Oh, so many brick walls, so few records. My battle with them make sgenealogy both exciting yet frustrating. I have conquered several of my brick walls over the past few years. Sometimes once I smash through, the records are plentiful and I can keep researching. Others are met with another brick wall or two immediately after my success.
But, there are others, like Sarah H. Hill, who just refuse to yield their secrets, leaving me stuck (at least, at the moment). I know quite a bit about Sarah, but not enough to be able to place her in a family group with certainty.
Here is what I know about Sarah’s background, family, and origins:
Sarah was born in 1827. This date is on her tombstone.
Sarah was born in Tennessee. All of the census records agree on this point.
Sarah’s maiden name was Hill. The death certificates of her sons, Lyndol and Richard, and daughter, Addie, both give her name as Sarah Hill. This is also supported by her marriage record Nathan C. Davis. Her name is recorded as Sarah H. Hill.
Sarah was possibly married twice. There is a Sarah H. Hill who married Alvin A. Johnson on 17 September 1844 in Marshall County, Tennessee. Oddly, if this was indeed her first marriage, I would think that her name would be Sarah Johnson in her marriage record to Nathan, rather than Sarah Hill.
Both of Sarah’s parents were born in North Carolina. Unfortunately, many Hills in Marshall County were born in North Carolina, so this is helpful but it also doesn’t really narrow down anything.
In 1880, a Betsy Glenn is living with Nathan and Sarah. She is recorded as Nathan’s sister-in-law. None of Nathan’s siblings married a Glenn, and like Sarah, both of Betsy’s parents were born in North Carolina. It is possible that Betsy is Sarah’s sister.
As you can see, there are many clues to her origins but so far, those clues haven’t produced information about her parents.
Wills in Marshall County, Tennessee
Unfortunately, few Hill family members left wills in Marshall County. The five wills written in 1909 and before were of particular interest to me – John Hill, Richard Hill, Emily Hill, A. W. Hill, and John F. Hill – but sadly, none of them contained any reference to my Sarah Hill or Sarah Davis.
I did, however, find who I believe are the parents of the Betsy Glenn living with Nathan and Sarah in 1880. In 1857, Samuel Glenn wrote his will, naming wife Frances Ann and daughters Elizabeth M. Glenn, Mary N. A. Glenn, and Susan S. A. Glenn. His son, Samuel A., and son in law David Nix, husband of Samuel’s daughter Frances, were named administrators.
Like the Besty Glenn living with Sarah and Nathan, she was born about 1819 or 1820 in Tennessee, she never married, and both parents were born in North Carolina. After looking at the evidence, Betsy Glenn and Elizabeth Glenn, daughter of Samuel, are definitely the same person. Going back to the 1880 census, it seems that the label of “sister-in-law” in relation to Nathan Davis is probably incorrect. Betsy Glenn was not Sarah H. Hill’s sister, and so far, I have not been able to find a connection between the Glenns and the Davis family. However, I have not yet had the chance to research deeds and court cases in Marshall or Lincoln Counties as of yet. These records often reveal familial relationships when wills are missing or vague.
Possible Hill Relatives
Often, when I do not know where to turn, I look at the names of a couple’s children for inspiration. Sarah and Nathan had six children: Richard E., Steel C., Albert E., Richard Lee, Addie E., and my ancestor, Newton Harrison. Of all of these names, Steel was the most unusual.
I began searching on Findagrave.com using the names Steel and Hill, and I found a family cemetery in Lewisburg in which was buried the family of Isaac H. Hill and Margaret (Steele) Hill. At first, I was very hopeful that this Isaac and Margaret Hill might be my Sarah’s parents.
My Sarah named one of her sons Steel, which was Margaret (Steele) Hill’s maiden name.
Isaac and Margaret Hill’s children were born in the 1820s and 1830s, making them the correct ages for Sarah’s siblings.
Their last name was Hill, and they lived close to the Davis farm.
Isaac Hill’s father’s name was Richard, and two of Sarah’s sons were named Richard.
Sadly, this hunch was also wrong. Isaac and Margaret did have a daughter named Sarah, and like mine, she was born in 1827. However, that Sarah Hill married Andrew Bryant, and their family is well-documented. I was so close!
So far, my investigation into Sarah H. Hill Davis has been fruitless. Every time I believe I have made progress, I find documents that prove just the opposite. I suppose that failure is also progress because failure helps to eliminate possible immediate family members. I still believe that even if Sarah doesn’t fit into the Isaac/Margaret Hill family as one of their children, she might be related to them in another way.
At this time, I am optimistic that records in Marshall County that I have not yet perused might provide some answers. I suppose I need to plan another genealogy trip!
As everyone can probably see, I have used the past few days to play “catch up” with my genealogy posts! This spring has been surprisingly busy for me, and yesterday was the first day that I took some time to work on a project. Two of my project stars, Thomas Bills and Mary Collins, will also be the stars of this post!
Looking at my family tree, my ancestors either had very large families (I will call 8 or more large), or they had very small families (1 or 2 children). Very few fall in the middle ground, which to me is quite fascinating. Thomas and Mary Bills fall in the large family category, being the parents of at least 11 children that lived to adulthood. This definitely qualifies as a large family!
Who Were Thomas and Mary?
As I said earlier, Thomas and Mary are two stars of my most recent research project, and I find them particularly interesting because Thomas Bills was a Quaker and Mary Collins was not. Thomas’s paternal family were originally from Monmouth, New Jersey. In the 1760s, the Bills moved to a Quaker community in Surry County, North Carolina, and they eventually made their way to Maury and Marshall Counties, Tennessee. Thomas’s maternal family were also Quakers for many generations, but they came to North Carolina from Virginia.
Mary Collins is a bit of a mystery for me. I know almost nothing about her background except that she was not a Quaker. I have seen potential parents on other researchers’ trees, but as I have not been able to research her myself, for now, I will just leave that part of her story out. She was born in North Carolina between 1794 and 1799 (her ages are not very consistent throughout the census records).
Thomas Bills and Mary Collins became acquainted with each other while living in Surry County, and their courtship and marriage caused some ripples through the Quaker community. The younger generation of Bills were marrying men and women outside of the faith, which resulted in their dismissal. Twelve Bills cousins were dismissed between 1794 and 1816, including Thomas.
Thomas married Mary Collins on 11 Feb 1813. His bondsman was his uncle, Gersham Bills, one of his father’s younger brothers.
On 3 April 1813, Thomas was dismissed from the Deep Creek Quaker community:
Move to Tennessee
I wonder how Thomas’s parents and grandparents reacted to his marriage. Were they unhappy? Were they shocked? Were they mad? Whatever their feelings, the whole Bills clan packed up and moved to Tennessee in about 1816 or 1817. Even if his marriage was controversial, the extended family did not split up and no visible ruptures (at least, from what I can see) happened to the family.
About three years into their marriage, Mary gave birth to their first documented child: Jonathan D. Bills. Jonathan was the only child (whose name I have found) who was born in North Carolina. The next documented child, Lucinda, was born about 1817 in Tennessee. Below is the 1820 Census:
Thomas Bills is the male between 26 and 44, and Mary is one of the females between 16 and 25. One of the males under 10 is Jonathan D., and one of the females under 10 is Lucinda. So that leaves 3 people unaccounted for: 1 male under 10, 1 female under 10, and 1 female between 16 and 25. Who are these people?
This will require some more research, but the older female could be one of Thomas’s sisters or one of Mary’s sisters (if she had any). The other two children could be the other female’s children, or they could be two of Thomas and Mary’s children who were alive during 1820, but whose names I do not know. By 1830, the mystery daughter has disappeared. If they are Thomas and Mary’s children, that means Mary might have given birth to 13 children!
Ten years later, the family had grown larger:
Thomas is the male between 30 and 39, and Mary is the female between 30 and 39. Jonathan D. is the male between 10 and 14, and Lucinda is the female between 10 and 14. That leaves 1 male between 10 and 14 whose name I do not know. He is likely the same child as the one in the 1820 census under the age of 10. The new children include: Daniel and Matthew (ages 5-9), Rachel and Annie (under 5), and William J. (under 5). This leaves 1 male between 5 and 9 who is another mystery. The count now is 14 children, 3 whose names I have not been able to determine.
After another 10 years, the household has grown once more. First, the easy ones to identify: Thomas is the male between 50 and 59 and Mary is the female between 40 and 49.
The oldest son, Jonathan D., is one of the males between 20 and 29. Again, the mystery other older son is recorded, also between 20 and 29. Daniel is one of the males between 15 and 19, and the other mystery son in the same age range is also recorded. Matthew is the male between 10 and 15, and William J. is the male between 5 and 9.
The daughters are a little easier to identify. The little girl alive in 1820 never makes another appearance, so I can assume that she died early. Lucinda and Rachel are the two daughters between 20 and 29, Annie Catherine is the daughter between 10 and 14, Mary and Sarah are the females between 5 and 9, and the youngest daughter, Alsey Mahaley, is the youngest child under 5.
And here is my large family in 1850. Immediately, I spot an issue with Mary’s age. It is listed as 35 which, of course, cannot be possible. This is just a census taker error. The newest addition is John C., born in about 1842.
Some Observations – Marital Status
After combing through theses census records, what I found most interesting was how old many of the children were to still be living at home, unmarried!
The oldest son, Jonathan D., married for the first time when he was 57 in 1873.
Sadly, I lose both Lucinda and Rachel after 1850, so either they married and I haven’t found records for them, or they both died before 1860.
Daniel W. never married, and lived with his mother, brother Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife during his adult life.
Sarah also remained single and lived with her mother and unmarried siblings.
The other children were a bit more conventional; they married in their late teens and twenties, and had children. This large family expanded some in the third generation, but not as much as might be expected.
More Observations – Naming Patterns
The Bills family were very close, and this is possibly best demonstrated by their naming patterns. Here are four generations of the family:
Daniel Bills m. Deborah Denman, whose children were:
William, Gersham, Hannah, Elizabeth, Sarah, Isaac Newton, Rachel, Patience, Daniel, Jonathan D., John
William Bills m. Susannah Hutchins (daughter of John Hutchins and Alice Stanley), whose children were:
Gersham, Daniel Baxter, Jonathan D., John, Deborah, Thomas, Mary Jane, and Alcey
Thomas Bills m. Mary Collins, whose children were:
Jonathan D., Lucinda, Rachel, Daniel W., Matthew W., Annie Catherine, William J., Sarah H., Mary J., Alsey Mahaley, and John C.
Thomas and Mary’s children were clearly named after family members. Mary J. shares a name with her mother and paternal aunt, while William J. has the same name as his paternal grandfather. Jonathan D., Daniel, and John were all named for their paternal uncles, paternal great uncles, a great grandfather, and a great-great grandfather. Alsey was likely named for her paternal aunt and her paternal great grandmother, Alice, and Rachel for her paternal great aunt. (As you can see, everyone mentioned is named for their father’s side because I don’t have the maternal line to compare. Hopefully I will make the maternal connections in the near future!)
There are so many benefits that come from researching ancestors with large families and extended kin networks. Much of a direct ancestor’s motivations, personality, and life experiences are shaped by his or her family members. Thomas and Mary’s family are a good example of this and having 14 children certainly qualifies as large. I hope to add more information to their large family’s story soon!
This wonderful photograph was taken in June 1948 to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my great-great grandparents, Bailey Peyton and Clara Dona (Christian) Upton. They are seated in the middle of the photograph. The couple had married on 18 June 1898 in Overton County, Tennessee, and their union created the large, beautiful family you see in this photo!
Clara Dona was the tenth of eleven children born to Moses Elian Christian and Louisa Margaret Jane Hooten. She was the great granddaughter of educator, surveyor, and author Moses Fisk and the great-great granddaughter of Revolutionary War officer Gilbert Christian. She came from a well-known and well-educated family, which was in direct contrast with the family of her husband, Bailey Peyton Upton. Bailey was the son of Turner Mike Upton and Martha Daughtery. Martha’s parents had quite a scandalous past, and their story was highlighted in this post. Mike’s parents were Riley and Martha Upton, and evidence points to Riley being the illegitimate son of Turner Johnson, a close neighbor and friend.
My granddad once told me a story about Clara Dona and Bailey Peyton. According to him, Bailey Peyton either couldn’t read or write, or he couldn’t read or write very well, and Clara Dona said she wouldn’t marry him until he learned. She then taught him how to read and write (or at least improved his skills), and then they were married.
Below is the 1880 census record. Both Bailey Peyton’s parents could read and write, and he, his older sister Minnie, and his older brothers Montee and Dennis attended school within the year. The census taker recorded that Bailey Peyton, Dennis, and Minnie could not read or write, and Montee could not read, yet they all went to school! This evidence seems to prove granddad’s story correct: although Bailey Peyton attended school, he might have only gone some of the time and he was only partially literate.
Interestingly, the 1900 census shows Bailey Peyton and Clara Dona living in their own home soon after their marriage, and Clara is recorded as illiterate! This is an error of the census taker, as I have seen examples of her ability to read and write. However, all of Clara’s tutoring paid off, and Bailey was recorded as literate.
I do recognize quite a few people in this family photograph, but I will just point out a few. The photo features Clara Dona and Bailey Peyton, their children, their spouses, and their grandchildren. My grandfather is standing fourth from the left, between two of his cousins wearing white dresses. His parents, Audrey Vonda (Upton) Davis and Lyndol Davis are standing on the opposite side of the photograph. Vonda, Clara Dona and Bailey Peyton’s oldest daughter, is in a white dress, standing in the front row, fourth from the left. The lady just behind her turned her head and is laughing. Lyndol Davis is standing two over from Vonda, with a young boy in front of him.
It is a sweet photograph, and it really shows what a close-knit family they were. Clara Dona and Bailey Peyton celebrated their 60th anniversary ten years later, but she died the following year, and Bailey six years later. What a fortunate couple to live such long, happy lives together!
Matilda Apple Cassetty is one of my ancestors with whom I am quite fascinated, and yet I can’t really say why that is. Possibly, it is because I know so little about her, despite the fact that I know an overwhelming amount about her husband and her son-in-law (both are also my ancestors). One of the few things that I know about her falls into the “nice” category, and that event I will of course expound upon in this post. But I also want to use this post as an opportunity to lay out what I know about her, what I wish I knew, and my theories as to her parentage.
Ancestry and Parentage
Matilda Apple was born about 1823 in either Jackson or Smith County, Tennessee. Jackson County suffered several courthouse fires, which is also incredibly frustrating for a genealogist, but much of Smith County’s records are in tact. This is what makes determining Matilda’s parents so difficult. I do know that she was married by the 1840 census to Thomas D. Cassetty, and they began their married life in Jackson County. The first census shows that Matilda is the young woman between 14 and 19 living in the household with T. D., who is between the ages of 20 and 29. Matilda must have married by the age of 17, if not slightly younger. No children were recorded in the house, indicating that they were likely newly married.
The marriage records for both Jackson and Smith County begin late, so as far as I know, no record of marriage for T.D. and Matilda exists. However, I know that they were married from other sources like newspaper articles. Three of Matilda and T. D.’s children’s deaths were recorded by death certificates, and all three children give Matilda’s maiden name as Apple, as does a Who’s Who article about their son William Martin Cassetty. He was most likely the supplier of the information, and it is reasonable that he knew his mother’s maiden name.
So I know Matilda’s maiden name, approximate birth year and place of birth, but who are her parents? There were several Apple families living in the Jackson/Smith/Putnam County region of Tennessee during the 1830s-1850s, and all of them could trace their lineage back to Daniel Apple and Barbara Spoon. Several of their sons, including David Apple, George Washington Apple, and Daniel Apple Jr., migrated to Jackson and Smith County, Tennessee. All three brothers can be seen on the 1830 census in Tennessee:
Males: 2 under 5, 1 5-9, 2 10-14, 2 15-19, 2 40-49 (one must be David)
Females: 1 under 5, 2 5-9, 2 10-14, 1 15-19, 1 20-29 (2nd wife Mary Thackson)
Females: 2 under 5, 1 5-9, 1 10-14, 1 30-39 (wife Mary McDonald)
Daniel Apple Jr.
Males: 1 under 5, 3 5-9, 1 10-14, 1 30-39 (Daniel Apple Jr.)
Females: 3 15-19, 1 40-49
In 1830, Matilda was 7 years old and would be noted in the Females 5-9 column. Of the three brothers, only David and George have daughters between the age of 5-9. I can therefore eliminated Daniel Jr. as Matilda’s father.
George Washington Apple’s two daughters under 5 are undoubtedly Celina (born 1828) and Barbara (born 1830) who are recorded with their parents in the 1850 census in Jackson County. I don’t know for a fact that the other two females aren’t Matilda, but it seems likely they are not based on information from other family members. The older daughter is likely Elizabeth Apple who married a Holford, and the other is Eliza Jane who married George Ridley Holleman. It seems all the females in this household have been accounted for.
That leaves the household of David Apple. David had three sons with his first wife: Milton (born 1805), Anthony (born 1808), and Madison (born 1815) and at least two unknown daughters who were under 10 in the 1820 census. He married for a second time to Mary Thackson after the 1820 census, with whom he had at least 6 children 1830 and after, as well as one son, Jackson Carroll Apple (a Tennessee Senator whose parents are named in the Biographical Dictionary) born in 1825. This leaves several sons and at least 6 daughters in the 1830 census unaccounted for (the other children appear in the 1850 census). The two oldest are likely the two daughters found in the 1820 census. One of the unknown daughters of David and his second wife was a daughter between the ages of 5 and 9, the correct age for Matilda.
There are two other documents that I have found that support the idea that Matilda was a very close relative of David Apple and likely of Anthony Apple, David’s middle son by his first wife: 2 deeds between them and Matilda’s husband, T.D. Cassetty.
On 15 December 1842, Anthony Apple sold to T. D. Cassetty of Jackson County 50 acres of land in Smith County that also touched Anthony’s land. It would make sense that a young T.D. might purchase land from one of his wife’s relatives, especially early in the marriage.
The second document was a deed of trust written on 30 September 1843 and was made between Thomas D. Cassetty and David Apple. It reads:
I have this day bargained sold and by these presents do convey unto David Apple of the County of Putnam the following property to wit three feather beds steads & furniture one Beauro one press one folding leaf table one dressing table two trunks one clock house hold & kitchen furniture one shot gun two cows & calves one yoke of oxen one horse one mares saddle also one tract of land in district No 16 in Smith County lying on both sides of the Walton Road …to have and to hold to the agoresaid David Apple and his heirs forever Now this deed is made to secure tohe said Apple in the payment of two debts for which he is security for the undersigned one to the Bank of Tennessee for seventy two dollars one to the Academy at Gainsboro for two hundrend and seven dollars. Now if the undersigned shall well and truly pay said sums of money to the said Apple on or before the first day October 1844 then this deed shall be void and of no effect or otherwise the same shall remain in full force and virtue….
Thos D. Cassetty
It is very probable that T.D. approached his father-in-law to be a security for his debts, especially if T.D. couldn’t repay the debts, all of his possessions would go to the father-in-law who would be inclined to return them. Deeds of trust were often made between close family members who wouldn’t take advantage of the ones who owed money.
To me, this is pretty compelling evidence that Anthony was Matilda’s older half brother and David Apple was Matilda’s father.
Two other small pieces of evidence also indicate that David Apple and Mary Thackson Apple were Matilda’s parents. The oldest child, Sarah (my ancestor), was named for T.D.’s mother Sarah, but the second child, Mary, was likely named for Matilda’s mother. If Mary was indeed her mother’s name, then Mary Thackson Apple is a perfect candidate. Even more telling is the fact that T.D. and Matilda named their oldest son David, indicating that either Matilda’s father was David Apple.
The deeds, census records, deeds, and naming patterns all seem to point to David and Mary Thackson as the parents of Matilda Apple.
As a side note, Matilda’s Apple family was of German extraction. Both Matilda’s grandparents, Daniel Apple and Barbara Loffel (Spoon) were from German families. Daniel Apple’s father was an immigrant from the small town of Usenborn, Wetteraukreis, Hessen, Germany, northeast of Frankfurt. He was naturalized with his father and brother in Alsace Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1761.
Now it is time to tell about the one story I know of Matilda and why it was “nice.”
Matilda and T.D. Cassetty had eight children: Sarah or Sallie, Mary, David, John, William Martin, James Tecumpsah, Sidney, and Olepta. In 1856, T.D. moved the family to Nashville, where he was a successful Justice of the Peace for many years. He was well-known in the city, was often in the newspaper, and was very involved in fraternal societies including the Sons of Temperance (even though that did not dissuade him from occasional public intoxication). The family lived in a very nice house on Spruce Street, employed servants, and allowed Tennessee senators and congressmen to board periodically with them.
In 1869, the oldest daughter, Sallie, married Samuel D. Robinson, a typographer and Civil War veteran who knew her father through the Sons of Temperance. Sallie and Samuel might have also met through another means. In 1870, Edward “Ned” Apple was living with Matilda, T.D., Sallie, and her new husband Samuel in Nashville. Ned was the son of George Washington Apple, Jr., the son of George Washington Apple, Sr., that would make GW Jr. Matilda’s first cousin and Ned her first cousin once removed. Presumably, Ned had been sent to live with his cousins in Nashville so that he could attend the Tennessee School for the Blind, which was run by Samuel Robinson’s sister, Elizabeth Sturdivant, and brother-in-law, John M. Sturdivant. It is not clear how long Ned had been living with the Cassettys. If he had been sent prior to 1870, somehow the Blind School connection might have been how Sallie and Samuel met.
Eventually, Samuel and Sallie moved out of her parents’ home. Sallie gave birth to only one child, a son, Thomas, in 1873. She died of a stomach tumor in 1886.
Thomas’s father, Samuel, only lived until 1891, when he suddenly died of pneumonia. Thomas was only 18 years old, no longer a child, but as he had just finished high school, it would have benefited him greatly if his father had lived longer to help him with work. To make matters more difficult, Samuel never purchased property in Nashville. Instead, he, Sallie, and Thomas moved frequently and rented apartments. So when he died, Thomas had no income and no ability to pay rent.
This is when his widowed grandmother, Matilda, swept in and took care of him. She offered for him to live with her at her home on Line Street, and his uncle William offered him a job as a clerk at the Cassetty Oil Company. Matilda, who had lost her husband a couple of years earlier, was probably glad to have her grandson live with her. Her kindness probably made a big impression on Thomas.
Sadly, Matilda did not live long after Samuel’s death. She died of a heart attack on 13 October 1893 and was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville next to T.D. and several of her children.
Though I know very little about her personal life, Matilda must have had a kind heart, particularly when it came to her relatives. She brought her blind cousin into her home so that he could attend a prestigious school for the blind in Tennessee. She also took in her grandson who had lost both parents and the only grandfather he ever knew (T.D.) within the space of five years. I truly believe that without help from his grandmother and uncle, Thomas would have had a very different, and certainly more difficult, life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A third man, John Reese, was also arrested in connection with the theft and arson.
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.
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….”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!