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COTTON Mary Etta

COTTON Mary Etta

Female 1871 - 1909  (37 years)

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  • Name COTTON Mary Etta 
    Born 30 May 1871 
    Gender Female 
    Died 11 May 1909  [1
    Buried Surry, Surry County, VA (Oakwood Cemetary) Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Etta was raised by Edmonia Collier and her husband John Harris, They are buried in Oakwood Cemetey, Surry, VA.
    Person ID I9760  Booth Family
    Last Modified 16 Nov 2017 

    Father COTTON William Madison,   b. 3 Jun 1826, Sussex County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Jun 1883, Surry, Surry County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 57 years) 
    Mother MADDERA Valeria Ann,   b. 5 Oct 1848, Spring Grove, Surry County, Va Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 25 Jun 1950, Surry, Surry County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 101 years) 
    Married 19 Dec 1866  Dendron, Surry, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • His daughter, Valeria Ann, barely 18, a year after the war ended, married his first sergeant in Company K, William M. Cotton, whose story we have already told. [2]
    Family ID F1039  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family JOHNSON Sidney Thomas,   b. 20 Jan 1868,   d. 4 Sep 1942, Claremont, Surry County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 74 years) 
    Married 28 Jan 1892  Dendron, Surry, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    • This wedding announcement appeared in the newspaper in Waverly, Virginia on February 8,1892,

      Surry Wedding-------A Former Resident of Waverly Takes a Life Partner
      Union Church, Surry Co., was the scene of a beautiful marriage on the afternoon of Jan, 28 last. Mr. S. T. Johnson, a very popular young farmer, and Miss Mary Etta Cotton were the contracting parties. Mess. V. W. Emory, R.W. Spratley, Floyd I. Johnson, H. V. Faison, B. F. Wrenn, J. H. Rogers; and Misses K. T. Bishop, E. B. Emory, M. E. Johnson, Jennie Cotton, Mattie R. Atkinson, L. F. Faison, were waiters. The services were beautifully conducted by Rev. M. W. Butler. The bride was handsomely attired in a blue ladies cloth dress, tan kid gloves and hat to match costume. The bridal couple, with the waiters, repaired to the home of the groom's father, where a grand reception was given. We extend our best wishes and heart-felt congratulations to the newly married ones, and trust that that beautiful day was emblematical of their future life.


      The newlyweds, Sidney T. Johnson and M. Etta Cotton were my grandparents. Mary Etta Cotton, or Etta, as she preferred to be called, was 20 years old. Sidney had just turned 24. Two years before they were married, Sidney had bought the Marl Spring Farm, adjacent to the Mill Tract farm on which the Cotton girls lived. The manor house had burned down some time before, leaving only the little cabin in which the laundry was done. The young couple moved into the little laundry outbuilding while Sidney planned the new home he would build for his family on the ruins of the former manor house. Their first child, Ruth Olga, was bora in the tiny cabin in 1893. When my mother, Bertha May, was bom in 1895 there were two bedrooms, a dining room and a parlor completed. Four more children; MyraBell (1897), Albert Sidney (1899), Myrtie Lee (1902) and little HughThomas (1905), were bom in regular succession. All were healthy, lively children. Then disaster struck. Etta contracted Bright's disease, a term used to describe any one of several kidney problems which resulted in albumin in the urine. After a protracted illness lasting nearly two years, she died on May 11, 1909. She was not quite 38 years old. Her youngest child, Hugh, was only three years old. Sidney buried her in a small fenced-in enclosure under an apple tree in the orchard. I remember visiting her grave with my mother as a small child. Many years later, her remains were moved to Oakwood Cemetery in Surry Courthouse, and rest beside those of Sidney and his second wife Ruth Ella Rogers.


      When Sidney T. Johnson bought the Marl Spring Farm from Eddie James in 1890, he probably took little notice of the family that lived on the adjacent farm, called the Mill Tract, which had once been the western half of a original plantation. It was then inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. William King and her three daughters Sarah Virginia Cotton, Cornelia Ann Cotton and Mary Etta Cotton. The father of the girls was William Madison Cotton, brother of Dr. Gary Cotton, who, we believe, before the Civil War, had been proprietor of the entire plantation. After the War, Dr. Cotton removed to Texas, and left his brother William in possession of the western half of the palntation, the Mill Tract. William Cotton died in 1883, partly as a result of the hardships suffered in four years at war,. Etta was 12 years old when he died. Her mother, Valeria, five years later, married another veteran of the Civil War, William King, who came to live with them. There were no additional children born from the marriage. More about this later.

      We have a letter written to Sidney by his friend Vaiden W. Emory on May 5,1889 when he was 21 years old.
      Williamsburg, Va. May 5,1889
      Dear Sidney,
      I received your letter of last week, and was very glad to hear from my old friend, but was sorry to know that you had hurt yourself. I hope you mil be solid as ever, and love your girl I suppose you feel quite badly, as your girl has knickedyou. I hardly know what to think of it, except that boys will be foolish after girls. I forgot myself, you are a man now, and feel at home with the ladies. You will feel more like a man when you begin to say, my dear, loving, sweet and affectionate Mary Jane or Susan. My girl is sweet as a peach, and looks like a candy doll. I was to see her not many days ago, and she said or told me, that I am very bashful, but she loves me the more for it. She is a daisy. I will tell you about her when I come home. I can do nothing scarcely, but think of her. Keep up your spirits.
      We had holiday the 30th of April, and the first baseball club of the college played against the first nine of the town. The college nine beat 14 to 10.
      We are going to Jamestown on the 13th of May. There will be a big crowd there that day. Speeches will be made by two students, and some of the professors. 1 anticipate a fine time. I wish you could be there. Our final celebration of the two societies will come on the 3rd of July. We will have a debate, declamations, or orations, and essayists. Col. Lamb of Norfolk will be our orator for the occasion. Three medals will be given by the societies to the best debater, orator and essayist. The final examinations will commence about the 1 Oth of June. I forgot one thing. On the 4th of July distinctions will be given to students, followed by a speechfrom Mr. Mumford, a member of the board of visitors. We will have a ball that night, and wind up the session with a jubilee. I would be glad to have you here, if it is possible for you to come. I will leave for home on the 5th, nothing preventing. It has been very rainy for the last month. Hope you are not sick and well. Give my best regards to all the family and to your girl. Write soon. May you ever live, and never die, but rest on a mountain that can't be seen by a Jay bird's eye.
      Your old friend, V.W.E.
      What can we learn from V. W. Emory's letter? First, Sidney was still working in the store in Waverly at the time. At least one of his friends was able to attend William and Mary College, but Sidney was either unable to afford it or not inclined to attend. College graduates were a rarity in those days. At age 21 chasing girls was clearly a very important part of his life. The girl friend referred to in the letter may, or may not have been, M Etta Cotton, who was 18 at the time.

      Much more illuminating is a letter from M. E. Cotton a year later.

      April 3,1891 Mr. Johnson
      Kind Friend
      I have just received your kind letters they come safte to hand the first day of April, and nothing could of gave me more pleasure than to hear from you. When I got them I thought they were April fools but I soon found out they were not, but I was surprised to see that it was from you for I had been down here so long I had begin to think that you had forgotten me, but I am glad to know that you have not. I got a letter from Ma that day too, but I am not going to answer it now. I will answer it next week. You talked as if you thought that I would not answer your letter if I got it, but whenever I tell you any thing you may just believe it.
      You asked me about the song ballad. I have not wrote it of yet but 1 will write it off and send it to you the next time I write. I have not forgot to sing Way Down Upon the Swany River. I sing it and I think of the day we come from Sussex, oh what a pleasant trip I did have. I wish we could take another nice trip like that. You said something about the wide eye but I have not seen him but once since I have been down here, and that was last Sunday at Church, and just spoke to him and that was all end (?) he said to me. He would not of known me if he had not of seen me.
      Well I will now tell you what a nice time I have had this rainy weather. The Jurdon girls has been to see me and a Miss Mathews and one or too others and I have been to Church once and to spend the day at a neighbors. I have had a very nice time and I am now shelling Peanuts. It has been raining every since. I have been down here so that we could not go any where.
      You sent me too cards and asked me to accept of them as a token of your love. I will and will keep them in remembrance of you and you asked me not to forget what that little card said. I will not but I don't think you meant that. Well as is getting late and 1 have not any news to write I had as well to close my badly written letter but I will tell you what Mrs. Blackwell said You must come and she will entertain you. Well I will now say good night. This from a true friend.
      M. E. Cotton Write soon excuse such a long letter, as my pen writes and don't show this to any one bad.

      This is the only known letter from the hand of M. Etta Cotton. It is written in a neat and confident script, though the grammar indicates more enthusiasm than education behind it. Clearly, she and Sidney shared an interest in music. Etta seems to be the more accomplished of the two, though we know Sidney played the violin for dances and other occasions. The upright piano, which stood in parlor when I visited the Farm as a child, must have been Etta's, because I never heard anyone else play it. The letter gives no place of origin, but it appears to be from some place other than the farm she grew up on, which was adjacent to Sidney's newly acquired place. She may have been at a boarding school, or staying at the home of a relative. Their courtship appears to be still at an early stage. Etta seems not quite certain of how sincere Sidney's intentions are. She gives him ample reason for encouragement without going overboard about it. She writes as one would talk, using the local idiom naturally. Years later her oldest daughter, Ruth, would write similarly chatty letters, effortlessly letting you know all that was going on. From this I would deduce that she was a cheerful soul with a great capacity for friendship. She was remembered by her children as a loving woman and was greatly beloved by all who knew her.
      We have only one picture of her, probably taken at the time of her wedding. She has a lovely face. It is no wonder Sidney fell in love with her.

      There is one more letter from Sidney to Etta, written before they were married, which has survived.
      My Dearest Etta,
      You cannot imagine my grief at what I am going to tell you. It -was my intention to have told you last night but I hated to tell you so I will write to you according to promise. I have to ask your consent to put our marriage off until about the last of January owing to peanuts being so law just at this time, the prospects are that they will be worth a great deal more after Xmas. I hate very much to sell any at the present prices. But at the same time, if you are not willing to put it off I will do the best I can. I know you are a good girl and would not have me do anything to my disadvantage. I was looking forward to the time with pleasure, but owing to circumstances I think it best to postpone it until the time mentioned. Answer this this evening, and get one of the boys to bring it over here tonight after they stop work. I hope your cold has gotten better. I will be over there tomorrow night if nothing prevents. Now do not think that I want to put it off because of anything on your part, for that is certainly not the case. I love you more than ever and am not dissatisfied with my bargain. Write me a sweet little letter like the sweet little girl you are, and tell me just what you think.
      It looks as if things are working against our happiness but it will not always be so. You need not stop getting ready, because things may change and we will not have to wait as long as that.
      Do not forget that I love you better than I do my own self, and am ready to sacrifice any thing that will add to your happiness in the future.
      I remain your loving Sidney
      Dec. 15th 1891 P.S.
      Do not let any one see this letter. S.T.J.

      Everything seems to have worked out, they were married on January 28,1892, just six weeks later.
     1. JOHNSON Ruth Olga,   b. 6 Feb 1893,   d. 4 Nov 1969, Newport News, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 76 years)
     2. JOHNSON Bertha May,   b. 4 May 1895,   d. 27 Feb 1987  (Age 91 years)
     3. JOHNSON Myra Bell,   b. 18 Nov 1897,   d. Yes, date unknown
     4. JOHNSON Albert Sidney,   b. 23 Dec 1899, Dendron, Surry County VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 28 May 1982, Newport News, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 82 years)
     5. JOHNSON Myrtle Lee,   b. 1902,   d. 1971  (Age 69 years)
     6. JOHNSON Hugh Thomas,   b. 16 Oct 1905,   d. 2 Nov 1965, Jacksonville, Duval, Florida, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 60 years)
    Last Modified 16 Mar 2014 
    Family ID F3249  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Surry, Surry County, VA (Oakwood Cemetary) Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Photos
    Cotton, Mary Etta
    Cotton, Mary Etta
    1st wife of Sidney Thomas Johnson
    Marl Spring Farm
    Marl Spring Farm
    Johnson, Sidney Thomas farm

  • Sources 
    1. [S193] Tombstone (Reliability: 3).

    2. [S1212] Cotton family tree, Owner: Pat Reynolds, (Compiled and Supplied by Robert L. Bartlett of Juno Beach, FL to Pat Johnson Reynolds) (Reliability: 3).

    3. [S1099] Brenda Johnson Duckwall Notes, Brenda Johnson Duckwall Notes (Reliability: 3).