Reunion puts Vicks in the burg for the weekend

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

Their ancestors put the “Vick” in Vicksburg — among many other things historic and commonplace — and about 40 descendents of Joseph Vick will wrap up a family reunion today in the river city bearing their name. 

“There’s actually a lot of Vicks still in Vicksburg, but their names have changed,” said Gailen Vick of Salt Lake City, who organizes the family’s annual reunion and was one of the original founders of the non-profit Joseph Vick Family of America organization. “There probably hasn’t been this many Vicks in Vicksburg since the last time we had a reunion here, though.”

Joseph Vick immigrated to the United States around 1660, settling in present-day Virginia. His great-grandson, Newitt Vick, was also born in Virgina, but grew up to be the Methodist preacher who traveled west and in 1814 built a small log cabin for worship on the banks of the Mississippi River.

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Before his death from Yellow Fever in 1819, Rev. Vick purchased more than 600 acres of land in the area and laid them out into town lots. Following his death, his son-in-law, the Rev. John Lane, became the executor of his estate, expanded the development of the town and named it after Rev. Vick.

There are roughly 11,000 men carrying the DNA of Joseph Vick in the United States today, most of them 10 or 11 generations removed. His descendents have played major and minor roles in the development of the United States, from defending their new country in the Revolutionary War to wearing both blue and gray uniforms in the Civil War.

Sammy Vick, a Batesville-native, played baseball for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees from 1917 to 1921, but is best remembered as the left fielder who was replaced by Babe Ruth when he joined the Yankees in 1920. Dr. Joshua Vick, from North Carolina, helped concoct “Vicks Croup and Pneumonia Salve” in the early 1890s — which was re-branded as Vicks VapoRub in the early 1900s and can now be found in almost any medicine cabinet across the country.

“We have also had some really tragic things that happened in our family history,” said Gailen Vick, noting the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in Virginia is thought to have cost more than one Vick life. “But mostly, we really like the common guys who just worked hard and raised a family.” 

The Vicks attending the weekend reunion in Vicksburg came from about a dozen states, and from as far away as California and as near as Pearl — about a 50-minute drive from Vicksburg. They ranged in age from under 5 to older than 80.

“It’s just a group of real nice folks,” said Jerry Vick, who lives in Kansas City, had been to Vicksburg just once previously and has attended the family reunions since the early 1990s. “I’ve got 3,800 Vicks and information about their lives in my computer database and I can count the bad ones on one hand.”

While in Vicksburg, the Vicks visited a variety of local landmarks that still bear their namesake. They visited the gravesites of Rev. Vick and his wife, Elizabeth, on Oak Ridge Road, and took a tour and dined at the Martha Vick House on Grove Street — once occupied by and named for one of Rev. Vick’s daughters.

A tour of Linden Plantation, which was built in 1827 by Rev. Vick’s son, John Wesley, was also on the itinerary, as was a ride on the Mississippi River, a viewing of the floodwall mural depicting Rev. Vick and a number of workshops exploring Vick family DNA, genealogy and history.

“The genealogy gets in your blood, and you can’t help it. There’s always more to learn; more connections to make,” said Jerry Vick.

The Vick family gatherings date to 1972, when Sam Vick of Panola County, Miss., hosted 170 descendents of Joseph Vick — one of the largest reunions to date. The JVFOA newsletter was created about a dozen years later and, in 1990, the non-profit organization was officially incorporated. There are currently about 200 members, and they’re always looking for more. About 50 have taken DNA tests to help verify their family tree beyond the paper trails that have been left by generations of Vicks across the country.

As with all family histories, mysteries remain for the Vicks. It is not known where Joseph Vick was buried, but they do have his DNA identified. While he was originally thought to have immigrated to the United States from England, Gailen Vick said recent DNA tests have not been able to confirm the connection.

“We still don’t know where he came from, but we’re working real hard to find out,” he said, noting the organization is seeking DNA tests from people in England and Europe thought to be descendents.  

The last time the Vicks held their family reunion in Vicksburg was 1997. Last year’s gathering was in Texas, and next year’s will be in Salt Lake City. Gailen Vick said they try to hold it in Virginia every four years, and said he plans to work the Vicksburg reunion into a four-year rotation as well.

“I promise you we’ll be back here four years from now,” he told his fellow Vicks.


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