Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

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Ida Potter Sexton – An ‘Angel of Mercy’

(EDITOR’S NOTE — The following biographical sketch of Ida Potter Sexton is taken from "Pro files of Scott Countians," book published by the Scott County Historical Society from columns written by Esther Sharp Sanderson and published first in the Scott County News during the 1960s).

FEBRUARY 21, 1964

Mrs. IDA SEXTON is the most distinguished "Dr. Woman" in this section of the Cumberland Plateau. She began her long and useful career in 1915, and during that time she has delivered, according to her records and nearest estimations, approximately 700 babies. Her calls took her all over Scott County and sometimes to the neighboring counties of Campbell, Morgan and Fentress. As she recalls her first experience, she says, "A neighbor came in and found me reading the Doctor Book. I tried to hide it, but couldn’t." He said, "I’ve come after you to help the Doctor out." But when Mrs. SEXTON went she found no doctor there, and she unexpectedly found herself having to put into practice the knowledge she had learned. From that day on, she went whenever and wherever she was called.

Ida Potter Sexton

The Good Book says, "Multiply and replenish the earth." In years gone by the people obeyed the fiat of the Lord; it was nothing uncommon for a family to have from ten to fifteen children, and due to second marriages, and those who dallied down the primrose path, there were sometimes as many as twenty-five or more children with the same father.

When there was not a hospital in the county, and Medical Doctors were few and far between, Mrs. SEXTON was traveling to and fro over the mountainous terrain on horseback, or in a jolt wagon to get to her patients who lived miles away, sometimes as far as ten or fifteen miles.

Although physically handicapped from polio since her early childhood, she answered the call. Sometimes she would have to stay two days and nights. "But," says Mrs. SEXTON, "during all that time I have never lost a mother, and I have lost only very few premature or stillborn babies. God has blessed me wonderfully in my work and He is continuing to bless me with sufficient health to carry on in case of extreme poverty and emergency.

Only last month, Mrs. SEXTON delivered three babies in the Huntsville Community. With the rapidly increasing cost of maternity care and funeral expenses the very poor and those on the border line are really caught between a rock and a hard place; they can’t afford to be born or to die. In the work as a midwife, Mrs. SEXTON praised the following doctors who gave her help and advice on many occasions, namely: M. E. THOMPSON, D. T. CHAMBERS, T. G. PHILLIPS, J. I. FOSTER, M. F. FRAZIER and

(See ANGEL OF MERCY on page 10)

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Paved roads and automobiles were nonexistent when Mrs. SEXTON would venture forth with her little satchel containing scissors, twine ravelled from flour and meal bags, castor oil, catnip and a pencil and paper to be used in recording the birth. Her work took her into the very best and the very poorest of homes.

The midwives were never administered the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors; they acted in accordance, out of a sense of duty and humanitarian principles. During the first experience on Buffalo, Mrs. SEXTON acted on a sense of mercy and necessity for there was not a doctor for miles around. Quite recently she has answered calls out of a sense of sympathy and love for her neighbors who needed help and could not afford a doctor.

For a half-century Mrs. SEXTON has carried on as an Angel of Mercy, when and where the need was greatest. At first she received only two dollars per call, later five, and only in the last few years ten. Many times they were only I.O.U's that she never collected nor seemed to worry about. But regardless of such instances, she always went, though she knew she would never collect one cent.

She has delivered children in three generations and as many as six and eight in the same families. Optimistically, she says, "I hope that God will spare my life to deliver some in the fourth generation." During her services she has delivered twelve sets of twins. On one such occasion the inebriated father was feeling no pain; he tearfully remarked, "If they keep on coming this way all night, I don’t know what in high heavens we’ll do."

Mrs. SEXTON has had many and varied experiences during her missions of mercy and charity — some sad, some amusing. On one occasion a local doctor who was called in on what seemed a hopeless case used a pot handle to make a forcep delivery. When asked if the baby lived, Mrs. SEXTON smilingly said, "When I went back to check upon the mother and baby, it had a dose of castor oil and was lying beside its mother sucking away on a sugar tit. There was a small iron pot of catnip tea brewing on the sup-stove and on a nearby table was a cup of parched flour to be used for baby powder. The seventh son of a seventh son had blown in the baby’s mouth to cure the thrash."

Mrs. SEXTON said some of the babies were born with birthmarks caused by the mothers being frightened during pregnancy or from craving certain foods. Said she, "It was nothing uncommon to find a baby with burdock seed or a mole’s foot tied around its neck to make teething easy. They always carried the baby up hill before down hill so that it would rise in life. They would not carry it across a stream before it was a month old, for they could never keep it dry. They were careful not to let it fall off the bed before it was a year old for fear that it would never live to get grown." It is surprising how many of these superstitions remain with many of the older people, you cannot wipe out in a few generations what has been handed down in many.

We think that we can attribute many of the fine traits of character of Mrs. SEXTON to her pioneer ancestors. They were honest, freedom loving people who possessed self-reliance, determination and civic and personal pride. They were never content to rest upon their laurels: they were continually striving for the best things in life for themselves and their neighbors.

Mrs. SEXTON’s paternal great grandfather was JACKIE POTTER. He came from Ireland and settled in North Carolina, and later moved to Jamestown, then to the Vanderpool farm near Huntsville. He brought a number of slaves who cleared the land on that farm. NAT and BETSY, who remained in Huntsville till their death, were former Potter slaves.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, JACKIE’s son JOHN joined the Union forces, leaving his wife, the former JANE BUTTRAM, and the family: HENRY, JULIAN, RHODA, ANN and ALVIN. HENRY being the oldest in the family had to assume the responsibilities of his father at the age of thirteen. He often recalled the dangers involved in the long trips to Goose Creek, Kentucky and to Caryville to get salt. He also recalled the hardships endured when he would go to Knoxville when it was only a small town to buy tools and dry goods that they hauled by ox carts back to the settlements.

This stately home, known for generations as the Judge Potter Home, is located on Hwy. 63 in Huntsville, just across the road from the entrance to the Courthouse Mall.  It's a beautiful old home which has been kept in a good state of repair through the years and it's where Ida Potter Sexton grew up and, after she had married, she returned to live out her life here.  (September 1990 photo.)

THOMAS CHAMBERS, IDA’s maternal great grandfather, was one of the first three settlers in Scott County. He came from North Carolina, bringing with him his slaves. JACKIE [THOMAS?] was born in 1771 and died on Buffalo in 1869. His first marriage was to KATY LAWSON, his second to REBECCA WHILHITE. He was the father of fourteen children. JOHN CHAMBERS, the grandfather of Mrs. SEXTON, was a son of KATY LAWSON CHAMBERS. He married MARGARET SHARP, a sister of Uncle BILLY SHARP. CHARNETTIE CHAMBERS, their daughter, was born in 1802 and passed away in 1914. She was married to HENRY POTTER in 1874. To this union were born the following children: IDA, HATTIE, NEVADA, BENJAMIN and LAURIE. Several years after Mrs. CHARNETTIE POTTER passed away, he married BETTY ROSS, who was a faithful devoted wife caring for Judge POTTER during his long years of illness preceding his death.

WILLIAM HENRY POTTER, better known as Judge, was born in Huntsville in 1851 and passed away in 1935. He had very little formal education but he was a shrewd businessman, lawyer and politician. During his early manhood, school teaching was often a case of the blind trying to lead the blind. While teaching in the Blue Back Speller he came across a sentence, "A duck is a plump fowl." In a sing song tune he read, "A duck is a plum fool." On another occasion he was having a spelling match and came across the word fatigue. Guessing at the pronunciation, he pronounced it "fatty gue" and proceeded to the word negotiate. Lamenting that such a word should not be in the book, he also guessed as its pronunciation and it won’t bear the light of publication. He and another man were partners in a general merchandising store. They kept getting letters with please remit, at the close. Turning to his partner, Judge said, "Ewel, who in the heck is this fellow, Pleas Remmit, that keeps writing us?" When Judge POTTER and BEATY CECIL stumped the county for Judge, people followed them from one precinct to the other to hear the amusing way they harassed each other. Judge POTTER was one of the most colorful and shrewd men in the county had ever produced. He possessed that rare ability to laugh at his own blunders, but through hard work and study, he became one of the most highly respected and successful businessmen of his time. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1900. He held many public offices and was the only man ever to be elected county judge for two terms. He served in the State Legislature and the State Senate and also as County Court Clerk. He was on the building committee for the Court and Jail Houses and was instrumental in the establishment of the Huntsville High School. His daughter, IDA, worked as his secretary, in fact, he would have been at a loss without her knowledge and valuable assistance.

Aside from his duties as a public servant, he was a civic minded man who always worked for the good of the community. Both he and Mrs. POTTER were devout Christians and their work in the First Baptist Church represented years of faithful service. The bell in the new building was one Judge POTTER bought for the old one. Their big home was an open house for all comers and goers. Mrs. SEXTON remembers them having 100 guests, with the women sleeping in the house, the men in the barn.

Mrs. IDA SEXTON graduated from the Presbyterian Academy. She taught school twenty-three years, when the going was rough. She joined the Baptist Church in 1912 and has been a faithful worker ever since. She recalls attending Sunday School seven years without missing a Sunday. She served as clerk of the New River Association for twenty-four years and is now assistant clerk. She teaches the Women’s Class every Sunday [and] is now Training Union Director. She is always at her church, regardless of weather or other excuses that keep many away.

Miss IDA POTTER met her husband, JOHN, when they were students at the Presbyterian Academy. JOHN was born on Brimstone and his mother died when he was only five years old. He lived with an aunt until she passed away and was then bound out by the County Court to JULIAN SEXTON in Huntsville. His early years were marked by want and privation. He went into the service and after his discharge he married IDA POTTER. They bought a farm on Buffalo where JOHN was a successful farmer. They moved back to the old POTTER home place that has been occupied by some members of the family since 1886. The children of Mr. and Mrs. JOHN SEXTON are: GRACE (Mrs. TED LONG); MAY (Mrs. HARRY McGLOTHIN); HAZEL (Mrs. MILFORD PENNINGTON); RUTH (Mrs. MILLARD WEST); and one son, WILLARD. MAY has an M.A. Degree from U.T. and has taught both in Scott and Morgan counties; GRACE has a B.S. degree from U.T. in the Elementary. WILLARD served in the Army during World War II and is a mail carrier at Jellico, Tennessee.

With the coming of modern well-equipped hospitals and graduates from medical colleges, the midwives and root and herb doctors are vanishing from the scene. The concern for the sick is getting to be an almost forgotten virtue in this age of hustle and bustle. It would put to shame many of us who neglect our duties to God and fellowman - to see a silver-haired seventy-eight year old cripple Angel of Mercy making her weekly rounds to visit the sick and needy. O, what healing power there is in a kind word of encouragement or a prayer from one who cares. If everyone would apply only a small portion of the good fellowship that Mrs. IDA SEXTON has practiced throughout her long and useful life, the world would be a much better place in which to live.

(FOOTNOTE — IDA POTTER SEXTON departed this life in 1968. She is survived by her children GRACE TRAMMELL of Huntsville, HAZEL YANCEY of Huntsville, MAY McGLOTHIN of Coalfield and WILLARD SEXTON of Jellico. Another daughter, RUTH WEST, is deceased).

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 4 No. 3 – Winter 1993
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
page 12, 10

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