Percy Family Photo Album

From William A. Percy
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Col william alexander percy.jpg
I have a copy of a portrait of “fafa” as Uncle Will called him. The original of Colonel Percy was sold by my grandmother to Uncle Will for $1000 in 1932. The Colonel had gone to Princeton, class of 1853, and then went on like his three sons to the Law School at the University at Virginia, the dean of which was mother’s great uncle and Minor Hall was named after him. He became a very successful railroad lawyer and planter. Colonel Percy married Miss Nana Armstrong, who was the grand-daughter of James Trooper Armstrong, hero of the Indian War.

Uncle walker.jpg
Walker Percy. This is not the famous novelist who was my famous second cousin once removed. This was my father’s brother born in 1910, two years before his own father FaFa’s death. Having completed 3 years of college at Stanford he entered Stanford Law School and BA after only 1 year there. But because of the depression, although he graduated from Stanford he finished in the night law school at Memphis. Handsome carefree bachelor Walker seemed to court Michael Neil’s mother Diane but he ended up marrying however his other mistress Alma Williams a divorced high level secretary working for the Memphis Public Works department who followed Walker to new Orleans when he went there to enlist in the navy early in 1942. Rejected because of his poor eyesight Walker entered the army but there he rose quickly in the rank of major in the air force and then ended up with the rank of ambassador. In that rank he served in Montreal as the head of American official helping to write up air traffic laws for post world war 2 world. At his rank he had to campaign for Truman reelection in 1948 and became a friend of Estes Kefaufer then senator from Tennessee. He returned to Memphis she called it little old Memphis which she loved and felt at home and wanted to be with her ancient mother. Walker settled in old plantation having bought a house from a doctor there and fixed it elaborately. There he converted from cotton to permanent pasture and bought a large herd of cattle. But just after he made this expensive investment bottom fell out of the cattle market. So, Walker ended up owing everybody including Norma’s mother and aunt lady and banks and doctors. Norma kept on insisting all hope had been given up. But any case Walker died. I visited him on his death bed discussing Michelangelo and this great modern sculpture that rivaled. I always liked Walker though I do not think he ever worked very hard.

Aunt wilma.jpg
This portrait is of “Big Mama’s” next youngest sister, Aunt Wilma. They would later argue who was the older because they had both told so many lies about how younger she was that sometimes they would get tricked, “oh, I met you’re older sister.” When really “Big Mama” was a year or so older than Aunt Wilma and Aunt Wilma’s first husband was a rich old millionaire – a partner of Walker Percy (my grandfather’s brother) who’d been established in Birmingham whereas my grandfather had been established in Memphis, where the oldest brother Le Roy had stayed in the family town of Greenville. Walker had married a De Bardeeaden who had inherited the Tennessee Iron and Coal company and he sold it to Andrew Carnegie. But one of his mean old law partners married Aunt Wilma and beat her so much that later she couldn’t have children but she got Hugo Black, then an enemy of society - an outcast and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, to get her a divorce by attacking the establishment.

Soon afterwards she married her secret love. (I think she’d had all along, Uncle Hampton, who later made a huge fortune in London in World War 1 by importing American produce and ran it up in the twenties). So Aunt Wilma got even richer than “Big Mama,” and a big house in London, one up the Thames and three cars (one was a touring car, one a Bentley, one a sport’s car). So Aunt Wilma got richer than “Big Mama” by marrying G. Hampton-Lewis. His real name was George Lowe and he was from a very distinguished family from Savannah. In fact, one of his relatives had founded the Girl Scouts of America and had a mansion there that I’ve visited. But, in the South still impoverished from “The War”, Hampton had tried to get rich quick and had run afoul of the law and had served a year in the Atlanta federal penitentiary for stock fraud. When he got out, he went to Europe where he was making money importing American produce to Hamburg but, then World War 1 started, he moved to London and got frightfully rich. Aunt Wilma and “Big Mama” would always rival each other about who had crossed the Atlantic more but “Big Mama” – although she’d lost the rest of her money in ’33, and just had some land left. Hampton lost a lot in ’29 but he made some back in the 30’s. Anyhow they would argue who had crossed the Atlantic more in some fancy ocean ships.

So I have Aunt Wilma’s picture that was painted by Lady Maude-Hall Jones in London in 1920. They paid her $5,000 for the portrait, which was exhibited in the first row of the Royal Academy and later also in Paris and Brussels. And of course Lady Hall-Jones was married to an even more famous portrait painter, who’d been knighted for his portraits.

Aunt Wilma and Uncle Hampton came back to America in the last civilian liner out of England in 1939, having been there through the First World War and after having lured in the Pacific Palisados when Big Mama and Uncle Hampton in 44 and 45 eventually settled in Fort Myres, Florida, where I would frequently visit them. When she died, I think when I was teaching in St Louis in 1967. But she was also a great horsewoman and in World War 1 she had taught the Tommys how to do the Australian crawl and became a lifetime member of the Royal Life Saving Society. Uncle Hampton had been a founding member of the American Club in Grovenor Square and once he’d even run for parliament even – they called him a “denatured” or “denaturalized” America because he and Wilma had gotten British citizenship and he ran as a Conservative in some hopelessly Liberal or maybe Labour constituency.

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Aunt Lidy born in 1908 was a tom boy lesbian the great back hand at tennis J. Paul Getty used to cruise the teenage girls at the tennis courts at the LA country club which was across the street from Munnie and Lidy’s house on Coahuanga but lady was not interested in him. She had her 14th b-day on Lake Commo where she had her first glass of champagne as her life got tougher and it did get much tougher after the crash of 1929. She always remembered how beautiful life had been. She drank too much and smoked reefas as well as cigarettes and wrecked seven cars including the pierce-erra that she had gotten for her 16th b-day. She had 5 long term girlfriends. The one that I got to know the best was Nancy, the part Mexican who was living with aunt Lidy when Big Mama drove me out two summers in 1944 and 1945. And we stayed in their large studio with Nancy and Lady who slept in one bed, Big Mama on another and I on the floor. But Nancy had broken aunt Lidy’s nose earlier in a rage. Around age 40 aunt Lidy finally sobered up and managed to make some money in real estate. She loved LA real estate. And she moved from Hollywood to beach towns. And sometimes she even built houses herself or at least was the main contractor for building them. At that time she had two girlfriends, one was a professor who she met when she took some courses in a junior college, the other one was Joan whom she met when she was 17. Joan Middlekaupf, a younger friend of aunt Lidy’s other lesbian friend, who had worked for Bell Telephone and got fairly high up. Joan Middlekaupf, they were a Jewish family who joined Kansas Dutch Ball Hoakies and came out to LA and managed to make some money. They were all strong females and Joan was her last girlfriend but they periodically relapsed and do alcohol. They would add speed so called diet pills and Percodine. which they took. They took speed in the morning to make them perky and Percodine in the evening to make them not feel any pain. That was all right until they added alcohol. I had to rescue them periodically by going out there and nursing them back to health. Aunt Lidy finally died from pancreatic cancer in the march of 1985. The cancer was due to alcoholism. So much for Aunt Lidy.

So Grandmunnie was really the one that pulled up this family by her strange marriage to the younger Mr. Yarborough and she was very proud of her mother, my own Great-Grandmunnie, who was a red-head named Caroline Jones. I have her picture too. So now for that picture - Caroline Jones had come over the Appalachians on horseback around about 1820 or something to Kentucky from Virginia. She brought a piano with her, so probably they went by water down the Ohio River as much as possible. Grandmunnie claimed that her mother had had some class but then we know about her scandalous marriage to the son of the man that she was engaged to and the Yarboroughs are a large Scottish Clan. I’m putting up a thing on them along with my genealogy of the more distinguished branches of my family the Percy’s and the Armstrongs, another Scottish clan on the one side and the Dents and Minors on the other, the former English, the latter Dutch.

Fa fa percy.jpg
My grandfather, William Armstrong Percy I, a lawyer like his brothers, all attended the University in the South at Sawanee and then the University of Virginia Law School where like their father they all studied under my mother's great uncle John B. Minor. This portrait of him was done for the Tennessee Club, the elegant men’s downtown club in Memphis. When the Club was renovated, it was given to his widow “Big Mama,” who gave it to Daddy and I’ve got it now. He married Big Momma, when she was 18 or 19. When they went on honeymoon, the porters thought that she was his daughter, not his wife. He always worked for the railroads like his father Colonel Percy who had helped Huntingdon build the Illinois Central by getting the rights for them through Mississippi. “Fafa” switched and for one year this railroad lawyer sued them for the lumber companies who’d retained him in 1910 or 11 for a $100,000 a year to work against the railroads. Then he died unfortunately from Bright's disease at age 49 in 1912 after only one year in that lucrative post then widow lost out when she sued for more of the fees that his partners collected.

Big mama.jpg
So this is a picture of “Big Mama” in her prime, when once going up the elevator in the Monteleone hotel in New Orleans, was in there alone with a woman, who raised her veil to look at her and that woman was Mae West.

“Big Mama”, as I called her – I think my mother wanted to put her down this way, because my mother hated her large, overweight mother-in-law – was the most important person for me during my infancy and boyhood. In fact, when I was born in the Baptist hospital in 1933, my parents were living in Memphis in the large house that she had rented when she returned to Memphis from LA after the crash of 1929. Also living there was my father’s younger brother, Walker. And they all imposed on my poor mother, who had to fire the furnace in the morning for this fairly large Victorian rented house.

I often spent weekends with “Big Mama” after we moved in with my mother’s mother (grandmother as I called her), before the birth of my younger brother Dent “minor” Percy, who died there in infancy. But then after my parents bought their own house when I was five, “Big Mama” would rescue me from the pandemonium of our house where my father was all too often either drunk and abusive or sleeping off a binge. My mother was driven to distraction, especially after the death of my younger brother at aged two while we were living with grandmother.

So “Big Mama” would rescue me and take me to her apartment on weekends, when school started, and many other times during the summer to take me down to the small plantation seven miles south on Highway 61 that she ran with the help of 12 to 15 black families. So I got to see what a plantation was like. I adored her and she adored me. So she also took me to Michael’s house, whose great grandfather had been Secretary of War, after having served as Ambassador to Japan and Governor-General of the Philippines.

“Big Mama” had me get to know Michael's mother and grandmother Katrina, who though then somewhat mad, like her own mother, Admiral Simm’s daughter, sat upright with perfect posture on all day and evening. When her own mother had gone insane, Katrina served as the hostess in the Embassy in Japan, and in the Governor-General’s Palace in Manila, and when her father became Secretary of War in Washington. She directed me to their rather larger outside world.

Now “Big Mama” was the oldest child of Grandmunnie, who I also have a picture of. “Big Mama’s” father had died when she was quite young and they were poor tobacco farmers in Kentucky. This branch of the family Yarborough clan is the only one, as far as I know, that hadn’t had any slaves. “Big Mama” was born Caroline Yarborough, with six younger siblings. So at aged 15 Grandmunnie sent ‘Big Mama” to Memphis to work in the Guarantee Title Trust Office at a time, when virtually no ladies worked in offices. “Big Mama” was as smart as hell. So there she met “Fafa,” as I called him. “Fafa” was 20 years older, a “happy-go-lucky” fast living, fast-drinking, lady-charmer and man about town, a widower from aged 30. I believe they began having an affair when “Big Mama” was 15 or 16 but before “fafa” married her, he sent her to a very fancy prep school in Tarrytown on the Hudson in New York, whose name will come to me, and for three years she was educated amongst the fanciest Yankee ladies.

Now already in Kentucky Big Mama had become a great horse woman and this helped her in society. “Fafa” bought her a great Stallion, John Darling, whom she worshipped as much as she did him. So they had three kids: my father William, a lesbian daughter Aunt Ladiy, and the youngest child, my Uncle Walker – who later got the rank of Ambassador, after having entered the Airforce in WW 2 as a private. He came to head the American team negotiating Air Traffic Controls in the world in Montreal. But she had tried to abort him when she had got mad at “Fafa” and rode recklessly on John Darling in a rage trying to destroy her fetus but he came out allright though blue at birth.

Now “Big Mama” taught me all about family history. When she married into the Percy family, she had been convinced that they were descended from the earls of Northumberland. “Fafa” was the family genealogist of his generation. So she completely dominated my life, getting me interested in foreign things, particularly through Michael’s family who’d lived abroad in Europe for so many years as well as in Japan and the Philippines. And then when I was 11 and 12, she drove me for two summers (I was navigating from) Memphis to Los Angeles to visit her lesbian daughter, my Aunt Lady.

When Big Mama died in 1946, that ended a big chapter in my life but by then, thank god, I’d gotten into Pentecost Garrison Academy. The old maid who ran it got me off to Middlesex School in Concord, Mass. two years later when I was 14. Now “Big Mama” was not only beautiful and brilliant, she got two of her poor sisters married to millionaires: red-headed Aunt Wilma, who had the portrait painted that I’ve put up, and Aunt Jessie, who was even more a platinum blonde. “Big Mama” was a regular blonde. Their two younger sisters didn’t marry so well: one Aunt Adelaide married a foreman, a sort of manager, of Tennessee Coal and Iron, whose son Anthony Jennett played football with Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, and became a major in the army. My Great Uncle Walker Percy had married the heiress and sold it to Andrew Carnegie. The other, Aunt Daisy was quite charming, but liked small dark men and was married to a series of Italians, the last of whom I got to know and in L.A.

Grandmummy yar.jpg
This painted photo is of Big Mama’s mother, Grandmunnie, a platinum blonde, who married into Yarboroughs. She was a very fancy lady in a poor Kentucky tobacco-growing area – Harlen County, Kentucky I think. And she’d been scheduled to marry old man Yarborough, to be his third wife. Eventually he had 18 children by three wives but on the eve of their marriage, Grandmunnie ran away with Yarborough’s oldest son and married him instead of the father, who then took another as his third wife. It was a very great scandal. But she was a very beautiful woman, as you can see from the portrait, and produced at least three beautiful daughters if you don’t want to count Aunt Adelaide who married the manager or aunt Daisy, who was a bit lame and who married several construction workers at Tennessee coal and iron, finally “Uncle Sam” whom I met at 12 and 13 in L.A.

So Aunt Wilma had all these luxuries and had this photo beautifully painted but Grandmunnie was the real driving force, she’d sent “Big Mama” off to Memphis. Then “Big Mama” had succeeded Fafa and Wilma married to his brother’s law partner and married Jesse to a millionaire. Grandmunnie I met, when Aunt Wilma came through Memphis with Hampton on the way back to Europe in 1946. So after the war they went back to see what had happened to their houses and stuff. She tried to leave Grandmunnie with “Big Mama,” but “Big Mama” was too bust running the plantation and “daddy” had a fight with Aunt Wilma, I guess that’s the reason she disinherited him. She and Hampton had wanted to adopt him after he graduated from Stanford Law School and stayed with them in London… but he insisted on coming back to Memphis.

Great grandmummy.jpg
Caroline Jones was Great Munnie’s mother through Great Munnie was named. She was supposedly linked to John Paul Jones. At any rate Caroline Jones as a refined lady I was assured who managed to get her piano over the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Kentucky then I suppose it floated down to Kentucky River to Harlan county where big mama’s father grew tobacco and maybe his father too I do not know. There her daughter married Clinton Yarborough after having being engaged to the third wife of his elderly father. Big Mama was always proud of her beautiful grandmother. So much for that.

Below is by far the most important family portrait and it's never been published before

The sisters.jpg

The last picture is of Nanna Armstrong with her two sisters. They were the grand-daughters of William Armstrong a very successful and I guess ruthless Indian agent who became very rich. He had his three daughters painted, I think in the early 1850s. At that time the major American portrait painter was Thomas Sully, who traveled quite a bit. He taught at Philadelphia and had many students over many years. Thomas Sully kept a meticulous account of all his commissions but I was very disappointed not to find a record of this portrait among them. But there was a recent exhibit and in it there was something very similar three young ladies, they slanted in the opposite direction of my great grandmother, Nanna Armstrong, who Uncle Will called Muir in his childhood as you see in Lanterns on the Levee. No one has yet published this portrait. (Will had the same relationship to Muir as I had to “Big Mama). I think it must have been painted by one of Sully’s many disciples around 1850. But in the catalogue of the recent exhibit as other one by Sully himself very similar and slanted the other way, painted in the 1820’s or 1830’s I think. This is the most important of all the family portraits. The others were all published in Wyatt-Brown’s magnificent book The House of Percy. But he didn’t know about this. William Armstrong Percy, my grandfather was her second child, the elder being the U.S. Senator LeRoy Percy. So William Armstrong Percy was named for General James Trooper Armstrong’s son, the Indian agent William Armstrong, this I’m sure is the most significant of all the family portraits and the first time it’s ever been mentioned in print. The Armstrong sisters were not as beautiful as the Yarboroughs but they were much richer – that is before “The War,” which wrecked 60 % of the South’s wealth. Nancy Armstrong Percy brought a lawsuit agains Sterling R. Cockrill to recover a one-fifth interst in certain realty and this is the copy from the Federal Reporter. (as pdf)

The picture of my mother was when she was much older but she had been very beautiful Ann Minor-Dent was her original name. She was sent by her rich uncle to a fancy finishing school called Kingsmith in Washington. While there she also lived part-time with Uncle Dent’s still not poor Uncle Henry Longstreet Minor, who wrote a History of the Democratic Party, published in 1928 and his rich wife, Aunt Francis. Uncle Dent wanted mother to go on and study voice in Paris, but she willfully defied him and married my father in Memphis. She met him when the Senator Percy’s funeral cortege was going to go down the tracks to Greenville where she went with her rich uncle, Dent Minor, the prominent railroad lawyer. Uncle Dent said why don’t you walk me back to my car to meet “my daughter,” who was really his niece. In fact, his own two children and wife had died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1898…she was waiting in the car, he always had a big packard. So that’s how my parents met.

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Middlesex School

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Anne Percy Knott and John Knott

In the middle of young old age

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