Sarah Jane Beaty was born in Conwayborough, Horry County, South Carolina on February 26, 1791. She was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Mary Prince Beaty. She had four sisters and three brothers. She was the second child in the family.
The Beaty family lived in what was known as the old Dr. Norton lot (on 5th Avenue Laurel and Elm Street). Later on, the first jail in Conway was built on this lot. Sarah Jane's father was the sheriff of the County and it was customary in those days for the sheriff to live in, or near, the jail so he and his family lived in an old-fashioned two story house.
Being from a prominent Horry family, her life must have been spent in happy surroundings and after a whirlwind courtship, at the age of twenty she married Joshua S. Norman from the Marion District, South Carolina. She bore him eight children, four of whom lived to maturity.
There is an interesting account of the meeting of Sarah Jane Beaty and Joshua Norman which she told to her great grandaughter, Mrs. Jeanne C. Miller of Melrose, Massachusetts, a daughter of Judge Travis Walsh and Mary Frances Congdon.
The story, in part, is:
September, 1809. On a beautiful autumn afternoon Jane Beaty, of Scotch-Irish descent, sat weaving clothes for the family and their servants. (Indeed, the servants were well clothed, although rumors had been spread around by the Abolitionists of cruel neglect.)
But who is this stranger, now approaching? She glanced up from her work and looking over the porch saw a tall young man smiling as he raised his hat. Hesitating for a moment, he asked, "Is this the residence of Colonel William Alston?" Jane replied that it was, but that he was away on a hunting trip.
The young man told her that he had walked for miles and Jane kindly asked him to be seated and rest ...She listened attentively as Joshua described his years roaming about, until he mentioned Conwayborough. "Why," she exclaimed, "that is my home. My mother and maid come here with me every year while I visit the plantations and weave."
Joshua spoke up quickly, stating that he was retracing his steps and would again stop in that village, also asking her if he might have a letter of introduction to her father.
Jane spoke almost disdainfully saying, "How can I introduce someone I do not know, not even his name?" But she informed him that if he returned by the river on a large raft or flat which goes to the village weekly, carrying freight and occasionally a passenger, "Ask, as you land at the bridge for Petershots who will take you to my father's residence and you can introduce yourself, as you have here."
Finally he decided to take the flat boat up the Waccamaw River with its cargo of turpentine barrels and groceries, he being the only passenger. All too soon young Norman discovered the bridge. He was allowed to leave the raft before the unloading began, and as he did a sprightly black boy stepped up and smiled. When asked if he knew the way to Colonel Beaty's home the boy replied, "Surely do. That's where I live." So they started the long walk through the hot sand. Presently he asked questions of the boy. "Who do you belong to, Pete?" "Who, me? Why my mistress, of course, and she belongs to Colonel Beaty. Mys mistress says she going to give me to Miss Jane, when she gets married." "Well, now Pete," Joshua continued, "can you tell me when this will happen?' 'Lan sakes, boss, you can ask here when she comes home next week."
The walk of half a mile was not over at the gate. He continued into a long driveway bordered with elm trees, ending at a very beautiful large house on the very banks of Kingston Lake and surrounded by large oak trees covered with the long gray moss almost reaching the ground.
Colonel Beaty greeted the stranger with dignified caution, grew interested in the young man and kindly asked him how long he would be in the village, to which Joshua replied, "Well, sir, I would like to remain until your wife and charming daughter, whom I met in Georgetown, return. And with your privilege, I would like to meet her again."
The Colonel immediately became hospitable and replied that his servants would take care of them until Mrs. Beaty and Jane arrived. It seemed to Joshua that he had reached his first good fortune in having this new acquaintance show such interest as well as some respect.
Their walk took them through cotton and corn fields, then to a garden of roses, gardenias and four o'clocks. After reaching an old brick church, a good distance from the estate, the two men retraced their steps. As they approached the house they saw Mrs. Beaty and Jane alighting from the family coach with the assistance of their faithful attendant.
As Jane met them, she called out to Joshua, "So, you have introduced yourself to my father? I hope he will in turn tell us your name." This was the beginning of the happiest days for the homeless and lonely young man. A beautiful love grew between them as they spent their time swimming and fishing in the lake. (1)
Aunt Jane, as she was affectionately called, ran the hotel in Conway. This hotel stood where Jerry Cox Company is now located between Main Street and Kingston Street. The hotel was no fine brick building, but a large two story old fashioned wooden building with long upper and lower porches and many comfortable rooms. It was furnished with beautiful furniture, carpets, fine paintings on the walls. Most of these furnishings were shipped over from England. This was in keeping with her genteel boarders who often came from the North to spend their winters here. It was a place for travelers from many distances and she was known far and wide.
Her place was a gathering place for the young people of the village and it is believed that many a happy marriage began with a shy flirtation in her parlor. She was very strict with the affairs of her hotel, however, because the doors were locked at midnight and no one was admitted after this hour, unless a necessity.
Jane Norman is credited with starting the first collection for building a Methodist church in Conwayborough, with a group of women meeting in her home in 1828. The bowl which she circulated among those ladies to collect money for a church fund passed to her great grandaughter, the late Mrs. Iola Buck Burroughs (Mrs. Frank A.). This bowl is in the church parlor of the First United Methodist Church. She gave a corner of her property for the building and the first church was completed in 1845.
Jane Norman also gave the land on which Kingston Presbyterian Church was built, in 1858.
Sarah Jane died on Spetember 12, 1891. The family wanted her buried in Georgetown County, so her mortal remains were placed in a handmade wooden casket and loaded on a mule wagon. A small cortege of family and friends went some forty-odd miles across dark rivers and sandy trails to the land of rice and indigo plantations. Upon arrival, burial was denied in the desired location. The reason is lost to history, but it must have been a valid one. The only alternative was for the procession to take the wearisome journey back to Conwayborough in the stifling heat of mid-September. Embalming was not practiced in Conway until 1922 so immediate burial was decided upon long before the mourners reached home. Around midnight they arrived at Kingston Cemetery (where Presbyterian cemetery is now). Every ablebodied man assisted in digging the grave. held lighted lanterns and blazing lightwood torches that flickered through the pitch drakness.
Sarah Jane Norman's remains, from which life had departed a week earlier, were lowered into the earth. Today in the Churchyard one can see a unique urn which reads "GRANDMA". This marks the spot where this remarkable lady now rests. (2)
(1) "Memoirs of Ellen Cooper Johnson," The Independent Republic Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 2, pages 5 and 7.
(2) "Aunt Norman's Funeral," by Annette E. Reesor, The Independent Republic Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 4, pages 19 and 20.
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