When my mother was a child she often heard her Grandpa Tom say he was going to hell, and she always wondered what bad thing he had done for him to say that. While doing research and talking with cousins I began to understand and I wrote this story about it. At the end of the story you can view the source-cited version, if you're interested.
Just a few generations ago an illegitimate birth brought shame to most families. For some families it still does. The people around such an event can beat us down or raise us up depending on their attitudes and cultural backgrounds. Some of the innocents can be crushed by the circumstances of their birth, but others overcome them and even seem to prosper in spite of their disadvantaged beginnings.
Thomas Clingman Rhodes was born in the mountains of western North Carolina in 1869. Thomas was born into his grandparents' household when his unwed mother was sixteen.
When Thomas was five, his mother, Mary Rhodes, married George Walton Lyda, and the couple moved to a home nearby, but Thomas remained with his grandparents, Eli and Catherine Rhodes.
Thomas likely learned farming from his grandfather. As a young man, he became a leader in the farming community, despite not having attended school before the age of ten. By some good fortune or love and kindness he learned to read and write and became the secretary for the Liberty Agricultural Club. Farming and agriculture were a big part of his social life, and he participated in the county fairs and farm competitions.
Apart from farming, Thomas worked as an overseer of roadworks in the community of Edneyville where he and his family lived. In his work, he promoted his ideas for making better use of taxpayer money, and his peers supported him.
Despite being an active and well-regarded member of the community, in private Tom often felt the weight of his unfortunate birth. Even though his grandparents raised him and provided well for him, other relatives treated him less kindly, either due to their religious beliefs or from an unloving nature. Some people around him told him that he could not be saved in church because he was a bastard child, and it seems he believed it. He often said he was going to Hell, likely because of his illegitimacy.
At the age of 24, Thomas married Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, and they started a family.
Someone in his life must have given him hope, perhaps his grandparents and probably his wife, because he and Mary raised a large and beautiful family.
If you're interested, you can also read the source-cited version of Grandpa Tom's Story (a pdf).