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August 8, 2023

Back Then: A Southern Boyhood

For years, I had asked my father, Cecil Baker Egerton, to write his memoirs for the family. He was well equipped to do so with superlative writing skill and a penchant for exacting research, as evidenced by a Ph.D. in History. He replied that he intended to do so, but had many other projects in the way. I can't recall when we last spoke of that, but after Dad's death in January 2009, I traveled from Pennsylvania to visit his California home and was surprised to find, among his scattered and disorganized papers, a single chapter of his in-progress autobiography. It is presented here, followed by my father's obituary.
- Cecil Baker Egerton, Jr., South Coatesville, Pennsylvania, August 8, 2023

Back Then: A Southern Boyhood

By Cecil B. Egerton


I’m not so very old, but already the world in which I spent my boyhood seems far away, the pace of change has been so fast. Most younger people would scarcely recognize that world.
I came from a family that, like many southern families, took extreme pride in the real and imagined traits of their ancestry. I have in my possession a lot of genealogical data that was given to me, and saved in my memory are many tales of their doings. Since I became an adult, I look back and add my own impressions of those I remember from my youth plus a few less honorable things I have learned about some. I append that material.

My paternal grandfather studied law, married, produced children and then abandoned his legal occupation in response to a belief that God was calling him into the Christian ministry -- a conviction that can be extremely compelling. With a law degree and no formal theological training, he studied hard to close the gap. I have no doubt of that since I once edited his sermon notes, which were written on the margins of his ordination Bible in a hand so small that I sometimes needed a reading glass to decipher them. Examining them as one who had himself “broken the bread of life," I soon felt as if I knew this man who died when my father was only twelve years old.

What I learned was that he relied on close reasoning (his legal training undoubtedly helped) and a deep respect for the Bible, if correctly interpreted. His theological convictions were conservative and evangelical and reflected the impact of the movement for a deeper personal holiness and for world evangelization that were prominent at the time, but his social views were by the standards of the turn-of-the-century generation quite progressive. He spoke favorably of those radical suffragettes, the Pankhursts, and of the hope of substituting the rule of law for the rule of force in international relations (This was when Elihu Root and others organized the International Court of Justice for that purpose). He had a philosophic bias toward Platonism and cited the best writers of his time, showing especial fondness for John Ruskin and Robert Burns. He accumulated a large personal library, much of which was later destroyed in a fire at the Waverly, a summer boarding house operated in Hendersonville, NC, by my grandmother.

On family issues, I discerned that he was incurably romantic. When he preached on marriage, as every pastor must, he almost without exception inveighed against what he called "commercial marriage," by which he meant marrying for social advantage of money rather than for love. This helped me understand why his widow confided to my mother that she supposed she should have remarried for the sake of her boys, but she never even considered it.
As a minister, he served in Cleveland, Tennessee, before he moved to the First Baptist Church of Knoxville, where my own faith was formed amid older people who still remembered him favorably.

He died young, while still in his thirties. According to his brother, James Lafayette Egerton, M.D., he need not have died had his problem developed a few years later, since it was caused by high blood pressure, but at that time no one knew what to do for it.

The story was that he awakened one Sunday morning and could not remember the subject of his sermon even though he had sat up late the night before working on it. He continued to worsen a little at a time because of a series of small strokes. He was advised to rest, so he spent time at a summer cottage on Lake Erie owned by relatives. My Grandmother had to remain behind to keep the children in school. She later told my mother (who told my wife) that the greatest shock of her life was when she met him at the railroad depot on his return. Instead of being better, his condition had worsened until he could not recognize her.

He spent his last months at a family home in Hendersonville, NC, where he died and was buried. Members of the First Baptist Church of Knoxville bought a tombstone to mark his grave.

Of his parents I know little except that pictures of his father, Thomas Randolph Egerton, and his mother, Sarah Logan Egerton, used to stare at me from the mantle of our home, the former dressed in a Confederate officer's uniform and holding a pistol. I doubt if he needed the pistol since he was a doctor and served as a medical officer with the rank of captain.

He had a twin brother who died in the Yankee POW camp at Point Lookout, Virginia, and judging from the reference to it in the memoir of W. E. Hatcher (Along the Trail of the Friendly Years), it must have been about as bad as a POW camp can get. (The notion that the Civil War was fought without bitterness by people who respected their opponents' sincerity is a myth invented by a later generation from wishful thinking and romanticism).

That may help explain ... the mention of my great grandfather, Tom Egerton, along with a brother Bill, as sharing a cell with the newspaperman John T. Shotwell ... in Weaverton during reconstruction days. I was not told this, if in fact my parents knew it. I stumbled on the information while browsing the John T. Shotwell memoir published by the North Carolina Historical Society. I think family tradition usually ignores information that sets ancestors in a bad light since these stories are told for the inspiration and moral guidance of the young.

About his ancestry, I have a lot of genealogical data gathered by my father's first cousin, Josephine Kirk, daughter of Dr. James Lafayette Egerton aforementioned. The Egertons are still concentrated largely in North Carolina. The founder is supposed to have been a John Egerton who arrived at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, either in 1699 or a few years later (There are two records of the arrival of a "John Egerton" which may be two different persons but is probably the same person, who arrived for the first time and again after a trip.) Oral tradition also says that before coming to North Carolina, he had settled briefly in the pioneer colony of New Hampshire. I do not know whether he moved south because of the harsh New England winters or because he was one of those mentioned in Chalmers’ history who relocated in the south after the Salmon Falls Massacre to get farther from the French and their Indian allies (This occurred during King William’s War--the War of the League of Augsburg--which broke out as soon as William and Mary ascended the throne. William was a Dutchman who was obsessed with the desire to stop Louis XIV of France, who, like the Germans of the 1940s, Wanted to expand his nation by swallowing territory from its neighbors including a large slice of Holland. In that war, the British government needed its soldiers to fight in Europe, so it evacuated the New Hampshire frontier settlements, offering the landholders an equal amount of ungranted land anywhere in America.)

A few generations later, another John Egerton moved to Warren County (then the wild west) to take advantage of a connection established when his sister married the Lord High Sheriff of Western North Carolina (The Regulators are said to have been motivated by opposition to the concentration of power and opportunity in the hands of these "court house rings.") He owned lands abutting the Virginia line, and that property was still in the hands of a branch of the Egertons when I was a youth. As an adolescent John Egerton served as a sergeant in a North Carolina militia unit that followed Gen. Edward Braddock to his disastrous defeat in the French and Indian War and was among the minority who survived the slaughter and were led in a retreat by George Washington. Later, he took orders as an Anglican priest. When the Revolution came, he was a Tory, as was an apparent majority of the population in that part of North Carolina. Because of this, my second cousin Josephine (or is it first cousin once removed? She was one of the three daughters of Dr. James Lafayette Egerton, my grandfather’s brother) was able to join the Daughters of the Colonial Wars but not the Daughters of the American Revolution.

A couple of generations later, James Nicholson Egerton (James Nicholson was a prominent New York Democrat of the Jacksonian age. I have often wondered how two generations of forebears had his name. I suppose it is a clue to their political enthusiasm!) lived in the same area. He was the putative father of Abraham Lincoln, according to one among the many Lincoln paternity legends, the version that still circulates in that part of North Carolina. (According to one old man, James Nicholson, whose character must have been such as to make the story credible, caused Nancy Hanks to became pregnant; and Tom Lincoln was given cash, a mule, and a wagon to take her out of that part of the country. He claimed his ancestor made the arrangements as a go-between). I doubt the truth of this legend. It is paralleled by too many similar stories. Cousin Josephine (the genealogist) said it could not be true because the Egertons were not that kind of men. I am not sure of the force of that argument, but the corroboration is inadequate even though my wife says President Lincoln had "the Egerton mouth," and he was afflicted throughout his life with periodic bouts of “melancholia” (depression) even to the point of contemplating suicide, a problem for many Egertons (Depression--not, so far as I know--suicide).

After that, my line moved to western North Carolina and owned a farm between Asheville and Hendersonville. They were there during the Civil War and after.

My paternal grandfather’s spouse was Bessie Mar Anderson, raised a Scottish Presbyterian. Concerning her lineage, there is the tale of how a James Anderson emigrated to Canada where he fell in love with another Scottish immigrant, Annie Laing. My parents had their portraits--the old painted type in an oval frame. He had the ruddy complexion often found on Scottish males (Good Scotch whiskey?), while she was depicted with a proud look and delicate features. The Laings were said to have opposed the match because they had good social standing and money (I have an ironwood chair and some end tables with Scottish marble tops that were hers, which supports the idea that they didn't arrive "broke.") Anderson had neither (This was the time of the clearances in Scotland where Lairds replaced tenants with sheep). They eloped and settled in North Carolina, where he became a construction engineer and made a substantial fortune rebuilding railroads after the Civil War.

My Grandmother Egerton was a well-trained elocutionist (The now disappearing art of reciting dramatic poetry, etc.). She had such an excellent memory even in her later years that she could entertain her grandchildren for long periods of time reciting story poems. She also had the inherent dignity of a Grand Dame, so that you knew you were expected to be polite around her--at least, that's the way I remember her from my boyhood.

Since Hendersonville was a summer resort for people who wanted to escape the lowland heat and she had inherited a huge old house which she called the Waverly, she ran a boarding house. She had a dining room where linen napkins, crystal glass, and real silver were used. In short, there was a touch of style. It was her chief means of support since her husband had died too young to have accumulated money and had no life insurance.

She wore pince nez glasses and was almost bald, a fact she hid by wearing her remaining hair very long and winding it into a beehive on top of he head. In later years, she was subsidized by my father, always a dutiful son. Her household, which was quite feminine, included her best friend and co-manager, Miss Sally Hensley, and her sister Margaret ("Aunt Maggie"), who never married.

Aunt Maggie suffered from what was called Jacksonian Epilepsy (so named because it was the type Andrew Jackson had because of a head injury he received when he was fourteen years old. A British officer whacked him on the head with a sword. His record as a wounded veteran of the American Revolution later helped put him in the White House.) Aunt Maggie was also deaf and used an old fashioned ear trumpet rather than an electronic device. She spent hours crocheting, and if anyone had something to say she didn't want to hear, she would pointedly remove the ear trumpet from her ear and place it in her crochet bag. (She really did turn a lemon into lemonade!)

My Grandmother Egerton ("Mamma Eggy" to her grandchildren) was a Baptist because she married a Baptist minister, but in some ways, her heart remained Presbyterian. She told my mother that when she became a minister's wife, people expected her to have answers to theological and Biblical questions, and her Presbyterian catechism that she had memorized covered every question she was ever asked. She once told my sister (who is now a Presbyterian Elder) that she would have gone back to the Presbyterian church after her husband died, but she felt it would be disrespectful to the memory of her late husband (That would scarcely be considered by a widow today, I think.) As the years accumulated, she was troubled with angina pectoris, and a heart attack finally ended her earthly adventure.

My father had two brothers, Thomas Egerton ("Uncle Tom") and William A. Egerton ("Uncle Bill"). Tom was older, while Bill was younger.

Uncle Tom was in his mid-teens when his father died and the family faced both grief and financial hardship. I am told that when they were growing up, he was supposed to be the "smart" one of the three boys. He was a combat soldier in World War I and a casualty to a German gas attack. The doctors told him he had six months to live, but he made it into his seventies. His lifelong problem seems to have started during the war--he was a binge alcoholic, as was Uncle Bill. Since bi-polar disease has been since diagnosed in several family members, I wonder if in both this wasn't a symptom of a mild case of organic brain disease.

After the war, Tom's first wife divorced him because of his "problem" and--I am told--because his wife's mother disapproved of him. He had one child by that marriage, Anne, whom I have never met.

In the years that followed, his life had many ups and downs. He repeatedly experienced the Veterans' Administration "drying out" program, but the cure was always temporary. When he was sober, he usually worked as a hotel clerk, a job for which he was well suited because he had a great deal of personal charm. He was married a number of times (I'm not sure how many) because, as my Dad expressed it, every time he hit rock bottom, there was always a woman waiting to nurse him back to health.

His charm, especially with ladies, was legendary. I recall as an adult trying to analyze how it worked. I observed that in a group, he seldom addressed the group. Instead he would devote his attention first to one individual and then to another. When he did, that individual had, for a few moments, his total attention--the highest form of flattery. I believe he had a valuable social gift, one which might have earned success in politics, sales, or any of a number of other occupations, but his problem dictated that he would use it only for survival. My mother was always partial to him, but I felt my father rather resented that his elder brother failed to take responsibilities that fell to my father instead.

Uncle Bill, my father's younger brother, was a remarkable man. As his kid brother, my father always made excuses for his alcoholism, but mother could never forget a time when they were struggling for economic survival and Bill was a college student living in their basement. She had only one can of beans to serve for supper, and Bill came in and ate the entire can! Mother was polite to him, but the relationship was always a little strained.

Bill's wife, Annette, drank with him. Mother felt she always followed his lead for good and bad.
Uncle Bill was a lawyer, like my Dad, but instead of a private practice, he worked for the American Enka Corporation in Asheville, NC, where he became Vice President and head of the legal department. He was probably the most brilliant of my relatives intellectually. His conversation glistened with fresh ideas and insights and, like my father, he loved the give-and-take of informal debate. He had a restless mind and kept exploring new concepts throughout his life. This may explain the "arrogance" that my mother resented. When he married, it was for a time a secret marriage, a fact that could be very hard on a woman's reputation in those days.

After years of drinking, Uncle Bill finally "went on the wagon" and became very active in Alcoholics Anonymous. The story is dramatic. He lost his job with American Enka because, brilliant as he was, they could never count on his availability. My father had received word that he and Annette were on another binge, so he took time off, as he often did, to go see about them. He did what he could and started home. He was halfway back to Knoxville when he was seized by a compelling sense that he should return to Bill's home. When he arrived, he found that his brother, for the first time, had humbled himself enough to seek help from the Lord (Bill had considered himself an agnostic, unlike Tom, who always considered himself a believer.) Dad got him in touch with Alcoholics Anonymous, and the members worked with him. Bill became active in the organization for many years. He became active in a Baptist church near his home, although later he get into a movement called Higher Thought, which had many resemblances to the New Age mysticism so popular in recent years. (I recall his arguing with me when I was grown that the Gospel of John teaches reincarnation--a contention of which he failed to convince me.)

At Enka, Uncle Bill had helped to introduce a new form of management training (pioneered by a General Electric executive) in which the dynamics of group decision making was used instead of the traditional vertical model. (Defining the "Area of Decision," of course, was still vertical.) The method was supposed to reduce labor problems and the attendant costs by creating a cooperative bond between workers and supervisors. I suppose the method worked because later at Claremont, I met a career labor organizer who told me his union had sent him for the same training because management was using it to turn workers against the union.
Uncle Bill parlayed that knowledge into a second career. First, he had a consultancy business in which he trained supervisors for companies on a fee basis. Then he settled down to teach it at Oglethorpe University in Georgia. He continued to conduct an annual foremen's training school for the Coca-Cola company for many years. He had full charge of the project, choosing the city, etc.

Uncle Bill fathered three children. The oldest, Peggy, was six months older than I and could infuriate me when we were children by talking down to me as if I were much younger. She married and settled in Fletcher, NC. She died many years ago because of a too-long-neglected melanoma, the only cancer victim that I know of in the family.

The next oldest was Sue. I remember her as a little girl with asthma. She married a Baldwin (of the Hudson-Belk Department store family) and lived in Wytheville, Virginia, the last time I heard of her. She and Peggy both turned out to be very attractive women as adults.

The youngest was a boy, James Logan Egerton ("Jimmy"). I haven't seen him since he was a child. He married a Turkish exchange student named Fatmah, but the marriage failed. I have no idea where he is or what he does now. This is one side of the family connection that provided the backdrop for my childhood.

Equally as important, of course, was my mother, Cora Lott Egerton (neé Cora Norina Lott), known to her friends as “Chess.” She received the nickname because she was perceived by her peers as always smiling, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.

Her parents were William A. Lott and Laura Hatten Lott (known to all as “Mams”). I know less about the lives of these relatives because the Lotts were not as fond of discussing ancesters as were the Egertons. I do, however, possess an envelope of genealogical data which traces the family back to pioneer settlers in south Mississippi, where my mother spent her earlier years. The tree is liberally filled with marriages between Lotts, Hattens (Hattons, Hattuns--this line seems to have disagreed about the spelling) and Batsuns.

The most famous Hatten was Sir. Christopher Hatten, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I (said to be so because he was an excellent dancer). My Hattens trace their line to a nephew of his. The First Seminole War broke out in 1818 when a young Mississippi settler on recently ceded Creek lands was killed in a quarrel (said to have been the result of excessive drinking) with two Indians. The settler was named was “Billy Lott,” the same as my grandfather.

I do recall my mother speaking of “Uncle Absolum,” who was killed in the Battle of Peachtree creek. From the genealogical table, I presume this must have been the Ab Hatten who died without issue and was the son of the long-lived Absolum Lewis Hatten who married Bashaba Bond.

The Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought outside Atlanta against the advice of General Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A., who thought a battle at that time and place would lead to disaster. The politicians didn’t want to hear it, so they removed him and replaced him with Gen. Hood, who gave battle, lost, and took heavy casualties. Since there is no record of a wife or children, he was one more among the many soldiers through the ages whose promise was frittered away because of political interference. It is a political responsibility to decide if there is to be a war, but when they override the judgment of professionals about strategy and tactics, lives are always wasted.

My maternal grandfather, William Lott, was a quiet man but very warm. I do not recall ever hearing him reminisce about his youth or speak of his family except for a brother who lived in Arizona and was responsible for training race horses for Bing Crosby. He owned a drug store in Hillsdale, Mississippi. A lumber camp between Poplarville and Lumberton. Because of a heart attack, he sold his business and retired while still in his thirties, when he moved with his family to Hendersonville, NC. He continued to have periodic spells with his heart until it killed him in his seventies. He had the thrifty habits of those who grew up in the reconstruction south, but he had enough money to buy a large home about two miles south of Hendersonville where the Highway to the south intersects with Flat Rock Road (I am sure by now this rural spot must be urbanized, but I remember it as an area where only the highway was paved and where there were a number of summer cottages.) It was later converted into the Jackson Funeral Home.

I know he was a man of high integrity, because he and one other man were the principal owners of the Bank of Hendersonville when the banking system collapsed in 1933. The bank was not allowed to reopen, but he and his co-investor repaid the depositors out of their own pockets as a debt of honor.

He must also have had good business sense. When he died, everybody thought the bank failure had consumed his entire fortune, but he left a substantial estate which he had made trading in unimproved building lots in and around Hendersonville.

He tried to teach me the art of investing in land, but I was too young to benefit from the instruction. When I was staying at my grandparents house, he would get up in the morning and feed his chickens. (How I enjoyed “helping” by tossing grains of corn among them or gathering eggs in baskets.) He also kept a sizeable kitchen garden. After the “chores,” he would eat a breakfast of All-Bran (High fiber cereals are now considered good for the heart, but who taught him then I cannot imagine.) while he browsed the morning paper, paying close attention to the real estate ads.

When he finished. He would say, “Let’s go for a ride” and we would circle the town in his old Essex automobile. We would pause at whatever lots were offered for sale that interested him. I recall one morning, we stopped at a vacant lot and he said, “The price is a little high, but there is a new supermaket and the town is growing this way. I think I’ll make an offer.”

After our journey, he would park by the Economy Drug Store and give me money for an ice cream soda while he visited a real estate office upstairs in the same building. Only years later did I understand the point of these little expeditions. Even after all these years, I miss Granddaddy Lott. He has a shining place in my childhood memories.

Obituary: Cecil Baker Egerton

Rev. Dr. Cecil Baker Egerton, 80, died January 8, 2009, at his home in Hesperia, California. Dr. Egerton was born April 19, 1928 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He received a Bachelor of Arts from University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Bachelor of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina; Master of Arts from University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Doctor of Philosophy from Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.

In 1952, while attending seminary, he met Mary Ann Dollar of Atoka, Oklahoma. They were married April 26, 1954.

Dr. Egerton was ordained to the ministry at First Baptist Church, Knoxville, TN in 1953. He held pastorates in Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma and California. He also pursued an academic career, teaching history at Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee; and Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, Oklahoma. In 1989, Dr. Egerton joined the faculty of Chaffey College, Fontana, CA, and continued teaching through the Fall of 2007.

Dr. Egerton is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and his three children, Bonnie Sue, Hesperia, CA; Cecil Baker Jr., Downingtown, PA; and Montraville Walker II, San Francisco, CA. He is further survived by his sister, Laura Lothrop of Jacksonville, FL, and five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, John Dollar, and his brother Montraville Walker Jr.

His memorial service was held Wednesday, January 14, at First Baptist Church in Hesperia, CA. His family asks that donations in his memory be made to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

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