Ephraim Lemley, A Vintage Vignette

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Ephraim Lemley
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 29, 2011

Ephraim Lemley lived a long and productive life. He was born in Fairfield District of South Carolina in 1796 and died in 1891 in Appleton, Pope County, Arkansas. His father Peter died when Ephraim was only three years old. His mother Millie Coleman remarried in the early 1800s and moved with her new husband, a man surnamed Amerinc, to the Knoxville area of Tennessee. Ephraim and his stepfather did not get along well, according to family tradition. Ephraim left home before he was 16 years old, working his way into north Alabama.

Ephraim came to Madison County by 1812, staying with his uncle John Lemley along the Paint Rock River near today’s town of New Hope. The Lemley family operated a cedar log business, selling cedar in New Orleans by transporting logs down the river system. However, when General Andrew Jackson came here with his Knoxville-area troops headed into the Battle of Talladega against the Creek Indians, Ephraim apparently saw some of his former friends in the unit. He joined the force as a substitute, serving in 1814 and 1815 with an East Tennessee company commanded by Captain John Hawk. Upon the cessation of land by the Indians, Ephraim and 14 of his friends returned to their homes. They then regrouped to go back to the area that is now Shelby and Bibb Counties. They planted the first crop of corn grown in that area by white men. In 1817 Ephraim became a charter member and associational messenger of the Cahaba Valley Primitive Baptist Church, first church established in Bibb County.

Ephraim had at least 23 children and six wives, surviving his sixth wife by two days. Ephraim’s life story was printed in an 1895 newspaper as told by Pleasant G. Lemley, a federal judge in Washington State. Pleasant was eldest of six children by Ephraim’s second wife, Elizabeth Pearson, a devout Baptist whom he married in 1818. Ephraim’s first wife (unknown name) died giving birth to twin boys, John and Morris, in 1818 in Madison County. These boys moved with the family when Ephraim relocated in 1838 to Arkansas, where he donated land for the construction of the Point Remove Baptist Church in Pope County. He owned a cotton gin and a gristmill in addition to extensive Arkansas acreage. Ephraim’s third wife, whom he married in Bibb County, was Margaret Adams. They had 15 children together. Their fifth child, born in 1842, was Ephraim Lemley, Jr., my great-great-grandfather. Ephraim Jr.’s wife was Sintha Elvira Burris. Sintha’s mother, Cynthia Ann Burris, was the widow of John Burris when she married Ephraim Lemley, Sr., as his fourth wife in 1863. In 1885 Ephraim married Elizabeth Russell, and in 1887 he married “the widow Bruton.” Finally, at the age of 92 in 1888, he married Mrs. Edith Hickman. When he died Ephraim had over 200 living descendants. He was buried in the Rankin-Kinslow Cemetery of Appleton, Arkansas with several of his wives. At least 21 of his children grew to adulthood, with large families of their own.

Ephraim not only had a troubled childhood, but family tradition relates that he was the father of Bradley Hill. Bradley always tagged along with Ephraim, even from Alabama to Arkansas. In a 1983 book about Ephraim written by descendant J. B. Lemley of Russellville, Arkansas, the story is that Bradley’s mother and her husband were very poor and had several children. While Ephraim was not married during his late teens, he felt sorry for them and “helped out”, apparently in various ways. When the mature Bradley died at Appleton, and the Hill family came to the casket for the final time, Ephraim stood with them as a part of the family. Yet, Ephraim was a man of strong morals and Christian service as an adult, never shirking his responsibilities. As Pleasant Lemley’s account of his father stated, Ephraim’s “…whole life was one worthy of emulation by his numerous descendants. He had been a consistent member of the Baptist Church for 65 years (at the time of his death) and deacon of his church the greater part of that time. He died as he had lived – in full faith and hope of happy immortality beyond the grave.”

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