Winter – A Snow-Covered House in Ohio

My 4th great grandparents, Washington Preston (the subject of my bearded post) and his wife Rachel (Jordan) Preston, lived in a big, beautiful house in Marietta, Ohio, which they purchased as early as 1881. As I have not been to Marietta myself, I do not know if the house is still standing, but I certainly hope it is!

I have a few pictures of just the house, as well as others taken of family members with the house in the background. In fact, the photograph I used for the bearded post is of Washington, but you can see the house behind him. Two of the photographs of just the house show it in the wintertime. The ground is blanketed with snow, and the roof clearly shows that snow had settled there as well. Below is my favorite of the two photographs:

Washington and Rachel Preston house in Marietta, Ohio.

Doesn’t it look just like a postcard? Snow-covered trees, a shoveled walkway, and snow a foot or so deep.

Although I do not know what the house looked like on the inside, the photo of the exterior of the house provides some clues as to what life was like for the family living here. The house sat back off the road, surrounded by trees with a large lawn in the front and back of the house. The backyard had at least one swing which could be viewed from the two story wrap around porch.

The house was at least two full stories, and it possibly contained an attic and a basement. The house had at least four large rooms on each floor and a large downstairs and upstairs hallway. The home was heated with probably four fireplaces. Two chimneys can be seen rising from the roof, and at least 2 fireplaces, one on the first story and one on the second story, would be attached to each chimney.

This large house was perfect for the family reunions that Washington and Rachel held periodically. Their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren would travel from as far away as Nashville by train to visit with each other. These visits were often documented with family snapshots. This picture of the house is likely from one of the visits to the grandparents’ house.

When Rachel Preston died in 1912, the house passed to her unmarried daughters, Dr. Anna Preston and Nora Preston. The sisters lived in the house until their deaths. After that time, I am not sure what happened to the property. That is something for me to find out when I go to Ohio for research!

Whether the house is still standing or if it is no longer there, I am very grateful that I have this beautiful snapshot of my ancestors’ house on a snowy, Ohio day.

Next to Last – William J. Kimbell

This was a difficult post because it took some searching in my tree to figure out who or what might fit! I finally found that my 3rd great grandfather, William J. Kimbell, was the next to last child born to his parents, Robert Kimbell and Sarah Hinton. This is maybe not the most creative interpretation of this prompt, but it works!

Parents and Siblings

Robert Kimbell was born about 1794 in North Carolina, and when he married Sarah Hinton, daughter of Thomas Hinton and Rachel Hightower, on 8 February 1824, he was living in Clarke County, Georgia.

The first census in which I have found Robert and his family is 1840 when they were living in Cherokee County, Alabama. The census lists a man between 40 and 49, which must be Robert who was about 46 years old at the time, as well as a woman between 30 and 39, which must be Sarah aged about 35. There is also an unidentified male between 30 and 39 living in the household, possible a brother of either Robert or Sarah.

Also living in the house were 8 children 14 years or younger.

2 girls between 10 – 14

1 boy between 10-14

2 boys 5-9

2 boys under 5

1 girl under 5

From the 1850 census, I can determine who some of these children are:

Thomas Kimbell, born 1840, and John Kimbell, born 1838, were likely the two boys under 5.

Elizabeth Kimbell, born 1845, was likely the girl under 5.

Henry Kimbell, born 1833, and Robert Kimbell, born 1832, were likely the two boys between 5 and 9.

That leaves 3 children unaccounted for: 2 girls and 1 boys between 10 and 14 years old. I have seen some compelling evidence than an Ann Kimbell who married Joseph Weaver in Chattooga County, GA in 1842 is one of those 2 girls. The Kimbell family was living in Chattooga County by that time, and Ann and her husband moved to Cherokee, AL where they lived their entire lives, a place where Robert Kimbell and his family lived in 1840. She died in 1914, and her death certificate (which I do not have) might shed some light on her parents.

I have seen other researchers put forth a Melissa Sue Kimbell as the other daughter, which is definitely a possibility. Melissa Kimbell married Joseph DeLawne (Delong) in Chattooga County in 1847.

The other boy is still a mystery.

Birth and Early Life

Robert and Sarah’s last two children, William J. and Joseph, were born in 1843 and 1846 respectively. My ancestor is William J., the next to last child. He was born on 6 May 1843 in Chattooga County, Georgia. In the 1850 census he was seven years old and living in Chattooga County with his parents Robert and Sarah, and siblings Robert, Henry, Elizabeth, John, Thomas, and Joseph. His father was a farmer but owned no land, or at least no value was attributed to his land. (I need to do some more research here).

1850 Census showing William J. Kimbell as the next to last child.

10 years later, William is still living at home with both parents as well as his older sister Elizabeth and younger brother Joseph. He was recorded as 17 years old and a farmer. His father’s land was valued at $1,200, and William was likely helping his father farm that property. This is the last census in which Robert Kimbell appears, indicating that he died between 1860 and 1870.

Civil War and Marriage

William enlisted as a Corporal in the Confederate Army, 6th Regiment Georgia Calvary, Company H, in 1862. He served from his enlistment date until the Confederate surrender at Greensboro, North Carolina in 1865 and was discharged in May. According to his wife, he was never taken prisoner. Some of this information came from his widow’s pension application which was made in 1910.

Three months after his discharge, William married Martha Caroline Murphy in 28 August 1865 near Summerville, Chattooga County, Georgia. She was the daughter of Jeremiah Murphy and Jane Dorsett. The couple continued to live with William’s widowed mother, Sarah, now aged 63, his older sister Elizabeth, and her son John. Elizabeth was unmarried, and John’s father is still not known. William and Martha’s oldest child, Alice, was born in 1866, and she was enumerated with them as their only living child.

1880 Census

1880 Census

The 1880 census shows that William and Martha are living in their home with only their children. William’s mother Sarah is no longer there, and his sister Elizabeth and nephew John are enumerated in a separate dwelling next door. By this time, William and Martha have five children: Elizabeth (recorded as Alice in 1870), Joseph F., Ulenna, James A., and John L.

Death and Issues with Date

William’s tombstone shows that he died on 28 February 1882, but I am now questioning whether that date is correct. On the 1900 census, Martha was living in Chattooga County, widowed, with several of her children: James, John, William, and Lula. William was born in October 1882, which could still be possible if his father died in February 1882, but Lula was born in March 1887! She is listed as Martha’s daughter, and Martha only married one time. It was also reported to the census taker that Martha had 12 children, although only 7 were living at the time. Lula, along with the other children named on the census records, make up 7 exactly.

The date, 18-2, is difficult to read in Martha’s pension application.

In Martha’s Confederate widow’s pension application, she stated that her husband died in 18-2. The 3rd number is very difficult to read. It seems that it was interpreted as an 8, but, based on Lula’s birth, it has to be a 9. It would only make sense that their daughter Lula was born in 1887 if her father died in 1892 and not 1882. Lula died in 1963, and hopefully her death certificate lists her parents’ names. If William is listed as her father, than his death date is certainly incorrect on his tombstone.

William Kimbell’s tombstone in Lyerly, Georgia.

It is possible that Lula is Martha’s daughter but not William’s. William does not appear in tax records after 1882, which is consistent with the 1882 death date. At that time, he was only 39, so there is no reason why he wouldn’t be paying taxes. This supports the theory that Lula was not William’s daughter, but perhaps a daughter from another relationship but not a second marriage. That would have been quite the scandal!

After William’s death, Martha applied for a widow’s pension, for which she was approved, but did not receive the money. After her death in 1922, her son, John, also attempted to get the $105 owed by the state of Georgia. It is her pension application that contains so much useful information, including their marriage date and William’s death date.

The Lesson

Writing about William J. Kimbell has taught me another valuable lesson: tombstones are not always correct, especially if they were put up years after someone’s death, which was the case for William. It seems that the death year is possibly incorrect, yet this is the date that is found on everyone’s family tree, including my own. It seems that the death certificate of Martha’s daughter, Lula, might shed some truthfulness on this situation.


As I am short on time today (and behind!!), here is a list of things that I am thankful for, genealogically speaking, this year:

1. Being able to interview and record both of my grandmother. I asked them questions over several days about their lives and their families. They graciously answered every question!

2. Making a genealogically related stop during a vacation to England this year. I was fortunate to see the burial sites of several ancestors in London.

3. Fixing a few major errors in my tree thanks to some newly accessible records on

4. Finding the parents of a ancestor who has been a brick wall for the past 10 years!

5. Locating the naturalization record of the father of the above mentioned brick wall ancestor.

6. Proving 2 new DAR ancestors.

It has been a wonderful year for genealogy, and I hope next year will be just as productive!





Random Fact – English Use of Aliases

Last year, I spent some researching one of my English lines: the Webbs. It is one of those lines that I had few expectations of, but it turned out to be quite interesting! As with most research, what I found only left me with more questions, and I believe I have done all that I can do from the U.S. That only means one thing: a research trip to England!

My random fact concerns my Webb family and some surname patterns that make research trickier. Several generations of my Webb family used Nichols alias Webb as their surname. I thought that was so peculiar! As this was the first time that I had run into alias used in this manner (as opposed to nefarious reasons), I wanted to learn more. Why was this being done? How does the name Nichols factor into the family?

After the Medieval period ended, surnames began to develop and so did the use of aliases as surnames. There were several reasons for “alias” to be incorporated in a last name.

1. Using a father or grandfather’s forename as a surname as a way to pass on “family” names. This can also be seen in surnames like Robinson, Robertson, Davidson, etc. Instead, someone might use alias to indicate this: Richard Thomas alias Henry. Henry might be the name of his father or grandfather.

2. Illegitimacy could be another reason for using alias. The child could be known by both her father and mother’s surname: Sarah Hodgkin alias Turner.

3. Inheritance could be another factor. If land was inherited from the mother’s side of the family, an alias could be used to display that fact.

4. Remarriage could also result in using an alias. The children, especially if young, could adopt their step-father’s name as part of their surname.

At this time, I have not found any evidence supporting any of the above reasons for using alias in the Nichols alias Webb family. But again, there may be some English documents that I do not access to here in the U.S. that could she some light on the situation.

The Nichols alias Webb surname has been used in the towns of Tonbridge and Leigh in Kent since at least 1600, when a John Webb alias Nichols used it in his will. The first generation of my family was a John Nichols alias Webb, the elder who was still living in 1657. John the elder’s children  – Margaret, William, John, Thomas, Giles, and Richard – all used the Nichols alias Webb surname. My ancestor, Richard, married Dory Chamberlyn in 1640, and their marriage produced at least three sons – John, Thomas, and Richard. Richard the younger married Jane Crouch in 1663, and his surname was recorded in the parish register as Nicholas alias Web, another variation of both surnames. Their marriage was the last record (that I have found) in which his surname was written using alias. The surname was written simply Webb when his children were baptized in neighboring Leigh. The use of alias in surnames was falling out of use in the mid 17th century, so it is no surprise that Richard the younger and his family ceased using it.

Nichols alias Webb Family Tree 

There was quite an extended family of Nichols alias Webb members living in Tonbridge and Leigh in the 17th century. I have been able to put some of the branches together (including mine), but as of now, I have not been able to connect all of the branches to a common ancestor. Here is the family as I have it now:

1. John Nichols alias Webb, the elder

  • Living on 20 May 1657. Named in the will of his son, John the younger.
  • Wife: unknown. Presumed dead by 20 May 1657.
  • Children: Margaret (married John Baker), John the younger, William, Thomas, Giles, and Richard.

2. John Nichols alias Webb, the younger

  • 31 Jul 1652. Named as the heir of Thomas Nichols alias Webb, a cousin of John the elder.
  • Wife: Hester
  • Children: Margaret, married William Fuller.
  • Will: 20 May 1657: named father John the elder, wife, daughter and son-in-law, brothers Thomas, Giles, and Richard, and sister Margaret Baker. Land in Leigh and Tonbridge.

2. William Nichols alias Webb

  • Wife: Anne Carpenter
  • Children:
  • Will: 6 June 1650: named wife Anne, brother-in-law Edward Carpenter, Thomas Carpenter son of Edward, brother Richard Webb, Richard’s 3 sons Thomas, Richard, and John, sister Margaret Baker, and kinsman Andrew Headley.

2. Giles Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 20 May 1657: brother John
  • Wife: Eleanor Medhurst. Married 23 January 1642 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Ann, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth.

2. Richard Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 6 June 1650: brother William
  • Heir: 20 May 1657: brother John
  • Wife: Dory Chamberlyn. Married on 27 January 1640 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Thomas, Richard, and John.
  • Death: Probably dead before the Hearth Tax of 1664. In Leigh, a “widow Webb” was listed. However, the widow could be Eleanor, Giles’s wife.
William Nichols alias Webb left his land in Tonbridge to his nephews Thomas, Richard, and John.

3. Richard Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 6 June 1650: uncle William Nichols alias Webb.
  • Wife: Jane Crouch. Married 17 June 1663 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Margaret, John, Richard, and Bettris.

When Margaret married, her surname was simply “Webb,” and the use of alias finished. Although the use of so many names and aliases can be confusing, it is also helpful because it can help establish family connections between multiple generations and over several towns. I am hoping that with more research, I will be able to unravel the mystery of the Nichols and Webb components of the surname and to create a more complete family tree!


Bearded – Washington Preston

The Beard

I had a difficult time deciding between two bearded ancestors for this post! Both were great in their own way, but I have chosen to showcase my 4x great grandfather Washington Preston’s beard. It is just great because it is so long, (maybe a foot long?!), and it’s completely white! Below is one photograph that nicely displays his beard.

This side of the family liked to take photographs, so one of his children probably snapped this photograph of him around 1900 when he was about 77 years old. I really love it because of how relaxed Washington looks. He is sitting in a rocking chair on his front lawn while reading his newspaper, and I can just imagine that it was a beautiful day outside.

Washington Preston, from all accounts of him, was a very nice, genial man. He was tall and slender with a straight nose. The tall and slender gene was passed down to his son Charles and is still apparent in my father and myself! Examining his photo has made me wonder if he had a beard his whole adult life, or if he began growing it as an older man. Either way, he beard is fantastic!


Washington was born on 2 December 1823 in the town of Beverly in Washington County, Ohio to Frederick and Joanna (Chapin) Preston. Both of his parents from New England families who had migrated west to Pennsylvania and finally settled in Ohio.

On 12 March 1846, Washington married Rachel Ann Jordan in Morgan County, the county just to the north of Washington County. Unlike Washington’s parents, Rachel’s were both born in Maryland. Both Washington and Rachel raised a large family on their farm in Beverly: George, Charles, Henrietta, Curtis, Marion, Lucy, Francis, Nora Bell, and Anna Louise.

1870 Census, Beverly, Washington County, Ohio.

Beverly, then as it is now, was a small town nestled on the Muskingum River. People who lived in this area of Ohio in the 19th century were farmers, coal miners, or worked in the iron industry. Washington Preston owned a farm, but his main trade was pattern making. (In the census, he was listed as a farmer, day laborer, carpenter, plow maker, and pattern maker.) A pattern maker worked in a foundry and created molds that would be cast in steel and used as parts of machines used in the milling industry. In my photo collection is one of the Beverly Star Foundry, which one of the places were I believe Washington worked. According to the obituary of his daughter, Nora, the family moved from Beverly to Marietta, Ohio in 1881 while Washington was working for the W. F. Robertson Company. Later, he left the company and began working for the Marietta Manufacturing Company.

Washington died on 12 December 1902 at the age of 79. A very long obituary was published in the local paper after he died. He was a member of the Odd Fellows, and according to the paper, Washington’s funeral was the largest ever held in Marietta. The Odd Fellows charted a steamboat to carry his body up and down the Ohio River prior to burial. He was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta where his wife Rachel joined him in 1912.


Frightening – Amputation

My biggest fear is physical pain. Even the anticipation of physical pain makes me afraid! So it is no wonder that one of the most frightening stories I can think of has to do with amputation.

This story has three main players – my great great grandfather Newton Harrison Davis, his older brother Richard Lee, and their father Nathan Calloway Davis. Newton was the youngest child of Nathan and Sarah (Hill), born in 1870. This was a second marriage for both his father and mother, so Newton had quite a few half siblings as well. By 1880, only Nathan and Sarah’s children were still living at home. Nathan owned a large farm in Marshall County, Tennessee, part of which is still in my family today. Nathan primarily raised Tennessee Walking Horses It was primarily a Tennessee Walking Horse farm, but they also raised cows, sheep, and swine.

Newton Harrison Davis, 9 years old, living with his parents and siblings in Marshall County, Tennessee.

When Newton was about 10 years old, he and his older brother, Lee, went hunting somewhere in the county. At some point during their hunt, Lee accidentally shot Newton in the arm! The boys made it back to the house where Nathan assessed the damage. I can only image how painful it was for Newton, how badly Lee felt, and how upset Nathan and Sarah were over the incident. Luckily, Nathan was also a physician. He owned an impressive collection of medical books, most of which Nathan’s grandson gave to a local Marshall County doctor years later.

The wound was so bad that Nathan was forced to amputate Newton’s arm right below the elbow. I hope that Nathan was able to give Newton some chloroform or anything to help dull him to the pain of the saw. In the end, everything turned out alright. Newton survived the ordeal, and when he was older, he married and farmed. It seemed his accident did not slow him down at all! In photographs, it is obvious that he is missing his arm. The sleeve is often pinned to the back of his jacket.

What a frightening event for everyone involved!

Cause of Death – “Crushed Under A Train”

The story of the death of my 4x great grandfather, Richard Swift, is quite sad, and even more so after I learned the circumstances surrounding his death.

In a way, this post is a continuation of three other posts I have written this year. First, I wrote about Reverend William Swift, Richard’s great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his father’s side. A couple of days ago, I wrote about Colonel Nicholas Spencer, Richard’s 4x great grandfather and an immigrant ancestor on his mother’s side. Yesterday, I examined a court case concerning the estate of Richard’s uncle, Spencer Ariss Moss, in which Richard was one of the complainants. And with that, this post is all about Richard Swift.


As I have written quite a bit about Richard’s family, I won’t rehash too much of it here. Richard’s parents were Catherine Moss (1763-1816) and Richard Swift (1767-1831). Catherine was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, but by 1779, she had moved with her parents to Caswell County, North Carolina. There she married Richard Swift on 2 November 1787. Richard Swift was the son of William Swift Jr. and Frances Waddy, born 2 April 1767 and baptized on 7 May in Goochland County, Virginia.

Richard Swift Jr. was born in Tennessee on 8 July 1807 after his parents and older siblings had migrated from North Carolina. In 1830, he married Mary Fulcher, and after that date, he begins to appear in records in Robertson County, buying and selling land and slaves with his relatives and in-laws. He was a farmer and by trade a cooper, or barrel maker. He never owned particularly large parcels of land, only about 300 acres at a time.

Richard and his wife Mary had quite a large family: William, Martha, Catherine, Matilda, James M., Tennessee, Mary Frances (my 3x great grandmother), Elizabeth, Richard, Park Bailey, and Laurinda. All 11 children grew to adulthood, which for that time, was quite an impressive feat.

The Crime

As I mentioned, Richard was a cooper and by 1881 as a 73 year old man, he still operated his cooper business on his property. The following articles describe the events of Sunday, 20 February 1881 at Richard Swift’s home in Greenbrier, Robertson County, Tennessee.

Article in The Tennessean announcing the arrest of Joseph Pike and Lewis Sadler. 22 February 1881.
Account of the robbery and arson, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 25 February 1881.

A third man, John Reese, was also arrested in connection with the theft and arson.

John Reese arrested in connection with the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 26 February 1881.

Not only did the thieves steal $1000 from Richard (quite a sum back then), but they also burned some of his outbuildings. Luckily, his home was not set on fire as well. Richard, though old, was determined to see the culprits were prosecuted.On 7 June 1881, Joseph Pike, Lewis Saddler, and Jeff Warren were indicted for “willfully and maliciously” burning the house of Richard Swift. It was also ordered that the sheriff of Davidson County bring Pike and Saddler back to Robertson County, as the men were apprehended in Nashville. On 10 June, Pike, Saddler, and Warren were all indicted for “burglary and house breaking.” Richard testified, as did his son James and sons-in-law B. F. Webster and G. B. Blackburn. The thieves stole “United States bank notes commonly called green backs,” “National Bank notes,” “current gold coin,” current silver coin,” “current silver silver dimes half dimes and of current nickle” for a total of $1,500.

On 14 June, the arraignment of Pike and Saddler took place in Robertson County. They plead not guilty, but “there not being time to finish the trial of the cause today,” it had to be continued to next day at 8:00 a.m. Lewis Saddler was found not guilty of the charge of arson, but like the day before, they again ran out of time to finish the trial. On 16 June, Joseph Pike was found guilty of arson. That same day, he also plead not guilty to burglary and larceny, but during the proceedings, he changed his mind and plead guilty. The article below gives more details about his trial on the 16th.

Joseph Pike confesses to the crime. Published in The Tennessean on 17 June 1881.

Although he plead guilty to burglary, on 17 Jun he moved for a new trial in the arson case. Neither the Attorney General nor the jury were inclined to be generous in this case, and his request for a new trial was overruled. On 18 June, he received the following sentences:

Burglary and Larceny: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary at Nashville for the term of Eight years commencing on the 16th day of June instant that he be rendered infamous and disqualified to give evidence or exercise the elective franchise or hold any office under this state and that he pay the costs of this prosecution.”

Forgery & False Pretenses: (unrelated to the Swift arson and burglary) Three years hard labor.

Arson: “Undergo confinement of hard labor in the penitentiary for the term of Eight Years commencing at the expiration of the term of eight years and three years for which he is sentences in the two cases of the state vs. Joe Pike et als…The defendant prays an appeal to the next term of the supreme court at Nashville which is granted and here tenders his bill of exceptions….”

Richard’s Death

Sadly for Richard and his family, the ordeal was not over. The Supreme Court of Tennessee did plan to hear Joe Pike’s appeal, so Richard made plans to travel to Nashville to testify, along with his son and sons-in-law. The family were going to catch the train at Greenbrier Station and take it to Nashville. However, when attempting to cross the train tracks, he was struck by a train and killed. The articles below are two different accounts of the accident recorded in local newspapers.

Article in the Tennessean about the death of Richard Swift. Published 5 July 1881.
Account of Richard Swift’s death, published in the Leaf-Chronicle on 12 July 1881.

It is just heartbreaking to think that Richard died in such a terrible way, in front of his family, who were apparently grief stricken. It is even more horrible that the only reason he was at the station that morning was to serve as a witness at the Supreme Court at the trial of the man who stole from him and burned his cooper shop.

That same day, his oldest son William purchased burial clothes for Richard from Dean & Durrett, dry goods dealers. For $32.90, he purchased 1 suit of black broad cloth, 1 pair of Morocco shoes, 1 shirt, 1 pair of drawers, 1 pair of hose, 1 linen collar, 1 pair of gloves, and 1 neck tie. The family intended to bury him quickly, so William paid the $0.75 express fee.

Richard was buried in the family cemetery in Robertson County, probably within the next few days.

His Estate

His oldest son, William, was the administer of his estate along with his son-in-law J. W. Sprouse, and they sold at public auction his personal property. It included:

1 axes, augers, rakes, hoes, shovels, 16 ft of rope, a scythe, 8 bridles, 6 bits, horses, 1 wagon, 1 gun, 1 bedstead, 1 cupboard, 1 table, 1 dressing table, bacon, 2 cradles, saddles, pigs, fodder, oats, corn, and rails.

His wife, Mary, was assigned a years allowance from the estate, which included 20 barrels of corn, 1000 pounds of pork, 675 pounds of flour, 1000 bushels of oats, $20 worth of coffee & sugar, $2.00 worth of spice, pepper, & soda, 1 barrel of salt, $12.50 worth of vinegar & molasses, and 5 gallons of coal oil.

After the personal property was sold and his debts paid, his wife and his 11 children received $7.48, a very small amount.

Conflict – Heirs of Spencer Ariss Moss vs. James Moss

Two posts ago, I discussed my 10th great grandfather, Colonel Nicholas Spencer, his immigration to Virginia, his involvement in politics, and how his brothers and children died without heirs, leaving his granddaughter, Frances Spencer Ariss, as his only descendant who had children of her own. I also mentioned that her great grandson, Spencer Ariss Moss, was the last descendant on my side of the family to carry the name Spencer. Today’s post focuses on a court case revolving around Spencer Ariss Moss after his decease, during which case his heirs fought over the ownership of land and two enslaved people. The subject of the case is quite hard for me to wrap my mind around, but it does show how easily families could be divided over the inheritance of people. On a positive note, this case is particularly valuable to me as a genealogist as it clarifies familial relationships that aren’t always apparent in other public records.


John Ariss and his wife Frances Spencer (granddaughter of Colonel Nicholas Spencer) had four children – Spencer Ariss, John, Elizabeth, and Frances. Elizabeth married Thomas Sorrell, a builder who was apprenticed to one of George Washington’s uncles. Thomas and Elizabeth Sorrell had seven children, but only 6 were alive when Thomas wrote his will on 24 September 1774 – John Spencer Sorrell, Ariss Sorrell, Thomas Ballard Sorrell, Frances Moss, Hannah Stevens, and Martha Sorrell.

My 6x great grandmother, Frances Sorrell, married William Moss in the early 1760s. Their marriage produced six children: Catherine (my 5x great grandmother), Hannah Bushrod, Spencer Ariss, Margaret Blanton, Thomas Ballard Spencer, and William Washington. In the early 1800s, Frances, William, and their children migrated to Robertson County, Tennessee where both Frances and William died. It was in Robertson County that the court case took place, and it involved the estate of Frances and William’s son, Spencer Ariss Moss.

The Families

Spencer Ariss Moss was the last of William and Frances Moss’s children to die. The other five died previously, but only Catherine Swift and William Washington Moss left heirs. Spencer Ariss, though married, died childless in 1842. Below are the main characters in the case:

1. Spencer Ariss Moss: wife Hannah B. Moss, no children

2. Catherine (Moss) Swift (deceased): children Anthony Augustus Swift, Richard Swift (my 4x great grandfather), Frances Warren, Catherine Swift, Park Bailey Swift, Sarah Bush, Harriet Murray, George A. Swift, and Margaret Doulin.

3. William Washington Moss (deceased): children Elizabeth Sisk, William Moss Jr., Lucy Jones, Bushea White, and John B. Moss.

4. James Moss: nephew of Hannah B. (Moss) Moss.

5. Elizabeth Jones: niece of Hannah B. Moss, daughter of her sister, and wife of Anthony Jones.

The plaintiffs in the case were the above listed children of Catherine Swift and William Washington Moss. All of them were listed in the case as well as the husbands of the married women.

The defendant was James Moss, a nephew of Hannah B. Moss, Spencer Ariss Moss’s wife. Hannah’s maiden name was also Moss, and it was likely that she was a relative of Spencer’s on his father’s side. The other defendant was Elizabeth H. Jones, Hannah’s niece.

The Case – 1848

The heirs of Spencer Ariss Moss (his nieces and nephews) brought a suit in Chancery Court against James Moss, administrator of the estates of Spencer Ariss Moss and Hannah B. Moss his wife.

The beginning of the bill filed in the Chancery Court of Robertson County, Tennessee.

Bill – 29 April 1848

“Would show your Honor that in the year 1843 one Spencer A. Moss died in Robertson County, intestate and left no children or their descendants, nor did he ever have any children but leaving a widow Hannah B. Moss and your complainants, Children and Representatives of a Brother and Sister of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased, viz. William Moss and Katherine Swift formerly Katherine Moss. That said deceased also left bothe Real and personal property viz. a tract of land on which said deceased resided for several years and up to his death…Two negroes, viz. Boy Hardy now about 17 years old and Girl Nance now about 16 or 17 years old; also Horses, Hoges, Sheepe, Cowes, Corn, fodder, Wheat & Farming utensils & Household & Kitchen Furniture. Your complainants would further show your Honor that one James Moss at the May Term 1843 of the County Court for Robertson County qualified as the administrator of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased and entered into bond in said court with John B. Moss and Wm W Moss his securities for the faithful performance of the said Trust all of which is of Record in our said County…”

“Your complainants would show your Honor that the aforesaid Negros the residue of the Personal Property and the aforesaid tract of Land remained in the possession of the widow the said Hannah B. and the said James Admr. up to the death of the said Widow Hannah B. which occurred in September 1847. That the widow Hannah B. conveyed as your complts. are informed after the death of hersaid husband the Boy Hardy to one Jno B. Moss of this County but who is now dead, and that said boy Hardy is now in the possession of his widow and Wm Moss Jr administrator and that in the year 1846 She also conveyed…the Girl Nance to Elizabeth H. Jones the wife of Anthony Jones and that she is now in the possession of the said Anthony Jones…the said conveyances of said negros by the said widow Hannah B., if made were and are not legal as the said Widow was only entitled to one half of the Personal property of her deceased husband the said Spencer A. and that your complainants are entitled to the other half as suit to kin to the said Spencer A. being the children of a Brother and Sister of the said Spencer A. Moss deceased.”

“Your complainants would further show your Honor that the said James Moss admr. as aforesaid has never accounted for any — of said slaves nor has he accounted as before said for any thing of the whole of said estate…but that he has been tending or cultivating said farm for several years and is now planting a crop or said farm and that he has removed the rest of the buildings from the same so as to greatly impun the value therof…your complainants would further show your Honor that they claim the whole of said Lands which the said Spencer A. died seized and possessed as next of kin as aforesaid and they therefore pray your Honor to decree a sale of the same for the distribution amongst your complainants and that the said administrator James Moss be made to account for next and damages to said farm and lands to your complainants and that be surrender up the the title papers to said lands if he has them…”

“Your complainants further pray your Honor to decree said negroes to be surrendered and given up to be sold for distribution so that your complainants may receive their portion of the same.”

Cross Bill – 5 May 1848

In the cross bill, James Moss admr. answers the complainants’ charges against him.

James Moss explained the situation to the court as he saw it. In 1832, he began working for Spencer and Hannah, taking care of their business and farm as they were aging. Spencer promised to pay him, but never did, saying he would settle with James out of his estate when he died. Spencer died intestate in 1842, leaving Hannah a widow but no children. At the time of his death, he owned 167 acres and Hardy and Nancy. James sold the perishable items, but he understood that Hannah would have use of the land and the slaves until her death. After her death, he planned to sell the land and slaves and would keep the money to cover the costs of administering their estates and as payment for his labor over the years.

However, in 1844, without his consent, Hannah conveyed Hardy in a deed of gift to John B. Moss, son of Spencer’s brother William Washington Moss. In 1845, Hannah conveyed Nancy in a deed of gift to Elizabeth Jones. James Moss contended that both gifts were fraudulent, and that all parties involved took advantage of Hannah who was old and had memory problems. James, on behalf of Hannah, took this to court to attempt to undo the deeds, but her death in 1847 interrupted the proceedings, and Elizabeth Jones and the estate of John B. Moss still owned the two slaves. James asked the court to order a sale of the slaves and the land, and that the money be used to offset his expenses as administrator and to pay him for the work he performed for Spencer and Hannah Moss.

Interestingly, James Moss agreed with the Spencer A. Moss heirs that the two conveyances were not legal, but the two sides envisioned a different alternative outcome.


On 12 February 1849, 4 of the complainants – Anthony A. Swift, William W. Moss Jr., Campbell Jones (on behalf of wife Lucy Moss), and Harrison Sisk (on behalf of wife Elizabeth Moss) agreed to relinquish their rights to the estate of Spencer A. Moss if James Moss paid for all costs of the 2 ongoing court cases and if both parties dismissed the court cases.


Depositions were taken from Elizabeth Jones, Jane Lucas, Robert Coggin, John Davidson, Titus England, James Erwin, Elijah Warren, Stephen Jones, John H. England, and James Sprouse in the first half of 1850. By this time, the case had been dragging on for 2 years. The witnesses were asked about Spencer’s death, whether or not he left heirs, what property he died in possession of, and other details.

Elijah Warren testified that he heard Spencer say that Hardy and Nancy were going to go to John B. Moss and Elizabeth Jones. It was noted that the defendant’s attorney objected to this point.

Robert C. Coggin informed the court that he knew Hannah was the daughter of Robert Moss, who bequeathed her Hardy and Nancy upon his death. They were left to her alone, and not to Spencer, so she had full control over their lives. He also stated that Hannah told him about giving Hardy to John B. Moss and of her intention to give Nancy to Elizabeth Jones, and that she had the right to do that.

Elizabeth Jones also gave testimony supporting the actions of Hannah B. Moss. Elizabeth was the daughter of Hannah’s sister, and she had been “in part reared” by Spencer and Hannah. She informed the court that Hardy and Nancy were the grandchildren of Peg, a female slave given to Hannah on the death of Robert Moss, and that her descendants would therefore belong to Hannah. Spencer was only given a life interest in Peg and her descendants, but they in fact belonged solely to Hannah.

James Sprouse provided some interesting information, this time concerning the making of Spencer’s will. He stated that “the said Hannah B. seemed to be very anxious that he (Spencer) should make a will, but that said Spencer A. remarked that it was not necessary to make a will, that the negroes belonged to the said Hannah B. any how, he further states that the understanding in the neighborhood was & has been for a great while that the negroes came by the said Hannah B. & that they were hers, he supposes the boy Hardy was…worth about $600….”

On 7 October 1850 and 17 April 1851, the defendants objected to much of the information provided by the witnesses.

Decision – 23 September 1851

It was decreed by the court that the 166 acres should be sold, and as 4 of the complainants – Anthony A. Swift, William W. Moss Jr., Campbell Jones (on behalf of wife Lucy Moss), and Harrison Sisk (on behalf of wife Elizabeth Moss) – sold their interests in the land to James Moss, he was entitled to 4 shares of the profit. The other complainants were entitled to 1 share each.

Daniel H. Murray & wife Harriet, 1 share

Geo A. Swift, 1 share

Richard Swift, 1 share

Thos. S. Dulin & wife Margaret, 1 share

John Bruce & wife Katharine, 1 share

Seabourn Warren & wife Francis, 1 share

Reuben White & wife Hannah, 1 share

Thos. Bush & wife Sarah, 1 share

The children of Daniel Hackney: Wm. A., John W., and Margaret, jointly 1 share (for some reason, this family was not included in the original bill or cross bill. Daniel Hackney married Nancy Moss in Davidson County. She was a daughter of William W. Moss Jr. who died prior to the case. This is more evident in Wm. W. Moss’s 1842 will)


There are some fascinating aspects of this case. Not least is the depth of genealogical information embedded in the various court documents.  Three generations of the Moss family can be seen, and four generations of Hannah B. Moss’s family are identified. It also shows how the nieces and nephews of Spencer Ariss Moss really believed that the profits from his estate should go to his relatives, and not to Hannah’s relatives. Both sides also believed the other was taking advantage of certain parties. I also realized that the case files I have do not address what happened to Hardy and Nancy, the two enslaved people at the center of the case. I believe this was resolved later and under James Moss’s name. When I originally found the case, I was primarily interested in Spencer A. Moss, his sister Catherine Swift (my ancestor) and her children, so I did not make a copy of the other case. This, of course, was a mistake! It is so important to collect documents concerning siblings and not just direct ancestors, and I knew better than that. But that will leave me something else research the next time I am in Robertson County!

On the Farm – George Christian

Today’s post is going to be fairly quick and simple, partly because I am trying to catch up and partly because life has been a bit crazy this week. So, this is a transcription of the 1850 Agricultural Census taken of the farm of George Christian of Overton County, Tennessee.

George Christian (1802-1892)

George Christian (1802-1892) was the oldest son of George and Elizabeth (McCormick) Christian. I wrote about George, Sr. in an earlier post. George Jr. was born in Knox County, Tennessee, and early in his life, migrated to Overton County. George married Celina Fisk, the daughter of Moses Fisk, a graduate of Dartmouth and a true Renaissance man. Moses gifted Celina land before her marriage, which was added to George’s upon their marriage. Here is a snapshot of life on George and Celina’s farm in 1850:

1850 Agricultural Census

Acreage and Values: 80 Improved Acres and 1400 Unimproved Acres. Cash Value of Farm: $1500 and Value of Farm Implements: $60.

Farm Animals: 4 Horses, 1 Ass, 5 Milch Cows, 4 Working Oxen, 8 Other Cattle, 7 Sheep, and 100 Swine. Value of Livestock: $400. Value of Animals Slaughtered: $40.

Produce: 50 Bushels of Wheat, 1000, Bushels of Indian Corn, 100 Bushels of Oats, 15 Pounds of Wool, 20 Bushels of Irish Potatoes, and 10 Bushels of Sweet Potatoes. 300 Pounds of Butter and 30 pounds of Beeswax and Honey. Value of Orchard Produce: $30 and Housemade Manufacturing Value: $40

People Living and Working on the Farm: George Christian (48 years), wife Celina (37), children Moses Elian (18 years), Moffit Alonzo (15 years), Perilla (11 years), Viola (8 years), Zeda Ann (6 years), Arkley Fisk (4 years), and George (1 year). George and Celina also owned two slaves, both boys, one 14 years old and the other 5 years old. This particular piece of information is hard to reconcile with what I know of the family. Celina’s father, who was from Massachusetts, was a staunch abolitionist, and he wrote very eloquently and passionately on the subject. But perhaps George did not agree with his father-in-law’s views.

George and Celina lived out their days on their farm. Celina died at the age of 70 in 1884, and George followed in 1892 when he was 90. Both were buried in a cemetery on their farmland. Their lives were literally tied to their land: their livelihood, their family, and their deaths


Unusual Source – Job Application

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, many people lost their jobs and were struggling to maintain their former lifestyles. My 2nd great grandparents, Thomas and Jessie Robinson, were no exception. My unusual source is a job application that Thomas filled out in 1931 after he had either lost or left his job with the Nashville Bridge Company.

Thomas, in the words of his son, was a self-made man. He was born to Samuel D. and Sallie (Cassetty) Robinson on 18 Feb 1873 in Nashville, Tennessee. Samuel had moved to Nashville just before the beginning of the Civil War. He served throughout the duration of the war and returned home after the surrender. He married Sallie in 1869 at the home of her father, Thomas D. Cassetty, on Spruce Street. Samuel was a very interesting man. He worked for several Nashville newspapers as a typographer for about 30 years and was active in the Tennessee Historical Society, Typographical Union, Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and the Sons of Temperance. He and Sallie only had 1 child, Thomas Henry, most likely named for Sallie’s father and Samuel’s brother who died in the Civil War. Sadly, Thomas lost his mother when he was 13 years old and his father died of pneumonia when he was 18 years old. I think this is what Thomas’s son meant by a self-made man. Thomas lost both parents by the age of 18, his paternal grandparents had been dead for many years, and his maternal grandfather died a few years earlier. He had few relatives still living apart from some of his maternal grandmother and Cassetty aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without his parents, Thomas was alone and had to rely on his relatives for help.

Samuel never purchased property in Nashville. Instead, he lived with his in-laws and rented property throughout the city. So, when he died, Thomas moved in with his grandmother, Matilda Cassetty. His uncle, W. M. Cassetty, offered him a job at the Cassetty Oil Company as a clerk, which he took. After the death of his grandmother, he moved once again, this time to his Aunt Ollie and Uncle John Roberts. He worked for the Cassetty Oil Company until 1897, when he married Jessie, and soon after their honeymoon, they moved to St. Louis. Thomas and Jessie only lived there for a short while, and they were back in Nashville by 1900. Thomas was once again working for his uncle, this time as a traveling salesman.

Nashville Bridge Company, 1909

In 1908, he took a new job as a civil engineer who served as a traveling agent and contractor with the Nashville Bridge Company. He helped build bridges all over the southeast and was the most successful contractor in Nashville. Because of this, he was able to provide his family with everything they needed – beautiful houses in exclusive neighborhoods, cars, jewelry, private schools, and vacations. But by the end of the 20s, Thomas’s life started to take a turn downward. He was not the most upstanding man in some ways, and losing his job after the Depression hit was the first in a series of bad events that eventually culminated in his death in 1937.

He was then in need of a new job, so he applied, or at least filled out an application, for a engineering position with Du Pont. Whether or not he ever sent in the application is unknown, and as far as I know, he never worked for Du Pont. But the application itself is fascinating. Here are a few of the most interesting observations I made about the application:

  1. Like most applications, it asked for personal details like full name, birthday, address, etc. This seems pretty basic, but I saw that Thomas lied about one very important detail: his birthday! He gave it as February 18, 1875 instead of 1873. Thomas was a very meticulous person, I am sure this was not an accident. I wondered if he lied about his age so that he appeared younger than he was to be more attractive to employers.
  2. The application asked for the names of his parents and their birthplaces. I thought this was unusual, but it was helpful genealogically speaking. It helped me connect Samuel Robinson of Nashville to the Samuel Robinson of Winchester, Tennessee and the Cassetty family of Nashville to the Cassetty family of Gainesboro, Tennessee.
  3. The application asked for his previous employment history, which helped me determine when he began working for the Cassetty Oil Company, when he moved to St. Louis, how long he worked for the Nashville Bridge Company, and why he left all of those positions.
  4. The final, and to me, most interesting section, was his educational background. I knew that he was a civil engineer, so he had to have attended college at some point, but my family had no idea where. While in his 20s, he moved to Chicago and attended the Armour College of Engineering. Unfortunately, he did not graduate from the institution because of “insufficient funds.” He finished his degree in Nashville, and to my surprise, he also received his law degree. At one point, he was the only man in Tennessee to hold both degrees simultaneously.

This application gave me so much insight into the mind of my 2nd great grandfather. Sometimes, it pays to keep items that seem insignificant, because very often the opposite is true!