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Curator explores Wheeler collection

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

WHEELER — To you, the small piece of paper with faded writing might be just another document in a vast collection.

But it intrigued Cheryl Sneddon. She doesn’t know why she spent so much time studying the March 12, 1859, promissory note between Ben Sherrod and E.S. McMahon of Courtland.

“I just did,” she said matter of factly.

Sneddon, a Californian by birth, is the new curator at Pond Spring, site of the historic home of Gen. Joseph Wheeler. She replaced Myers Brown who accepted a job in Tennessee.

Since August, she has spent her time in an undisclosed location cataloging the collection from the historic home.

Sneddon, who has a doctorate in history and anthropology from the University of Utah, didn’t know about Gen. Wheeler until she accepted a job with the Alabama Historical Commission five years ago.

Now, she has the task of handling some of the most historically significant documents and artifacts that center on Wheeler’s life. The collection, she said, is important because it gives us a look at a family that occupied a place of difference in the social structure of the South.

“What’s going to be interesting is trying to figure out why they had certain items and what they meant within the family,” Sneddon said.

The family, she surmises from certain documents, was very patriotic and very religious.

“You see that they shared a common ground with common people, but there is a sense (because of their social status) that they were different,” Sneddon said.

The state moved the collection offsite for cataloging because the general’s home is being restored, Site Director Melissa Beasley said.

“There is no way we would have been able to restore the home with the collection in it,” Beasley said.

Sneddon, who was the state’s public program coordinator before working one year as executive director of the Children’s Museum of the Shoals, was familiar with the restoration project before becoming the site’s curator. She has been most fascinated with an old safe Beasley found on the historic site about eight years ago.

The safe is badly deteriorating on the outside, but has a hand painting on the inside and custom carved wood cabinets.

“It’s showing a lot of stress, then you open it and here’s this beautiful safe,” said Sneddon.

With the exception of a lock of Jefferson Davis’ hair, most of the safe’s contents were papers dealing with land purchases. Davis was president of the Confederate States of America and imprisoned with Wheeler for a short period after the Civil War ended. The promissory note that intrigued Sneddon was in the safe. The pre-Civil War note shows Sherrod loaning $10.

Following his death in the late 1850s, descendants of Sherrod tried to collect the note, according to another paper in the safe.

But McMahon, an early Courtland settler, is arguing that the note is satisfied.

“A lot of this is going on in 1867 so it shows how long it took for things to get settled,” Sneddon said. “The documents are just fascinating.”

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