NOTES FROM THE JOHN SELF MEMORIAL SERVICE MARCH 13, 2010
Good morning and welcome to Rafter, Tennessee. How many of you are here for the very first time? Rafter is a unique and beautiful place. I remember the first time I came up here. It was back around 1989 I think. I was looking for ancestors of course. I came to all three cemeteries up here, looking for Self family graves. And I fell in love with this place. I guess it had something to do with the fact that I knew our ancestors once lived here and enjoyed all the beauty of these valleys and hills at one time. Our roots run deep here in this remote Monroe County community and I always enjoy coming here, even if the weather is not always pleasant. I was up here a week ago and there was about 2-3 inches of snow on the ground. So, we cannot complain too much about a little bad weather today. I want to thank Craig Stewart and Macedonia Baptist Church for allowing us to use their facilities. We appreciate them.
Relatives, friends and guests, thank you for coming today to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of our ancestor, John J. Self on March 5, 1910. He was my 3rd- great- grandfather. We have one or two great-grandchildren of John’s with us today. There is at least the 7th generation (from John) here today too. I appreciate all of you being here. It shows your interest in your heritage and what a fine heritage we do have as members of the Self family.
Figuratively speaking, it was quite a long journey from the mountains of north Georgia to the mountains of east Tennessee. John Self's journey ended in this cemetery after 85 years of life. There was a lot of adventure along the way. There is an indication that he served for the Confederacy in the Civil War. However, I have not been able to prove his service. Lydia, his wife, filed for a widow’s pension, but was denied because she could not provide documents showing that he served. She stated that he had lost his papers. John and Lydia were married October 23, 1851 in Union County, GA (near Blairsville). They raised a large family. They had 11 children and 93 grandchildren. They have hundreds of descendants living today. There are at least 3500 if I have my information correct, and possibly more. I have 4020 individuals named in my Family Tree. Isn't that amazing? There are 1436 marriages documented too. It shows the average lifespan of 57 years and 5 months, for those whose birth and death dates are recorded there. But John and Lydia lived much longer than 57 years. John is believed to have been born in North Carolina and grew up in Georgia. His family lived in Union and Lumpkin counties in Georgia for many years. Around 1886, John moved to Monroe County, TN, apparently coming here at the suggestion of other relatives who were already in Monroe County. Amos Self lived in Monroe County in 1880. He was a relative. Amos and his family are buried in Knoxville. It was here, in these mountains of Appalachia, that John spent the remainder of his life. He died at his home at Rafter on March 5, 1910, according to Lydia‘s widow’s pension application. Death records found at the Monroe County Courthouse state that he died March 6. I had the 5th of March put on the monument we are dedicating today, since this is the date Lydia officially gave. He lived not far from where we are gathered today, although the exact location of where he lived has not been determined. He apparently never owned any land in Monroe County. No deeds or tax records can be found indicating that he owned any real estate in Monroe County or in Georgia before he moved to Tennessee. Apparently, the only piece of property he could ever claim as his very own is the small plot in Giles Cemetery, where his body has rested for the last 100 years. At least 25 Self family members are buried here with him. There are likely more we do not have a record of.
Only one picture of John and Lydia Self exists as far as I can determine. I have a copy of it. John was a tall slender man. Lydia was tall and slender as well. Only bits and pieces about them have turned up in my nearly 25 years of researching the family tree. They did not leave a lot behind to help us know them better. Lydia was a midwife in these mountains. John was likely a farmer, possibly a sharecropper. They probably had a rough life. Raising all those children off the land could not have been easy. We owe them a lot of gratitude, because each of us came from them. Their union resulted in us being who we are today. I am thankful I was born into the Self family as I am sure all of you are.
I wanted to come here today, to honor these two people, who, obviously, none of us ever really knew personally, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of grandpa Self's death. 100 years is a long time to be dead. It is a long time to live for those who are so fortunate, but it is a long time to be dead. So much has happened in the last 100 years. William Howard Taft was President when John Self died. President Taft served from 1909 to 1913. Think for a moment what these mountains might have looked like 100 years ago. There were a lot fewer graves here then. There was no fire halI or community center. I am sure the burial of our ancestor was quite simple. He was likely brought here in a horse drawn wagon. His casket was probably homemade of pine or some other rough cut lumber. The grave would have been hand dug and hand filled. No vault would have been used. There is a new trend in the funeral and burial industry called “Green Burials“. You may have heard of this simple burial practice. No embalming is done; a plain wooden casket is used, and there is no vault used. The grave is hand dug and filled. The grave is then marked with a natural stone. No elaborate monuments are placed at the gravesite. People in these mountains were doing “green burials” long before it was done with the intention of being environmentally friendly. I imagine the whole community turned out for John Self‘s funeral, because he was an elder of the community. As far as I can determine, he had no obituary published in the newspaper. His wife, Lydia, died five years later. She had no obituary either. They were simple people… simple and humble in life and in death.
I am glad all of you wanted to join me today for this historic occasion for our family. I wish all the 3500 plus Self kinfolks were here with us. It would be a site to see. I invited a few of the oldest relatives, but they were not feeling up to attending. Wesley Dillard Self turned 90 this year and Dillard Glen Self turned 90 also. They both live in Tellico Plains. They are great- grandsons to John and Lydia Self.
Today, we will unveil a small monument to honor the lives of John and Lydia Self. Their graves are not marked with tombstones. To be honest, we do not know the exact plots they are buried in, but thanks to the late Lila Self Hunt, we know they are buried in this cemetery (Giles –Roberts), and we believe they are buried near their son, J.R. Sherman Self. So, the monument has been placed near his monument. I had the privilege of knowing J.R. Sherman Self's son, Van Larry Self, a few years before he died. J.L. Self knew him too. Van lived in Mississippi at the time of his death, but he grew up here in Monroe County. He lived to be 96. He shared a lot of family stories with me.
I am going to ask Gene Self, the oldest family member here today, and Lydia Self, the youngest, to come forward and help with the unveiling of the monument. We will then take a few minutes to let everyone look it over and take a tour of the rest of the cemetery to visit the graves of other relatives we have buried here. There are orange flags placed at significant graves to help you locate them. Thank you again for attending today. I hope you have enjoyed visiting this sacred place. I have been here many times, and I always feel that it is a special place to visit. We have a lot of history here. The Rafter Community is a place which holds a lot of history for the Self family.
Those of you who wish may join us for lunch at the Nut-N-Fancy Restaurant in Tellico Plains after we finish here. I can give you directions to the restaurant if you do not know where it is located. It is on the left on the Cherohala Skyway just before you reach Hwy. 68, as you go out of Tellico Plains. I have copies of their menu if anyone would care to take a look at those. They are expecting us for lunch and we will be ordering off the menu.