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The 1991 Hall Reunion

They began gathering early Sunday morning, August 25, drawn back to their roots deep in the Tennessee mountains. They came from as near as Grassy Fork and Raven`s Branch and as far away as Illinois and California. They came back to a peak that bears their name in numbers estimated to be 600 strong. Descendants of an early Cocke County pioneer family, they gathered to sing, break bread, renew family ties, and enjoy an afternoon at the site where their ancestors worshipped, went to school, and in many cases, are buried. They returned for a homecoming and reunion just as members of their family have done for the 49 years (written in 1991). It was the fourth Sunday in August. It was time for the Hall clan to celebrate their fiftieth family reunion at Bell Hill Baptist Church. The Halls are English. The local branch of the family is descended from James Hall, who was born in 1748, lived in Edgefield. South Carolina, and died in 1841 in Harlan, Kentucky. A veteran of the American Revolutionary War, he lost a leg in the Battle of Cowpens. He and his sons came to Cocke County and first settled in the Dutch Bottoms. "It was swampy ground and a lot of them took the fever and started dying," said Rebecca Glenn, a descendant. William "Billy" Hall, James` son, was born in 1764 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Bill Hall was the father of two boys and four girls. His first wife, Sarah Wooten, was probably the mother of Hannah, Samuel, and Billy Jr. By his second wife, Lettie Virginia Mantooth, he had three girls. Hall died May 1, 1859. He and both wives are buried at Halls Top. He was the first Hall to settle on Halls Top. "It was first called Halls Stop because the Halls went that far up the mountain and that`s where they stopped," said Rebecca Hall Freeman Glenn. "Hannah, his daughter, had married Joseph Finney, and they lived at "Finney Patch" on Halls Top, and I`d say they were instrumental in getting the Halls to leave the bottoms," she continued. In 1832-33, the Halls applied for a land grant on Halls Top. In 1839 they received 400 acres. At one time 28 families lived on the mountain to including the Halls, Finneys, Jameses, Balls, and Ellisons. There was a school and a church. By 1900 most of the families had moved away. They relocated near Bell Hill and built a combination church/school building about 1903. "Jehu Rollins, Uncle Jake Hall, Uncle Robert Hall and my dad, "Singing" Sam Hall, built the building for both a school and a church combined. One of them said, "What will we name the place?" and Jehu said, "Bell Hill" Rebecca recalled. A new building was built in 1928. She completed the eighth grade at Bell Hill. "I remember when they had revival, school would let out long enough for them to preach. School was also let out for a funeral in the graveyard. That`s where I went to school and I remember our teacher having us sing at a funeral of a baby." The Tennessee Coal and Iron Railroad Company "owned the land around the area until I think about 1930 when the government bought it and it became Cherokee National Forest.They told the people they`d like them to leave and the people have all moved out and it`s all grown up," she said. " There are little fingers of property that are still privately owned. Bell Hill Baptist Church owns two acres so the the Halls can return here forever for reunions," explained Grant Hall. The Hall family provides the funds to keep the building up. In the spring of 1941 some of the grandchildren of Allen and Emeline (Bible) Hall decided to have a reunion. Allen was a grandson of Billy, the first Halls Top settler. Allen and Emeline had five sons and four daughters. They were Jacob Hall, Preacher Robert Hall, Milburn Hall, "Singing" Sam Hall, Ellen Hall Mantooth, Minnie Hall Freshour, Arbella Hall Green, Julie Hall Ball, and Allen Hall who died young. "The Green family moved to Oklahoma, then back to Sevier County, and Julie Ball died young." said Cleo Caughron, of Knoxville, a daughter of Jacob Hall. "We sent out penny postcards," recalled one of the children who helped start the annual gatherings. "We decided to have a reunion in 1941 and announce it in the local paper and you wouldn`t believe how the Halls came. I`ve seen 1,000 at the reunion, but now we have about 150-200," added Glenn. Jim Robert Hall, who was celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday that day has attended every reunion. "I remember the first one," he said. "Only a few people had cars. Most came on horseback or walked." Emma Hall Baxter, daughter of Jacob Hall, has attended "all but two or three" of the get-togethers. "I remember one Sunday we had about 500 and no one could get up here from down at the bridge (over Big Creek) because of the cars." Nowadays cars begin making the trek up the mountain to Bell Hill "about 9:30 a.m., "said Hilda Shults. "Oh law, we sing, I`d reckon," said Glenn. "Music runs in the family. We have a hymnal that has what I call "meeting house" songs." The singing is shaped note or Old Harp singing. "I enjoy the shaped note singing more than anything. People come from different places and want to sing the notes," Glenn said. At noon the old dinner bell is rung and signals the beginning of a bountiful noon meal. Long tables are laden with more choices of foods and desserts than anyone could ever hope to sample. "Mercy sakes, honey, the food! Everybody eats like a horse. You`d have to see the food to believe it. It is spread out on long tables under a shed. You could just founder on it," Glenn laughed. The reunion is not only for relatives. Many members of the surrounding community attend. Homer Harris, a noted local musician, said, "My daddy taught school at Bell Hill and boarded with "Singing Sam" Hall. My parents met at a revival at Bell Hill and began courting and sparking. That`s why I`m here today," he chuckled. " You may come up the hill a stranger, but you go home feeling just a little bit like a Hall," said Shults. Another highlight of the day is swapping stories about "the good ole days," Emma Hall Baxter recalled her first automobile ride. Jim Robert Hall related how, at the age of twelve, he walked "across the mountain to Del Rio and rode my first train to Greenville, South Carolina. I began working in the mills." A worker in the textile business for 35 to 40 years, he became the general overseer for five plants. Another story was told about Allen Hall. Born about 1845, he was sixteen and in bed with flu when Confederate soldiers came. "During the Civil War, the soldiers came in to kill the men and boys. When they rode up to the house, Allen and his cousin, a Finney, were sick," said Grant Hall. " Allen got out of bed but was too sick to run. His Aunt Eva Lee Finney told him to hit the floor," continued Hall. "She whopped her skirt over him and stood still until they left," said Shults. "They got the other boy who couldn`t get up, took him off, killed him, and came back wearing his boots," said Hall. Family and friends go back for an afternoon of singing following lunch. Others gather outside the church to chat, reminise, or visit the family graveyard. They begin drifting down the mountain about 3 p.m. Their golden reunion may be over, but the Halls are already making plans for the next one. "I never dreamed we`d have a reunion in 1991. I`m glad to have lived long enough to see it. I hope they keep it going another 50 years," Rebecca Glenn said. Article from The Newport Plain Talk Wednesday, September 4, 1991 by Nancy L. O`Neil and transcribed by David Wood

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