The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Esom's Grist Mill

By Raymond Sloan © 1987

Issue: May, 1987

Uncle Esom (1838-1910) operated a grist mill and a general store in the Pigg River Turner's Creek neighborhood of Western Franklin County, Virginia during the 1800's and 1890's.

The family consisted of Esom, his wife, Eliza Jones Sloan, sons, Tom, Dorman and Lee, and daughter's, Lillie and Laura. Esom was thrifty (some said he was stingy), but the fact that he provided well for his family and even indulged his children in their hobbies, would appear to contradict that notion.

Tom took pictures of everyone in the neighborhood with his big box camera, which Esom bankrolled, and became a sort of Matthew Brady of the time. Some of his pictures still remain and are priceless to members of the family.

Dorman learned to play the banjo, clawhammer style, and was in demand at parties, dances and corn shuckings; to tease his father he made up a song about the mill.

Since the mill was sort of a social center and gathering place, sometimes fights would break out among some of the roughnecks. With this in mind, one of the verses went like this:

"If you want to get your eye knocked out,
If you want to get your fill;
If you want to get your corn tolled twice
Just go to Esom's mill."

Tom worked with his father in the mill and probably operated it on his own most of the time while Esom was busy at the store. One day Esom said to Tom: "I'm always having to make change when people buy meal, so let's fix a box with coins in it and hide it here in the mill."

Tom agreed and so it was done, a small box with all of three dollars in quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies in it was placed in a safe place. Later on the same day brother Dorman dropped by the mill and suggested that they get a pint of whiskey and have a few drinks after the mill was closed for the day. So, about dark they walked over to a neighbor's house and obtained the spirits. The pint cost a quarter and Tom, not having any money, had "borrowed" it from the box of coins at the mill. Of course he could replace it before Uncle Esom would take inventory of the coins. Tom and Dorman sat down on a flat rock along side the road and sipped on the pint until it was all gone late that night.

Next morning Tom had a moderate hangover, but was up bright and early and busy at the mill. Soon Esom arrived and to Tom's horror, said, "Let's count those coins in the box again." Tom found the box and they both counted. Sure enough, there was a quarter short. "Where's the quarter?" asked Esom. "Must have fallen on the floor," said Tom.

Years later Tom had told how he and his father searched every inch of the mill and every crack in the floor for an hour or more before Esom gave up. He never told his father the truth but he said it taught him a lesson in being honest.

Another story that Tom and Dorman liked to tell about their father was about the new front door. It seems that the front door to the house was in poor condition, so Esom had a carpenter to come by and build a very heavy door, "so it will last." The old door had been discarded and when night came the carpenter still hadn't hung the new door. "Just put it crosswise across the opening," said Esom, "to keep the dogs out." The carpenter would return the next day to complete the job. Pretty soon after dark, Esom went to bed in an upstairs bedroom and soon was sleeping soundly.

About ten o'clock a cousin, Sam Sink, who had walked several miles to visit Uncle Esom, hollered "Hello, Esom," from out in the front yard. Esom came to the window upstairs and said, "Come on in, Sam, I'll be down in a minute." But Sam, being hard of hearing, continued to holler "hello." Seeing that he couldn't make Sam hear, Esom ran down the stairway in his nightshirt toward the porch and knocked over the heavy door. The sound of the door as it hit the porch floor was almost that of a bomb exploding. Sam ran down the hill away from the house yelling, "Don't shoot, Esom, this is Sam Sink." Sam walked on another mile to the home of Esom's brother, Jim, and told the folks there, "I would have spent the night with Esom, but he got out his old muzzle loader and shot at me!"