War soldier to be first honored with grave maker

By Michael Dumas
Pascagoula, Mississippi (AP) November 2010


Melba Allen is a time traveler, whistling through centuries to educate, illuminate and captivate.

Throughout her life, the Wade, Miss., native has traversed the country and its history, publishing 17 books of genealogy as a result of countless hours spent in dusty record rooms and town libraries. She has chased facts into the cellar of time, in honor of memory and accuracy – and now she has brought someone back with her.

His name is Matthew Carter, a former soldier and North Carolinian who in 1811 trekked west with his family and settled on 640 acres in north Jackson County near Wade. Carter’s descendants dot the landscape of Jackson and George counties and include Allen, who has spent more than half of her life researching his.

“I have lived with Matthew Carter in my mind for 40 years,” Allen said. “I can almost visualize this man back in that time.”

Allen first found Carter while researching her own family, the Goffs, and discovered that several of her ancestors traveled to an area near what is now the Jackson-George county line with Carter, two of his sons and their families.

Through years of research, Allen would discover that the Carter-Goff connection was far deeper than the Pascagoula River her ancestors settled alongside almost 200 years ago.

“(I found) there was no way I could work the Goffs without working the Carters,” she said. “With those families, everywhere you turned, there they were. They have been together for almost 300 years.”

Throughout those centuries, the Carters and Goffs fought together, farmed together and eventually married each other, all the way from Isle of Wight, Va., through North and South Carolina and on to Carter’s acreage near the Pascagoula, according to Allen. At the time, they needed passports to pass safely through Creek Indian lands to their destination.

Once they settled, Carter wrote to his daughter Susannah and her son-in-law in Jones County, Ga., saying, “I am well pleased with the prospect of the country for I think it good.”

Situated near the lowland swamps of the river, the Carters planted rice and sweet potatoes, buying their other provisions from schooners traveling up and down the Pascagoula. And on a rise free from floodwaters, they set aside an area for their final resting place.

In May, Allen returned to that spot, known as the Old Carter Cemetery, with brothers Robert and Howard Carter and Russell Griffin, who lives across the road from the cemetery.

The four, along with Boy Scouts from Troop 238, spent four months clearing the space, which was as overgrown as the nearby state wildlife area. Then, Allen said, she brought out a specialist with a divining rod, who identified 33 graves in all.

The first belonged to the patriarch, Matthew Carter.

On Nov. 6, thanks to a group of patriots lead by Allen, the subject of her life’s work will become the first Revolutionary War veteran in Jackson County to be honored with an official military grave marker. More than 900 soldiers of that war have been honored throughout the state.

The “unveiling ceremony” will be held at 1 p.m. at the Old Carter Cemetery near the Salem Campground. In attendance will be the Mississippi Society, Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard and representatives of the state Daughters of the American Revolution. A marker for Carter’s wife, Cassandra, also will be unveiled.

Allen will discuss details of Matthew Carter’s life, which included service with Francis Marion’s Brigade, which was part of the South Carolina Militia. Carter served a 40-day term in the militia in 1782. He died on his south Mississippi land in 1812.

John Taylor, a member of the Jacob Horger Chapter of the Mississippi SAR, lauded Allen’s efforts to honor Carter.

“It’s great to have somebody like her who has shown a tremendous interest in this and wanted to do it for her ancestor,” Taylor said. “This is quite an honor to find one that’s never been marked.”

Taylor said he and his wife, Jill, will attend the ceremony as representatives of their respective organizations. Jill Taylor is the director of the Coastal Plains District of the Mississippi DAR.

As for Allen, with two weeks to go she’s still putting the finishing touches on her “Life of Matthew Carter” presentation for the ceremony. After 40 years, separation and perspective don’t come easy.

“I’m trying to find an exact word to explain how I really feel because I’ve lived with it for so long,” she said.

She’s confident that the answer will come, though, for it surely lies where all of the questions did: in her family history.


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