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Dramatic McLaughlins need no embellishment

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Johnathan CAPPS
Ellis County Press
EDITOR'S NOTE - The Ellis County Press cocntinues with background for the upcoming documentary of the Hatfield-McCoy feud:

Because oral history is so very old and distant, it often becomes embellished after many repetitions. Yet, it is unlikely there was any need to add drama to the fascinating narrative of Mary and Seeb McLaughlin.

We were told young Seeb McLaughlin floated timber from his mountain home to market in Tidewater Va., while his beloved Mary, lacking other hope, reluctantly decided to accept a proposal of marriage from a wealthy widower with children.

Many people of that era could read and write a little, but very few could read well. Mary possibly needed assistance when she wrote her message of acceptance to the wealthy planter. She gave the letter to a boatman and instructed him to deliver it with his goods to the widower's plantation.

But fate would intervene. Perhaps we can picture Seeb McLaughlin rounding a bend of the river on his raft of logs.

Or perhaps as she made her way home she came face to face with Seeb.

For certain, they met somehow after the message was on its way. Doubtlessly, their reunion was emotional and sweeping, for years had passed since their youthful courtship in Northern Ireland.

The mountains of Virginia were once a difficult if not impossible barrier to western movement.

In 1714, Virginia had as Governor the brilliant but colorful Alexander Spots-wood, originally of English birth. Spotswood knew nothing of the land beyond the mountains, so he organized an exploration party - and 'party' is the right word - to ride over the tall ridges and take a look.

The expedition started well enough, complete with music, plumed hats, and at least 12 varieties of liquor, all in good supply. Then suddenly they called a halt and returned to have their horses shod.

The cavalcade finally crossed the Blue Ridge and saw the picturesque valley of the Shenandoah before them. In exaltation, they drank to the King's health with champagne and fired a volley in celebration. After that, they drank to the Princess with Burgandy and fired another volley. Then they drank to each member of the entire Royal Family with brandy, punch, cider, wines, distilled whisky, and two kinds of rum.

Like in storybook or song, true love prevailed for Seeb and Mary. But sometimes, when the prize is great, you have to go and take it. And sometimes you have to hurry.

So once Seeb was aware of Mary's predicament, and her promise to marry the planter, he rushed to overtake the merchant and relieve him of the message.

Then he took Mary and her entire family to her new home in the mountains.

There are many reports of earlier undocumented explorations and settlements in Kentucky, but the first authenticated report of a deliberate journey beyond the Alleghanies was made by Doctor Thomas Walker in 1750. Walker was a man of influence in early Virginia and was considered well educated for the times. His journal of the exploration still exists in manuscript form.

Walker had a tendency to rename everything. The Waseoto mountains he renamed Cumber-land, and he passed through the mountains at the Cumberland Gap.

Walker renamed the Chatterwah River the Big Sandy. Big Sandy, along with a tributary known as the Tug Fork, forms a valley along the border of Kentucky and present day West Virginia. This same Tug River Valley was the home of the McCoy and Hatfield families when the feud was at its peak.

Surely, Seeb McLaughlin and Mary lived many good years in the tall mountains of Virginia. Their story certainly survived well, perhaps for about a dozen generations by now. We know nine of their children lived to adulthood, each with a name written in the old family bible of Aunt Sally Cameron.

I hope their lives were filled with much happiness, for somehow I grew attached to them as their story unfolded. After so much trouble, they deserved a good earthly reward.

I suspect Seeb and Mary held places of dignity within their mountain community and certainly within their family. Perhaps they lived to a good age, and perhaps the dogs bayed long and mournfully the nights they died. Their legacy, and their descendants, live on.

Land speculators played a hand in the early development of Kentucky. The colony of Transylvania was made up of about seventeen million acres or about half of present day Kentucky. Private citizens from North Carolina promoted the colony after paying the Overhill Cherokees the sum of L10,000 English money for title to the land.

The Cherokees neither owned, occupied, nor claimed the land, but were glad to take the money.

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