Today I stood in an Ohio corn field owned by my third-great-grandfather, Joseph J. Parrett, nearly 200 years ago. It’s early June and the slender, soft green corn stalks extend only about a foot above the soil. The field lies in Jefferson Township in Fayette County, not far from Parrett Station Road, named for my Joseph and the other Parretts who settled here in the early 1800s on Ohio bounty land set aside for Virginia Revolutionary War soldiers.
My Joseph was twenty-two when he arrived here in 1814 with Rebecca, his wife, a year-old son, and nearly forty other relatives and in-laws who had made the three-week journey in four wagons up the Wilderness Road from Eastern Tennessee. The son of Revolutionary War soldier John Parrott, Joseph had recently served a term for the Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in the War of 1812.
I knew all that before coming to Ohio this week. Libraries and Internet searches filled me with facts. I didn’t know what it was like to stand on soil that once belonged to him, filled with a jumble of thoughts about family, mortality, and the excruciating physical labor required to support a family of ten two centuries ago. I needed to walk the land, witness its expansive flatness, observe the way Paint Creek snaked through his landscape, stand alongside his cemetery grave marker on Memorial Day. Coming here, I feel better prepared to write about Joseph Parrett’s world than I was when I only knew facts.
Of course, while I’m here, I’ve been combing the local libraries and archives, looking for “filler material” I couldn’t access from my home base. And I’ve found stuff—good stuff—that will help enrich my story.
For example, I didn’t know until now, that my Joseph, called “Tennessee Joe” to distinguish him from other Joseph Parretts in the county, liked to flop on a chair on his front porch in his later years and spend his evenings “combing his wiskurs.” I love this personal little window into his weary soul.
May he rest in peace.