(52 Ancestors #3 – Tough Woman)
Nancy (“Nannie”) Jane Clark was born February 12, 1880 in Henry County, Virginia to Willis and Sarah Elizabeth Clark. In the 1900 census, Nannie and her mother (listed as Bettie) were living in Horsepasture, Henry County, Virginia. Nannie was 20 and her mother was 62. Nannie married Robert Luke Wells on March 20, 1902 in Henry County. In 1903, Nannie gave birth to a stillborn baby. On June 29, 1905, she gave birth to Edward Lee Wells, my grandfather. On August 7, 1908, Willis James Wells was born. In 1910, the family was living in Horsepasture, Henry County. Robert was listed as 28 years old and a farmer, Nannie was listed as 30, Edward was 4 and Willis (listed as James W.) was almost 2. Nannie’s mother was living with them, listed as Sarah E. She was 72 and widowed. She was listed as having 6 children, 3 still living. On February 12, 1912, Nannie gave birth to her only daughter, Mary Ellen Wells. William Robert Wells was born on June 12, 1915. On April 28, 1919, Nannie gave birth to her last child, Jesse Brown Wells. Sadly, after being ill for two months, Nannie’s husband Robert died of typhoid on December 26, 1919 at the age of 38.
In the February 1920 census, Nannie and the children and her mother were living in Reed Creek, Henry County, Virginia. Nannie was 40 and her oldest son Edward was 14. He was a laborer in a furniture factory – a young age to become the man of the house. Thirty-five years later in 1955, history would repeat itself when Edward died of a massive heart attack at the age of 49, leaving his oldest son, Robert (my father), as the man of the house at age 16. Meanwhile, Willis was 11, Mary was 8, William was 4, and little Jesse was only 8 months. Nannie’s mother, Elizabeth, was 83. I think Elizabeth died sometime in 1923.
Nannie and her family moved to Detroit between 1920 and 1925. In September 1925, her son Willis accidently shot himself with a pistol he had found in a drawer while looking for a flashlight. In 1927, Nannie is listed as living at 4009 Lovett in Detroit. In 1928, she is living at 4086 W. Fort St., Detroit. By 1933, she had moved to Lincoln Park at 1095 Victoria Avenue.
In the 1940 census, Nannie and her son Jesse were living at 1087 Victoria Avenue with two lodgers, Fred and Boaz Duncan. Apparently, Nannie ran a boardinghouse during these years. Jesse was a truck driver for a lumber company. In the later 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Nannie lived at 1177 Montie Rd. in Lincoln Park. Toward the end of her life, she lived with her son’s family in Melvindale, Michigan.
My dad remembers her as a very tall woman, and very stern. She insisted her grandchildren call her “Grandmother.” Nannie Jane Wells died on February 26, 1969 at the age of 89.