Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charlotte A. Purnell, 1846-1873

Recently I was visiting my Aunt Coleen Robinson, when she disappeared into her bedroom and brought out the pen and ink drawing you see below. I couldn't have been more amazed or delighted than if she told me I had won the lottery. The drawing was of Charlotte "Charlottie" Purnell, my great-great grandmother.

You can do the math as to how old the drawing is because Charlotte died in 1873. The original drawing is rather large - about 16 x 20 - but I was able to place the portion you see below in my scanner for scanning (yes, I had my laptop and scanner with me!). As you can tell, the original image is not in good shape although for its age it is pretty darn remarkable.

Below is the colorized version of the drawing. Uncle Buddy and Aunt Coleen took the original to a photography studio and had a photograph taken and the image colorized. While I am thankful to have both, the colorized version is an interpretation, and it is nice to have the original for comparison. The ear jewelry is fascinating, and I've learned that long, dangling earrings were popular in the early 1870s. The hairstyle is rather funky, but that too can be attributed to the style of the times. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, women usually wore their hair pulled back and close to their head, but often would create little puffs of hair on either side of the face that would cover or partially cover their ears. Later on, the hairstyles would become much more elaborate, but generally before about 1875, women pulled their hair back in a simple style. The tie seems to be an unusual adornment for a woman during this period, and I've been unable to find any references for such a style.

Charlotte A. Purnell was born April 21, 1846 in Alabama, probably near the Moscow community in present-day Lamar County, to Samuel Morris Purnell and Sarah A. (last name unknown). She was one of eleven children, most of them girls. Her older brother, William Wilson Purnell, was a medic in the Civil War and afterwards ran a poorhouse in Lamar County with his wife. They had no children. Her younger brother, Marion Sampson Purnell, moved to Alcorn County with his family before heading to Texas where he died in McLennan County in 1930. His wife was the former Mary Frances "Mollie" Rayburn of the Toccopola community Pontotoc County. I have no idea how they met and married in 1877 when Marion lived in way over in Alabama and she lived near Pontotoc. That is just one mystery of several related to the Purnell family.

Family history indicates that Charlotte was born at Counce, Tennessee (between Shiloh, Tennessee and Corinth, Mississippi) although census records prove otherwise. However, in the 1870 census the Samuel Purnell family was living in Hardin County, near Counce. There is also a family story of our ancestor George Emerson Robinson being nursed back to health by a local family after being wounded and left for dead during the Battle of Corinth during the Civil War. I suspect that the family was the Purnell family who would have been known by George to be living in the area because of their shared family connections back in Alabama. The rest of the story would be that George fell in love with young Charlotte during his recovery and upon his discharge he returned and married her. They had three young sons, one of whom was my great-grandfather Gideon C. Robinson, before she died September 4, 1873 near Tremont. She is buried at Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery.

Charlotte's father, Samuel, moved to Alabama about the same time as several Robinson families, and it is believed that his father was William Purnell (or Parnell) who died in the War of 1812 or one of the Indian conflicts about that time. Court records have been found in Lawrence County, Alabama as well as Abbeville District, South Carolina that indicate a William Barksdale to have been administrator for the estate of William Parnell with a Matthew Robinson serving as surety for his bond. The estate records refer to Parnell's war service and mention a pension but do not give specifics. Although I can't prove it just yet, I believe that William Purnell's widow may have been a Robinson, and she likely remarried to William Barksdale.

Samuel had two siblings: Matthew Robert Purnell and Martha Ann Purnell. Matthew was married to Ann, and they lived for a time near Smithville in Monroe County before moving to Calhoun County after 1870 where he died about 1893. Samuel's sister, Martha Ann, or "Patsy" as she was called, married James L. Robinson on October 17, 1826 in Lawrence County, Alabama, and they raised at family near Moscow and Pine Springs in Lamar County. I'd love to hear from anyone who has information about any Purnell, Barksdale or Robinson families of this era and locations.

Samuel and Sarah are last found in the 1880 census living in Lamar County with their youngest child, Marion S. Purnell, and his family. I have no idea when Samuel died or where he is buried, but I stumbled upon a cemetery record in Alcorn County for his wife Sarah who is buried in Lebanon Cemetery west of Corinth. Apparently she moved to Alcorn with her son Marion where she died June 19, 1890 and was buried next to a child of Marion and Mollie.


Kirk Robinson said...

Very interesting.Great story,Mona.

Janice Tracy said...

That photograph is a treasure. I enjoyed your story that contains so much wonderful family information.

rebekah said...

I'd like to speculate on the attire worn by Charlotti, which was actually appropriate for her time, for some women. Throughout the 19th century, particularly the mid/late 1800s, social reformers campaigned to make women's clothing more practical and comfortable, especially by doing away with the corset. Women were beginning to experience the same leisurely activities (sports, public outings) as men, which required looser, more fluid clothing. Female activists sought emancipation through their clothing- mimicking men, women adopted trousers, ties, and dress pants. Women were also copying men's fashion by slimming their waists and broadening their shoulders (which accounts for Charlotti's puffy blouse, a popular style for her time).

Might Charlotti be an original family fem?

Mona Robinson Mills said...

Rebekah, those are excellent observations. Now I know who to consult when I need a photograph dated from the clothing styles in the picture. You could be correct about the tie etc. worn by Charlottie - it could have been a whim or a social statement, even in the rural South. I read somewhere that it was a myth that fashion styles never made their way out of the cities into the country.

Also, too often, we tend to overcomplicate observations - can you imagine people one hundred years from now reading something into an article of clothing that we just happened to have on the day a photograph was made? Horrors!

rebekah said...

Like your Mickey Mouse sweaters and Daddy's Goofy t-shirts?

Don Dulaney said...

Thanks for the lesson by Mona and Rebekah alike. Rebekah I had no Idea you were so knowledgeble of women's emancipation. Although I should have.

Arvel said...

You tell 'er Don.