**Warning, this is a very long post!**
Several years ago, I very proudly finished my Master’s thesis in which my 5th great grandmother, Ann Cochran Dixon, was the focus. Here is the abstract of my thesis:
This thesis focuses on the importance that kinship network analysis lends to the study of women’s history, with a particular focus on women who did not leave behind personal writings. To colonial, national, and antebellum era women, “family” not only included the nuclear family, but also their effective kinship groups. To demonstrate the utility of kinship analysis, I have chosen Ann Cochran Dixon (1763-1857), a Scots-Irish frontierswoman, in relation to her Cochran kinship network. Ann and her kin are an ideal case study; she left no personal writings in which she specifically detailed life events, but the availability of sources documenting her family group makes it possible to reconstruct certain areas of her life through her connections with extended family members. Tracing and comparing the different actions of Ann Cochran Dixon and her kin spanning several generations will demonstrate that kinship can be used as a legitimate category of historical analysis.
My thesis heavily focuses on genealogy, the importance of family, and bringing the life of a woman who left no personally written records behind into focus. I lived and breathed Ann’s life for over three years, and when I was finished with my thesis, I felt like she and I were about as close as any alive descendant and deceased ancestor could be. So, I am very curious as to what I got right, and what conclusions were incorrect.
This is a very long post because I know so much about her and it has been a few years since I have reviewed my thesis. It is very difficult to summarize a project that was about 230 pages long and took over three years of research, but below are some of the most interesting points of her life.
Ann’s life was incredibly interesting. Her Cochran family was descended from a John Cochran who lived in Paisley, Scotland in the late 1500s. He and his sons immigrated to Northern Ireland, where the large extended family lived until the early 1700s. In 1723, Ann’s grandfather, James Cochran, married his third cousin, Isabella Cochran, daughter of “Deaf” Robert and Jean (Stephenson) Cochran. The 1724/25 tax records for Sadsbury and Fallowfield Townships, Chester County, Pennsylvania, show that both Robert Cochran and James Cochran had left Ireland by that time.
In 1730, “Deaf” Robert Cochran, Ann’s great grandfather, authors an incredible document: a family history of the Cochran family in Northern Ireland. Over the next 130 years, the births, marriages, and deaths of subsequent generations were added to it and new copies were produced. I was astonished at the information contained within. Robert recorded family information stretching back to the John Cochran of Paisley. He remembered names, places, and recounted some interesting anecdotes. I found two copies of this document in Pennsylvania, and I was fortunate that Ann, her siblings, and her parents were recorded in the book by later generations.
James Cochran did very well in Pennsylvania, and he set up his children to do well. He owned a large farm, ran a successful tavern, helped found a local church, and funded a local school. He and Isabella had 7 children: Anne, Robert, George, John, Stephen, Jane, and James. Anne married twice, first to Alexander Lecky and second to Reverend John Roan, a well-known Presbyterian minister. Robert married Janet Boyd, but died quite young. George, Ann’s father, was a blacksmith and married Nancy Henry, the sister of Reverend Hugh Henry, whose ministry was based in Maryland. John became a medical doctor and served as the Surgeon General of the Continental Army during the Revolution. He married Gertrude Schuyler of the wealthy New York Schuyler family. Stephen’s primary occupation was farming, and he ran the tavern after the death of his father. He also served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1777 to 1779. Jane married another Presbyterian minister, Reverend Alexander Mitchell. James learned the trade of saddlery and died at the age of 29. All of James’s children became important members of their Scots-Irish society and even played important roles on the state and national levels.
Ann was born to George and Nancy (Henry) Cochran in 1763, though the actual day and month has not been verified. She was either born on April 9 (tombstone and death notice) or August 16 (obituary written by granddaughter). Ann suffered two devastating losses in her early years. Her grandfather James died in 1766 (Isabella died in 1760), followed by her mother in 1769. The deaths also greatly affected George, who struggled to maintain his family financially. As a result, Ann was sent to live with her aunt, Anne Roan, and uncle, Reverend John Roan, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she spent the next five or six years of her life.
Rev. John and Anne Roan had several children: Jean, Elizabeth, Mary, and Flavel. Mary was a year younger than Ann, and they became very close. The Roans also took in their nephew, Archibald Roan, after the death of Archibald’s father. Ann, her cousins, and Archibald all received very good educations from John and Anne. They girls learned to read and write as well as household activities, while the boys learned many subjects as well reading and writing in Latin and Greek. It seems that all members of the Roan household enjoyed reading books from Rev. Roan’s impressive library of 101 books.
Reverend John Roan died on 3 October 1775. Before his death, he made a will in which he mentioned Ann and Archibald. To Ann, he gave £10 “To be paid when she comes to the age of eighteen years of age if her father remove her not from my family before that time.” He also left her an additional £5 if she married someone her aunt approved of. Ann was now 12 years old, and her father George had another choice to make: leave her with her aunt Anne or bring her back to live with him in Chester County and forfeit her inheritance. There is no evidence that Ann received her inheritance, and her obituary states that she returned to her father’s house.
Ann’s father’s family was very involved in the Revolutionary War. Ann was very proud of her family’s involvement, and she loved to tell stories about them. Her uncle Stephen Cochran captained a local militia company, and her cousin Samuel and brother John enlisted. Her father, George, also served in the war as an artificer making items like horseshoes for the army and in the militia. Her uncle Dr. John Cochran was eventually introduced to George Washington and quickly became one of his most trusted medical advisors. He was later the Surgeon General of the army.
Through her uncle John Cochran, Ann had interesting ties to the Valley Forge encampment. She, likely along with her father, traveled to the encampment where she stayed with her uncle. It was there that she met Martha Washington, which was one of her proudest moments.
Father’s Death and Marriage
Ann’s father George died in 1786 when Ann was 23 years old. Now, Ann had lost all of her guardians: both Cochran grandparents, both parents, and her uncle John Roan. Ann’s inherited a “Young colt and the colt the bay mare is with one bed and furniture, likewise a cow and calf.” George was worried about where Ann would live after his death, and in his will, encouraged Ann to live with her sister, Isabel, and her husband, Eliezer Hamill, but only “if they could agree.” Apparantly, they did not agree, and Ann instead chose to move to Northumberland County, Pennsylvania to live with her sister, Jean, and her husband, William Thompson.
While living with her sister and brother-in-law, she was introduced to Sankey Dixon, a close friend of her cousin, Sankey Dixon. She and Sankey were married on 7 June 1788 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sankey was the son of John and Arabella (Murray) Dixon. John had a large farm, and Arabella was well-connected as the niece of wealthy merchant Robert Murray or Murray’s Hill, New York.
They made their first home together in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. Their oldest son, John, was born in 1789 and baptized by their local minister. In about 1791, Sankey and Ann left Pennsylvania for the Shenandoah Valley. During thier residence there, more children were born to them: Matthew Lyle, Robert, Nancy Henry, Isabella, and Mary Roan.
Tennessee and Sankey’s Death
By 1807, the family had moved once again, this time to Knox County, Tennessee, where their youngest daughter, Margaret Ingles, was born. Interestingly, Ann’s cousin, Archibald Roan, was already living there and had served one term as Tennessee’s second governor from 1801-1803.
By 1814, Ann’s children were growing up. Both John and Isabella died as small children, Matthew was apprenticed to a doctor, Robert was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, and the three remaining daughters – Nancy, Mary, and Margaret – were living at home with their parents. Sadly, Sankey died of an unspecified illness on 11 November 1814 when Ann was about 51 years old. The oldest son, Matthew, wrote a very sad letter to his father’s old friend and mother’s cousin, Flavel, to relay the news of Sankey’s death. It is clear from the letter how much Matthew was affected by his father’s death.
Ann was now a widow and had to support her three daughters. Her good friends, Hugh and Elizabeth White, came to her rescue and allowed her and her daughters to live with them until Robert came of age. Ann commented later that White acted as “more than a brother” to her during her time of crisis.
The family lived in Knox County until about 1822, when Ann and her youngest daughter, Margaret, left to live with her oldest son, Matthew, in Winchester, Franklin County, Tennessee
Life in Franklin County
Matthew Dixon was wealthy, had a successful farm and medical practice, was instrumental in beginning a male academy, and was the teller of the first bank in Winchester. Ann and Margaret lived a very comfortable lifestyle with her son.
In 1830, Margaret married the local cabinetmaker, McCama W. Robinson (link to my post on McCama can be found here), and Ann moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. McCama was constantly in trouble with the law, which probably made things quite tense at home. Nevertheless, Ann took great pride in her grandchildren, whom she helped name. Margaret and McCama’s children were: Rachel Ann, Samuel D., Elizabeth White, William Darby, Isabella White, Sarah Sloan, Henry Clay, and Mary D. Rachel’s middle name was for her grandmother, Elizabeth White was named after Hugh L. White’s wife, William Darby was named for the famous geographer and one time tenant of Sankey’s father and a correspondent of Ann’s. Isabella’s middle name also referenced the White family, Sarah Sloan was the name of one of Sankey’s nieces, and Henry Clay was named for the Whig politician. Both Ann and McCama were Whigs. As can be seen, most of the Robinson children were named for people important in Ann’s life.
Ann was also likely the driving force behind her grandchildren’s education, both the boys and the girls. The boys attended a private academy in Winchester, and the girls likely attended the female academy or one in Nashville.
Revolutionary War Widow’s Pension
In 1838, Ann applied for her widow’s pension for the first time. She went to court and gave a statement about her husband’s service, their marriage, and their children. She successfully submitted enough proof for her to qualify, and as a result, she received $320 a year due to Sankey’s rank as a Lieutenant. For the first time in her life, Ann was receiving an independent income. She returned to court several more times to refile her petition every time the legislation changed. She received her pension every year from 1839 until her death in 1857 for a grand total of $5,760.
This money allowed Ann to take control of her life financially. She purchased her own house in Winchester and moved her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren to it in 1844. She also purchased her own furniture and loaned a substantial amount of money to McCama in 1842.
Both McCama and Margaret were in bad health by 1845, and Ann decided it was time to make her will so that her intentions about the distribution of her estate would be in writing. I believe at this point, Ann was quite worried that one or both of them were going to die. Ann made it very clear that if she was to die, all of her assets were to go directly to Margaret and were not to be touched by McCama. If Margaret predeceased her, then everything was to be split by Margaret’s children. Nothing was to go to McCama. She clearly intended to take care of Margaret and her children. She also stipulated that money was to be spent on the education of all of her grandchildren.
Five years later, Margaret died and was buried in the Winchester City Cemetery next to William Darby and Mary D. Robinson who were already dead. With Margaret’s death, Ann had outlived all seven of her children and even some of her grandchildren. This must have been quite a lonely feeling for her.
Ann’s Death and Legacy
Ann retained her health until March 1857. Then she quickly deteriorated, finally dying at home on April 12, 1857 in Winchester, Tennessee.
A short death notice was placed in the local paper:
It in no way alludes to the full and interesting life that she led.
Ann’s property was sold off, and the money from the sales was divided equally between her living grandchildren. Over the next few years, tragedy continued to strike the family that Ann loved so much. McCama’s business failed, and he relinquished guardianship of his three youngest children – Isabella, Sarah, and Henry – to others, including his oldest daughter Rachel Anna Mankin. In 1861, both Samuel and Henry enlisted in the Civil War. Samuel was wounded but survived the war, but Henry was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness. McCama likely died during the Civil War as he disappears from any records after 1861.
The five remaining grandchildren – Anna, Samuel, Elizabeth, Isabella, and Sarah – worked to preserve Ann’s memory.
Ann Mankin learned from her grandmother’s past that when
relatives needed aid, other members of the kinship group had a responsibility to assist. Just as Ann Cochran Dixon’s aunt and uncle, Reverend John and Anne Roan, took her in as a child, Ann’s granddaughter Ann Mankin and her husband James extended the same care to their young relatives. Childless themselves, Ann and James supported not only her siblings Belle, Sarah, and Henry Robinson, but also James’s five orphaned nieces and nephews. Later in life, Ann also used her education, so important to her grandmother, to teach school in Rutherford County, Tennessee.
Reminiscent of his grandparents, Samuel’s “war record was his greatest pride and the chief topic of his thoughts and conversation.”An energetic writer, Samuel submitted his first essay, entitled “Battle of Kennesaw Mountain,” to the editor of The Annals of the Army of Tennessee, published in 1878. In 1883, the First Tennessee Infantry veterans appointed Samuel to a committee in charge of compiling information about the regiment for Dr. John Berrien Lindsley’s The Military Annals of Tennessee: Confederate. This resulted in the completion of Samuel’s second essay, “The First Tennessee.” Samuel also followed the lead of his uncle, Matthew Lyle Dixon, by becoming an enthusiastic and active member of various societies, including the Temple Division Sons of Temperance, Vanderbilt Lodge Knights of Honor, Nashville Typographical Union No. 20, Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and the Tennessee Historical Society. Although he did not preserve his family history to the same extent as did his sisters Elizabeth and Isabella, he did donate to the Tennessee Historical Society two original deeds to his uncle Robert Dixon’s property in Knoxville.
Ann’s influence can also be seen in the life of her granddaughter, Elizabeth
Sturtevant. Elizabeth and her husband John were well-respected educators in Nashville for many years, and they combined their talents in order to serve young men and women in Tennessee who had lost their sight. John and Elizabeth transformed the reputation of the Tennessee School for the Blind and changed the futures of students who might otherwise have received little or no education.
Ann’s youngest Robinson granddaughters, Isabella and Sarah, also showed their devotion to their grandmother. While Isabella guarded some of their grandmother’s possessions, Sarah was interested in retaining Ann’s real property in Winchester. Sarah purchased Ann’s lot and she and Isabella lived in their childhood home until in 1904. When Belle entered the newly established Old Ladies Home in Chattanooga, with the help of the honorary board president of the home, Emma Wells, she donated a small collection of papers that meant so much to her to the Tennessee Historical Society. They included Ann’s obituary, catechism, a letter to Ann from her brother John, the silhouette of Sankey’s brother Robert Dixon, and a few other items.
Why I Want to Meet Her
Ann had such an incredible impact on her family, and I would really love to meet her. I have so many questions to ask her about her life, and I would especially like to see if some of the conclusions I made about her life were correct or if I was completely wrong. Some questions I have are:
1. Who were Nancy Henry’s parents?
2. Can you give me exact details about your stay in Valley Forge?
3. What is your birth date?
4. Where did you and Sankey live in the Shenandoah Valley?
5. Was McCama an alcoholic?
6. What was your real opinion of McCama?
7. Why was Margaret’s health so bad?
8. Did you enjoy living with John and Anne Roan? Or did you wish you were home with your father?
9. Was Sankey a good husband?
I could go on and on with questions! If I could invite Ann to dinner, it would likely be a very long dinner.