On Tuesday night's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?," Trisha Yearwood learns more about her father's side of the family. When Yearwood was growing up, Fridays meant football and Sundays meant church. She marvels that her parents were "practical" yet totally supportive of her artistic ambition. Now married to Garth Brooks and stepmother to three children, Yearwood misses her parents, who have both passed away. "Murder, intrigue, circus performers," she muses. "I have no idea what to expect." We do: thievery, sentence of death by hanging, and ... stolen bacon?
At a library in Edenton, Georgia, hometown of the Winsletts, Yearwood learns that Samuel Winslut — note the spelling change — was born in 1744 in England. She ventures to Binstead, Hampshire, England. We get to know Samuel, whose life was like the British version of a country song: He and his brothers lost their mom when they were kids. Samuel was only 14 when his father died. He and his brother were orphans who became criminals. "Wow," Yearwood says. "Now we have small children with no parents. That's really tragic."
In Shillinglee, we learn more about Samuel's criminal past. He and his brothers invaded an estate and killed deer. "OK, awesome," she wisecracks. "The three brothers are thieves. We can pretty much rule out that I'm royalty. But this is more interesting, right?" Unfortunately for Samuel and his brothers, the Black Acts were in effect; they ensured that minor offenses were punishable by death. The historian says these laws "punished the poor to protect property of the elite few."
Court documents reveal that Samuel didn't want to be hanged and talked about having no family. Yearwood is saddened to think of him so "desolate" at 19. "I feel so sorry for Samuel, even though I know he's committed a crime," she says. So, how did he escape the death penalty? The Transportation Act, which sent British criminals to America to be sold at auctions to plantation owners. Samuel was sentenced to 14 years of servitude and then chained and shipped in 1766. Yearwood keeps the faith, noting that "it certainly beats hanging."
Yearwood returns home to Georgia, where she learns that Samuel became a landowner just four years into his sentence. "There's gotta be a catch, 'cause it's Samuel," she says. She's right. Georgia was handing out land grants to anyone willing to settle there and contend with the Creek Indians. By 1784, Samuel was the owner of almost 400 acres of what Yearwood calls "the wild west of Georgia." She finds it "completely ironic" that the criminal became the lord of the manor.
Alas, it was a temporary gig.
In 1778, Samuel moved his family to Edenton and ventured to court to accuse Creek Indians of crimes including stealing bacon and destroying furniture over a 10-year period. Yearwood is impressed by his "strength and courage," and she relates to him. While she hasn't done anything "remotely as dangerous," she dared to pursue a singing career. "I know that I got that from both my parents," she says. "But now I believe I got a little bit of that from Samuel too.""Who Do You Think You Are?" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on TLC.Check out episode photos from Season 4 of "Who Do You Think You Are?":
- Trisha Yearwood