AUTHOR: Penny Beasley; Edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter
I have a love of history and have retraced some of my great-great-grandfather’s, James Tom Baggett’s, steps across the battlefield (See story titled “Tom Baggett and the Grey Patch!”). His post war life is fascinating as well… My grandparents passed in the last ten years, and they were well into their 90s at the time. Their home and farm were the same as where James Tom Baggett had lived and traded crops of good quality for purchase. The old cemetery behind the house holds his headstone and those of his family.
Tom had purchased the old farmhouse, which is still in our family, in 1867 from a man named Jonas Elias Pope, a free person of color who was a great builder and brick mason and whose son, Manassa Thomas Pope, became a doctor. Most of Tom’s personal documents were upstairs in a trunk, which I took possession of, and I made a little book out of them, arranging them in chronological order. I have his reading glasses, wallet, and some straight razors, plus two special pocket watches that my grandad said Tom wore all the time.
I feel like I know my great-great-grandad Tom Baggett from the stories I was told and the documents I’ve found. He was a giving man with a strong work ethic. He often paid for coffins for neighbors and loaned money without expecting repayment. He also left strict instructions with my Pappy, my grandfather’s dad, to look after Ms. Ida Lewis, a colored woman Tom cared for deeply, since she had lived with the family for all her life: She was a cook who lived on the property and helped out around the house post-war as a paid employee.
Tom lost his leg in a cotton gin accident about twenty years after the war. I found a newspaper article that described how two local doctors went to his farmhouse and amputated his leg a couple days after the injury.
Another article reported when Tom took a train years later to New York to visit the New York Limb Society so he could have a wooden leg fashioned.
Tom’s daughter, Grandma Della Baggett Futrell, said, “He wore it once, fell with it, & returned to using crutches.” I loaned Tom’s wooden leg to our county museum. Tom was a member of our county farmer union from 1909 through 1914. Tom Baggett died on October 20, 1918.