Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Talented Tuesday: The Fiddlin' Farmer

Bill Nelson, ca 1930s

William Nelson, born in 1875, was a blacksmith and a farmer. This man, my husband's grandfather, spent his entire life in Cherokee and Gordon counties in north Georgia.  He was a hard worker, farming on rented land.  Together with his wife Cleo, he raised eight children.  Some years, crops failed, and twice, according to old family documents, he had to use his best cow, "the black one with horns," as collateral for a bank loan .  William's story was also the story of many of our ancestors a century ago.

But Bill, as he was known to his friends, also had a special talent.  He was a natural-born fiddle player.  As far as we know, Bill never had a music lesson in his life.  Somehow, he just knew how to play a violin, make that a fiddle.  No one was ever quite sure exactly how he learned to play a fiddle  or why or even where he got that fiddle..  He had learned the skills of a blacksmith from his father and taught them to his son, my father-in-law, but playing his  fiddle was just something special and unique about Bill.

My father-in-law used to tell how his father would spend a hard day in the field, then, come evening, take his fiddle, sit on the front porch, and play for what seemed like hours.  The old country and tradition tunes he played could be heard rolling around the Georgia pines.  Sometimes neighbors would come by to talk, and Bill and his fiddle would carry on well into the night.

None of his children seemed to have inherited Bill's innate talent, and his fiddle just stayed in a closet for years following his death.  About 15 years also, my father-in-law gave the fiddle to one of our sons, another Bill Nelson.  Maybe someday one of William Nelson's great great grandchildren will discover that spark, and  Bill's fiddle will sing again.


  1. A great story. I wish I had inherent musical talent!

  2. Mary,

    I want to let you know that this post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/04/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-april-5-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!

  3. What a great story, and heritage! I am trying to learn the fiddle and hopefully one day will sit on my front porch and play. Don't you wish you were in a front row seat to listen to him? Sweet memories.