South-West Insurance Legacy
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The legacy of South-West Insurance Agency, Inc begins with the Witt family. To understand the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of our founders, we must look at the lives of our early ancestors.
The Witt family came to America from England, however they are of German-Dutch origin. Persecution drove them from Germany to Holland; later it drove them from Holland to England. We have no date for their arrival in England. History tells us there was a great migration from Holland and France that settled in England in the late 1500s and early 1600s. These immigrants were gradually assimilated into the English population. Names most prominent among our early generations in this country portray the influence the long stay in England had on their lives. Every family had an Anthony, Edmund, William, James, Charles, Archibald, and Christopher, to name a few.
Their religion was Baptist, thus they were one of the earliest of the “Nonconformist” religious groups in England. After 1662, many of their records were deposited for safekeeping. They can be found at several locations in London, e.g. Chapels Royal and Somerset House Chapel, with many in Public Records Offices. The name Witt is not uncommon in England today.
Arriving in America, they settled in Pennsylvania but we have no date. It is thought by most people that they came over with William Penn on one of his trips to recruit families from England for his new colony in what is Pennsylvania today. Fredric Klees, in his book “The Pennsylvania Dutch”, states that Christopher Witt made an organ for one of the religious sects known as “Women of the Wilderness”. It was a Pietist group that lived on the banks of the Wissahickon. He further states it is without doubt the first organ in the colony.
History has proven our ancestors were a musical people, having a variety of talents. They played numerous instruments and were capable teachers of them. They had good voices and some taught singing. It is plausible that Christopher could be one of our early ancestors. Unfortunately, we have no proof at the present time. Records for this period are few and hard to verify. Survival was much more important than records to these early immigrants so we have to depend on tradition and other data that has been handed down through the years. The tradition is that our ancestors left Pennsylvania about mid-1700, moving down the Valley of Virginia seeking new lands. Some remained in Virginia while others moved on to North Carolina. It has been verified that our direct line went to North Carolina, settling in Stokes County.
Our ancestor, Edmund Witt, and his wife Ann, were in North Carolina sometime prior to 1778, the year their son Anthony was born. A certified copy of Anthony’s death record from Richmond, VA reads as follows: Anthony Witt – 22 January 1862 – age 84 – born North Carolina – parents Edmund and Ann Witt – death fever – Reported by son, Martin H. Witt. Anthony died in Lee County, VA.
A careful check of the 1790 census record for North Carolina revealed no Edmund Witt. However, an Ann Witt was listed as head of the household, having three sons under age 16 and two daughters. The 1790 census gives little information. Its main purpose was to ascertain the number of inhabitants, especially the number of males 16 years and over. This would determine the military strength and industrial potential of the country. We feel certain this is our Ann. Anthony would have been 12 at the time. It is assumed Edmund died prior to this census. Ann continued to live in North Carolina. A marriage bond from the North Carolina State Archives proves Anthony and Elizabeth “Betsy” Mace were married in Stokes County on 9 August 1800; Bondsman was Thomas Cook and Witness was Tho. T. Armstrong.
Edmund Whitt, son of Anthony and Betsy Mace Witt, was born 4 May 1808 and died 31 May 1870 in the Crab Orchard community of Lee County, VA. He married Anna Thompson, daughter of William Thompson and Elizabeth Thorp. After Anna died in 1862, Edmund married Margaret Yeary. Edmund and Anna were the parents of fifteen children, the fourth of which was William.
William C. Witt was the son of Edmund and Anna Thompson Witt. He was born 4 June 1837 in Lee County, Virginia. He married Elizabeth Clarkston on 25 June 1857 in Lee County. William died on 18 February 1921 and is buried in the Glencoe Cemetery, Big Stone Gap, VA. William C. Witt became a farmer and, for the most part, reared his family in Lee County, VA prior to moving to Wise County. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of James Madison and Mary Ann Morris Clarkston. After William’s death, Elizabeth lived with their son, Floyd, until her death in 1930.
John B. Floyd Witt, the third child born to William C. and Elizabeth Clarkston Witt, was born 8 February 1862 at Keokee in Lee County, VA about 4 months after his father enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was known most of his life as Floyd. He was a watch repairman, a trade he learned as an apprentice at a watch shop in Jonesville, Lee County, VA. Later, he had his own shop on Wood Avenue just across the street from the Minor Building in Big Stone Gap, VA. He was a watch repairman for most of his life. He gave up the trade and sold his business in 1930 after failing eyesight forced his retirement at age 68. Floyd died 30 September 1955 at Big Stone Gap, VA, at the age of 93. He is buried in the Glencoe Cemetery, Big Stone Gap, VA. He married Rachel Ellen DeBusk on 5 October 1882 in Lee County, VA. Rachel was the daughter of John Aken and Mary Elizabeth DeBusk. She died at Big Stone Gap on 2 June 1930. Their children are:
- Andy Lee Witt
- Ida Jane Witt
- Charles Russel Witt
- Eddie Florence Witt
- Lennie Lorenza Witt
Andy Lee Witt was the son of John B. Floyd and Rachel Ellen DeBusk Witt. He was born 26 August 1883 in Lee County, VA and died 13 June 1972 in Norton, VA. He married Bertie Y. Fleenor on 7 August 1910 in Big Stone Gap. The following article appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on Wednesday, June 14, 1972:
Andy L. Witt
Big Stone Gap Leader Dies
“Big Stone Gap, VA – Andy L. Witt, 88, who was instrumental in the commerce and industrial growth of Big Stone Gap, died at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday in St. Mary’s Hospital in Norton.
A native of Lee County, he was the son of John B. and Ellen DeBusk Witt, pioneer residents of the Keokee Community in the Lower Crab Orchard section of Lee County.
He was an employee for three years of the Virginia-Tennessee Telephone Company, and later became manager and operator of the Big Stone Gap office.
He later served as assistant cashier of the First National Bank of Big Stone Gap and, in 1905, was promoted to cashier, a post from which he resigned in 1908 to engage in the general insurance business.
Mr. Witt developed the South-West Insurance Agency in Big Stone Gap and the Norton Insurance Agency, both of which are now operated by two of his sons.
In 1918, Mr. Witt bought an interest in the First National Bank here and became a director, Vice President and Chairman of the Board.
He also served as director of the Pennington Gap Bank at Pennington Gap and of the Norton Grocery Company.
For many years, he served as a financial agent for Wise County, handling all bond issues and the sinking fund accounts.
Mr. Witt has represented the Richmond Magisterial District on the County Board of Supervisors, and was a member of the county Republican central committee at one time.
He was a charter member of the Lonesome Pine Country Club and was an active golfer until he was past 80.
He also served as a member of the Wise County School Board for many years and as a member of the State Board of the Virginia Association of Insurance Agents.
Mr. Witt was married to the former Bertie Fleenor of Big Stone Gap on August 7, 1910.
Surviving are his wife; three sons, Floyd Winston, Big Stone Gap, Andy L. Witt, Jr., Salem, VA, William C. Witt, Norton; one daughter, Mrs. Mildred Fleenor Walters, Downed, Calif.; two sisters, Mrs. Ida J. Showalter and Mrs. Winfield S. Rose, both of Big Stone Gap; and four grandchildren.
Holding Funeral Home is in charge of Arrangements.”
There is no doubt that Andy Lee Witt, Sr. was among the elite business pioneers in Wise County. It appears that he left his legacy in good hands. The children of Andy Lee and Bertie Fleenor Witt are:
- Floyd Winston Witt
- Mildred Fleenor Witt
- Andy Lee Witt, Jr.
- William Carl Witt
Floyd Winston Witt, son of Andy Lee and Bertie Fleenor Witt, was born 17 August 1911 in Big Stone Gap, VA and died 17 March 1981 in the Caribbean Islands. He is buried in the Glencoe Cemetery, Big Stone Gap, VA. He married Ina Haynes on 26 October 1941. Ina was born 26 January 1917.
Floyd Winston, known as Winkie most of his life, was an easy-going and likable person who took life as it came without a fuss. He attended school in Big Stone Gap and the Kentucky Military Institute. His career was insurance. He joined South-West Insurance Agency in 1941 to learn the business with his father as a teacher. He became President of the Agency in 1966. When failing health forced his father to work part time, he was able to manage the business. He took over the business in 1972 following the death of his father. He was the second generation to own the Agency and it continued to prosper under his leadership. Some years later, he developed a heart problem which finally forced him to retire. As health permitted, he and Ina did some traveling. Death came while they were on a Caribbean Cruise. The children of Floyd Winston and Ina Haynes Witt are Anna Lee Witt and Floyd Winston Witt, Jr.
William Carl Witt was the youngest son of Andy Lee and Bertie Fleenor Witt. He was born 14 June 1918 in Big Stone Gap, VA. He married Helen Plageman on 17 January 1948.
William Carl was named for his great-grandfather but was known as “Bill” by family and friends. He attended Emory and Henry for one year before transferring to Roanoke Business College. He served in the Armed Forces during World War II. Following the war, he returned to his hometown and remained there for several years. He then moved to Norton, VA where he joined the Norton Insurance Agency, founded by his father in early 1900. After the death of his father in 1972, he was the second generation to own this business.
Bill is an avid golfer. He and Helen are active in the civic and social affairs of Norton. Their children are William Carl Witt, Jr. and Sharan Charlene Witt
An introduction to South-West Insurance Agency was compiled by Anna Cawood. She writes:
“In the Spring of 1953, A. L. Witt, Sr. offered me a job with South-West Insurance Agency. The girl that had been working part time, Mildred B. Mahaffey, was leaving, and the business needed a full time secretary. Before I proceed any further, I believe an introduction to the years prior to 1953 would be interesting to describe briefly.
This Agency was founded in 1908 under the name of Beverly, Witt and Company, the Beverly for W. S. Beverly and the Witt for A. L. Witt, Sr. Other persons associated with the Agency in the early years were Mayo Cabell, John W. Chalkley and J. B. Wampler. The name Cabell is foreign to me; however, the name Chalkley was prominent in Big Stone Gap at that time and, of course, J. B. Wampler became President of The First National Bank.
W. S. Beverly was Mayor of Big Stone Gap at one time for many years and I remember him as a tall stately man, always carrying a cane, and everyone referred to him as Mayor Beverly.
J. B. Wampler, whose nickname was “Duck”, was a picturesque looking person and always carried a railroad handkerchief sticking out of his hip pocket, usually red in color. In my imagination, I can see him now going up the steps of the bank building without a coat and the handkerchief dangling from his hip pocket.
The one person who is held so dear in everyone’s heart is A. L. Witt, Sr., called Andy Lee by a lot of people, was a descendant of one of the early settlers of the Southwest Virginia area. Mr. A. L. was the great-great-grandson of the first Witt settler in Lee County, Virginia, who migrated from North Carolina around 1800, whose name was Anthony Witt. His great-grandson, John B. Floyd Witt (Andy Lee’s father), migrated to Big Stone Gap from the Lower Crab Orchard section of Lee County, probably in the early 1880’s as a young man after marrying Rachel DeBusk on October 5, 1882, traveling in a wagon which was the best mode of travel at that time. He set up a jewelry store which was probably the first store of this kind in the town of Big Stone Gap which was not the exact name at that time. In the early days, the town was called Three-Forks as it was located on an island formed within the three forks of the Powell River. Later it was called The Gap, in the days of author John Fox, Jr., before being named Big Stone Gap, the present municipality. Mr. A. L. told me that when he was only a teenager, he became the first telephone operator in the town and since there were only a few phones, he knew everyone’s number. Just imagine how many private conversations he could have listened to and how much gossip he probably heard!
As stated before, later he and the other partners formed the insurance agency in 1908 when he was only 23 years of age.
On February 1, 1914, the agency was incorporated, taking the name of South-West Insurance Agency, and confining the firm’s activities to a general insurance agency business, with A. L. Witt as Manager and Treasurer. The other officers and stockholders were C. S. Carter, President; W. S. Beverly, Vice-President; and J. B. Wampler, Secretary, with C. S. Carter as chairman at all the subsequent meetings. Then on March 9, 1914, the agency was given the official name of South-West Insurance Agency, Incorporated, and it was ordered in the meeting of the stockholders that a copy of the Charter be spread upon the Minute Book. A set of By-Laws was subsequently drawn up and signed by C. S. Carter, Chairman and J. B. Wampler, Secretary. In order to get the new Corporation started in compliance with the rules and regulations made by the State Corporation Commission of the state of Virginia, there were several meetings called in the spring of 1914.
The next available minutes of meetings on record was the regular annual meeting held on January 20, 1949, as it was drafted in the By-Laws for these meetings to always be held on the third Thursday in January. This record shows that the Agency was now owned completely by the Witt family. Prior to this time, A. L. Witt had become Manager and President of the corporation in 1933 and his son, Floyd W. Witt, joined the agency in 1941, becoming President in 1966.
Sometime around the year 1925, Charles R. Witt joined the Agency and later became Vice-President. Records show that there were only three employees in the early 1950’s and commissions and salaries were declared by the Directors.”
As is evidenced within these records, South-West Insurance Agency’s roots run deep within this community. Our legacy is found in the narrative of our forefathers and will assuredly continue through the generations to come.