One discovery I made on my visit about 15 years ago to the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library was the book “Follow the periwinkle: cemetery records of Henry County, Virginia” from the Henry County Historical Society. Robert Luke Wells, my great-grandfather, died in 1919 of typhoid fever. From “Follow the periwinkle” I discovered he was buried in Pleasant Grove Christian Church Cemetery. From there I was able to find his tombstone (although his dates of birth and death are slightly wrong).
For the “On the Farm” theme, I want to talk about a farmer in my family tree and the area in which he lived and farmed. James Henry Wells, my great-great grandfather, was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia on August 4, 1840. He married Mary Ann Clark on September 2, 1864 in Henry County, Virginia. By the 1870 Federal Census, they were living in Horsepasture, Henry County, Virginia and had 3 children. James’ sister Eliza, a widow, was also living with them with her 2 children. He was a farmer who could not read or write. In 1880, they were living in Horsepasture with 7 children and James was listed as a farmer again.
Horsepasture had no recorded name until a group of Northerners traveling South passed through this part of the county riding thin mares, undernourished and overworked. The men of this group struck bargains with the people living in the area, trading their rides for new Virginia stock – two mares for a stallion, a mare and a colt for another mare, etc.
The Yankees rode southward that Spring, but during the Fall of that same year they returned North to their homes, traveling through this very same area. The horses that they had traded were now grazing on the high quality grass of this very fertile area. The Yankees continued home, shaking their heads in disbelief as they remarked that this little area was about the best ‘horse pasture’ they had ever known. The name stuck and the local Horsepasture Christian Church was founded in 1832. There was a post office at Horsepasture from 1833 to 1906.
James’ wife Mary Ann died of a fever in 1894 and James re-married in 1898 to Sallie Lou Koger. A little over a year later, Sallie moved back to her parents and gave birth to a daughter, Maggie. Oddly, in the 1900 census, James lists his deceased wife Mary Ann as living. Sallie was living with her parents and her daughter. James farmed with two of his sons, Robert (my great-grandfather) and Edward, as his farm laborers. In 1901, James filed for divorce on the grounds of Sallie’s desertion and it was finalized in June 1903. James died March 6, 1904 and was buried in Mount Hermon Church of the Brethren Cemetery in Bassett, Henry County.
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.