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Governor Rye and Harvey Graybeal, J.P.

My great grandfather, Harvey Graybeal (we kids called him Poppa), was a quiet, unassuming man. He never talked very much, at least as far as I can recall from my childhood days when I was around him. Rather, he listened. And sometimes he chuckled softly at something someone else had said.

Poppa and Momma (Lula Belle Weaver Graybeal) lived about half a mile from us. Their property was sandwiched on either side of Fort Sumter Road and between Hill and Salem Church Roads.


Daddy referred to Poppa as a jack of all trades. The newspaper article reporting Poppa's death described him as "one of North Knox County's most colorful oldtimers" and "a stock dealer, farmer, blacksmith, justice of the peace, fox hunter, sawmill operator and country store keeper." I guess Daddy was right!


I think Daddy remembered him best as a storekeeper. He operated a country store at the corner of Hill and Fort Sumter Roads, across Hill Road from the two-roomed Fort Sumter School, where Daddy attended in grades 1-8. (Upon completing eighth grade, Daddy attended Halls High School.) My grandfather, Blaine Peterson, ran the store for Poppa for a while, during which Daddy lived upstairs over the store, but he spent much of his time at Poppa's house nearby. Daddy often recounted stories about life at the store, about the school, and of going fox hunting with Poppa, He also told us kids about some of the adventures he and his cousin Kyle Arnold had while staying with Poppa and Momma Graybeal. (I've retold a few of those in my book Look Unto the Hills, which is available on Amazon.)

Poppa was not particularly tall (although as a little kid, everyone seemed tall to me). I vividly recall his yellowish-white moustache and white hair. Daddy used to tell me that Poppa's moustache was yellowish because it was stained by years of coffee drinking and tobacco chewing.

It was only after Poppa had passed and I was an adult and suddenly (and almost too late) became interested in my ancestors' lives that I began to learn more about my great grandfather.


Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned about Poppa was that he had been the local justice of the peace, a member of the law enforcement community. I had known that fact by hearsay, but the reality of it hit me when I was going through a collection of my father's keepsakes and opened an envelope to discover the document shown here.


Studying the document, I noticed several important details. First, the election for Justice of the Peace was held in Knox County, Tennessee, on August 1, 1918, at the height of America's involvement in World War I. Sergeant Alvin C. York had not yet gained fame and honor; that would not occur until October. And the election was held three months before the end of the war. Poppa was 38 years old.


Second, Poppa was to begin serving as Justice of the Peace one month from the date of the election, on September 1. The term would run for a period of six years, until September 1, 1924.

Third, the document is signed by both the governor of the state, Tom C. Rye (shown here), and the Secretary of State.


Rye, a Democrat, served two terms as Tennessee's 32nd governor, his time in office running from 1915 until 1919. He did not run for a third term, choosing rather to run for the U.S. Senate. Incidentally, he lost that race.


As governor, Rye ardently supported Prohibition, helped reunify a badly divided Democrat Party, and vigorously enforced the "Ouster Law," a measure that was designed to curb the power of political boss and Memphis mayor E.H. Crump, who was as infamous in Tennessee politics as Boss Tweed had been in New York city. (I often heard my father refer to "the Crump machine" but knew little about it.) The "Ouster Law" provided for the removal from office of public officials who proved to be incompetent or who were unwilling to enforce the laws. It was aimed primarily at Boss Crump, who as mayor refused to enforce prohibition.


Rye also championed automobile registration, a state highway tax (eventually matched by federal funds), the chartering of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (modern Tennessee Technological University), a primary system for selecting candidates for state offices, and construction of the Dixie Highway, which connected Florida with the states of the Midwest. It still exists today and is known by various U.S. Route numbers (U.S. 25 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Greenville, S.C.) running through ten states from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.


I never knew Poppa's political affiliations. I don't remember his ever talking about politics. The fact that a Democrat governor commissioned him as Justice of the Peace tells us nothing about Poppa's politics since it was merely an acknowledgement of the result of an election. (Perhaps some of my better informed relatives who read this can supply information on the subject of Poppa's politics. Hint! Hint!)


Sometimes the lives of those ancestors who talked the least actually have the most to be told, helping to make the family story complete.

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