The following article appeared on the Tyler Morning Telegraph web site in June and July 2006, and is being reprinted here by permission:
Snoddy Family Reunion is Special This Year
East Texas clan gathered on land where ancestors worked as slaves
By Erin Buller
Tyler Morning Telegraph (Texas)
TYLER—They gather every two years for a weekend of fun, fellowship and connection. The Snoddy family reunion is an established tradition in the Tyler and Longview area, with family members coming from as far away as Seattle, Brooklyn and California.
This year was different.
Melvin Snoddy, family historian and chairman of the reunion committee, has been a genealogist for 28 years. He’s been researching the Snoddy name for some time now, and recently had a breakthrough.
“I’m standing on land where 140 years ago my great-great-grandfather was a slave,” he said.
Snoddy, 50, began researching his family name a few years back and discovered that its origin is Scottish. He began tracing the movement of the Scottish Snoddys, across the Atlantic to South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and eventually to Texas.
He said he found through census records that the Snoddy family had 11 brothers and sisters who split over the slavery issue in the mid-1800s.
The name lives on
He learned that a man named Lewis Bonaparte Snoddy made his way into East Texas in the 1850s and married Catherine Erwin in the mid-1850s.
“Both of the Snoddys died within a month of each other, leaving two young children, who also died young,” he said. But the Snoddy name lives on with Thaddeus, only 9 years old in 1860. “The Snoddys had 14 slaves, but as far as I can tell, Thad was the only one to take the name,” he said.
“During that time there was a scare in Tyler, a slave insurrection. They were arresting and beating a lot of blacks, even hanging some,” he said. “I have a copy of the receipt where Thad was picked up for something. The plantation overseer paid to get him out of jail. He was nine years old; I can’t imagine why he was there.”
Snoddy e-mailed the Smith County Historical Society, hoping for any information on his ancestor. That is where Randy Gilbert comes into the story.
“Mr. Gilbert looked at my e-mail and said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’” Snoddy said.
Gilbert, a local lawyer, said his family has owned the “Snoddy Farm” since 1957.
“The name from the email clicked, so I called Melvin, and come to find out he is African-American and a descendent of one of the Snoddy slaves,” Gilbert said.
He said the eerie connections didn't end there.
“My great-great-grandfather on my father’s side was John M. Williams. He came to Smith County some time before 1850 and was elected sheriff in 1856,” Gilbert said. “When Melvin showed me the bill of cost to get Thad out of jail in 1860, it was amazing.”
Gilbert said apparently Thad was the object of a lawsuit disputing ownership and was being held until the sheriff could prove the title. “This was in 1860, just before my great-great-grandfather’s term as sheriff ended,” he said.
“It is, indeed, a small world. We own the place where Melvin’s great-great-grandfather was held as a slave, and my great-great-grandfather held Thad in jail until ‘title’ could be resolved,” Gilbert said.
After tours of the farm, Gilbert offered to let the Snoddys have part of their family reunion at the farm, where their ancestors were once slaves.
Gilbert credits a strong oral history with the tracing of this family’s roots.
“Usually, for pre-1865 history, African-Americans don’t know much because the census records listed slaves by age and sex, not by name,” Gilbert said. “What’s unique here is that there were estate records that confirm the oral history.”
The following is an excerpt from an article in the June 2004 issue of The Bagpiper. It is re-printed here to explain the Snoddy connection to the Erwin family.
Thadeus P. Snoddy
By Donald D. Erwin
In order to tell the Snoddy story one must start with a few words about Thomas Barkley Erwin and Smith County, Texas.
Thomas B. Erwin was born September 16, 1792 in Rowan County, North Carolina. He was the first-born child of Joseph Erwin, Sr. and Catherine Nancy Cowan, and the next older brother of Joseph Erwin, Jr., who was my great-great-grandfather. At the age of twenty Thomas served in the War of 1812. After he was released from military service he returned to North Carolina for a time, but eventually settled in Lafayette, Chambers County, Alabama.
Thomas married (1) Agnes McLarty March 2, 1822. They had five children, but Agnes died, probably in early 1827. He then married (2) Elizabeth S. (Betsy) Owens September 4, 1827 in Jasper County, Georgia. Thomas and Betsy had ten children. The first two were born in Georgia and the next four in Alabama. The seventh, eighth and ninth of their children were born in Georgia, and the last in 1853 in Smith County, Texas.
Thomas B. Erwin is thought to have accumulated considerable wealth as a plantation owner in Alabama and Georgia, raising primarily cotton and sugar cane. In 1850 he disposed of his land holdings and moved his family to Texas, taking advantage of the cheap land there. He brought with him his farming equipment, seed stock, horses, mules, and a number of slaves. He settled near Tyler in Smith County. An early biography, written by Sid S. Johnson, states:
“...He and Col. L. B. Snoddy blazed the first road to Garden Valley.”
It was near there that Thomas eventually built up a large plantation along Rabbit Creek.
Lewis Bonaparte Snoddy, as well as Thomas, had been in the Georgia militia, and for the rest of their lives both were referred to as “Colonel.” L.B. Snoddy married Thomas’ eldest daughter Catherine about 1849 in Georgia. They had two children; both born in Smith County, Texas. Thomas S. Snoddy was born in 1851, and Sarah Jane Snoddy in 1855.
In the early days many areas of the South were plagued with “Swamp Fever,” later to be known as Typhoid Fever. We know today that it was caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water. In the late summer of 1857 there was a deadly outbreak of the disease in Smith County, and L.B. Snoddy and Catherine were both stricken with the disease; Lewis died August 4, 1857, and Catherine was taken a few days later on September 18.
Thomas and Catherine Erwin were eventually appointed administrators of the Snoddy estate, as well as legal guardians of their two grandchildren. Although the dates are causes are not known, both grandchildren died before 1865. In effect, Thomas inherited the Snoddy estate, including the real property and everything on it.
According to the Smith County probate records there were eleven African slaves on the Snoddy plantation when Lewis and Catherine Snoddy died. Among them was a young boy named Thadeus, born December 1851 on the Snoddy plantation, the same year that Thomas Snoddy was born. It is thought that Thadeus’ mother was most likely a domestic in the Snoddy home, since it is known that Thadeus and Thomas Snoddy were playmates in their early years, and close companions as they grew older.
The Proclamation of Emancipation, issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War, was not the all-encompassing document that many people think it was. It had little actual effect on the slavery issue at the time. It exempted loyal slave states and areas in the Confederacy occupied by Union troops (Tennessee and portions of Louisiana and Virginia), but, as one can easily imagine, the Confederacy paid no attention to it at all.
The beginning of the end of the legal enslavement of human beings in the United States of America was when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. In the following weeks other generals surrendered as well, and by the end of the year even the “bushwhackers” had disbanded or had been killed by Union troops. Thadeus—and all others held in bondage—was free.
Thadeus was not yet fourteen when the Civil War ended; free but too young to fend for himself in a still hostile environment. Most Africans held in bondage did not have a family surname. At the end of hostilities it was a common practice for them to take the surname of the owner of the plantation where they lived. It is interesting to note, however, that Thadeus—although he would have been essentially the property of Thomas B. Erwin—chose Snoddy as his surname instead of Erwin. One can suppose that it was probably because he had been a close friend and companion of young Thomas Snoddy, or it could be simply that Thad's father took the name when he was freed.
Melvin D. Snoddy, Sr., a great-great-grandson of Thadeus Snoddy, has been researching his family tree for over twenty years. As a result of his study, and of the contributions by many other Snoddy family members—black as well as white—a lot has been learned about Thadeus, the Snoddy surname, and the succeeding generations. Melvin reports that little is known about Thadeus’ father and mother. It is not known what happened to them after they were freed. Melvin has, however, located census records that indicate that Thadeus’ mother was born on a plantation in South Carolina, and that his father was from Alabama, but they do not show how and when they came to be the property of L.B. Snoddy. Other records show his father as having been born in Texas.
Melvin’s research also turned up a Thomas Snoddy on Gregg County tax records. He was a former slave and lived in Longview, Texas circa 1866-1869, and could have been Thadeus’ father. Thadeus named one of his sons Thomas, but was this in honor of his father, or was it for his boyhood friend and companion? One would like to think that it was both. According to family tradition, Thadeus left the Snoddy/Erwin plantation about 1870 and went to live with an aunt in Longview, Texas. Her name was Mary Smith, and she was married to Andrew Smith from Maryland.
An excerpt from a letter to Melvin D. Snoddy, Sr.:
“…The name Snoddy is of Scottish origin, where it was, and still is, spelled Snoddie. It is believed that the spelling of the name evolved into Snoddy in Ireland. Early family members, like many other Scots, were forced to emigrate to Northern Ireland in the 1600s, thus becoming “Scotch Irish.”
There is an old legend among the Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia Snoddy families that tells of a number of the young Snoddy men who were imprisoned during the time that King Charles and King James were persecuting Protestants (early Snoddies were Presbyterians). According to the legend they escaped during a snow storm and adopted the name “Snow Day.” Since Scots pronounce snow as “snaw” it eventually evolved into “Snoddie.” While it is an interesting and somewhat logical story, it is flawed since old records of the Scottish Privy Council refer to a William Snod back in the 1200s. A hundred years or so later Privy Council records mention two Snoddies in other matters. Thus it appears that the name Snoddie was in existence prior to the time King Charles was persecuting Protestants.
This caused me to do a little more research, which disclosed that the word “snod,” as used in Scotland today, means “neat” or “trim,” and that it is based on an old Scandinavian word which meant “bald” or “shorn.” It is well known that the use of surnames came into wide use around the 1200s, and one of the ways people acquired surnames was from some identifying physical characteristic. Thus it logically follows that early Snoddees suffered from a malady that is common with many of us today. “
Very sincerely yours,
Charles E. Snoddy, Jr.
Thadeus P. Snoddy married Julia Moseley May 2, 1875. She was born in 1850, and died in Longview, Texas in 1939. Thadeus and Julia had thirteen children.
Many descendants of Julia and Thadeus Snoddy still live in Texas, but after WW2—like many other families—they have sought their fortunes throughout the United States, from Brooklyn to Michigan, to California, and many places in between. As the years passed—like many large families—they found themselves losing the close relationships they had previously known. And, as the older generations passed on, they began to lose the benefit of the word-of-mouth history lessons that the oldsters provided.
A few years ago concerned members of the family started a tradition of national family gatherings. It started small, but each succeeding one has had a greater attendance. The most recent Snoddy Family Reunion was held June 18-21, 2004 in Longview, Texas, with an attendance of about 150. This one was organized by Melvin D. Snoddy, Sr. a great-great-grandson of Thadeus P. Snoddy.