The Melson Ridge area of Adair County was once called Barger Ridge, so named for the family that settled very early in that vicinity, but is long extinct here. Melson Ridge, as it came to be known, became home to the descendants of later settlers from Russell County, who bought farms in the mid-1850s, and their descendants are still living here today. William and James J. Melson, brothers, were the patriarchs of this family. James J., commonly called “J.J.” was twice married and had children from both unions. A slave owner, he fought with the Union Army during the Civil War Between. Though he held slaves, he believed in the sanctity of the nation as a whole.
James J. served in Company G, 12th Kentucky Infantry and often stopped off at his home for rest and food with fellow soldiers while his regiment was on the move. The family cook was an older black woman named Mariah. Family lore says she read tea leaves, which was always an adventure of sorts for the young people, who swore she was always correct in her readings. During the war she would read the leaves and say, “The Massa will be here tonight.” And with no other confirmation, she would start cooking for a crowd. Sure enough, every time she made the prediction J.J. and a group of men would ride up, sometime in the evening or night. On these occasions shelled corn would be put out in a trough for the horses.
The Melsons were my relatives, both by blood and marriage. Noma Cape, sister of our maternal grandfather, married Haskin Melson, son of old. J.J. by his second wife, Agnes Higgenbottom, better known as “Granny Agg” to my mother and her sisters. Haskin and Noma were “Aunt Nomie” and “Uncle Hawk.” They did not have children of their own to grow to adulthood, so doted on their nieces.
My own aunt, Ella, the eldest of her family, often spent time with the Melsons on their farm, which was located only about one-half mile from her parents. She often told of three ghostly encounters from her youth.
Ella stated that on several occasions when she and her sisters and/or cousins would be spending the night with their Aunt Nomie and Uncle Hawk, just after dark, and after supper, an audible chewing or grinding sound could be heard in the yard in front of the house. They believed it was the sound of the Civil War soldiers’ horses eating corn from troughs that had long ago been removed from the yard.
She also told of an incident that happened to her and Aunt Nomie. She was a young teen at the time and Aunt Nomie had taken her upstairs in the old log house to find some particular item, not now remembered. While in the big room upstairs, they looked at several items that had belonged to the then long-deceased Melsons. One of these items was a huge ironstone meat platter, one that could hold an entire country ham, and had been used many years by the family.
When they descended the stairs to the main floor, the stair door was closed and would not open. As was the fashion at the time, there was no door knob, but a wooden “button” with a nail through the center and nailed into the door frame. This button could be turned to prevent the outward swinging door from opening when it was supposed to be closed. They had left it open when going up and no one else was in the house that day—Uncle Hawk was in a far field hoeing corn. Aunt Nomie said they should go back up to the top of the stairs and sit a while, which they did. After a few minutes they went back down and the door was open. Later, Aunt Nomie said she believed that Granny Agg didn’t like them looking at her things and locked them in to show her displeasure.
The third incident known to have taken place in the Melson house is known to us only from the story told by Aunt Nomie. She told that when Granny Agg was older, and after the former slave Mariah had died, she intended to use the colorful aprons of Mariah to make a saddle blanket for herself. The story goes that she had stitched several of the aprons together and then set up her quilting frame to quilt the saddle blanket. Once she started to work at quilting, the big frame would rock back and forth of its own accord. At first she didn’t pay much attention, but the action continued. Fearful, she finally unraveled her stitches, folded the aprons and put them back in the drawer from which she had taken them, stating flatly that Mariah didn’t want her aprons used for such a purpose and was showing her dissatisfaction.
The Melsons mentioned above, as well as Mariah, who remained the rest of her life in the household, are buried in the old Melson Graveyard.
Mike Watson, 2017