Upland Chronicles: Four generations of family spent time working at Wheatlands

Jul. 08, 2013 @ 02:25 PM


A job passed down four generations is rare in any family, especially if the work takes place in the same house for the same family. When Padge Chandler left Wheatlands Plantation in the 1950s to seek employment in Knoxville, a family tradition spanning over a century came to an end.

Known later in life as Uncle Padge, Walter Padge Chandler was born in 1887. Both his parents, Lewis and Flora Chandler, were born as slaves at Wheatlands Plantation in Boyd’s Creek. His great-grandmother whose name was Jenny was the first slave purchased by Timothy Chandler after he established the farm in the late 1700s that later became known as Wheatlands Plantation.

By the time Timothy Chandler passed away in 1818, Jenny and another slave named Ester was responsible for preparing meals for the Chandler family. The women carried all the water from a spring and they cooked at an open fireplace in the original Chandler house.

After the original house burned in 1825, Timothy’s son John built the extraordinary Federal-style mansion along the original stagecoach road through Boyd’s Creek. Jenny and Ester were the first cooks in the new house.

Jenny earned a reputation as an excellent cook and as she grew older taught her daughter Polly and another slave girl named Liz how to cook. By the time Jenny was no longer able to work, Polly and Liz took over the cooking duties. The spring which Jenny used to draw water was replaced by a hand-dug well after the spring went dry.

During the Civil War, Union forces encamped at the plantation while the Chandler men folk, who were confederate sympathizers, hid out in an undisclosed location away from the plantation. The soldiers raided farms throughout the county and returned with turkeys, hams and vegetables with which Polly prepared a big feast that was enjoyed by the soldiers, the Chandler women, and the slaves alike.

After the Civil War John Chandler allowed his former slaves who wished to remain on the Wheatlands Plantation and he paid them to work there doing essentially the same jobs they had done in the past. Padge’s Grandmother Polly was among those who stayed and continued working there as the cook.

Up until this time the slaves never had a surname. Understandably, those who remained at Wheatlands began using the name Chandler as their last name.

Born about 1860, Flora Chandler grew up assisting her mother Polly in the kitchen at Wheatlands. Polly passed down the recipes to Flora that her mother Jenny had taught her. Although Flora married Lewis Chandler in 1878 and began raising a family that grew to include eleven children, she continued to work as a cook for Adela Chandler McMahan who inherited the place from her father.

Flora’s children began working at Wheatland’s which was called Ler- Mac for a number of years after Adela married Isaac N. McMahan. Flora’s second oldest child, Padge began working there as a houseboy when he was a young teenager.

Padge’s duties were similar to those of a butler. He also assisted his mother in the kitchen and became an excellent cook. When Flora was no longer able to work Padge was the natural choice for the position as cook. While Padge worked in the dual roles of butler and cook, several of his siblings worked in domestic jobs at Wheatlands as well.

Another of Padge’s predecessors was Ellen Chandler who worked as a cook at Wheatlands for 40 years.

Padge remained at Wheatlands through an uncomfortable situation in which his sister Celia, who worked there as a maid, became pregnant by Adela’s teenaged son Timothy McMahan. At the time Celia was 22 and married.

Both Adela and her husband died in 1936 and their son and daughter-in law, Timothy and Blanche took charge of Wheatlands. Padge remained there as cook preparing the recipes the Chandler- McMahan family had enjoyed for generations. He supervised smoking hams using smoldering fires of corn cobs.

An especially good desert Padge was known for was Lemon Pie using a handed-down recipe which he improvised to make it his own.

Padge Chandler’s Lemon Pie

3 eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter

3 fresh lemons

I cup cream

2 tablespoons corn starch

½ teaspoon salt

Mix sugar, butter and cream. Add beaten egg yolks, salt, corn starch, and pulp juice from lemons. Put in pastry in pie pans and bake. Make meringue of beaten egg whites and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Apply to top of pie and brown lightly.

Throughout its history, there had always been more than one cook at any given time at Wheatlands until Padge assumed the duties. Never married, he lived on the premises of the mansion for many years.

Padge was living there in 1942 when an unimaginable tragedy occurred. During a heated dispute, Timothy McMahan Sr. was brutally beaten to death by his 19-year-old son, Timothy, Jr.

After the murder, Padge remained at Wheatlands for more than a decade before deciding to follow other family members and move to Knoxville. Although he missed certain aspects of working at Wheatlands where he had always taken pride in the meals he served, Padge adjusted to life in the city.

Padge worked as a janitor for Swans’ Bakery in Knoxville for a few years before he retired. He passed away in 1966 at the age of 79. He was fondly known by his numerous nephews, nieces and extended family as Uncle Padge.

Over more than two centuries, countless lore has emerged from Wheatlands Plantation, once one of Sevier County’s premier plantations consisting of over 4,000 acres. The story of the faithfulness of the four generations who cooked there; culminated by the fastidious gentleman known as Uncle Padge surely ranks high among them.

— Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.