to get Miss Rachel Wallen, Benton's mother. Mammy said they all had a fit because he didn't,but Jane was a fine old woman and they all liked her." Franklin and Jane had been married almost a year when the 1900 census was taken. He was sixty-two; Jane was forty-three and had a fifteen year old son, Robb, who lived with them. The census noted that Franklin was unable to read or write.

Mattie Haddix, another granddaughter, recalls that once as a child she had a sick headache and was lying on the floor on a pallet. She said that Grandpa felt sorry for her and lay down beside her. Being a child, Mattie was frightened by a grown man, even her Grandpa, acting as he did. She later realized that he felt sorry for her and somehow wanted to comfort her by his nearness.

Another story told about Franklin was that he would walk up to a mirror on the wall, see his reflection, and in his high pitched voice would say, "I don't know who your are, but you're a fine-looking old gentleman."

Julie Mullins continues,"Uncle Benton lived around Belknap for years, you see. He married my husband Willie's cousin. He married a Walters. One time Mommy was in the shop where Grandpa was working on some ploughs. She was a-watching, and he was just a-working as hard as he could. He put one end of the plough in the fire, and it was red hot; and he dropped it. Mommy said that he reached down with his bare hands and picked it up ---that red hot metal. Mommy said that she couldn't keep from laughing. She said that he turned around and smacked her right in the face. She went to the house a-crying. She liked to never got over it. It liked to killed Grandpa getting burnt."

In the early 1920's, Grandpa suffered a stroke and became bedfast. Caring for him became a problem. Jane's son, Robb, wanted Grandpa to continue to live with him and his mother. Elza thought that his father was not being cared for properly. An argument started between Robb Huff and the Centers'. The Centers' believed that Robb only wanted to keep Grandpa in order to get his Civil War pension. Those hard feelings would eventually end with the death of Robb Huff. Elza ended up taking Grandpa Franklin to his home to care for him at the Sess Holbrook place in Belknap, Kentucky. He died there on December 18, 1923. Dr. James Henry Dunn listed the cause of death as hemorrhage of the brain. Frank was buried on ecember 19 beside his wife, Martha, on a steep hill above the main road in Belknap at the Bill Walters' cemetery.

Franklin was the illegitimate son of Clarissa Centers and Jesse Brown. Clarissa then bore ten children by a freed slave; a mulatto named George Freeman. Since Franklin was the eldest, it fell upon him to watch the other children and, apparently, he resented it. When Clarissa died in 1888 in Johnson County, Franklin was living some distance from his mother.He was fifty-one at the time. He was working in the field when they brought him word of his mother's death. Upon hearing the news, he said, "I've spent all my life taking care of them niggers, and I'm not going back now."

 Monuments now stand for Franklin and Martha made by their son, Jim. Both monuments are readable, but no Civil War star or flag marks Franklin's grave; only weeds, wild flowers and mosses. Their crude homemade markers have begun to flake off but every few years their granddaughter, Bertha Lindon, climbs the hill and paints them with silver paint.

Author: David W. Center

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Last Updated September 5, 2000 by jude