One Sunday afternoon in January the sunlight shone brightly off of the headstones in Chubb Cemetery. The most recent burial had been a month earlier and the headstone of Maccie Chubb Gibson was pristine in its simplicity.
The clean grey upright model notified visitors that she had passed away Monday, December 14, 2020. The final resting place for many of the Chubb family and their extended members, the Brays, the Sams, the Bradleys, the Wares, and others are here.
Some namesakes have family plots, the Chubb family on the other hand has a family cemetery that lies on Chubb Road in Cave Springs, Georgia, some 80 miles north of Atlanta in Floyd County. More specifically the cemetery is in Chubbtown.
Pine needles covered a lot of the graves when the four of us, Dr. Clemmie B. Whatley, Kathy Freeman, Elliott Sams and I drove by to take a look around.
I was in Chubbtown, named after the Black family that came to north Georgia from North Carolina more than 180 years ago, and what I wanted more than to be warmer was to find out how a Black family could amass the kind of wealth the Chubbs did during the height of Jim Crow?
“To come out like they did, somewhere between slavery and freedom, to me this is a part of American history that is rarely, if ever told,” said Whatley, 71, the author of “The Chubbs: A free Black family’s journey from the Antebellum era to the mid-1900’s” (2020).
“A lot of the time American history is glorified but for some people, this country has never been great and these types of stories need to be shared.”
A walk through Chubb Cemetery
At the gate of the cemetery, a white sign read in black letters: Chubbtown Cemetery, Circa 1864, Founders of Chubbtown, The Daughters and Sons of Issac and Mary Chubb.
Along with the three sisters, Nancy, Anna, and Jane, the eight Chubb brothers, William, Henry, John, Thomas, Jacob, Isaac, Nicholas, and George are buried here at the cemetery. Isaac, who records show was a blacksmith by trade, was the last of the siblings to be buried here in 1934.
His grave lies next to that of his wife Amanda. “He was the postman in Chubbtown,” Whatley pointed out as we walked in between the graves. The eight brothers are credited with starting Chubbtown by buying land piece by piece, year by year. The family-owned land in North Carolina and sold in 1830 before traveling further south.
Whatley wrote in chapter four of “The Chubbs”:
“I heard the story from my mother that the Chubb family came from North Carolina to Georgia in a covered wagon. In my young days, I imagined this loving Black family moving southward all alone. As I grew older, it became very evident that the image I had of this move was not realistic and did not occur during the antebellum time. Free Blacks had no guarantee that they would not be enslaved again.”
More than likely the Chubbs came south to Georgia in wagons that were not necessarily covered by cotton cloth and held upright by steel bars but rather the family was covered by the grace of God during the dark of night.
The eight sons of Issac and Mary would go on to accrue land in a major way. Kenneth Jones, a family cousin, wrote an unpublished book, “The Chubbs of Chubbtown” (1988), that I was able to get a copy of.
The book had copies of deeds that showed Henry Chubb, second oldest of the brothers after William, purchased 120 acres for $900.00 in 1864, a year before the end of the Civil War and three years before Reconstruction. There were many other acquisitions like that during that time, something that was unheard of for Black men, particularly in the south.
To my immediate left lay John W. Ware, Aug. 14, 1941-May 19, 1984. Esau Bray, the grandson of John Chubb, and his wife Mary Alice are buried under a huge pine tree not too far away. Just below them lay Elbert Bray and Elvira Chubb Bray. To their right Alfred Chubb and Clemmie Sams, Whatley’s parents.
She’s named after her grandmother, and when I asked why she thinks the family cemetery is an important piece of the Chubbtown story Whatley said, “One reason is the respect for your ancestors, the reason for your being. Cemeteries can tell a story within themselves and it helps us to preserve the history also.”
The children of Isaac and Mary Chubb, the future of the family, would have to find a way to create their own legacy in a land that was anything but kind to Blacks, let alone Blacks with plans to own property, build wealth and leave something behind for generations to come.
Not in their wildest dreams would they imagine ancestors like Whatley, Sams and Freeman, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio but spent some time during her high school years back in Floyd County and has since returned and built a home in Chubbtown, on land her forefathers owned and cultivated.
“This is home,” said Freeman, 66, on our walk back to Whatley’s car. Her winter hat and mask nearly covered her entire face. “To me this will always be home.”
Sams, 73, a short, quiet man that returned home to Floyd County a few years ago after decades of being a teacher in Chatham County and most recently in Memphis, Tennessee before retiring, added, “To be here, it’s just a good feeling.” His grandparents rest in the family cemetery. “To be able to walk through here and get strength from how far the Lord brought us is a good feeling.”
The Chubb Cemetery Memorial program started in 1988, takes place every fourth Sunday of April and during a more normal, less infectious time can have hundreds of Chubbs in town to help Whatley’s brother Demetrius Bray manage and upkeep the final resting place of their ancestors.
That and the annual homecoming celebration, which takes place the second Sunday every August, are the two times the family gets together en mass on land their family still owns today. There’s a lot less of it than there once was.
Down Lyons Bridge Road across Big Cedar Creek
Leaving the cemetery you have to cross a tiny bridge barely big enough for two cars to simultaneously cross and pass a small sign that reads, “Georgia Bulldogs fans only,” in order to get into the heart of Cave Springs, population 1,128, southwest of Rome, the county seat.
Our plan to have lunch after a long day of exploring Chubbtown would have to take us into town, there wasn’t any other place to eat. Whatley drove, she knows the backroads of Cave Springs like the back of her hand.
As a child, she and Sam rode the school bus down these same roads to E.S. Brown Elementary School in Cave Spring and to Main High School. Knowing exactly where she was going Whatley drove fast despite the lack of space, I, seated in the passenger seat, thought about the Chubbs allowing me to be buried in Chubb Cemetery following the retrieval of our bodies after a fiery crash. “If you think Sister drives fast you should have a road with her mama,” joked Freeman. “
“Yeah,” agreed Whatley. “We used to call mama ‘One Speed,’”. Apparently, that one speed was fast.
Mama was Elvira Chubb Bray Stone, 97 years old when she passed away in 2017. She was the family historian, record-keeper, Sunday school teacher, and an educator by profession.
Bray Stone taught school in the mid’s ’40s and retired in 1979. Whatley, who will have been married to her husband Melvin Whatley for 50 years this June, took the mantle of family historian whenever Chubb’s father Henry came calling for help with providing the information television producers and magazine writers needed in order to tell their stories.
“I want to make sure the role (of the family historian) is carried out and that my family knows their history,” said Whatley who is also the co-author along with Ron Knorr of “The Segregated Georgia School for the Deaf: 1882-1975” (2015). “My mother had so much valuable information to share.”
In a trunk at her parents’ house, there were records and photos that better explained the Chubb family lineage and property holdings.
Whatley, who holds degrees from Clark Atlanta University, and Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. from Emory University, had little idea how much land her family truly owned until she started doing the research that led to her writing “The Chubbs.”
“Making family connections has always been important in our family and the more we know about the historical aspects the better,” Whatley said. “I share that history when I can.”
On our way into town, while driving down Chubb Road, Whatley and Freeman pointed out property the family still owned. There was still plenty of it, thus the existence of Chubbtown, but as I looked out of the window I noticed a beautiful mass of land, the Lyons Bridge Farm, with cattle grazing on emerald green grass and separated by wooden fences that seemed to stretch the entire length of the road.
Was that part of the Chubb land tally at some point?
For the Chubb family and the other families of Chubbtown; the Browns, the Sams, Washingtons, and Witchers, who at the height of their powers co-owned some 2,500 acres of land in Floyd County, that farm was a piece of the pie. Keyword: was.
That land, and more than a third of the land owned by the family, was sold throughout the years, a mixture of younger members not wanting to remain in Floyd County choosing instead to move to cities like Rome, Cedartown, and all points north, and not respecting the value of land compared to the money one can make from selling it off piece by piece.
It is something Whatley says remains a sore point for members of the family. It is also a key reason why the land, cemetery and family church are so revered.
They are proof that the American dream exists the same way a child’s success is a sign of a job well done for parents and grandparents.
“There are definitely regrets from family members about selling the property,” said Whatley who currently lives in Mableton, but still owns property in Chubbtown.
She and her husband own the property in front of the family church, the property they had to buy back from a white family in order to secure the existence of the church long after they are gone.
“In order to help us progress and not recreate the errors of the past we need to know the successes and the failures,” Whatley said.
There has been talking of Nick, who is currently the starting running back for the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League, buying property near Chubbtown one day and other family members looking to do the same.
Whatley continued, “Without understanding your past and from where you have come, a void can be created in one’s life.”
In 1864, near the close of the Civil War, General Tecumseh Sherman’s Union Army marched through Floyd County, and upon finding Chubbtown, a free Black town, the story goes that Sherman and his soldiers spared the town the same fate of many other southern cities like Atlanta.
Minus a few hogs according to a claim filed by Allen Wicthcer, a brother-in-law, there was little if any damage done.
The old family tale was documented in a 1988 story in the Rome News-Tribune and mentioned during an ESPN college football taping of a story on then-University of Georgia junior Nick Chubb.
Lyons Bridge Farm currently sits on 1,100 acres of what is appropriately described as “rolling pasture” according to the company’s website.
The company raises Black Angus and Polled Hereford cattle as well as Landrace and Yorkshire cross pigs. The latter is kept on a strict corn-based diet to better maintain a fat balance. The former are grass-fed and antibiotic-free according to the site.
Twice a month during the summers locals and out-of-towners alike come to the farmhouse to enjoy the farmer’s market. Thousands of dollars are exchanged, not to mention the fortune that is being made by the company.
We arrived at a small restaurant, A&B Creekside Restaurant, that has a beautiful view of Little Cedar Creek, which runs below it.
The flat-screen television on the wall inside of the dining room had the Kansas City Chiefs/Cleveland Browns playoff game on.
The more public face of the Chubb family rushed for a short gain early in the first quarter of what would ultimately be a close game and loss for the Browns. From where we sat only I could see the television.
“Henry would have been here to meet you today but he’s in Kansas City at the game today,” said Whatley of Chubb’s father. Four Chubbs; Nick’s cousins Brandon and Bradley, and father Aaron, have played in the National Football League or on the Division I level.
Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church
The strength of the Black family has always had origins within the church. The Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church sits up on a hill surrounded by towering pines. I missed it the first time I drove into Chubbtown.
Built in 1870, the church remains a focal point for the family. This is where the family met for the 2018 family reunion and remains along with the cemetery two pieces of Chubb family property that has exclusively been owned and operated by the family.
Chubb Chapel United Methodist is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is an 11 a.m. service on the second and fourth Sunday of the month and bible study at 10 a.m. on those days. The congregation is small, but not solely made up of family members.
Whatley told me a story of an elderly woman arriving for service one Sunday and deciding this was going to be the church home for her.
She had never heard of the Chubb family and knew nothing of their history. She had recently moved into the area, and sort of the same way the Chubbs were drawn to this land nearly 200 years ago, made a home for faith.
The church is white with cement steps that Henry Chubb, Nick’s dad, rebuilt after years of wear and tear. The floors of the church and the underpinning of the building were also built by Henry Chubb, Nick’s great grandfather.
When I walked in through the side doors the first thing I noticed was the old bench in the lobby. It has screws that I don’t recognize, probably because they are from the late 19th century.
“Those are the original screws,” Whatley pointed out to me. “This is the same bench Elliott and I would sit on during service when we were kids.”
Chubb Chapel United Methodist is old, and cold at the moment. The heat was not working and one could imagine how a church service could be tough to get through during the winters.
The church sits on acreage in Floyd County Lot number 1061, originally owned by the Chubb brothers and sold to the nine trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Chubbtown.
Whatley examined all nine trustees in her book, one of whom was Henry Chubb, the second oldest of the eight brothers, and universally known as the family leader. Another of the trustees was Andrew W. Caldwell, a white religious activist from Rome that had a strong connection to the Methodist Episcopal church. Chubb Chapel United Methodist Church was and remains inclusive.
Whatley ushered me into the church hall, a low-slung free-standing building off to the side of the church, in order to show me family heirlooms and important documents from the late 19th century.
Safely covered in plastic sleeves, green ledgers with the words ‘The Ideal Quarterly Conference Record’ were displayed on long white folding tables. The books were her grandmother’s and according to Whatley had notes on all monies spent by the church.
A Holy Communion set from 1882, which includes a pitcher, serving silver and a pair of goblets for the wine were also on display. The deed for the 1870 sale of the land for the church was kept safe in a white binder as were other priceless family heirlooms of documentation.
The story of the Chubb family can easily be substituted for the story of America. A tale of perseverance and pain, wins and losses, and of course faith.
“I think it would be a great American story,” said Whatley, a day after the historic inauguration of Vice-President Kamala Harris, the first female to hold office, and the swearing-in of the first Black man to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate, Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock took place in the nation’s capital.
“I would definitely call our family story an American story.”