John Ellis Ownbey was born September 9, 1897, son of Willie Lee Ownbey and Laura Fletcher. Mother Laura died when John Ellis was four years old leaving John Ellis and two brothers, Arthur and Ira, who were six and two years of age. His father, Willie Lee, married Leah McFarland and moved to North Carolina. John Ellis and his brothers stayed in Virginia with grandfather Ephriam Ownbey and grandmother Mary Ann Beavers Ownbey.
John Ellis grew up on the Ownbey farm located on top of the mountain in an area called Fletcher's Ridge. I can just imagine John Ellis as a young man looking out over the breathtaking view of mountain top after mountain top fading into the distance. John Ellis worked on the family farm helping with crops and orchards, but most importantly, spent long hours on his studies. Education was of top priority - after all his father Willie Lee was a newspaper man and wanted his children to be well prepared for the future. Two brothers completed college and became doctors.
One favorite activity of young mountain folks was a "corn shucking". An evening of music and dancing after the corn was shucked made the work fly by. An added incentive was that anyone finding an ear of red corn got to steal a kiss from the prettiest girl there.
It was at one of these corn shuckings that John Ellis met his future wife Lucy Turner. John Ellis was a strong, quiet man and Lucy was always laughing, singing, and telling jokes. Their combined personalities gave their children the strength to deal with whatever life brought and the ability to laugh and enjoy living.
Having been raised by a Grandfather who was a traveling preacher, the church was an important part of life to John Ellis and his family. Early each Sunday morning John Ellis would go to the little country church and build a big fire in the old Warm Morning coal stove so the church would be warm for morning services. He served as Deacon and Church Treasurer for years. His detailed accounts of church business was recorded in his strong flowing script.
Having dropped out of college to marry Lucy, John Ellis made his living in the coal mines. His education provided a job outside the mine in the tipple area scale house weighing the coal. This position saved his life when a mine explosion killed most who were working inside the mine.
His years working in the dusty coal mine area took their toll in his later years causing breathing problems from "black lung".
The grandchildren often joked about the fact that Babaw always left one small bite of each biscuit he ate lying beside his plate. This habit was from the lunches packed at home and taken to work each day. The mine area was dusty from the coal and everyone there was soon covered in the black coal dust. There were no facitilities to wash their hands, so Babaw carefully held his biscuit in one spot and discarded the "dirty spot". Even a Sunday dinner with clean hands did not break this habit.
John Ellis was a mountain gentleman - hard working, loving, quietly taking each day in stride. His family was top priority to him. Family and friends were greeted with a quiet smile and loving heart. Words were not needed to know you were special to him. Grandchildren looked forward to a Sunday afternoon ride in his shiney black Plymouth to the local country store for a special treat.
John Ellis and Lucy raised their family on Hurricane Creek on land inherited from Lucy's family. Large gardens and orchards were his pride. I think he would be proud of knowing the families of his eldest grandson, great-grandaughter, and great-great-grandsons still live on the family farm. Strange happenings and unusual shadows sometimes make one wonder if Babaw John Ellis is still "quietly watching over and protecting his family".