Digging up Beans with Cousin Richard

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Who doesn’t know Richard Bean? Not the quiet Richard A. Bean who is my youngest brother. I’m talking about Richard L. Bean, who runs the county juvenile detention center (which is named for him); the Richard Bean who is married to longtime circuit court clerk Lillian Bean; the Richard Bean who knows just about everything that’s happened in local government for the last 50 years and is willing to share his memories with most anyone who asks about them.

I’ve known Richard for quite some time – as has any local reporter – and we used to joke about our last name and speculate about being kin. Recently, we got serious about it and found out that we have the same great-great-great grandfather – John (no middle initial) Bean, a veteran of the War of 1812 who owned a big farm in the Ebenezer community ­­­­­– I think that makes us fourth cousins.

We talked some more, and realized that we’d both had trouble figuring out where he’d come from, although we agreed that it would help if he had a recorded middle initial and if there hadn’t been so many Johns in the family. Both Richard and I had grown up hearing that we were descended from William and Lydia Russell Bean, parents of Russell Bean, the first settler child born in the territory that became Tennessee. But neither of us knew how our 3X great grandfather had landed in Knox County, or who his parents were. So we hired a genealogist to help us untangle the roots. I also bought a DNA test in hopes of gleaning backup information.

“Everybody knew I was kin to the first white child born in Tennessee, and people sent me different stuff through the years, so I just took it for granted,” Richard said. He recalls that an elderly aunt, Lillian Russell Bean, was named for her direct ancestor Russell Bean.

Richard is a history buff, and, like many Beans I’ve known, is a born storyteller (you probably know about my brother John “LeRoy Mercer” Bean, right?) so this has been a fun project. Turns out that Richard has visited the birthplace of every president he could get near to, and has pictures and stories to prove it, including a photo of him recreating Richard Nixon’s farewell by standing in front of a presidential helicopter flashing a peace sign. He was an audience of one at for a movie about the life of Andrew Johnson at Johnson’s tailor shop in Greeneville, and has visited many more such shrines. He says his favorite presidential pilgrimage was to the home of Lyndon Johnson.

“Landslide Lyndon – he’s got a five-lane highway both ways, with no cars on it. When I went it seemed like I was the only car on it, coming and going.”

But Richard’s not just interested in celebrities – he’s interested in everybody and you’d better have your hair done before you visit his office because nobody gets out of there without posing with the superintendent. And he displays all the photos on his walls.

“I’ve got walls and walls of pictures. So many you wouldn’t believe it. And I got a dead wall here, too, where I move people over to when they die – Howard Pinkston, Cas Walker, Pappy Beaver – I’m about the only one that knows where they all are.”

Seeing the pope

And if you think of it, ask him about the time he helped Kyle Testerman bust the garbage strike and the time he borrowed two brand new pink Fords from the Hull Dobbs dealership to take a gang to the Kentucky Derby. Or, better still, ask about the time he and Aubrey Jenkins went to see the pope:

“He said he was getting a gang up to go to South Carolina to see the pope, and I was the only one that showed up, so I drove his Caddy over the mountains to see the pope – everybody knows I’m a Baptist, and there I was, sitting on the 50-yard line.”

(Note: Attorney Dennis Francis vouches for this story, because he got a call from Mr. Aubrey one Sunday night informing him that he and Richard Bean were in Columbia, South Carolina, seeing the pope. Jenkins instructed Francis to go to criminal court the next morning and get a postponement for a client whose name Jenkins couldn’t remember. When Francis, who was not long out of law school, approached prosecutor Jo Helm about a postponement for the unnamed Jenkins client, she informed him that the client was charged with first-degree murder and the attorney general had forbidden any more delays. But she was undercut by Judge George Balitsaris, who asked Francis to approach the bench and informed him, in a stage whisper, that the trial would be have to be postponed because “Mr. Aubrey is in South Carolina meeting with the pope.”)

Yes, we’re kin

But I digress. Back to the search for the missing genealogical links.

During a recent conversation, Richard and I learned that his grandfather William probably walked to Cumberland Gap, Kentucky, to enlist in the Union Army in April 1862, along with other Bean men (including my great-grandfather John Alexander Bean, John Alexander’s father Henry A. Bean, who was William’s brother, and William’s nephew William Camp Bean).

Richard says he thinks of that when he makes the two-hour drive up I-75 to Lillian’s home place in Rose Hill, Virginia. East Tennessee was occupied by the Confederates at that time, and neither Richard nor I can imagine attempting to walk so far through that wild, rugged terrain, even without the danger of being captured and hanged by Confederate dragoons patrolling the roads for traitors. William Camp Bean died of measles the following year and is buried in a federal cemetery in Nashville.

William Rule wrote the best account about the hardships endured Knox County’s loyal Union soldiers I have found here.

And finally, our mission to figure this stuff out isn’t complete yet, but so far, we’ve managed to sort out some of the John Beans. Our 4X great grandfather’s father’s name is John B. Bean and his wife is Sarah Jordan, who apparently died in childbirth. They were married in Greeneville and named two of their sons John. One was John Hogan Bean. The other was our Knox County ancestor John (no initial) Bean.

So far, my DNA test has produced multiple matches with documented descendants of Sarah Jordan. Our genealogist says that John (no middle initial) Bean’s records (his birthplace is listed variously as Wythe County, Virginia, and Sullivan County, Tennessee) are a mess because he was actually born in 1793 within the former boundaries of the lost State of Franklin, which seceded from North Carolina, but only lasted four years and became an orphan state after the Tar Heels declined to take it back until it was absorbed by the newly-admitted state of Tennessee in 1796.

The most reliable sources we can find say that John B. Bean’s parents were Lydia Russell and Captain Billy Bean, and that John B. was a veteran of the Battle of Kings Mountain, along with a passel of other Bean and Russell relatives. Other accounts say that John B. was the son of John Bean and Elizabeth Henderson, who lived and died in Buncombe County, North Carolina. These accounts are suspect, since they claim that this wedding took place when John Bean was 10 years old and because the location is inconsistent with the Bean family’s tendency to migrate south and west.

There are a few other kinks, but we think we’ve just about got it figured out, and that the stories we grew up on are accurate. I asked Richard, whose daddy, Benjamin Harrison Bean, was a Baptist preacher, what he thinks about our brave, warlike ancestors.

“There’s some good ones and some bad ones. Looks like they liked to drink and fight and have children,” he said. “They named a lot of them John.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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