A History of the Burns Family
Home About Contents Biographies Photo Galleries Memoirs

PART TEN: Betty's Story  

Chapter One: Tennessee

McMinn County [1]
1774 – 1897

1 - Tennessee
2 - Nez Perce
3 - Orphaned
4 - Betty Jean

More Information


The twist of fate that united Betty’s parents, Blanche Parkinson and John Matlock, started way back in 1774, when the Reverend Jesse Dodson (Betty’s great-great-great-grandfather) of Halifax County, Virginia married his beautiful and petite first cousin Ruth Dodson.  [N.B.:  Marriage between first cousins was not uncommon then, and is still legal in both Virginia and Tennessee today, although not in Washington.]

Tennessee scene from the Matlock / Parkinson Collection

In 1819 Jesse and Ruth settled on 300 acres in eastern Tennessee, and built a house on the banks of the Eastanallee River near Riceville in McMinn County. During his life in McMinn country, Rev. Dodson founded several churches, and was preacher to all of them for many years. The closest to his home was the Eastanallee Church, which is still thriving today as the Eastanallee Baptist Church. 

He was of Welsh extraction, and had the Welsh fire. He was not trained to methodical sermonizing or systematic exposition of Scripture, but was earnest and fervent in exhortation, and was successful in revivals. Elder Dodson [had] ten negroes, [2] whom he “freed,” it is said, after the death of his wife (by whom he came into possession of them), giving as his reason that he had ‘concluded that a bill of sale of negroes in his pocket would be a bad passport at the gate of heaven.’ He lived to preach and exhort sinners to repentance about sixty-one years, and on his 91st birthday died in the triumph of a living faith. [3]  

That generosity of spirit evidently carried over to the bedroom. Reverend Jesse and his cousin Ruth had ten children, including a fourth son Jesse, Jr. and a second daughter Sarah. This is where things got interesting. 


Jesse Dodson, Jr.. (b. 1791) m. Mary Newton
Sarah Dodson (b. 1795) m. William Matlock
Jesse W. Dodson (b. 1825) m. Elizabeth McKamey
Charles L. Matlock, Sr. (b. 1829) m. Louisa Howard
Mary Ella Dodson (b. 1855) m. James D. Parkinson
Charles L. Matlock , Jr. (b. 1857) m. Laura Buckner
Blanche Elizabeth Parkinson (b. 1888)
John William Matlock (b. 1890)


The Reverend's son Jesse Jr. was the great-grandfather of Betty's mother, Blanche Elizabeth Parkinson. The Reverend's daughter Sarah was the great-grandmother of Betty's father, John William Matlock. Blanche and John were therefore third cousins. 

    Ella Lou Dobson, age 17
     (before she had her 13 children!)

Procreation ran deep in the Dodson genes, and large families were desirable in agricultural communities during those days of high rates of infant and child mortality. Jesse Dodson, Jr. and his wife Mary Newton had eleven offspring, among them Jesse Washington Dodson, who sired ten children of his own. All of these relatives lived cheek by jowl within a few miles of each other near Riceville. 

Jesse Washington’s eldest daughter, and one of Reverend Dodson’s legions of great-grandchildren in the area, was Mary Ella, a petite young girl who at age 17 married James Daniel Parkinson, a lad equally short in stature from a neighboring farm family with aspirations (James’s older brother John became a physician). Betty’s mother Blanche was born in 1888, the eighth of their thirteen children.

Meanwhile back in 1816, at about the time Reverend Dodson’s son Jesse, Jr. was naming his fourth child Andrew Jackson, [4] the Reverend’s daughter Sarah was getting ready to marry William Matlock – John Matlock’s great-grandfather.

William Matlock never shared the good Reverend’s progressive views about slavery, even though the two men were relatives by marriage, and eventually close neighbors.[5] After they married, William and Sarah moved to neighboring Rhea County, where William operated a mill, served as justice of the peace, and organized a Masonic lodge in the town of Washington. In 1836, he and Sarah returned to McMinn County and settled on a farm near her father’s on the Eastanallee River. With them were their five children, including Betty’s great-grandfather, Charles Lafayette Matlock, and five slaves. 

After William’s death in 1844, a guardianship document was drawn up for his son Charles, then just 16, describing the slaves he would inherit: a 40-year-old man named Barney and his wife (name illegible), and their four children – Lucy (8), Kitty (6), Sam (3), and Washington (3 months). Slave schedules from the period show the family retained ownership of Barney and his family in 1850 while the widow Sarah still headed the family. [6]  

Tennessee home of Charles Lafayette Matlock
(Betty’s great-grandfather)

When he was 23, this Charles, son of William, married Louisa Howard, daughter of a prosperous local family that claimed descent from the Earl of Essex.  He built an exact replica of Louisa’s childhood home, and there they raised their eight children, among them Betty’s grandfather, Charles Lafayette Matlock, Jr. 

Charles, Sr. was a successful farmer – though by 1860 he owned no slaves -- and according to his obituary, was also:

a gentleman in business, a good neighbor, a splendid citizen, and a kind husband and respected by all, but had not made peace with God until two days [before] his decease, when he asked Charles, his son [Betty’s grandfather], to pray with him, after which he realized great peace and said to his friends, the way is bright, and the last thing he said was, ‘almost home.’ [7]   

Charles L. Matlock, Sr. and Louisa Howard Matlock


Louisa died in 1869, and Charles, Sr. was remarried a few years later to a much younger woman, Ellen Missouri Hutsell. [8]  This was not the carefree later-life romance he envisioned, however.  According to Hutsell family records, the difference in their ages “made for an unpleasant situation. Her family was pleased about the marriage...but it almost ended in divorce. She went back, made the most of it, and survived him by many years.” 

His father’s remarriage may have helped spur Charles, Jr. into matrimony. On September 2, 1882, he married 19-year-old Laura Elizabeth Buckner, [9] and it may be presumed that his bride simply moved into the family compound. Betty’s father John, born in 1890, was the fourth of their six children.

In 1897, Blanche Parkinson and John Matlock were living a few miles apart in McMinn County, Tennessee. But strangely enough, they fell in love many years later and thousands of miles away.



[1] Information for this section is supplied by Matlock and Parkinson family documents in Betty’s possession, her recollections and notes, old photos, and data obtained from Ancestry.com and other genealogical websites.

[2] The 1850 Slave Schedule shows 4 adult males, 2 adult females, 3 girls, and 1 boy.

[3] These details are from J. J. Burnett’s “Sketches of Tennessee’s Pioneer Baptist Preachers” published in 1919.   Jesse also inherited one slave from his father, and this little girl (under 10 years old) was still living with the Dodson family in 1840.

[4] After the hero of the War of 1812 who would later become the seventh U. S. president, and who was instrumental in banishing Native American tribes to the west.

[5] They are on the same page of the 1840 census.

[6] These varying attitudes about slavery reflected the independent spirit of the settlers of McMinn County, which was frequented by abolitionist speakers and divided during the Civil War. In 1861, the county voted against secession by a narrow 1,144 - 904 margin, but the state of Tennessee voted as a whole to join the Confederacy. Nevertheless, more McMinn men wore blue than grey. The 1890 Veterans Schedule for McMinn County includes a Matlock and a Parkinson on the roster.

[7] From an obituary written by Hazen Oaks.

[8] This naming after states was not uncommon. One of Blanche’s older sisters, who ended up raising Betty's brother Todd, was named Nelle Tennessee Parkinson.

[9] Little is known about Laura and where she came from. The 1880 census finds a 17-year-old Laura Buckner living with her grandparents not far from the Matlocks. Is this the girl that caught Charles’s eye? If so, what happened to her parents? We will probably never know, but if she lost her parents at a relatively early age and was cared for by her mother’s parents, she might have felt a special empathy for Betty, Anita, and Todd after their parents died.