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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Annie Jump-the-Creek

One of the benefits of family reunions, like the Plunk gathering earlier this week, is the sharing of oral history. Granted, some of the tales get embellished as they’re handed down over the generations, but there’s truth in there somewhere. I personally choose to believe every word of the following stories about one of my favorite Plunk ancestors who became known as Annie Jump-the-Creek.

About 1824, Plunks and other families settled the beautiful, rolling land in McNairy County, TN between Bethel Springs and Finger. The Plunks had migrated west in covered wagons from North Carolina and previously Pennsylvania. David Plunk and Annie Gage married in Tennessee and, along with others, carved out their farms and homes in the wilderness and began raising their families, which would total 11 offspring for David and Annie.

At some point, Annie decided that their community was settled enough for a church, but the menfolk couldn’t get motivated to build it. (I’m not sure if that’s a family trait. Some of the other spouses will have to tell me.) When Annie had pleaded her last plead, she stomped outside in a huff, picked up an ax and started chopping trees to build a church by herself if necessary. Dutifully shamed, the men took over and constructed what was forever known as Annie’s Chapel, not far from the old Plunk Cemetery. Today, the only sign of the chapel is a large stone that served as the church’s front step. But everyone knows it’s the site of Annie’s Chapel.

How She Got Her Name

As you probably know, Tennessee is a border state. During the War of Northern Aggression, Tennessee was the last state to join the Confederacy and the first to rejoin the Union. I’m thinking that “fence sitter” might be more accurate than “border.”

At any rate, you’ve heard the stories of neighbor fighting neighbor during that horrible war when emotions and convictions ran deep. Such was the case in McNairy County. Annie and David’s three oldest sons initially joined the Confederate Army with their neighbors, but later deserted and went off to join the Union Army fighting in northern TN. Annie was a good mom and worried about her boys who probably lacked for food and other necessities, so she loaded up her wagon with goodies and started off toward Nashville. She was stopped by Confederate soldiers along the way, but when they only found pies, cakes and other sweet morsels from home, they let her pass.

They underestimated Annie, however, who was noting Confederate troop locations and strength as she made her way through the lines and into the camp of Gen. Lew Wallace where her sons were located. As Annie distributed her home cooking, she also reported to the General about what she’d seen along the way.

After a few of Annie’s trips north, the Rebel troops finally became suspicious that Annie was delivering more than cornbread and biscuits. They took away her wagon and sent her home, thinking that would stop her. Annie had her mind set on feeding her sons, though, so she enlisted the aid of a neighbor lady; they filled their aprons with food and started walking toward Nashville. The story goes that Annie and her friend finally came upon a good-sized creek and the neighbor lady balked, not knowing how to cross it safely while managing an apron-load of baked goods. The neighbor turned back, but Annie jumped the creek and walked all the way to Nashville to provide for her sons – and snitch on Confederate movements. Oh, that Annie.

Annie Got Her Gun

Toward the end of the Civil War, Confederate renegades were roaming through the area looking for Yankee sympathizers. Probably based on nothing more than hearsay, they were grabbing men and hanging them like mile markers along the main road. When they arrived at David and Annie’s place, they must not have known that it was really Annie they were looking for. They roped David and were hauling him off to his hanging. As they dragged him past the corncrib, he latched his arm around a log and held on for dear life.

About that time, Annie appeared on the front porch with a long muzzleloader propped against her shoulder and pointed straight at the group’s leader. “You might get him,” she said, “but you’ll be dead in the dirt before they get him hanged.” We’re told that the renegade leader didn’t have to think about that for very long. David didn’t die that day.

And Finally . . .

It has been documented that at the end of the Civil War, Gen. Wallace went to McNairy County to visit Annie and confer upon her the title of Honorary Lieutenant in the Union Army. Her gravestone bears the title.

David passed away 12 years before Annie, who lived to age 79 -- quite a feat in that day. But then, Annie “Jump-the-Creek” Plunk was a woman to be reckoned with.

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