The Important Things

Figuring out who and what were important to my ancestors is part of the fun of genealogy, but it’s difficult to do.

Wills are one way to get a glimpse of what–and who–was important to a person. Presumably, the stuff, people and causes mentioned in a person’s will got there because they mattered to the person.

Wayne County, Indiana Courthouse in Richmond

A couple of weeks ago, I found the will of my four-times-great grandfather, Robert Hill.  It was right where it was supposed to be–in Will Book #3 at the Wayne County (Indiana) Courthouse.  I’ve wondered about it for years, but I’ve never had the time (or made the time) to go and get it.  I was hoping to find several wills–those of Henry M. Harris (see More Questions Than Answers), Edward Shaw (see The Family Historian) and L.K. Harris (see Pawn Stars)–but I only found one.  I’m still very pleased.

Robert Hill left his native North Carolina in 1802 at the age of twenty-two.  Most likely, he was fleeing the culture of slavery that existed in the 18th century South for the newly opened, free land of the Northwest Territory.  Robert’s family had owned slaves, but when he moved to the Indiana Territory (soon to be the State of Indiana), he left that way of life behind.

When Hill arrived in Richmond, Indiana in 1805 after spending a few years on a farm near Cincinnati, he bought some land and built a log house not far from the wagon trail that would become the National Road.  He and his wife, Susannah, had ten children prior to her death in 1827.  Their first child, Martha, died in 1808 at the age of six–she was the only of their children to die young.

On May 22, 1809 Hill voted for Jonathan Jennings to be the representative to Congress from the Indiana Territory.  He also voted for Solomon Manwaring to be on the Legislative Council for the Territory and for Ephraim Overman to be a member of the House of Assembly.

Corydon State Capital Building

The first statehouse at Corydon, Indiana, where the Indiana General Assembly met for the first eight years of statehood, from 1816-1824. (Click for larger version)

Robert Hill himself served in the 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th General Assemblies of the State of Indiana.  He served as an assemblyman (i.e., a state legislator) from 1817-1818, 1819-1820 and 1822-1824.

In 1818, Hill built a two-story brick house just north of the road that would become the National Road.  Later he tore it down and rebuilt it along the traveled line;  his children helping by hauling the bricks in an oxcart.  He and his family entertained travelers at their home, which they called “The Green Tree Tavern.”  They kept a small store.  They farmed their 260 acres.  He and his wife raised their children.

At some point during the 1820s, Robert and Susannah’s daughter Penninah–my three-times-great grandmother–was kidnapped from The Green Tree Tavern.  She was later recovered two miles from home, unharmed.

A few years after his wife’s death, Robert retired from tavern keeping and sold The Green Tree Tavern to John Smith who then sold it to Amos Clawson, Hill’s daughter-in-law’s father. Clawson ran the tavern for many years.  The building burned down in the late 1800s.

Two years after Susannah’s death, Robert Hill married Rebecca Lathrop, the widow of a doctor from Waynesville, Ohio.  Robert’s youngest child, George, was only 4 at the time.

Robert Hill wrote his last will and testament in 1848 (see Will of Robert Hill).  He certainly wanted to be sure that his wife, Rebecca, was cared for well.  It seems he wanted her to be able to maintain the lifestyle to which she was accustomed.  The list of items she gets to use for her lifetime and then dispose of as she pleases includes:  $1200 in money, one best bedstead and bedding with a set of curtains and furniture, one mahogany dining table, one wash stand, one mantle block, one cherry candle stand, one arm chair, six cane bottom chairs, one large looking glass, one best carpet, and a half dozen silver tea spoons marked with the initials of their names.  In addition, she gets the proceeds, interest or dividends of 27 shares of bank stock in the Branch at Richmond of the State Bank of Indiana (but the kids get these after she’s gone).

In the will, Robert gave 133 acres of land in Elkhart County, Indiana to George–the baby of the family.  Two other sons got smaller pieces of land in Elkhart County, but no mention is made of the Richmond property. The purpose of this inequitable division was to bring equality–the other children had already received their portions. Robert Hill seemed to desire that all his children receive equal amounts and “share and share alike.”

The Children of Robert Hill (1780-1850): Robert Hill, Penninah (Hill) Shaw, George Hill (back row, l to r); Elizabeth (Hill) Shute, Samuel Hill, Mary (Hill) Parry and Charles Hill (seated, l to r).

For a list of the children and their birthdays, see Children of Robert Hill.

He trusted them to share after he was gone. When he mentioned the bank shares that the children would inherit after Rebecca’s death, he allowed the children to divide them “in the way which may best suit them.”

Several of the children moved to Iowa after Robert’s death. Some stayed in Richmond, but with the division of the estate of Robert Hill, the family didn’t maintain a strong influence in the local community for very long.

Today a shopping center sits along the National Road (U.S. 40 or Main Street as it is also called) where Robert Hill’s farm was. A Holiday Inn was built on the spot where the Green Tree Tavern had stood, but it has since been replaced by a car dealership. As you drive away from the National Road along the land that was Robert Hill’s, you pass many homes and then you come to the small cemetery that was on a corner of his property.

Robert was buried in that cemetery.  It sat next to a Quaker Meetinghouse that was built on his property, but has long since disappeared.  His and many of his descendants’ graves can still be found in that cemetery–now called Ridge Cemetery–along Garwood Road in Richmond, Indiana.

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10 Responses to The Important Things

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    Nice post, Kevin. I can only try to imagine the amount of research that goes into these pieces. This one has me wondering about the car dealerships and motels and shopping centers I see all the time — how much history lies buried where they now stand. I’m also thinking about the textbooks we were all forced to study in school, and how much more interesting these stories of yours are, I suppose because they’re about real people living lives not so different from our own.

    • Thanks, Charles. There is a lot of research that goes into these things, but most of it was done long ago by me or one of the previous “family historians” in my family (see The Family Historian). I also get a lot of help from librarians (thanks Doris & Steve at MRL!) Generally when I write one of these blog posts, my research consists of pulling a folder out of a box and synthesizing the information. Obviously in this post, I was pulling the folder out to place a new item in it–my newly copied will of Robert Hill–and decided to write a post about it.

      Your comment about the history buried under modern buildings is very accurate. Every time I drive through Richmond, I see things–not just the buildings that are there now, but the buildings and history that existed long ago. It has a vertiginous effect on me sometimes.

  2. mirroredImages says:

    When I read this I am struck, repeatedly, by the phrase “ten children.” Holy cow. And then I think about what you were saying while writing this one: that it was like giving birth! Labor and delivery seems to be a theme here.

    That car dealership is an annoying eyesore and should be bulldozed. Maybe we could build a NEW Green Tree Tavern on it and run it together! Or… a Goofballs. 🙂

    • You seem to be struck by the large numbers of children in families often (10 for Robert Hill, 16 for Ambrose Jarvis). You have to remember they needed a lot of hands to do the work on the family farms. This was back in the day when children actually worked and contributed to the family (unlike today when the family works and contributes to the children).

      Rather than a Goofballs, maybe we should move out into the country and start a family farm. Just think of all the joy our children would have in getting up at 5:30 to milk the cows and feed the chickens. And they’d get to see–and understand–where those chicken nuggets they eat come from and how much work it takes to make them.

  3. Robert Williams says:

    Wow… you have inspired me to start my own blog!! Just to let you know… the Clawson family that the Green Tree Inn was sold to was where I got the pictures Robert Hill picture from. So, that would make sense I guess. I have pics of Amos Clawson and his wife I believe. Will dig around tonight and see what I have. Thanks for inspiring me… rwilliamsgenealogy.wordpress.com

    Robert Williams

    • Thanks so much for reading, Robert. I’m glad you’re starting your own blog. I look forward to reading it.

      If you find any pictures, I’d love to see them. Same is true of the Jones family that we share in common. I’m always looking to add to my family history files.

      Good luck with your blog! I’ve already linked to it on my site.

  4. pokedpotato says:

    I really cannot believe the amount of research you have done to pull all this information together. As I’m sure you have done for your other blogs too. But for some reason this one really struck me as having a lot of detail to it. Maybe it was the part about the “children helping by hauling the bricks in an oxcart.” How in the world did you find that out? Was there a diary? A letter? A newspaper article?

    Anyways, very interesting to read.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. I’m afraid this one may have had a little too much detail in it. But I appreciate your kind words.

      Much of the research that goes into a blog post like this was done a long time ago. In the case of this one, the only research I did in the days leading up to the post was to get the will from the courthouse. Everything else came out of a file that’s been sitting in a box for years.

      The details came from several newspaper articles. Our local newspaper (the Richmond Palladium Item) ran a history column for years. Some of the articles came from the 1930s and some from the 1970s, I think. I also got some copies from the Indiana Historical Society several years ago relating to his service in the Indiana General Assembly. The information about his voting in 1809 was in a book about Territorial Indiana that I found years ago. The picture of Robert Hill’s children is one that’s been in our family for over a hundred years. There’s a lot more research to be done on Robert Hill and–believe it or not–there’s even a bunch of details I didn’t throw into this post that I know already.

      I love doing the research and building the files on these families and people. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and money (for travel, for copies, etc.) and I don’t have much of either right now. That’s why I’m doing more synthesizing and writing–but I still like to sneak in a little research when I can.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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