Tazwell Howard Cannaday was born on September 10, 1852 in Floyd County, Virginia. Tazwell was the third of nine children born to Stephen H. Cannaday and Elizabeth Lemon, and their first son. Both of Tazwell’s parents came from large families—his mother was one of twelve children, and his father was one of twenty-four! (Stephen’s parents, William “Patrick Billy” and Martha “Patsy” Wright, had a measure of renown in Floyd and the surrounding counties for that amazing feat.)
Cannaday families, mostly Quaker, have been documented in America since well before the Revolutionary War and in Virginia since the mid-1700s. The Cannaday surname and its many variants (Canaday, Cannady, Canady, Canada, etc.), is thought to be an Americanized version of Kennedy, and according to one bit of lore, possibly changed when the family split from the Catholic Church in Ireland. The name is nearly as common as Smith or Jones in neighboring Floyd, Patrick, and Franklin Counties. Landmarks and physical features there include Cannaday Gap, Cannaday Cemetery, Cannaday School Road, and Cannaday Holler. Tazwell’s given name, also quite common in the area, perhaps comes from Henry Tazewell, a prominent Virginia politician who was a lawyer, judge and U.S. Senator.
The 1860 U.S. Census, the last taken before the Civil War, shows Tazwell in rural Floyd County with his parents, four sisters and two brothers. The Cannaday family lived next door to Elizabeth’s parents. Tazwell’s father and grandfather both worked as blacksmiths. Stephen did not own land or slaves. Slave owners were a minority, albeit a powerful economic and political group, in Floyd County. Nevertheless, a majority of the County’s citizens were Confederate sympathizers and the County voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession on May 23, 1861. Many men rushed to heed the call for volunteers, among them Stephen and four of his brothers. Later reports indicated there had been widespread intimidation, threats, and physical violence during the secession vote, and over time, secession and the Civil War profoundly and bitterly divided Floyd County. As with most Confederate communities, soldiers’ families suffered extraordinary hardships resulting from food and labor shortages. A local magistrate pleaded with Virginia’s governor that “a great many of our soldiers wives and families are inteirely [sic] barefoot, and a good many neighborhoods are so scarce of men that the soldiers families can not get help to get firewood.” Tazwell was ten years old when his father enlisted, and such would have been his life during his father’s four-year absence.
Stephen served until the end of the war, returning home in 1865. Between 1865 and 1867, Stephen and Elizabeth welcomed two daughters. Shortly thereafter, the Cannaday family pulled up stakes and moved 230 miles north to Gallia County, Ohio, which borders the Ohio River. We don’t know what precipitated the move or if the Cannadays migrated with a group, but we do know that Stephen’s brother Joshua had settled there many years before the war. The 1870 census records Stephen’s occupation as farmer. Seventeen-year-old Tazwell worked as a farmhand for a neighboring farmer and helped his father as well. Nothing else is known of the family’s time in Ohio, but by 1875 they made the long journey back to Floyd County, where Tazwell would spend the rest of his life.
Tazwell married Julia Ann Foster on October 12, 1879. Julia was 15 years old and Tazwell, 27. That same year, Tazwell’s father died. In 1880 Tazwell’s mother and his four youngest siblings shared a household with the newlyweds. The 1880 census lists Tazwell’s occupation as farmer. The accompanying agricultural schedule provides us a snapshot of Tazwell’s farm. He owned 66 acres of land valued at $900 and $80 worth of livestock. Twenty acres were tilled and planted with Indian corn, oats, and a small amount of buckwheat. (Several years later, Tazwell and two others would organize the Floyd Corn Club to test how much corn an acre of Floyd County land would produce.) Tazwell’s livestock included one horse, two oxen, one milch cow, two sheep, and fourteen chickens. The farm had six acres of unmown meadows and 40 acres of forest and woodlands. Tazwell reported that he cut fifteen cords of wood in 1879. According to the census, Tazwell’s brother Isaac helped on the farm.
In 1881, Tazwell and Julia welcomed their firstborn, my great grandfather Edward, followed in quick succession by Frank in 1883, Linnie in 1885, Asa in 1889, and Annie in 1891. During that same ten-year period, Tazwell’s mother died and his younger siblings all married and moved away.
Sadly, little Annie died when she was 18 months old. Not long afterward, in 1894, son William came along. By 1900, Tazwell’s mother-in-law had joined the household. Mrs. Foster’s presence was surely appreciated when two more babies were born: Iva in 1901 and Kate in 1905.
By 1910, when Tazwell was nearing 60, life slowed down a bit. Though he still had young ones at home, his older children began to leave, marry, and start families of their own. Three of the four boys moved away, Edward to Illinois, Frank and William to Pennsylvania. In 1920, only Iva and Kate still lived with their parents. I imagine life on the farm took on a quiet, daily rhythm. Tazwell continued to work the land. He and Julia regularly attended the Methodist-Episcopal Stonewall Church. The Cannadays’ Floyd community was filled with extended family and long-time friends. Visits from far-flung relatives provided opportunities for family get-togethers.
In the never-ending circle of life, Tazwell’s son Edward died in 1930 and his ten-year-old grandson Frank (son of Tazwell’s son Frank) came to live on the farm. Kate, a school teacher, still lived there, too. Having the two younger Cannadays around must have brought a lightness of air to Tazwell’s sunset years.
Tazwell died on December 23, 1933 at age 81. He was buried on Christmas Eve in the Col. Jacob Helms Cemetery in Floyd County, his beloved home. He was survived by his wife, five of his seven children, and ten grandchildren. I have a feeling Tazwell would say, “It was a good life.”
RIP, Grandfather Cannaday.