PHOTO: Thomas Page Anderson and Mary Frances (Cowles) Anderson had 13 children. Eight of those lived to adulthood and seven of them married and had families. It was from those seven that that the families still gather each year for a reunion. / Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitaker
By JOHN McBRYDE
Like they’ve done every year since the second Sunday of June in 1919, descendants of Thomas and Mary Frances Anderson, one of the original families to settle in Williamson County, are holding a family reunion.
And for those who may not be counting, the one that’s coming up Sunday on Tom Anderson Road in Williamson County is reunion No. 100. That’s 100 consecutive years of a family gathering for food, fellowship and, of course, memories galore.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most is just reuniting with all those people we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Millard Jefferson, who has lived in Williamson County for all of his 74 years. “Some we see once a year and some every 10 years, and some we’ve never met.”
The fact that it’s the centennial celebration is significant enough, but there’s more to this story than the time elapsed. Nearly 160 descendants will be making their way to the very spot where the first reunion was held right at the end of World War I. The land is now the home of Revolution Springs Vineyard, where owners Joe Moran and Robert Stewart are cultivating grapes for one day to make wine.
One hundred years ago, however, it was the home place of Thomas Page Anderson and Mary Frances (Cowles) Anderson, who had 13 children on the site near where Highway 431 is now. Five of the children died young (before age 20), and seven of the surviving brothers and sisters married and had families of their own.
“We are the descendants of those seven ancestors,” said Sharon (North) Whitaker, who helped to organize this milestone of a family gathering. “A representative from each of those seven branches of our family tree will give a little walk down memory lane of what they remember about family and reunions growing up.”
One of the Andersons’ sons, Edgar Brown Anderson Jr., died in the war and is buried in Le Mans, France. His brother Calvin Anderson and sister Sarah (Anderson) Cannon suggested a reunion be held each year as a way to keep the family close.
The Cowles were also early settlers in Williamson County. They lived near the Andersons, and they too had a large family, and farmed. When Thomas Page Anderson and Mary Frances Cowles married in 1850, it was a joining of two of Williamson County’s pioneer families.
Whitaker, who is from the Anderson side of the family and now lives in West Tennessee, said returning to the site of where the early reunions were held is truly special.
“They started the reunion in the yard of the old home place,” she said. “That was where they had the very first one, and if it’s dry (the weather forecast is calling for rain), we’re going to be standing on the very grounds that they stood on to have the first reunion.
“Millard and I can’t imagine growing up any other way, not having a reunion every year. That’s just what we did. No matter what came up, you went to the reunion. All of your relatives were there and they knew you by name.”
In addition to Anderson, Cowles and Jefferson, local families include Baugh, Bethurum, Buchanan, Bond, Cannon, Clark, Evins, Harper, Hood, Kinnard, Kirkpatrick, Ligon, McLaughlin, North, Pitner, Puryear, Rucker and Schmitt.
Williamson County historian Rick Warwick, who will speak at Sunday’s reunion, has helped the family uncover additional facts and also led them to a cemetery they didn’t previously know existed on what was the Cowles’ property. A family cemetery on the Anderson home place dates to the mid-1700s and has been renovated, but Jefferson said they just recently discovered the other one.
“We found the Cowles cemetery, which is on Harpeth School Road,” he said. “Rick pointed it out to us, and he and I walked the 20-something acres until we found it. It was on top of a hill in the woods. The stones are still there and upright. We found the old [Cowles] home place as well.”
The family tree keeps growing, and the list of names keeps stretching,
“This is a family that goes back 200 years and has been in this community,” Jefferson said. “They were some of the original pioneer families that settled Williamson County. When you’re looking up and trying to find people that are attached back that far, this list gets extensive.”