By: Helen Smoot Arnold
The first Smoot Family Reunion was held September 1929 in Madison, (Boone County), West Virginia, at the home of Joseph W. Smoot, the eldest son of Milton and Sarah Chapman Smoot. Both Milton and Sarah were born in slavery in Tazewell County, Virginia. Some say that Milton’s name was Milton Little, but because he didn’t like or hated his slave masters’ name, he took the name Smoot. Milton and Sarah were married in 1863, two years before emancipation, which raises the question, when were they free?
Sarah was born in 1849 and Milton was born in 1845 and died in 1924, five years before the first reunion. They came to Boone County in 1871, and settled on Workman’s Branch. Milton and Sarah purchased 119 acres on Ponds Fork of Little Coal River on Price Hill. Parts of these acres remain in the family today. Milton operated a sawmill, a gristmill and sold lumber and timber as far away as St. Albans, WV. Milton was 28 and Sarah was 22 when they came to WV. They had nine children, two daughters, Dora and Francis, and seven sons, Joseph, Isaac, Henry, Andrew Jefferson, Thomas, John Reese and Elbert. These sons and daughters met with their families for a picnic at the home of Joseph to seal and sanctify family ties. It was at this reunion that John Reese, a minister, picked up a stick and broke it, noting to the others how easily it could be broken. He picked up another and broke it, then another until he picked up a bundle and couldn’t break them. With this bundle, he demonstrated the importance and the strength of family, he demonstrated togetherness, a family sticking together. John Reese stressed that we pass this value of importance of family, to our families. Milton and Sarah had a close knit, loving and caring family. From this memory, the “bundle of sticks” was incorporated in the design of the tee-shirts by Demetrius Witcher, wife of Kevin, great daughter-in-law of Matt and Rosa Smoot, Henry Smoot being the father of Matt. Milton and Sarah generated a family, a family of Bricklayers, Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, Artists, Entrepreneurs, Dentists, CEO’s, Professional Baseball players and many other occupations The Smoot Family Reunion has remained throughout many wars, Brown vs. The Board of Education, the Civil Rights Movements and many Presidents. Only once has the reunion been cancelled, and it was cancelled because of the Polio Epidemic. It has been 141 years since the marriage union of Milton and Sarah and the spirit lives in the descendants, the traditions of togetherness. We now look to the 75th Annual Smoot Reunion with faith and confidence in God. And in the year of 2004, we can still say, “We Are Family and There is Strength in Unity”.