Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Simon T. Sanders and the Meredith Clan: The Case for Kinship Studies

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Simon T. Sanders and the Meredith Clan: The Case for Kinship Studies

Article excerpt

RECENT STUDIES OF KINSHIP have demonstrated that understanding family connections can broaden insights into migratory patterns, political and economic opportunities, and class standing in southern society. Carolyn Earle Billingsley, in Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier, makes a strong case for employing kinship in addition to race, class, and gender as an analytical tool. She notes that kinship alliances were the "major determinant in social, political, and economic power." In the case of women, kinship studies allow scholars to accumulate revealing information about lives and relationships that would otherwise be lost due to their less public nature.1 When biographers focus too narrowly on the achievements of an individual without considering the person's family context, the full truth of the life can be missed.

The life of Simon T. Sanders, a prominent citizen in nineteenth-century Washington, Arkansas, offers a case study in the utility of kinship as an analytical tool. In 1980, an essay titled "Simon T. Sanders: Public Servant" won the Arkansas Historical Association's Lucille Westbrook Local History Award. Written by Donald Montgomery, then park historian at Old Washington Historic State Park, it subsequently appeared in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Montgomery based his article largely on an obituary of Sanders published shortly after his death.2 In the quarter-century since its publication, additional sources have come to light, especially with the availability of materials on the internet. These additional sources provide a new perspective on Sanders by illuminating his kinship relations with other Hempstead County residents.3 Simon Sanders was not a man alone in Hempstead County. Through his wife-a member of the Meredith family-and her sisters, he was connected to a large extended family that included a number of the important early settlers of this antebellum community.

Simon T. Sanders was born in Wake County, North Carolina, on April 16,1797, to Hardy Sanders, Jr. and Edith Turner. While the Sanders family can be traced back to Virginia in the 160Os, Simon Sanders' great grandparents moved to North Carolina in the 170Os. Simon was the oldest of the known children, followed by William, Cynthia, Elizabeth, and Hardy T.4

Sanders received a common school education and early on showed an aptitude for business and record keeping. He went to work at the age of seventeen, in 1814, in North Carolina secretary of state William Hill's office in Raleigh. It is not known how long Sanders worked for Hill, but the name Simon Sanders appeared as clerk of the North Carolina legislature in 1815 and as secretary of the same body in 1817.5 Apparently, Sanders quickly acquired a reputation for personal integrity, punctuality, and attention to detail. His work was so well respected that he was soon offered a position as personal secretary to Montfort Stokes. Although A. B. Williams, in writing Sanders' obituary, stated that Simon worked for Stokes while he was governor, Sanders had left North Carolina more than a year before Stokes took office. Instead, Sanders probably worked for Stokes sometime between 1823, when Stokes left the U.S. Senate, and 1826, when he was elected to the North Carolina Senate.6

Sanders' government service brought him into contact with men of power in North Carolina, providing him with fascinating anecdotes that he later shared with friends in Arkansas but also alerting him to economic opportunities.7 In the early 178Os, North Carolina had granted to Revolutionary War soldiers and offered for sale warrants for land located in its western territory, which later became west Tennessee. In 1820, the state gave the University of North Carolina the unclaimed warrants, accelerating white settlement in west Tennessee.8 Sanders' work in state government undoubtedly brought this development to his attention and focused his thoughts on the opportunities to be found on the western frontier. …

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