One of the unsolved mysteries described in Pell Mellers has been solved by Mark Bunch, whom I met at the October 2014 reunion and who like me descends from Mary Apply (aka Appie) Johnson Williford, whose portrait he brought to the reunion. Appie survived her husband Jonathan Williford by twenty three years, and in the last year of her life she received a widow’s pension in the amount of $2700 for Jonathan’s Civil War service in the Union army. He had survived the fall of Plymouth but the escape through the swamps and across several rivers was disastrous to his health, and he died in 1870 at age 45. Appie had directed the lawyer handling the pension to “give Cora (a supposed illegitimate child she had raised whose other name is unknown to me) $300… the sons were opposed to her giving Cora any, and she didn’t want them to know anything about it until after she was dead as she didn’t expect to live long.” She died six months later in the spring of 1893, and I never found out the identity of Cora.
Cora Williford married John Hoggard the same year that Appie died, 1893. Mark noted that on the death certificate of Cora Hoggard, widow of John, her father was identified as Bill Williford and her mother was unidentified. Appie was the mother of four sons, one of whom, William, had died before her. He is not on record as having ever married, and the fact that at the time of her death Cora’s mother’s name was given as unknown is indicative that she was raised by someone other than her parents. It was unusual for the paternal rather than the maternal grandmother of an illegimate child to be the one to raise her, but that seems to have been the case with Appie and Cora. Ancestry.com includes a portrait of Cora and her husband John supplied by a descendant, probably from the 1920s, and I think there is some resemblance to her grandmother in the photo. One sad aspect of the death certificate is that Cora’s cause of death was listed as pellagra, (with old age as a contributing factor– at 62!) and she was a widow whose occupation was as a domestic in Hertford County. The ready availability of collards, turnip greens, etc. to poor country people would seem to prevent Vitamin A deficiencies, but pellagra is caused by a Niacin deficiency which means Cora did not get enough poultry, meat, or nuts to keep her in good health. Pellagra was common among populations with a heavily corn-dependent diet.