Wednesday, 14 June 2017

What do we know about William R. Poe? Part 3

William and Margaret moved to Missouri in the 1820s. They were not alone. Many settlers moved from Kentucky to areas further west.

In 1816 a small army of settlers began moving from Kentucky to Indiana, then on to Illinois. In the following years, many more people migrated westward with more than half moving to Missouri and most of the rest going to Indiana and Illinois.

On 9 August 1824, William R Poe (WRP) was possibly the party to a bond signed by Joseph Casteel binding his daughter Mary, as an apprentice to ’William Powe’ until 27 Feb 1827, to ‘learn to knit, sew, etc’. If this is him it would have been soon after his arrival in Missouri and may be an illustration of his enterprise. But there was one other William Powe in Clay County at this time. He had also come from Garrard County Kentucky and the two are often confused.

By 1830 William was using the middle name Romulus, possibly to distinguish himself from the other William. ‘Powe’ at this time a more common usage than ‘Poe’ which they would all later adopt. Whether he was related through his Powe ancestors to the other William is not known. There were family connections through his wife’s family – the Browns. You can imagine that sorting out the Browns is even more difficult!

The use of Romulus or the middle initial ‘R’ helps identify him clearly in land records and various court proceeding. It is safe to assume that any references to William Powe without the ‘R’ after about 1830 are to the other fellow.

Perhaps he adopted the name himself though it is not clear what its significance may be. Romulus was a co-founder of Rome and regarded as an example of tyranny. Powe is associated with Whigs who supported Alexander Hamilton the popular federalist, remembered on the US five-dollar note. Hamilton had wished to ensure limitations on presidential power. So perhaps WRP was having a joke on himself if he was regarded as autocratic.

WRP made several land purchases in Missouri. A number of these pieces of land were purchased from the government, with funds to be used for schools and payment of teachers. So, he had real wealth with which to buy the land. It would be interesting to know exactly how he made his money.  

In October 1848 WRP was certainly a founding member, though never an officer, of the Plattsburg Masonic Lodge. The Masonic records of Kentucky for the earlier period do not show anyone with the surname Powe, Poe, or Pow in any records, so it appears it was not the family custom at this time.

WRP was convicted for gaming during this period and also of selling liquor to the Indians.

Census and court records show he and Margaret had four children, though it is possible and consistent with the time that one or two others may have died at a young age, perhaps in Kentucky before their move to Missouri.

Those who there are records for are Agnes Roster (1823) born in Kentucky and three boys all born in Missouri; Alonzo Marion (1826), Americus Napoleon (1827) and Alexander Hamilton (1832).

Who came up with those names? Agnes may have been a family name and Royster may be the surname of his or his wife’s family – though as yet none have been found. Alonzo may have been named as part of a plan to distinguish his Powe family from the others who filled their families with a confusing array of Williams and Johns. 

Third in the ‘A team’ was Americus Napoleon. Americus was a pen name of popular politician Alexander Hamilton, but Napoleon – the tyrant. Perhaps this is more family humour. His youngest son was named, perhaps more respectfully as Alexander Hamilton, clearly in honour of the Federalist

Naming children after founding fathers was a common practice, with many George Washingtons and Benjamin Franklins appearing.  But there were few Alexander Hamiltons and even fewer Americuses - again, WRP was being unique.

The interesting thing about the census record is that I can find no entry for William in the 1830 census, but he is there as 'Wm R Pow' in the 1840 census as is the person he is often confused with 'Wm Pow'.  

His eldest son, Alonzo, decided to ‘go west’ at the age of 18. He signed up for a job with Lemmon‐Walden party who left Missouri in April 1845 arriving in the Washington Territory in October. Young Alonzo Poe was a naive lad getting himself into a bit of trouble with Indians whom he assumed (perhaps based on his life experience to that point) would always be friendly.

There is no indication about what made him go west at such a young age. He seems to have been often bored on the journey and wasted bullets shooting at small creatures to pass the time. Perhaps this shows a comfortable upbringing as well as a restless spirit - and perhaps his leaving followed tension in the family. Alonzo claimed land and built a small home but complained of loneliness to his friend Issac Ebey. His younger brother, Americus joined him within a few years after he settled in the Washington Territory.

Back in Missouri, the family was not in good shape.

WRP left his remaining family and Margaret was successful in obtaining a divorce in 1849 on the basis that he had abandoned her and a minor child, Alexander who was 17 years old at the time. Property listed as frozen during the dispute included land within Clinton County, ‘two sorrel horses, … nine head of cows and steers, and one waggon’ as well as kitchen utensils and farm implements.

Once we get to the 1850 census both WRP and Margaret appear in the census records living in separate states.

WRP was beyond the reach of the Clinton County authorities by 1850 and did not appear in his own defence in the property dispute. The court found against him and his land was subsequently sold on the courthouse steps to Americus in October 1851 who bought it for a token sum of $50 (it was valued in 1860 at $3,000).

Americus presumably had to come back from the Washington Territory which probably explains the delay in this action taking place. The time for mail to get to him and his journey back would have taken the best part of a year. 

Two years later he transferred the land to his youngest brother Alexander, who had by then turned 21. Alexander would support his mother for the rest of her life.  

Margaret herself bought at least two further plots of land after the divorce settlement. Later following Margaret’s death, the land was split three ways between his remaining children, Americus, Agnes who had married by then, and Alexander in the absence of Americus who was now in California.

In addition to various land transactions, there are other deed registrations which if examined closely may reveal family or business connections, but at present, I only have index references, not details.

What was WRP doing while this happened?

On 29 April 1849, WRP was married to Mary Jane Dale, some 35 years his junior, by a Justice of the Peace, Mr Saunders, in Buchanan County, Missouri. (It looks like the JP forgot to register the marriage in any courthouse, so we only have these details from Mary's later statement after she was widowed.) Soon after, they moved to Indiana where they had a son, named after him, in April the following year. In his second marriage, he abandoned the ‘A team’ idea.

After about 5 years WRP and Mary moved to Franklin County Illinois and in all had seven children, though only four survived to adulthood. They were William R (1850-1863), Lucy Jane (1852-1946), Edgar Adam (1855-1868), Winifred Scott (1857-1858), Sydney Allen (1859-1928), Pleasant Newton (1859-1928) and Robert Dale (1866-1943).

Winfield was presumably named after Winfield Scott, a popular United States Army general and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in the 1852 presidential election.

In 1850 William and his new family had moved to Indiana and in the census, he is described as a plasterer. Around 1855 they moved to Illinois and by 1860, the family was living in Perry County Illinois, where he is also described as a plasterer.

WRP died in 1866 at the age of 70, soon after his eldest son, Alonzo, died of tuberculosis on the other side of the country.  

A nineteenth-century plasterer, via Wikipedia.