Researching family history can be like falling down a rabbit hole. All of a sudden you feel like Alice in a game of Where’s Waldo? You piece together what you know, and search for the unknown. All the while knowing that two different documents could mean two different paths. Nonetheless, you persist. For you are who you are because they were who they were.
It all started with a small piece of paper stuck in the drawer of an old Army desk. It was the top corner of what looked like a handwritten note to a loved one, dated August 8, 1940. Who was this for? Who was this from? While this letter was more than likely not intended for myself, it sparked my curiosity. And down the rabbit hole I went.
Out of my four grandparents, I knew the least about my paternal grandmother, Mary Ineva Leatherwood (22 Sep 1936 – 13 Dec 1990). Thus, I started on the Leatherwood family tree first. As an ironic twist of foreshadowing, if creativity is an inherited trait, I would have inherited it from her.
As I researched, I was shocked at the amount of J. Leatherwood’s. Whether the first name was John, Jasper, or any other J-name; every generation had at least one J. Leatherwood. Coincidentally, my first name also starts with the letter J.
While many of my ancestors fascinate me, I gravitated towards John B Leatherwood (2 Jan 1779 – 3 Oct 1846). Arthur’s History of Western NC states: “[John B. Leatherwood’s] home was a favorite place for visitors, as abundant hospitality awaited everyone who came. He owned a good farm, plenty of land, and grew on his place nearly everything needed for his family. He was a man of wealth and much influence in the community, well known for his industry, thrift, fine hounds, fine cattle and 'good old timey apple brandy,' a good citizen who lived to a good old age.” Since he was not the eldest son, what he had, he earned. By all accounts, he was a determined man who was loyal to his family. He worked hard for every opportunity, and never let a chance to better himself slip away.
With this new information and sense of pride, the stars started to align. It was a typical Wednesday, and I was eating my lunch on a bench tucked into Bicentennial Park. Once I finished, I pulled out a small art project I had been working on. I had just started experimenting with different ways to draw on live-edge wood rounds. “Well I’ll be damned! That’s one heck of a piece you got right there. Is that sourwood?”, said a deep voice with a southern drawl. Startled, I quickly looked up and stuttered, “Sure is. I saved it after the big storm last month.” With a puzzled look the man asked, “You saved it?” I then went on a very unorganized ramble about how I enjoy hiking, have been finding recently fallen limbs, and drawing on them. Then, I showed him several of the pieces I recently completed.
By some luck of the Universe, he was fascinated & impressed; as well as remodeling his home. Fast forward through many e-mails, sketches, and hikes; I had my first commissioned piece. And not just any commissioned piece, but a piece that could potentially fund a secret life-long passion. About 95% of those who knew me had no clue I had this passion. My artwork had always been my ‘dirty little secret’ due to fear of judgement & failure. In a simpler time, what John B Leatherwood had, he earned. He seized opportunities and pursued his passions. The stars had aligned, and my opportunity was here.
Founded on family, adventure, and the extraordinary; J. Leatherwood Trading was formed.