Bridging Sams Gap

When my uncle Jerry heard Cathey was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2014, he said, “The trail goes through Sams Gap” (at I-26 in Madison County, NC, north of Asheville). It’s an intersection of geography and family history. Jeremiah “Jerry” Bradley Sams was my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather.

The 1850 Census has Jeremiah B. Sams of Yancey, NC, a married farmer born in 1828 with 2 children. 1860 has Jeremiah Sams of Flag Pond, TN, married farmer born in 1827 with 7 children. 1870 has Jerry Sams of Flat Lick, KY, married farmer born in 1826. He died in 1880, uncounted.

His war record is more detailed. On May 10, 1862, at age 36, Jeremiah B. Sams enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army at Madison County, NC, the 64th infantry (11th Battalion, Allen’s Regiment). On my family tree, his name is the only one with a Confederate flag icon.

The 1870 Census indicates he was a male US citizen with the right to vote. My uncle believes when Jerry Sams moved to Kentucky, his service in the Confederate Army was not discussed. Maybe that’s why the census-taker knew him only by his nickname.

His oldest child, John Melvin Sams (1847-1934), my great-grandfather, “hated Lincoln” according to his youngest child, my grandmother. Hate facilitates insurrection and war. I’m sure his dad and other adults at Sams Gap blamed the war on Lincoln. I had new compassion for my Lincoln-hating great-grandfather when I realized he was three days shy of 15 when his dad went to war, leaving his mom, his 6 younger siblings–and him–on the farm. Only compassion can heal the wound of Civil War.


3 thoughts on “Bridging Sams Gap”

    1. Yes, it is. My grandfather’s brother was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and did a lot of genealogical work. My mom’s brother Jerry is the family historian and I joined to take advantage of his research. I know all 16 of my great-great grandparents, some more than others, of course. It’s difficult to go back beyond that generation. The Internet, Facebook, DNA testing and organizations like and have opened up a treasure of stories.

      My grandmother (1897-1995) was the youngest child of her father (1847-1934). Those two lives spanned 148 years. Her youngest child is now 80. She was over 43 when he was born. As of today, those three lives spanned 174 years. He has one child who was born in 1986. If she lives to be only 80, in 2066, those four generations will have spanned 219 years. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that.

      My grandmother was born and raised in Kentucky. I heard stories about her father serving in the “home guard” during the Civil War. I assumed that was in Kentucky and he was “guarding” against the Confederates. My uncle is an amazing source of information. It was a casual comment one day when he said his mom (my grandmother) said Pa Sams “hated Lincoln.” That helped me reorient my image of his Civil War experience. My uncle helped me see that the home guard was in North Carolina and they were guarding against the Federals. It’s fascinating to imagine what it would have been like to be almost 15, maybe wanting to join the army, too. I could see his father saying, “No, you have to help your mom with the farm and your siblings.”

      My ancestors were from eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee. You know that region well. There were Confederate sympathizers in Kentucky and Union sympathizers in Tennessee. Families were divided. I’ve come to view that as a microcosm of the country and a potential laboratory for learning about healing.


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