Written January 1998
Arriving in Kentucky The Kentucky portion of the story of this Elder family branch began when Jane, John, George, Thomas, Margaret, and Jennie (perhaps Jane) arrived in Warren County in 1798. The family was from Pennsylvania and was known have been in that state in 1785 when Thomas was born (1).
The Early Years in Warren County At the time of their arrival, Warren County extended from the Tennessee border to approximately one third of the way to the Ohio River. Jane and John both applied for commissioners certificates for 200 acres of what was known as second rate land in the southern portion of the county, given free to settlers who agreed to have it surveyed and improve it. Second rate land was land that was neither cleared nor had any marketable timber on it. It was generally characterized by scrubby growth and may or may not have had good soil. Local lore has it that the Indians of the area burned the land off every few years in order to attract game.
Jane was apparently a widow because only widows and male heads of households were permitted to apply for these certificates. She may also have been the mother of the others in the family. It's reasonable to assume that John was already married, since he was eligible to apply separately.
Jane was awarded certificate 2293 for 200 acres, which she immediately deeded over to George (2). The land adjoined John's and was surveyed August 28, 1799. John and Thomas were witnesses as recorded in the surveyors book.
John was awarded commissioners certificate 2291 for 200 acres of second rate land immediately adjoining George's in the bay pond grove (3). The land was surveyed August 14, 1799, with George and Thomas as the witnesses. The family now had a total of 400 acres to improve and support itself from.
By 1801 Jane has improved her (George's) land and the title is recorded December 22, in the Warren County Order Book (4). George immediately sold the land to John Rufs; there is no record that he ever paid taxes on it. Meanwhile, John has equally divided his land with Thomas, each having 100 acres. They have both improved their portions of the land to satisfy deed requirements and their titles to the land are recorded in the Order Book June 15th of the same year (5).
John was a member of some stature in the community. The order books show that he guarded prisoners for the courts (6) and was assigned to appraise estates for legal purposes (7). On May 1, 1798, he was awarded custody of an 8 year old bastard child, Thomas Cook, to be apprenticed to the trade of joiner and house carpenter (8). By this it is reasonable to assume that John was a skilled woodworker who probably supplemented his income plying this trade. John's marketable skills may also explain why he was able to subdivide his land with Thomas, giving Thomas a start in life when he was around the age of 15.
John paid taxes on his land through 1803 at which point he disappeared from the record books. At present I know nothing of his wife or children.
George married Rebecca Ray in Warren County on July 3, 1800 (9). Assuming he married at the customary age of 21, he would have been born circa 1779. After the sale of his land and his marriage, George, too, disappeared from the record books, perhaps to another county.
On January 4, 1804, Margaret Elder married John McFadin (sic) in Warren County (10). Assuming she married at the customary age of 16, she would have been born circa 1788. I have not tried to trace her further at present.
The Move to Ohio County Thomas paid taxes on his land through 1804 and then moved further north into the less settled portions of Kentucky, settling in Ohio County. His youngest sister, Jennie, and possibly Jane moved with him. Thomas returned to Warren County in 1806 to claim Mary Polly Smith as his bride on September 17th (11). Mary was born about 1785 in Virginia (12). Following the marriage, Thomas returned to Ohio County with his bride.
Jennie Elder's marriage to Andrew McFaddin, Jr., (probably a brother of Margaret's husband, John) is recorded October 25, 1806, in Ohio County, with Thomas as a witness (13). Assuming She married at the customary age of 16, she would have been born about 1790. It's reasonable to assume that Jennie moved back to Warren County, since Andrew was from that area, his name appearing frequently in the county order books (a).
From Jennie's original marriage record it is obvious that Thomas was literate, signing his name with a beautiful flourish, although the 'e' in his last name is not capitalized. His literacy was not passed onto his children, as review of later original records show they invariably made their mark (x) on official documents. Perhaps this was because the frontier afforded little educational opportunity, compared to the relatively settled Pennsylvania, or perhaps the struggle to simply exist left little time for anything else.
Raising the Family in Grayson County With all brothers and sisters married off, Thomas returned to his farm. The State of Kentucky continued to grow and new county political boundaries were drawn in 1810. The land Thomas owned was now located in Grayson County, which was formed from Ohio and Hardin Counties that year.
Life as a subsistence farmer was extremely difficult this early on the frontier, with little in the way of manufactured goods available even if he could have afford them. If you needed it, you either grew it, made it, or did without. The portion of Grayson County where Thomas lived was rough and hilly, and the soil was not particularly good. Principle crops of the area were generally wheat, corn, and tobacco. There was very little money in circulation, so the barter system was the principle method of commerce. A mill in the area would have charged a portion of the ground meal or flour in return for grinding the farmers grain. During droughts it would be difficult to grind grain, since a mill of any size would have had to be water powered at that time.
Houses and barns would have been built of logs initially, since flat sawn boards were a luxury on the frontier. The family shelter would probably have been one room because of the need to spend the exhausting efforts clearing the land and getting crops planted in order to survive. Most chores and activities, such as eating, would have been conducted outside. The women would have had a spinning wheel and a loom in order to turn flax and wool into home spun clothing. The men would have had a wooden plow and a horse or mule, perhaps two.
In 1810, the closest town of any size was Leitchfield, the county seat, 30 miles away. What would be the nearby town of Caneyville would not exist for another 30 years.
In this setting Thomas and Mary Polly's first child was born about 1808. The only direct record of the child found to date is the 1810 census. Oral family history has his name as John, which is credible because he may have been named for Thomas's brother who divided his land with Thomas and helped him get started 10 years before.
The 1810 census shows Thomas and Mary, son John, and their newest addition Martha Manerva born the same year. The data also shows a 2645 year old white female living with them, which could very well be Thomas's mother Jane.
By 1820, 2 new sons and a new daughter appear in the records. Daughter Jane arrived in 1811. Son Robert arrived in 1812. According to grave marker information and other sources, twins William and George W. arrived in 1818, but the census data only shows one of them; perhaps there is a transcription error from the original census records. The older white female is no longer listed; mother Jane apparently died before 1820. Son John is now 12.
In 1830 two more sons and another daughter have arrived. Noah (a unique family name carried forward to future generations) was born in 1821, followed by Thomas, Jr., in 1824. Mary Ann "Polly" arrived in 1825. Jane has married John Byers and left home. Oldest son John should appear in the census as a head of household in his own right at this time, but he is not listed in either Thomas's house or in a separate entry. I know nothing more of him. There is also an unexplained 3040 year old white woman living in the home, as well as a female infant less than 5. (They may or may not be connected; I have no further information on them at present.)
The unusual thing about Mary Ann is that her death record lists her birth as Hancock County, Ohio (b) (14). This data corroborates local oral history that Thomas took his family to Ohio in 1825; a good guess at the reason for the visit was to visit relatives. The trip must have been very long and arduous, particularly for mother Mary Polly, and may have taken most of a year to complete. This was well before railroads had penetrated the frontier and the birth of Mary Ann in Ohio would have required some recuperation of her 40 year old mother before they could return home. The trip also suggests that Thomas and the Elders in Hancock County, Ohio, shared a common place of origin in Pennsylvania.
By 1840 Noah and Thomas, Jr., are the only boys who remain at home. Mary Ann "Polly" appears in the 1015 year old census category. There is also another female child in the 510 year old category, perhaps the same one that appeared as an infant in the 1830 census, which would make her about 10 years old. I know nothing more of her at present; she does not appear in 1850. Martha has married Richard Milton Campbell and left home.
Robert and William now appear in the census in their own right. Robert married Jane Putt and boasts one son and three daughters at this point. William married Frances Sirles and has two daughters. Mary Ann married widower Russel King and has four daughters and a son.
Thomas and Mary Polly reach their 65th birthdays in 1850. Thomas's real estate holdings are valued at $650, more than most families in the area. By contemporary accounts he had worked hard in many different businesses to achieve what he had. He was first a farmer, but the soil was poor and probably did not yield well. He distilled corn whiskey for local consumption. He and his sons and sons-in-law were also major freighters for local businesses in the absence of the railroads. Because he was literate (and his children were not) he was probably the head of these operations.
The War Between the States Winds of change were beginning to blow on the Elder clan in Grayson County by 1860. Father Thomas and youngest daughter Mary Ann died in 1853; Mary Ann apparently died of pneumonia. Robert died in 1854 of consumption (TB). Most of Thomas's children are in their 40's and 50's with children and had grandchildren of their own. The War Between the States was just around the corner.
Four of the Grayson County Elder clan served in the War Between the States. Patriarch Thomas's son, Thomas, Jr., and three of his grandchildren, Thomas M. (Robert's son), Isaac Pinkney (William's son), and Robert (Noah's son) all served in Company E (later combined with Company C after heavy casualties) of the 17th Kentucky Infantry. Thomas M. was the first to join, enlisting on September 10, 1861 in nearby Hartford, Kentucky. A little over a month later the other three joined the same day, October 28, 1861, also in Hartford. Thomas, Jr., gave his age as 31. The others all gave their age as 18, but Isaac and Thomas M. could not have been more than 17 and might have been younger. All enlisted and were discharged as privates. Service took a heavy toll on their youth and health. Isaac died of measles after only 3 months of active duty.