Grandma Lizzie

Today would have been my Grandma Lizzie Cottongim’s 124th birthday. I remember visiting her house on North 16th in Richmond, Indiana for family gatherings when I was a boy.  There was always great food and the deep connections close family share. I had a vague sense she was from the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I didn’t really know what that meant. 

Grandpa Joe had died when I was 2, so I have no memories of him.  But I knew my great aunts and uncles, the offspring of Joe and Lizzie and other families from the hills of Clay County, Kentucky.  

My own grandmother, Arbutus, was Joe and Lizzie’s oldest daughter. When I’d ask her what it was like to grow up in the hills, she never really wanted to talk about it. There was pain and maybe just a little embarrassment in her face when she would shrug it off and change the subject.  

I realize now life must have been really hard. Growing up in a small 2 room plank house in Pinner Holler just outside of Manchester, most days were full of hard work and empty of almost all the conveniences that are a basic part of life today. It was a beautiful land, but it didn’t easily produce food for a growing family. 

Grandpa Joe worked at a nearby coal mine to supplement what he could grow on his 100 acres in the holler. The boys did too as they grew. 

Grandma Lizzie never threw leftovers away–they were recycled into bread pudding or something tasty for later. She was an extremely good seamstress. She could see a dress in a shop and recreate it at home. She never wasted fabric as evidenced by the many quilts she made. She and the other ladies often had quilting bees where they would gather and quilt around a large frame. She developed many skills and found a way to make things work. 

Joe and Lizzie never missed church, and they always dressed up for it. When a neighbor was in need they did their best to help. 

Life was hard, but it was good too. 

My grandma Arbutus remembers her dad taking her to the swimming hole in the summertime. Like her mother, she grew food in the backyard and canned it for the winter. My grandma’s white grape jelly and her stewed rhubarb dessert were two of my favorite foods growing up. 

I understand now why the family was glad when they could get out. I understand why building a new life in Richmond was a huge leap forward. When I recently read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance I realized the culture my family escaped from and the negative patterns in it that they stood against were powerful and not always good. 

Grandma Lizzie must have had an amazing strength of character and sense of purpose to help bring her family through tough times with grace. I didn’t get to know her well, but when I look at her descendants, my cousins, I’m thankful for who she was and how she lived. 

Posted in Clay County Kentucky, Cottongim family, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fraud and the Election of 1856

Five years ago I wrote a blog post about my 3rd great uncle, Cornelius Harris (see Insanity and the Election of 1856). At the time I knew he was involved in some irregularities related to the election of 1856, but I didn’t know exactly what they were. Since then, I’ve found out what happened. As Americans go to the polls today–160 years later–in one of the craziest elections in memory, it’s good to remember that election controversy has a long history in our country.

Race and sexuality were high in voters’ minds in 1856. The newly formed Republican party claimed that it was “both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism–Polygamy and Slavery.”

img_5790In Indiana, the race between Democrats and Republicans was close. It was so close, in fact, that certain Republicans thought they could shift the election by moving some young voters from one county to another to get their candidate elected to Indiana House of Representatives. A scheme was put in place to move Republican voters–mostly young men who needed a little extra cash–from the highly Republican Wayne County to the battleground Rush County.

Several months after the election, Cornelius testified before the Indiana House of Representatives about his involvement in the plan. “Mr. Applegate gave me my ticket; I suppose it was a Republican ticket; my vote was not challenged…I remained in Rushville only an hour or two.  We hired a wagon, and I returned with Mr. Kinsey and the same crowd with whom I came there.”

Mr. Kinsey was Cornelius’s uncle, Phillip Wagoner Kinsey, the youngest brother of his mother Mary. Phillip was only about 10 years older than Cornelius (Phillip was 33 at the time of the election, Cornelius was 23).

img_5794Phillip testifies that Mr. Hudelson, a Republican who had encouraged him to go to Rush County to vote, said that the Democrats were importing votes into Rush, and they wanted to counteract the matter by the importation of voters.

The testimony doesn’t reveal motives. We don’t know why Cornelius and Phillip went to Rush County to shift the vote for Republicans. Perhaps they were compelled by their beliefs and idealogies; perhaps they were paid. Or maybe they were just under the influence of more powerful and persuasive men.

img_5792Whatever their reason, they tried to change the results of an election and they got caught doing it. Both were called before the Indiana House of Representatives and testified in hearings about the election. A year later, Cornelius ended up in the Indiana Hospital for the Insane. One of the reasons for his institutionalization, according to his father, was his having been called to testify before the legislature about his dubious voting activities.

In the end, Leonidas Sexton, the Republican candidate from Rush County, was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. On a national scale, the party “benefited from its control of most northern state legislatures” and gained strength toward the ultimate election of Abraham Lincoln four years later. The rest, as they say, is history.


Sources for this post include “Majority and Minority Report of the Committee on Elections on the Election Frauds in Rush Co. including the Evidence in the Case; Made by the order of the General Assembly of Indiana, at the session of 1857” and America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink by Kenneth M. Stampp.

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Returning Home

Lewis K. Harris

Lewis K. Harris, my great-great grandfather and Captain of Company F/B, 69th Indiana Infantry

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, my great-great grandfather returned home from the Civil War. After four years of fighting and being away from family, he must have been hugely relieved to get home. The following is a newspaper report of their arrival back in Indiana.

RETURNING HOME — The Silver Moon arrived here on Saturday morning early having on board the 69th Indiana regiment, about 300 strong, en route for Indianapolis, to be mustered out of the service. Lieutenant Colonel Perry was in command, and the men looked hearty and robust. They were direct from Mobile, and went forward by the regular mail train for Indianapolis. Their conduct, while in the city awaiting the hour for the train to leave, was in the highest degree creditable and illustrated the fact that Indiana soldiers are as gentlemanly among their friends as they are terrible to their foes.

Captain Conway, of the Silver Moon, boasted of their good conduct on the boat, assuring us that there had not been a single man among them in the least degree intoxicated, disorderly or disobliging to the officers of the boat on the entire trip from New Orleans.

Their appearance, as they marched up Main street, was the subject of warm eulogy.

A number of them had brought with them from the South mocking birds and other pets, and we noticed one bronzed veteran with a large chicken cock perched coozely upon his knapsack, which looked as if he had been through the heavy campaigns with the regiment.

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This report can be found in the Evansville Daily Journal, July 17, 1865

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Early Days in Centerville

The home of Lewis Jones, my 4th great granduncle, who made the first mail delivery from Centerville to Indianapolis in 1822.  The house was built in 1840 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The home of Lewis Jones, my 4th great granduncle, who made the first mail delivery from Centerville to Indianapolis in 1822. The house was built in 1840 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

200 years ago yesterday, Centerville, Indiana was born.  The town was laid out on October 20, 1814, making it the oldest surviving town in Wayne County.  Centerville has a storied history.  Most interestingly, Centerville was at the center of a sometimes violent battle over the county courthouse in the 1870s.  Centerville was also the childhood home of Indiana’s famous Civil War governor, Oliver P. Morton.  Steve Martin has written an article tracing these and other stories of Centerville in today’s Palladium-Item.

Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, who served during the Civil War and was a great supporter of Lincoln and the war.  Morton was born and raised in Centerville.

Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, who served during the Civil War and was a great supporter of Lincoln and the war. President Lincoln said, “Had it not been for Governor Morton sending money and men to the front when most needed, the war probably would have been lost by the North.” Morton was born in Salisbury and lived in Centerville as a young man.

Two sets of my great grandmother’s great grandparents came to Centerville in its earliest days.  In 1817, Daniel Crowe and his wife Elizabeth (Cranford) Crowe left North Carolina in a cart pulled by a horse.  When Daniel arrived in Wayne County, Indiana, he had only $2.50 in money, which he used to buy shoes.  Daniel later traded his horse and harness for a tract of land near Centerville.

For a time, Daniel worked for a local mill owner, David Commons.  Commons was an important man in the community, serving as a significant stockholder of the local bank, a county commissioner for three terms and a state senator for two terms.  Daniel and his wife Elizabeth were farmers, members of the local Christian church and the parents of thirteen children.

My great grandmother’s other great grandparents, John Boggs and his wife Sally (Jones) Boggs, were also early settlers of Centerville.  Nothing is known of John Boggs’ birth or parents, but he was in Centerville at least by the 1820s.  John served as a constable of the town prior to his death in 1843 at the age of 36.

Sally (Jones) Boggs moved to the area of Centerville with her parents, Levi M. Jones and Mary (Thomas) Jones.  Levi and Mary left Virginia in March of 1815 and journeyed down the Ohio River on a flatboat to Cincinnati.  From there, they drove through the countryside to Wayne County, Indiana.  They settled in the small town of Salisbury, and then a year later bought 160 acres (a quarter section) in Center Township.  Two years after that they sold that property and bought lots in the town of Centerville, where they built a hotel.  In 1819, Levi became the first person to build a brick home in the town.

Article about Levi M. Jones and the mail contract.  (Click to enlarge)

Article about Levi M. Jones and the mail contract. (Click to enlarge)

In 1822, Levi received the first contract to carry mail from Centerville to Indianapolis.  His son (my great grandmother’s great granduncle) Lewis was the carrier, and he would make the sixty-five mile trip without stopping.  Levi was not only a man of much business enterprise, but of generosity and confidence in his fellow man.  He died in Centerville, an honored and respected man, on October 5, 1823.

Decades later, my great grandmother, Esther (Crowe) Semler, was born in Lynn, Indiana and married and settled in Richmond, where I was eventually born.  Although our family moved (following the path of the much-disputed county courthouse) from Centerville to Richmond, we still have much to celebrate on this 200th birthday of Centerville.

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To read more about the county courthouse dispute, see the recent book by Carolyn LeFever, Wayne County Indiana: The Battles for the Courthouse.

To see more about the Centerville Bicentennial Celebration, see the Promote Centerville website.

To learn more about Oliver P. Morton, begin with his wikipedia entry.

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Kissing Cousins

My parents, Mark and Judy Harris, on their wedding day.

My parents, Mark and Judy Harris, on their wedding day.

When my parents were moving toward marriage in the late 1960s, my grandfather became concerned that they might be related.  It was a reasonable concern.  Both my parents’ families had lived in the same small town of Richmond, Indiana for over a hundred and thirty years.  And, most suspiciously in my grandfather’s eyes, my father’s great grandparents and my mother’s great grandparents were buried no further than 50 feet from each other in little Ridge Cemetery on the east side of Richmond.

I can happily report that after over 25 years of genealogical research I have found not even one common ancestor in my mother’s and father’s family trees.  The odds that two people from a small town in Indiana–and both with family trees full of Quakers–aren’t related are small indeed.  But somehow my parents dodged the bullet.

Julia and me on our wedding day.

Julia and me on our wedding day. June 22, 1996. Richmond, Indiana.

When my wife Julia and I were moving toward marriage in the mid 1990s, I don’t remember thinking much about the two of us being related.  Julia’s paternal grandparents came over from Greece in the 1920s, taking fifty percent of her ancestors out of the running to be related to mine.  Julia had grown up in California and her mother’s family lived in Colorado.  They had no connections with the small Hoosier town where my parents and their families had been for so long–at least as far as I knew.

Over the years, as I found free time to pursue my family history hobby, I learned more and more about my own family and Julia’s.  I was shocked to find out that Julia’s mom’s family had actually spent some time in Richmond in the mid 1800s.  Buried in the past of Julia’s mom’s family were Quaker ancestors–people who were close neighbors and friends of the many Quakers who filled my parents’ family trees.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877), famous Underground Railroad conductor and Julia's distant cousin.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877), famous Underground Railroad conductor and Julia’s distant cousin.

With a little digging and the help of, I eventually found our common ancestor.  James Wright and his wife Mary were Quakers from Chester County, Pennsylvania who lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  They left Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, like many other Quakers, and moved to Virginia.  From there, their descendants would eventually follow the common Quaker migration path to the Carolinas and then to the slave-free states of the Northwest Territory–primarily Indiana.  Along the way, Quaker sons and daughters married their neighbors and distant cousins leaving a web of relationships and wonderfully copious records keeping track of it all.

In this particular branch of our family trees, my wife and I come from strongly anti-slavery roots.  James Wright’s great granddaughter married into the Coffin family, making my wife a distant cousin of Levi Coffin, a famous conductor on the Underground Railroad who reputedly helped 2,000 to 3,000 slaves to freedom in the years before the Civil War.

Allen Jay 1831-1910

Allen Jay (1831-1910), who as an eleven-year-old boy helped a runaway slave to freedom. A distant cousin of mine.

James Wright’s fourth-great grandson married into the Jay family, making me a distant cousin of Allen Jay, whose family helped many runaway slaves find their freedom.  When he was eleven years old, Allen himself played a key role in helping a slave to freedom, driving the man from one stop to the next on the Underground Railroad.

It is a little strange to think of my wife as also my cousin (and just to be clear, we’re 9th cousins, only slightly more closely related than Barack Obama and Dick Cheney).  But I am very proud that our shared heritage is full of men and women who took on slavery as a moral evil and committed their lives and their livelihoods to making a difference by helping slaves find freedom–one person at a time.  This common branch in our family trees provides a wonderful legacy for our two sons.

— — —

To learn more about Levi Coffin see his wikipedia page.  See also a recent article about his home, a national historical site.

For more information about Allen Jay and other relatives of mine involved in the Underground Railroad, see my previous blog post Underground.

My grandfather’s suspicions about my parents’ potentially intertwined ancestry may have fueled his interest in genealogy.  It was his interest that ultimately fueled mine.  To read more about our relationship, see my previous blog post My Grandfather, Genealogy and Me.

Posted in Jay family, Underground Railroad, Wayne County Indiana | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments


Chicago in 1930 (photo from, click for more details).

Chicago in 1930 (photo from, click image for more details).

You don’t have to do genealogy very long before you run into one of the genealogist’s greatest bugaboos–an inconsistency.

Records from the distant past are notorious for being wrong.  People made mistakes as they recorded a name or a date or a location, and in that split-second lapse they create a huge problem for future historians.  Their momentary mistake hides forever the true fact and propagates a false one.

I’m not sure which is worse:  to find only one record substantiating a fact (in which case we have to trust the fact-recorder) or to find multiple records that don’t line up (in which case we have to figure out which fact-recorder to trust).

My most recent struggle with inconsistent records of the past involves my great-grandfather’s cousins, Marie and Percy Shaw, who lived in Chicago in the early 1900s.

Marie and Percy were brother and sister.  They lived together with their parents all the way up until their mother’s death (their father had died earlier).  Then, just a few months after their mother’s death in 1929, they both died.

Marie, who was 47, died of a brain tumor at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago on October 22, 1930 according to her death certificate.  Percy, who was 45, died of a carcinoma of the sinuses at the Cook County Institution’s Infirmary in Bremen Township (just south of Chicago) on October 21, 1930 according to his death certificate.

Their joint funeral was held in Chicago on the afternoon of October 24, 1930 according to the Chicago Daily Tribune.

The oddity of their dying a day apart of apparently unrelated diseases seemed striking to me.  I did a little more digging and found the cemetery records for their burial in a family plot in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 27, 1930 at 10:30am.  What I found there confused me further.

percyThe cemetery records indicate that both Percy and Marie died of an auto accident on October 22, 1930.  Their death by auto accident would explain why they died one day apart.  However, it still leaves many questions:

  • Why do their death certificates list other causes of death and not mention the car accident?
  • Why does Percy’s death certificate and the newspaper say he died on October 21?
  • Why did Percy die at an institution for the poor and mentally ill while Marie died miles away (and closer to their home) in a private hospital?
  • Who arranged for their funeral and the final disposition of their earthly goods (their parents had died as had their mother’s parents, in whose family plot they were buried)?

marieAuto accidents were a common occurrence in Chicago in 1930.  It was also the period of speakeasies, mobsters and a very dark nightlife in Chicago.

I would love to know more about these cousins and what their lives were like in 1920s Chicago.  And, of course, I’d love to know how exactly they died a day apart in 1930.

If anyone has any suggestions on where I might look or who I might ask to find out more information about this piece of my family history, I’m open to ideas.  You can email me at kevhar72 @ or leave a comment on this post.


— — —

To read my previous post about Percy and Marie Shaw, with a few more details about their lives, see A startling coincidence or something else.

To read about the Cook County Institution where Percy died see Oak Forest Hospital of Cook County and Cook County almshouses.

To read about Swedish Covenant Hospital where Marie died see Swedish Covenant Hospital.

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5 Tips to Boost a Genealogy Blog

By:  Sarah Brooks

OK. You’ve got a genealogy blog. Either you’ve been at it for a while or just started blogging, but either way you enjoy what you’re doing. You love personal stories, family history, research, documentation, learning of communities and how they evolve, or a combination of these things. You spend some time thinking about your blog, writing, and editing your blog daily or weekly.

If you are like many of the other bloggers in this field, though, the only thing you might need help with is gaining followers. This is something that many genealogy bloggers struggle with, but it is possible to get engaged, returning readers that want to hear what you’ve got to say. Consider these steps to increase traffic to your blog.

Create Strong Content

The best way to draw people in to your blog is to create strong content. While you can do anything and everything under the sun to get your blog on as many screens as possible, your readers won’t read—or at least stay engaged—unless the content is strong. When you talk about a specific topic, get quotes from professionals on the subject or other authoritative voices involved with the topic to add to your blog. Perhaps you can get some information on a specific community from a local historian or a quote from the family member you are talking about in your post.

You might also be able to pull in some court documents, immigration papers, or other relevant sources to quote from. Primary source material, as well as great secondary sources, makes for excellent content builders. Finally, fine tune your strong content by making sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

Make Your Blog More Multimedia-Based

In addition to making sure your writing is filled with strong content, compliment that content with good videos, pictures, charts, images of key documents and anything else that can make the blog more multimedia—in short, studies have shown that multimedia makes for stronger, more interesting blogs. And remember, genealogy—and the history associated with it—is a very multi-faceted, multi-layered study that crosses communities, continents, and cultures—take advantage of that with your blog and various media. As a way to connect back to your content, try linking to other relevant sites as well—people want to know where to look next to keep the conversation going.

Get a Strong Focus to Your Blog

It’s easy to take the topic of genealogy and just run with it; after all, there really are so many interesting and worthwhile avenues to pursue. But to have a successful blog, you should ask yourself what it is that you have to say with your blog, what it is that you have to say that will add to the genealogy conversation. In other words, what will your topics be and where will your focus lie?

If your blog doesn’t have a focal point within the genealogy spectrum, consider taking one. Are you more interested in personal family history, how to conduct family or community research, documentation methods, or another specific area? If you can, take a definite, more “limited” focus with your blog. You might be able to branch out after you’ve been blogging for a minute, but start with a focus and get readers from there.

Use Social Media to Your Benefit

After you’ve written your blog, post a link to or an enticing quote from your blog on your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other relevant social media site where you might have friends, family, and other contacts. Comment on other genealogy blogs to interact with their authors—they can come to your blog in return. Finally, you might also consider starting an email newsletter that people can sign up for or simply creating a link to the article in your email signature. In other words, reach people in the places they are with your blog. In time, then, with strong content, you can get them to come to you.

Join Genealogy Groups

There are several excellent genealogy groups on Facebook, LinkedIn,, or other sites that you can really benefit from. You might also find some great groups that meet in person in your community or larger metro area that you can join. Not only will you have a platform to share your blog with these groups, you can also get expert opinions, different viewpoints, or even valuable proofreaders that can help you with your blog.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @

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Enjoying political work, from the nature of it

ImageIt’s hard for me to imagine that some people actually enjoy politics.  Nevertheless, many of my ancestors have served in political capacities, from school boards to city councils to even state legislatures.  Many of them remained in politics for years, effectively leading their communities and making important changes in laws and public works.  My great-great grand uncle William T. Cammack was one of these.  His story is told in the Biographical Memoirs of Grant County, Indiana (1901):


The present efficient and popular Clerk of the Courts of Grant county is one of the most prominent of the younger generation of the citizens of the county.  He is truly a representative of the best interests of its citizens, being himself native to the soil, as he was born in Liberty township on the 17th of November, 1868.  Further and distinct mention is made of his parents, Willis and Sarah (Jay) Cammack, in another part of this volume.

The boyhood of William was passed on the Liberty township farm, receiving such education as the home schools afforded.  When he had attained the age of twenty he became associated with his brother, Bayard T., in the conduct of a general grocery store in South Marion, and so continued until the connection was broken by the death of his brother in August, 1892, after about four years of successful business.  Disposing of the business, he became a traveling salesman for the firm of Smith & Weaver, and later for Houck & Shields, and covered the territory in which they operated in Indiana.

In the fall of 1894 he was given a position as deputy by Wilson Addington, the then incumbent of the office of Clerk of Courts, remaining withe him during the remainder of his term of office.  Evan H. Ferree, successor of Mr. Addington, retained him in the same capacity, and by the expiration of the service of Mr. Ferree he had become so familiar with all the office details and had so impressed his party with his efficiency and obligin nature that he was made the nominee of the party for the position, his election following with a majority that spoke the popular sentiment.  The convention in which he was nominated was the largest ever held in the county, numbering 776 delegates and indicating the popular will with as close accuracy as might be possible in a representative body.

From boyhood Mr. Cammack has taken keen interest in the workings of party politics, early identifying himself with the Republican organization, and soon being called upon to represent the party in its various conventions and as a member of administrative committees.  While never an aspirant for forensic honors, the work done by him as a political counselor has been fully as efficient and beneficial to party success as of those whose efforts have brought them more prominently before the public as orators or writers.  Of rather a retiring nature, it has never been his inclination to make much noise; but, enjoying, like Senator Platt, the political work from the nature of it, he has taken a quiet course, his most effective efforts being in the retreat of his own office, by the fireside or at the club.  Possessing to a degree those excellent traits of character and good fellowship that draw men to him, and with a freedom of ostentation or offensive egotism that so often distinguishes the man given honors by his fellows, Mr. Cammack has the happy faculty of making friends even among the opposition, it being no strentch of the imagination to say that no more popular man, among Democrats, lives within the confines of Grant county.  His conduct of the duties of the office has tended to cement the wide circle of friends he already enjoyed.  His choice of assistants has been an equally fortunate one, John D. Ferree, John Duffey and Miss Eva Neal being among the most popular and obliging of the many deputies in the service of the county.

Being one of the popular drug firm of Evans & Cammack, he is identified with the business interests of Marion, and is found true to her interests, whatever the occasion or however the levy upon his own purse or time.  The late and successful carnival and street fair held under the auspices and patronage of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks found in Mr. Cammack one of its most enthusiastic supporters, the benefits derived to the city being incalculable.

In all of these organizations of which he is a member, such as the Elks, Knights of Pythias, Junior Order of American Mechanics, etc., he is found at the front in the advancement of the society, being often a leader in all those efforts tending to the greater extension and popularizing of the society.

It is said that all enthusiastic members of the Elks are “sports,” and the truth of the assertion is not diminished by the fact of Mr. Cammack’s relation thereto; his proclivities in that line are mainly confined to the game of base-ball, of which he is a devoted lover, or to the driving of a choice specimen of horse-flesh, finding no greater pleasure than when, by the side of his wife, he pulls the lines over a handsome beast, though it can not be claimed for him that he is a “crank” as a turfman.

Mr. Cammack was united in matrimony on his twenty-first birthday to Emeline M. Cox, daughter of William and Elizabeth Cox, of Liberty township; and from this union two children have issued: J. Ward, aged nine and Hazel C.

After a most pleasant companionship of a little more than ten years, the touch of an invisible and ruling hand was laid upon his associate, the response to which carried her beyond the spheres of earth, passing with a resignation and Christian fortitude to “the land beyond the waveless sea,” on the 24th of June, 1900.  She possessed a lovely character, the impress of which was stamped with an almost unconscious effort upon those with whom she had been in contact.  Devoted to her family and her church, she cared little for the praise of general society, rather being found in doing something for the alleviation of humanity or the advancement of the cause of the Master.

Posted in Cammack family, Ferree family | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Friends and Neighbors

Micajah C. Henley

Micajah C. Henley
“The Roller Skate King”

Every street has a multitude of stories.  As you drive through old neighborhoods you can feel the history, the countless moments that have occurred in the homes that line the streets.  Many of these stories are long forgotten, but some leave hints behind and beg retelling.

North 14th Street in Richmond, Indiana is a rather unassuming street.  Today, many of its homes are dilapidated and the neighborhood doesn’t have much to say for itself.  But in the late 1800s, it was part of a bustling neighborhood full of energy, invention and excitement.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Micajah C. Henley lived at 201 North 14th.  It was probably in the backyard of this home, or perhaps an earlier one he lived in on North 13th, that Micajah developed several improvements to the roller skate.  His improved roller skates helped fuel the roller skating craze that took over the nation in the 1890s.  Micajah and his brother opened a factory on North 16th that produced roller skates–over 2,000 pairs a day at its peak–as well as bicycles, scooters and other various manufactured items.  Micajah became known as “The Roller Skate King.”

Sometime around 1881, Micajah sold a bicycle to a neighborhood boy named Wilbur Wright.  The Wright brothers lived at 309 North 12th and 211 North 14th between 1881 and 1884.  Wilbur and his brother Orville would later move to Dayton, Ohio, open a bicycle shop–taking advantage of another craze of the 1890s–and eventually become the first to successfully build and fly an airplane.  While they lived on North 14th, they tinkered with toy helicopters, a backyard lathe of their own invention and many other creative endeavors.  While their success came in Dayton, their start happened on North 14th.

Robert Balser Fetzer

Robert Balser Fetzer (1846-1919), my great-great grandfather

In 1883, my great-great grandfather Robert Balser Fetzer, lived with his wife and mother-in-law at 419 North 14th.  Within a year or two, they moved to 313 North 14th, a home the family would occupy for many decades.  They lived just a few houses down from Micajah Henley.  Robert was an engineer and probably rather inventive himself.  He made tools; in fact, our family still has a level he made in 1896 with his initials stamped on it.  But instead of starting his own business, Robert chose to work for the Richmond City Mill Works for many years.  He was a valued employee and was known for never missing work.

In the 1880s, another great-great grandfather of mine, Lewis Kinsey Harris, lived a few blocks away at 300 North 19th.  By 1893, he had moved into a beautiful 3,600 square foot home at 116 North 14th that would remain in the family for many years.  L.K., as he was known, was a blacksmith who often owned his own shop.  He also engaged in business with others from time to time, making agricultural implements and other necessities.  In addition to his blacksmithing business and other entrepeneurial activities, L.K. also served on the Richmond City Council from 1880-1885 and 1889-1894.  While serving as a councilman, L.K. often brought matters before the city council for his friend and neighbor, Micajah C. Henley.

Edward Shaw

My 3rd great grandfather, Edward Shaw

L.K. Harris’ father-in-law, Edward Shaw, lived around the corner at 312 North 15th in 1893.  He had moved around in the same neighborhood for many years.  Edward was well known as the manufacturer of Shaw’s Railroad Liniment, “a botanic preparation which is a speedy cure for rheumatism, neuralgia, burns, bruises, headaches, etc., and taken internally is a valuable remedy for neuralgia of the stomach, cholera morbus, etc.”  It became very popular and widely distributed in eastern Indiana and western Ohio.  Even today, many old Shaw’s Railroad Liniment bottles turn up at antique dealers and on Ebay.

These are just a few stories from an old neighborhood in a small town on the border of Indiana and Ohio.  These few hints remain of an exciting time in our nation’s history as the collective endeavors of small businessmen across the land began to turn America into the world power it was to become.

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You can read more about Micajah Henley at the Waynet website and on Dan Tate’s blog, which contains wonderful pictures and details about his life and work.

Edward Shaw, L.K. Harris and Robert Balser Fetzer are all mentioned in other posts on this blog and can be found by using the search function at the top of the page.

As always, if you have any questions or any further info I would love to hear from you by your comments below or by emails sent to

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The Ruining of a Reputation

Badge of the First Division, Eleventh Corps, Army of the Potomac.

Badge of the First Division, Eleventh Corps, Army of the Potomac.

In the Civil War, as in any war, reputations were made and destroyed. Not only did certain individuals rise to prominence or fall to ruin, but so did entire groups of people–sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly.

The Eleventh Corps was one of those groups. After falling apart under the crushing flanking attack of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, the Eleventh were forever tagged as those “Damn Dutch” (referring to the fact that many of the men in the unit were first generation German immigrants). They were also called “Howard’s cowards” and “the flying Dutchmen.”  They became the scapegoat for the Union loss at Chancellorsville, even though many said that the men in the ranks had performed admirably. One author claimed that “in reconnaissance they had been vigilant; in combat, brave; and in defeat, persistent.”

Thomas and Wilson Pottenger were privates in the Eleventh. They served in the 75th Ohio Infantry and came from Preble County, Ohio, an area that had its share of Germans. But the Pottengers were from some of the oldest of colonial families. A great-great grandfather of theirs had died in the Revolutionary War. Other ancestors had even served as soldiers in the King’s service prior to the Revolution.

On May 3rd at Chancellorsville, the day after Stonewall Jackson’s stunning flanking movement and subsequent wounding by his own troops, Wilson Pottenger was taken prisoner. He was sent from Chancellorsville to Richmond, Virginia to Camp Parole in Annapolis, Maryland. He stayed there with many of his fellow Union soldiers until he was exchanged on October 3rd and sent back to fight.

Meanwhile, after the battle of Chancellorsville, Wilson’s brother Thomas marched to Gettysburg with those of the Eleventh Corps who hadn’t been killed or captured in the battle. The derision with which the soldiers of the Eleventh were treated did nothing for morale. The mocking left the men downcast and defeated as they headed toward Gettysburg.

One officer remembered “I recrossed [The Rappahannock River] with a heavy heart…and I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was ashamed of this battle, and deplored the sad experience of the Eleventh Corps.” Officers talked of resigning, and “a spirit of depression and lack of confidence” permeated the Eleventh as they left Chancellorsville.

On the first day of Gettysburg, the Eleventh again found itself right in the middle of a huge fight.  When battle broke out between the Confederates and the Federal First Corps, the Eleventh was ordered to march the last 5 miles to Gettysburg on the double-quick.  As they arrived, they hurried through town and were quickly put into formation northwest of Gettysburg facing a large force of Confederates.

General Francis Barlow

General Francis Barlow

The second and third divisions of the Eleventh arrived on the field before the first.  The first division–led by General Francis Barlow–had been caught behind the wagon train of the First Corps and then had to slog through mud that was four inches deep to get to the front lines.  By the time they arrived they were exhausted from double-quicking it through some nasty conditions.  But as they came through town, they found some relief as the women of Gettysburg emerged from their homes and “stood along the sidewalks with buckets of water…doing all they could for the men.”

General Barlow pushed his division forward past where the third division was fighting.  He went farther than his superiors had hoped or planned and tried to take Blocher’s knoll, which he perceived to be the “high ground.”  Unfortunately, by pushing so far, he put his troops in an indefensible position.

As elements of the division came under fierce attack, one of Barlow’s brigade commanders, Adelbert Ames, ordered the 75th Ohio forward to hold the position.  Colonel Andrew Harris, commanding officer of the 75th, was told to fix bayonets and advance.  Later Harris would describe that moment as “perilous in the extreme” as they made “a fearful advance…at a dreadful cost of life.”

Four of the 75th’s twelve officers and one-fourth of the men who made the advance lay dead or dying. A full fifty-percent of the remaining officers and men were wounded, with many laying on the ground bleeding.

I don’t know for sure if this is the moment that Thomas Pottenger died, but it’s quite likely that it is.  The records merely indicate he died on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg, killed in action.

Several months after the battle–just over 150 years ago–President Lincoln came to Gettysburg to give a speech at the dedication of the new National Cemetery there.  When he spoke of “the brave men” who “struggled here” and “the dead” who “shall not have died in vain,” he referred to men like Thomas.  thomasp

Over 1,000 of the more than 6,000 who were killed outright during the battle were interred at Gettysburg.  Thomas was not one of them.  His body was taken back to Preble County, Ohio where it was laid to rest next to his little brother who had died as a young child several years before.

For a nation that had to wait two more years and witness the expending of many thousands more lives to experience its “new birth of freedom,” the death of Thomas was merely a statistic.  But for a mother and a father who had already buried one son, the loss of yet another was probably heart-wrenching.

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Thomas and Wilson Pottenger were my first cousins, five times removed.  They were my fifth great-grandparents’ grandsons, my fourth great-grandmother’s nephews, my third great-grandmother’s cousins.  As far as I know Thomas was my closest relative to fight at Gettysburg;  and as of now, he is the only relative I have found who was killed in action in the Civil War.

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