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.
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.
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.”
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.