For Week 40 of #52Ancestors, the theme is “Harvest.” I decided to look and see how many of my great-great grandfathers (you have 8) were listed in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census/1881 Canadian Census with an occupation of “Farmer.” Here we go:
James Wells – Farmer, aged 40, Horsepasture District, Henry Co., Virginia
Willis Clark – Dead
Arthur Belknap – aged 11 – his dad was a laborer in Dover, Fulton Co., Ohio
William Bost – Farm Laborer, aged 20, Marion Twp., Henry Co., Ohio
John Wilson – Farmer, aged 48, Howe Island, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada
The theme this week is Mistakes. My great-great grandmother Mary (Clark) Wells was listed in the 1900 census in Horsepasture, Virginia even though she died in 1894. Now this is either a spooky mistake or my great-great grandfather’s wishful thinking. He was in the middle of a strange second marriage to a much younger woman who was also his son-in-law’s sister, and his new wife and their newborn daughter were living with her parents.
Mary Ann Clark was born December 20, 1839 to William Clark and Ann Martin in Henry County, Virginia. She was 10 years old in the 1850 census, living with her family, and attending school. In the 1860 census, she was 20 years old and living with her parents, younger siblings, and her grandmother. On September 2, 1864, she married James H. Wells in Henry County. By the 1870 census, they were living in Horsepasture Township and had 3 children – Susan, Mary, and William. James’ sister Eliza was also living with them with her 2 young children. In 1880, James and Mary were living in the same township, with 4 more children – James, Sarah, Lucy, and Martha. In 1881, they had my great-grandfather, Robert Luke Wells. Mary Ann died on December 29, 1894 of fever (according to the Death Register of Henry County, Virginia, Volume 11, 1875-1896, p. 162-163).
Now is where things get a little strange. James and Mary’s daughter Martha married J. W. Koger on July 21, 1897. James re-married on February 22, 1898 – to J. W.’s sister Sallie. James was 57 and Sallie was 32. According to (spoiler alert!) divorce depositions, Sallie left James in July/August 1899. She gave birth to their daughter Maggie on February 13, 1900. On June 4, 1900, Sallie and Maggie were living with Sallie’s parents and her brother. Sallie was listed under her maiden name, Koger, while Maggie had the surname Wells. Meanwhile, on June 26, 1900, James and his (dead) wife Mary are listed with their sons Robert and Edward, and their daughter Martha, her husband, and her daughter.
On April 16, 1901, James filed for divorce from Sallie on the grounds of desertion. The divorce was granted in June 1903. James Wells died March 6, 1904. Sallie lived until 1947 and their daughter Maggie lived until 1985.
The Bassett Historical Center in Bassett, Virginia was incredibly helpful in researching James and Mary Wells, sending me copies of vital records and divorce papers.
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.