Wednesday, 31 May 2017

What do we know about William R. Poe? Part 1

(Revised 31 May 2017)

William Romulus Poe is my earliest known male ancestor. ‘Earliest’ doesn’t mean he lived in ancient times – he only died in 1866.

I don’t yet know enough about him to work out who his parents were. On the other hand, when I began researching family history I didn’t even know his name.

What do we currently know about him?

Firstly, his surname. On different occasions, it is spelt Powe or Poe. He certainly preferred Powe himself during the middle part of his life in Garrard County Kentucky and Missouri though by 1850 he and his sons all used Poe. 

The usage in the early part of his life is not clear, though some families changed from Poe to Powe at that time.

William was born 27 December 1794 in Virginia to as yet unknown parents. He may have been born in Richmond as some later descendants believed, but Virginia was widely believed by children of both his marriages. 

His second wife described him ‘from her best recollection’ (12 years after his death) as being 5’ 6” of fair complexion with grey eyes and dark hair. At least one of his sons had a similar appearance and another had a dark complexion with brown eyes and dark hair.

He took part in the War of 1812 as a member of a militia. There are two possible soldiers in the record.

It is possible (though I now consider it unlikely) that he was a Corporal in Ambler’s regiment in Virginia as claimed by one of his daughters, Mrs Lucy Blandy. This claim, made in 1921, allowed her to become a member of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812. It seems to have been specifically supported by the US Adjutant General’s office but this document has not survived so we can't tell what the specifics were. The period of service of this solider, named in the record as William Poe, was 23 August to 3 September 1814.

The other more likely possibility is the Kentucky militia. In 1878 his widow obtained a pension on the basis of the service of a William Powe who served in Captain William Wood’s Company which was part of Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Slaughter’s Kentucky Regiment. The period of this service was 14 November 1814 to 10 March 1815. 

It is possible that one man could have been involved in both periods of service. If so we can date his move from Virginia to Kentucky as about October 1814.

His move to Kentucky by 1814 may have been with his family. The fact that he is not a head of household in the 1820 census may mean that his father is one of the other Powe men who was listed. Also, Elizabeth, presumably a widow, is mentioned as a head of household also. If this was his mother this may also explain why he didn’t establish his own household.

There is no surviving direct documentary link of either to William Romulus Poe, so the question is one of probability. In addition, neither file gives any clue as to other family members.

Three specific items which his widow mentioned may help confirm his identity in the William Woods Company.

He was given 160 acres as the result of his war service: There is no evidence yet that this was actually taken up. Corporal Poe was apparently eligible for such a grant, and the widow's pension file indicates that Private Poe in Captain Wood’s militia has a related land bounty warrant, so both could be a match. A connection to land obtained by Poe himself as a result of war service would confirm at least one of these records as relating to him. 

He took part in the Battle of New Orleans: This was fought between 8-18 January 1815. It was the final major battle of the War of 1812 and a well-known because its outcome was decisive. American forces commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, prevented an overwhelming British force, under Admiral Alexander Cochrane and General Edward Pakenham, from seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. William Powe's service in William Wood's Company meets this requirement.

He was a substitute for a William Leusieur: This is a very specific reference, but her pension file isn't linked to another soldier. As a result of her pension claim, an index card for Leusieur was created but it only refers back to the widow’s pension file. My impression is that authorities felt that her claim was genuine even if they weren’t able to match all the details she gave at the time. The only mention of the surname as spelt is for a Charles who served in a Virginia regiment. However, was not substituted and was in a different militia from Corporal William Poe.

The nearest sounding name is a William Laysure who served in Slaughter’s Regiment, even though the company is not specified. The Regiment was organised 10 November 1814, specifically to support the New Orleans campaign. William Laysure is listed as a substitute for a William Powe: this is unlikely to be a mere coincidence. I now believe that Leusieur and Laysure are one and the same, even though the records are not linked. The William Powe in Wood's company, therefore, is an excellent match for the description which Poe's widow gave.

As an aside, the fact that none of Poe’s descendants claimed membership of organisations of the sons or daughters of revolutionary war may mean he did not have a male ancestor in the country at that time. There are a large number of possible Poe / Powe participants - too many to investigate without more details. Migration into Virginia was still taking place in the years before William's birth.

On 30 October 1817, William married Margaret Ann Brown in Garrard County, Kentucky. The bondsman for the marriage was Frederick Brown who is likely to be Margaret's father, though I can find no further details about him. William is in the marriage record as William Powe. He is constantly confused with the William Powe who married Sarah Harris in Garrard County in March 1816. One can imagine he may have had the problem in his own lifetime.

In the 1820s, William and Margaret Powe moved to Missouri, and the next post will take up the story there…

Garrard County, Kentucky

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