I’d Like to Meet – Ann Cochran Dixon (1863-1857)

**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.

Family Background

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.

Early Life

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.

Revolutionary War

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.

Ann’s Will

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.

Ann Dixon’s tombstone.

A short death notice was placed in the local paper:

From the Winchester Home Journal

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.

 

 

 

First – My First Genealogy Experience and Discoveries

Happy New Year! I am very excited to start a second year of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I only hope that I don’t run out of ancestors or stories to tell! If anything, this project has showed me how much more research I need to do on all of my family members!

My “first” post is about my first foray into genealogy and my early discoveries that got me hooked on researching my family.

My fourth great grandparents, McCama and Margaret Robinson, had 8 children. Two died as children, one was killed in the Civil War and was unmarried, two daughters never married, and two other daughters married but never had children. This leaves only one son, Samuel, who married and had one child. Over the ensuing 115 years, each new generation produced only one child. So when I came along, I was the first girl born into the Robinson family since 1846!

This is both a fortunate and unfortunate situation. Fortunate because my parents inherited everything that belonged to the Robinson family, including the family Bible that Samuel gave to his wife Sallie on her birthday one year. Unfortunate because we don’t have any Robinson relatives on that side to the family! We have a few relatives on each of the wives’ sides, but that is it. This means we only have family stories told by my direct ancestors; nothing from brothers or sisters of any generation who might have had different stories, different opinions on family events, or different insights into the family in general.

But back to the fortunate. One of my favorite family heirlooms is the Robinson family Bible. It is quite large, heavy, with beautiful embossed leather. On the front, it is inscribed to Sallie C. Robinson for her birthday in 1875. Six generations of Robinsons are recorded in the Bible, but sadly, Samuel did not record his parents or Sallie’s. The only clue to their residence was a notation on the marriage page which said it took place at No. 63 Spruce Street in Nashville. I also have one newspaper article which announced Samuel and Sallie’s marriage. Luckily, it gave the name of her father, T.D. Cassetty, but it failed to give the name of her mother or anything about Samuel.

I knew about the existence of this Bible for many years, and no one in our family knew anything about Samuel or Sallie’s origins. So when I decided to begin researching our family, I started with Samuel and Sallie, my first brick walls.

Before I went to the archives in Nashville, I purchased an Ancestry.com subscription and searched the census records. I knew I was looking for a Samuel and Sallie Robinson in Nashville. As they were married in 1869, I began with the 1870 census. I found a “Sam and Sallie Robison” aged 34 and 28 respectively, living in a very large household. It included T.D. Cassetty, a magistrate, his wife Matilda, their five children, four borders, and five domestic servants. At first, I remember being really discouraged. By 1870, Samuel should have been 38 and Sallie 29, and Robinson was spelled incorrectly. Did I have the right people? The names and ages were close but not perfect. After reaching out to a fellow Cassetty researcher, I learned that ages were often wildly incorrect and names depended on what the census taker heard. That was my first lesson: historical records are not always perfect.

1870 Census

After I got over my initial hesitation, I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only did I find Sam and Sallie, but they were living in the same house as T.D. Cassetty, who was named as Sallie’s father in the marriage announcement. I was pretty sure that I found Sallie’s parents, but more information about them would take more research.

Ecstatic, I then searched the 1880 census for Sallie and Samuel. I found them living in Nashville with their 7 year old son in the house of a dry goods merchant. I later learned that Samuel never bought property; instead he moved from place to place, always renting.

The census records also told me something none of my family knew: Samuel Robinson was a printer. This was a huge discovery because my father and grandfather both owned printing companies, but neither of them knew that families members were involved in printing in the 19th century!

Sadly, Sallie died in 1886 and Samuel in 1891, so my census research could not go any farther into the future. At the time, Samuel remained a brick wall, but I did find Sallie living with her parents in the 1850-1860 censuses.

Another major research first came soon after: my first visit to the archives. I spent a day at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, which was only 30 minutes from my house, trying to find as much information about Samuel, Sallie, and the Cassettys as I could. The TSLA staff were so kind and helpful, that by the end, I had more information than I knew what to do with. I remember struggling to make the microfilm machines work, using the reference guides to find newspapers and death records, and pouring over the records to located their names. That day I found:

Death notices for Samuel, Sallie, and Sallie’s parents

Sallie Robinson’s death notice. It gives the names of her parents, T. D. and Matilda Cassetty.

City death records for Samuel, Sallie, and Sallie’s parents

Samuel Robinson death record.
Sallie Robinson death record.

Nashville City Directories that gave their addresses during their residence in Nashville.

I remember going home that night just so excited about what I had found out about the Robinsons. After that, I was completely hooked. I had to know more and more! To this day, the Robinsons hold a special place in my heart as the first part of my family that I researched. I was so inspired by my research that I later used Samuel’s grandmother, Ann Dixon, as the focus of my Master’s thesis. I think it is fair to say that genealogy changed my life and set me on my current career path. So cheers to a new year, and I hope I experience many more “firsts” in the year to come.

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!

Colorful – McCama W. Robinson

So, it has been several months since my last 52 Ancestors blog post. Life got in the way (in good ways!), and I just wasn’t able to keep up with everything! Now I have quite a few posts to catch up on, starting with a colorful character in my family.

McCama W. Robinson is one of those ancestors that keeps surprising me the more I delve into his life. Somehow, he is a mysterious character, yet I also know a lot about his personal life. I feel as if I know him really well, but I don’t know him at all. Like most of his male Robinson descendants (and some of their wives), his life was fairly well documented, and those documents reveal his complicated and interesting life.

I know almost nothing about McCama’s background. The 1850 and 1860 census give his age as 45 and 54 respectively, which places his birth around 1805/06. Both censuses record his birthplace as North Carolina, and in a letter to a Pennsylvania genealogist in the 1880s, his oldest daughter states that the Robinsons were of English extraction. And that is all I know about his origins!

McCama W. Robinson’s signature

McCama, a successful cabinetmaker, was living in Winchester, Tennessee by 1830 when he married Margaret Ingles Dixon, daughter of Ann Cochran Dixon and Sankey Dixon, a Revolutionary War officer who died when Margaret was 7 years old. Margaret and her mother Ann were living with Margaret’s oldest brother, Dr. Matthew Lyle Dixon in Winchester, and after McCama and Margaret’s marriage, Ann moved in with the newlyweds.

By 1834, McCama had the means to purchase a house and lot in Winchester, which he previously had been renting from Joseph Bradford. It was in this house that he and Margaret spent their early married years, and most likely where Margaret gave birth to their first four children – Rachel Ann, Samuel D., Elizabeth White, and William Darby. Four more children followed – Isabel, Sarah Sloan, Henry Clay, and Mary D.

From the outside, the family looks happy, but the domestic scene within the household seems to have been a complicated one. Public records exhibit conflicting images of McCama’s personality. On the one hand, McCama was hardworking and provided well for his family. He was an active community member, frequently serving as a juryman from the 1830s through the 1850s and as a road overseer in the 1840s. On the other hand, his frequent outbursts of passion led to involvement with the Franklin County court. McCama appeared before the Circuit Court several times during the 1830s, both bringing charges as the plaintiff, and more commonly, being accused of various offenses as the defendant. Franklin County’s court records prior to 1832 were destroyed, so only McCama’s legal problems from that year forward survive. McCama was first levied with three bills of indictment for assault and battery in the November 1836 term. In July 1837, after engaging in an affray, or a public brawl that disturbed the peace, with Powhatan Statum, McCama pled guilty for the fight and paid the fine and prosecution costs. The Circuit Court jury also found him guilty of the assault and battery charges, and as with the affray, he was responsible for the fine as well as the cost of the suit.

           McCama’s own cases did not prevent him from attending court in November 1836 to give evidence against Joseph Lockhart for “keeping a disorderly house.” Despite his lengthy and costly court proceedings, McCama was determined to pursue his case against Lockhart in 1838. Lockhart instead counter charged McCama with trespassing with force and arms, for which McCama was convicted and paid yet another fine. Including two additional suits he brought against William A. Caldwell and Henry Hamblin, McCama was involved in four cases in the Circuit Court in the 1830s. The court records indicate that McCama might have been difficult to live with, or, at the very least, had a tendency to bring unnecessary attention to his wife, children, and mother-in-law. To his credit, as the years passed his legal troubles lessened and he mainly appeared in court records being paid to build coffins for various paupers in the community.

Despite some of his questionable actions in public, he was also a somewhat forward thinking man, especially in regards to education. He sent his oldest son, Samuel, to Carrick Academy in Winchester, and based on letters written by Henry, the younger sons also likely attended. In 1831, McCama signed a petition to the Tennessee Legislature to open the Winchester Female Institute. All of his daughters demonstrated their education in one way or another, which leads me to believe they all likely attended the institute or possibly one in Nashville. Rachel Ann taught school, and Elizabeth married the John Sturtevant, the head of the Tennessee School for the Blind, where she taught classes. McCama helped to provide his children, boys and girls, with an education that helped them lead successful lives (with some monetary assistance from their grandmother Ann).

By the late 1830s and early 1840s, McCama’s legal problems gave way to financial ones. His mother-in-law, Ann, worked hard to receive a substantial $320 pension every year for her husband’s service in the war. She saved her money, and when in 1838 McCama sold his home and lot, Ann began negotiations to purchase a house in her own name. She purchased a house and 1 1/2 acres in the town of Winchester, and her son-in-law, daughter, and grandchildren moved in with her. Such an accomplishment for Ann might have been seen as a societal failure for McCama. Men coveted independence in order to satisfy their social expectations as patriarchs and successful providers for their dependents. Between his court drama and his inability to hold onto his real property, McCama instead had to yield authority to his mother-in-law.

Ann was very protective of her interests, and she kept very careful records of the debts owing to her because she had no intention of allowing people to borrow large sums without repaying her, including McCama. In the July Term of 1842 in the Circuit Court, Ann brought a suit against McCama for debt of over $700.  He told the court that “he can not gainsay the plaintiffs action against him and confesses Judgment for the sum of seven hundred and eighteen dollars and seventy eight cents.” The court determined that McCama had to repay the full sum as well as court costs. The court minutes does not specify the reason why Ann loaned such a large amount of money to McCama. In November, McCama registered a deed of trust between himself and Burr H. Emerson for Ann’s use, in which he conveyed some of his most valuable possessions. Many of the items pertained to his cabinetmaking business such as his tools of the trade – lumber, bed screws, varnish, and turning lathe – while others were products of his labor – dining room tables, bureaus, and sugar chests.  As McCama was “desirous to Secure and make certain the payment,” he agreed that if he did not repay Ann by May 12, 1844, Emerson “may expose the said property to public Sale, and sell it to the highest bidder for cash.” No records remain to tell the outcome, but as Ann did not haul McCama back into court, she must have received her money one way or another.

It seems that Ann was not very trusting of McCama, which makes me believe there must have been something else about him that isn’t explicitly stated in the public documents. I am inclined to think he must have been a heavy drinker, or have a temper, or just irresponsible with his finances. Whatever it was, Ann chose to bypass McCama when she wrote her will in 1845. She bequeathed to Margaret the house and lot purchased from Thomas Wilson, her “old negro man Andrew,” and her household and kitchen furniture. If Margaret died first, everything would be split among Margaret’s children. Nothing was left to McCama, not even a life interest in the house. At this time, both McCama and Margaret were in bad health, and their situations may have been why Ann wrote her will at this time.

McCama and Ann were both Whigs; McCama even named his son Henry Clay after the great Whig statesman. Evidence of his political leanings was documented in a newspaper article that appeared in The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper, on 14 September 1882. Veterans of the Mexican War assembled in Nashville for a reunion, among them a man from Winchester who knew McCama in the 1840s. The story goes as follows:

“Rev. W. W. Estill, of Winchester, Tenn,. is here among the Mexican Veterans. He was Ensign of Co. E. Third Tennessee regiment in the Mexican War. The flag carried by him was one of the finest that was taken into Mexico by the U.S. troops. One side was the stars and stripes, made of silk, the other white silk, and was made by the Whig ladies of Winchester in 1840, the staff being made by M. W. Robinson, then a cabinet-maker in that place. It was carried by the Whigs of Franklin county through the campaigns of 1840, ’41, ’43, and ’44 and presented to Capt. George T. Colyar’s company in 1847. On being taken out for presentation to the company. Mr. Rboinson was among the group of citizens surrounding it, and, taking hold of the staff, remarked that he had made that staff in 1840 and had seen the flag in every political campaign since, and those who had carried it had stood nobly by it, and was proud to see his hand-work go forth in the cause of his country, and hoped that those to whom it was entrusted would carry it to victory and return it untarnished. That fine flag, however, was never returned.”

This anecdote shows that McCama was patriotic, talented, and politically engaged, with no hint to his issues. This story just demonstrates how all people, including our ancestors, are complicated beings with many different sides.

Despite McCama’s earlier problems, his cabinetmaking business flourished by the 1850s, allowing him to engage a partner, Henry Hall. After the initial investment of $500 in the company, three men labored for “average monthly wages of $75, [and] produced furniture worth $1,500 from 5,000 feet of lumber….” McCama earned at least $900 per year, almost three times the amount Ann received as her pension.  McCama placed an advertisement for the firm of Robinson and Hall in the first edition of The Winchester Appeal on February 16, 1856.  It announced to “their friends and the public generally” that their new shop was now located on the square, and they sold “furniture constantly on hand, or made to order.”

Ann died the next year, and her executor (notably not McCama) placed an advertisement in the paper for the sale of her house. Her granddaughter Elizabeth’s husband purchased the house, and the surviving grandchildren split the profits as their inheritance.

Soon, McCama’s life began to unravel. Perhaps McCama’s bad health finally caught up to him; he and Henry Hall placed a short notice in the newspaper announcing that “The firm of Robinson & Hall was dissolved January 1st 1859, by mutual consent.” In the 1860 census, McCama was still listed as a cabinetmaker. This indicates that despite his health, he still produced some furniture on his own. However, his circumstances proved insufficient to properly care for his three youngest children, Belle, Sarah, and Henry. On March 6, 1860, the County Court appointed G. A. Shook “guardian of the person and property of Bell W., Sarah S., & Henry C. Robertson [sic] minor children of M W Robertson [sic]. Seven months later, McCama petitioned the court to remove Shook as guardian because the children were “residents of Rutherford County Tennessee & that Jas. R. Mankin is their legal guardian in said county.”

After the court case, McCama disappears from public records. His son, Henry, sent McCama one letter dated July 8, 1861 while Henry was serving in the Confederate Army. That is the last time any mention of McCama was made during his lifetime. It is likely he died shortly after that, and it’s possible that one of Henry’s furloughs was taken to attend his father’s funeral. McCama was probably buried in the Winchester City Cemetery next to his wife Margaret, mother-in-law Ann, and children William and Mary. There is no headstone; therefore, no date of birth or death has survived.

 It remains unclear what prompted his scrapes with the law and troubles at home. His oldest son, Samuel, was an active member of the Sons of Temperance. Did this stem from dealing with a parent who drank excessively when he was a child? I will probably never know. But he certainly was a colorful character and no doubt would have been a very interesting person to know.