Mary Heard of Washington, Georgia

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Mary Heard was the mother of Melvina McAulay of Coddle Creek, and the wife of Robert Grier who died in the Alabama Territory. She was originally from Washington, Georgia.
The origins of the Heard family are lost in the mists of 17th century Virginia. A.E. Wynn in his book, Southern Lineages A Record of Thirteen Families, discusses the possible origins of the family at some length. But the Heard's rose to prominence in Georgia as one of the founding Virginia families of the aristocrats' ante-bellum town of Washington, Ga. The Story of Washington Wilkes, page 13, (Univ. of Ga. Press 1941) describes it:
 
“On the last day of December, 1783, a band of Westmoreland County Virginians reached the primeval forest that stood on the present site of Washington and on New Year’s Day began the arduous work of conquering the wilderness. As a precaution against Indian forays, great trees were felled for a stockaded fortification which was called Fort Heard in honor of one of the Virginia families. The Heard's, reputedly descendents of William the Conqueror, had settled in Virginia in 1720 as neighbors of George Washington’s family from whom they had obtained Arabian horses. John Heard, Jr. with his wife and sons, Barnard, Jesse, and Stephen, were included in the group that migrated to Georgia. Jesse remained at Fort Heard, which stood just north of what is now the public square. Stephen, who had done military service under George Washington, soon left and settled on Fishing Creek, eight miles away, where he built another stockade, this one called Heard’s Fort.”
 
How much of the above is true is not sure. Certainly the part about William the Conqueror is nonsense, but the Heard's made a good enough impression as aristocrats to get a good press. Jesse Heard, the lineal ancestor from Virginia, was in this group of settlers. He had served as Commissioner of the Peace in Virginia before independence, and was a Commissioner of Provisions for the Revolutionary army in Virginia after independence was declared, buying “1600 pounds of beef, corn, etc.” for the army. At this same time Stephen Heard bought from Elijah King, Lt. in Col. Washington’s dragoons, a horse three fourths blooded and worth 12 pounds.
 
The Heard's were active patriots in Virginia. The History of Pittsylvania County; Virginia by M.C. Clement records that Lt. Jesse Heard of the Pittsylvania Minute Men took part in the battle of Gwynn’s Island, July 9, 1776 under the command of General Andrew Lewis, and was made a captain after the company was ordered to the frontier. Jesse Heard also took part as a private in the Georgia militia after he moved to Georgia during the war years. Jesse Heard moved constantly between Virginia and Georgia in the later part of his life, owning and speculating with considerable tracts of land in each state.
 
Benjamin Wilkinson was one of the party from Virginia who pioneered Washington, Georgia, with the Heard's. Jesse Heard married his daughter, Judith; and the couple had a daughter, Mary, as well as Stephen, Jesse, Lucy and Sally.
 
Mary, a headstrong young lady, was born in Georgia some time after 1782. She fell violently in love with, tall Bob Grier of a Scots-Irish family. The Heard's, tiny people who saw themselves as Virginia aristocrats, looked upon these tall admirers of Andrew Jackson with ultimate disdain. They expected tall Bob Grier, who read the classics and played the violin, to spit on the floor because of his frontier background.
 
Captain Heard opposed the match, but Mary would have Bob Grier. The Captain said he wanted a moneyed, better match for her. Mary, who was nothing if not an extremist, said Robert or no one. Captain Heard said, “no one, then.” This quite excited Mary. She told the Heard's plain that she would marry Robert and come back to show the Heard's what wealth really was, since Robert was not rich enough for them.
 
Captain Heard said for her to go to her room. She did, and when she had decided to elope with Bob Grier, she came out, smiling.
 
“The way in which they eloped was this. Mary went out to go to prayer meeting, a sure sign of trouble, for resolute Mary was not big on prayer, action being more her temperament, while the Heard's were parents who saw what they wanted to see.
 
Bob met her at a fork in the road. He had two horses. Robert would not be married at the nearby house of a Baptist minister, but held out for a Presbyterian one some hours away. Mary, a Presbyterian herself, considered this excessive piety for a cold day in February. It was Feb. 9, 1809.
 
She spurred her horse and galloped away. Tall Bob chased after her. He chased her through several fields, yelling delightedly and spurring deep, until he caught her after a happy chase. He pulled her down off her high horse and squeezed and kissed her until they were warm. Afterwards they galloped merrily together to the Presbyterian Meeting House where they were married.
 
They settled in Wilkes County, Georgia, near the Grier's. If the Heard's had not approved of Robert, it was now the Grier's’ turn to wonder what he saw in her. Mary was a handful for a wife. She was bossy. She was hot tempered. She wanted money to impress the Heard's. They said Robert was a saint for living with her. He probably was. On one occasion when he was playing the violin and not listening to her prattle, she took his violin and threw it in the fire. What he said does not come down to us, but they seemed to have a deep natural inclination for each other. They had eleven children.
 
When the Grier family moved to Alabama Territory, and the men died, Mary took over the property, ran it better than they had. When Indians with devilment in mind called on the new widow, she opened the door boldly, invited them in to dinner, and put so much salt in the food they left hastily and never came back. When she heard a prowler outside in the dark, she sneaked up behind him with a knife, grabbed him by the throat and threatened to slit it. The prowler was a black man come to call on one of her maids. She told him to call in the open, not sneak in from a neighboring farm.
 
In 1827 she developed a tooth ache. Characteristically, she pulled her tooth herself with a pair of pliers. She developed aerosyphillis from this and died with a fantastically swollen face on the night of August 2, 1827. She left eight orphans to be taken in by their Presbyterian minister uncle, Reverend Isaac Grier who came at once. It was a sorry end for Mary Heard who had vowed to return to Washington to show the Heard's what wealth really was. She fought a good fight, having much spirit but bad values.
 
If it was a sorry ending, it was perhaps a truly Heard story, for the Heard's seemed to turn to ‘strong people, strong minds and strong tempers. Tradition says the founder of the family, John Heard, left Ireland because, in a fit of irritation he stabbed a pitchfork in a Church of Ireland minister who asked him for a tithe. It was said that he had never been fond of the Church of Ireland (Episcopal).
 
Mary Heard’s first cousin, Stephen Heard, was governor of Georgia for a period during the American Revolution. This is how Stephen Heard escaped from a British prison in a clothes basket, and Nancy Heard was evicted from her house and froze to death in the snow.
 
“Your grandmother was’ from Georgia where her cousin, Stephen Heard, was a governor in the struggle for Independence. Those were bad days. The British had the upper hand in Georgia.
 
It was hard to be a Presbyterian, then, for the English shut the meeting houses and arrested the ministers. The ministers would gallop the back trails, smuggle themselves through Tory territory, preach the freedom of the Christian man, and ride off to the next assembly. Often the preacher left by the back door as the redcoats drew up in front of the Church yard during  preaching. A boy with a saddle horse stayed in the church yard during preaching, so if the minister had to run, with bullets flying, from the British. They preached like angels in those days. You heard straight preaching then.
 
Being governor of Georgia then was like being a preacher. You took the back roads, sneaked into the assemblies and took off with bullets flying. Stephen Heard was governor in those bad times. He hid in the woods and traveled constantly, two shakes ahead of the redcoats, with the government of Georgia in his coat pocket.
 
He was caught only once, and then the British condemned him to die. He was in jail waiting to dance on a rope when Aunt Kate, a tall black woman, took things in her own hands. She liked the little Massa. For the Heard's were all tiny folk, fiery and quick, and she decided to smuggle him out.
 
She showed up at the jail with a tall basket of clean linen, carrying it on her head like they do in Africa. She told the guards it was clean clothes for the hanging. They let her through. Inside the jail, she put tiny Stephen Heard in the basket, covered him with dirty clothes, and carried him out on her turbaned head, pretty as you please.
 
In gratitude Stephen Heard tried to free her. “But I ain’t freed you, little massa.” she said, smiling down at Stephen. She preferred to stay with the family, looked after them all like a big nurse with little children, and is buried in the family plot.
 
But the redcoats were determined to get even with the Heard's. They found out Stephen Heard had left his wife on the farm, and went out there in the dead of winter when snow was on the ground. They confiscated his people to resell, set the house and cabins on fire, and left Nancy Heard alone with a baby in her arms. They rode away as the snow began to fall.
 
Nancy set off gallantly with the baby in her arms, another child in tow. The neighbors found her body beneath the snow some hours later. They tried to revive her before the fire, but Nancy and her two children died of exposure soon after.
 
Stephen Heard did not marry again for sometime, and when he did, it was a grand niece of General George Washington.”
 
The site of Captain Jesse Heard’s house in Washington, Georgia, Fort Heard had a new brick house erected on it in 1824 by General B.W. Heard. It was in this old Heard house, where the Washington Courthouse now stands, the last cabinet meeting of the Confederacy was held.*
 
An interesting clipping from the Atlanta Journal in the
 L.L. Knight, Georgia’s Landmarks- Memorials and Legends. Volume 17, 1913 (includes pictures of Old Heard House)
 
An interesting clipping from the Atlanta Journal in the 60’s begins:
 
Distinguished Landmark
 
Historic Rose Hill Burns at Elberton
Special to The Atlanta Journal
 
Elberton, Ga., Jan. 16--Rose Hill, one of Elbert County’s most distinguished landmarks, was destroyed by fire Wednesday afternoon.
 
The fine old home was built in the early 1800’s by Mrs. Elizabeth Harden Heard, a niece of George Washington and the widow of Stephen, colonial governor of Georgia.
 
She built it as a home for her youngest son, Thomas Jefferson Heard, when he married Nancy Middleton, for whom the village of Middleton was named.
 
In order that her son might feel perfectly at home in the new house, she included one room and the stairway from the family’s old home at Heardmont.
 
This stairway was considered such a perfect example of the best architecture of its period that it was used in the silent film “Birth Of A Nation.”
 
N.E. Particulars of the Heard's may be found in the “Historical Collections of Joseph Flabersham Chapter, D.A.R.,” Volume II,
 Bloseer Printing Co., Atlanta, Ga. 1902
 
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Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.