December 30, 2015

Eyes only

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 3:43 pm

This, the sixth and last blog of the year, is meant for a very small number of readers, possibly even just one, the one who will continue the work of family history.

Fact is mixed a bit with some fiction here, but I have carefully noted whenever a case is not documented. And I cannot tell the story without some invention.


My Findagrave t-shirt

I begin with John, the first of our ilk, who was transported in 1676. I use the word ‘ilk’ deliberately/ for its Scottish origins, which I think John was. But all I know for sure is that he was brought from England by someone who very likely received about 50 acres of land for paying for his passage – and its likely he was indentured.

John arrived in 1676, 40 years into the settlement of Maryland, one of about 35,000 settlers, and like many he was too poor to pay his own way. That’s all we know a bout him.

He may have been the father or even grandfather of the first documented citizen. one Nathaniel of Charles County, who married Elizabeth in 1715 and produced at least four sons that we know of. This Nathaniel was doing okay, his wife having brought him 100 acres of land for tobacco production. Tobacco had been and was still the specie of the colony. You paid your taxes to Lord Baltimore with tobacco and bought more land with it.

That 100 acres. known as Churchover. came to Elizabeth from her mother, Jane Smith, who had received it as a dowry from her father, John Smith.

That land may have taken the family from the laboring class to landowners for the first time, because four generations later, boys were still being named John Smith.

So, at the time of the Revolution, the family could be said to have prospered. but afterward, things were a little dicey. Nathaniel and Elizabeth had another Nathaniel, born in 1723, and he and his wife Mary had 9 children, of whom at least seven had issue.

Divvying up the land – increasingly worn out by tobacco farming – would leave everyone hanging by a thread and so of the eight kids surviving, one took off for western Maryland and claimed his land patent, two girls married and became part of the Catholic migration to Kentucky and another boy also went to Kentucky, though not as a Catholic.

Kentucky had a lot to offer. It was still a frontier, but with good land that could be homesteaded and it wasn’t too hard to get to. In fact the Ohio River was the Route 66 of the 18th century – small towns peppered it on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides.

All you had to do was get to Wheeling WV, and you could do that via the Cumberland Road.

But then came the War of 1812 and afterward, a great push to expand the frontier and so Congress was very generous with land patents to vets and even authorized money for new infrastructure.  Thus the Cumberland Road became part of the new National Road and got a macadam surface.

And three sons and a daughter of John Smith’s grandson – who bore his name – set out for Ohio.

But that part I have invented. Yet how else to explain that two brothers and their sister settled in a town through which the National Road passed, while the third brother paused just long enough apparently to hear the news about land in Missouri, whence he traveled immediately.

Or maybe he – Jesse – meant to go there all along, being the youngest of the three and thus more adventurous.

Now back to what is documented.

It turned out to be a poor choice, for Missouri very nearly put an end to Jesse’s line and that would have included me. He and his wife and two sons and a granddaughter all died over the course of two or three years, owing to an epidemic of black measles.

Black measles was a painful, rapid disease involving a bad rash and people still die of it, but now we call it Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  Researchers died trying to nail it down, but in the 1870s, when the ticks came to northeastern Missouri, it was still a horrible mystery. They finally found the tick vector in the 1920s, though it is still fatal in about five percent of cases.

But I am here because one son had gone to Ohio to visit family and had met his cousin Ellen and married her and stayed in Ohio.

Where no more disasters befell them – aside from WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, Viet Nam, and the usual floods, drought and recessions that we all live through.

But all this genealogy has solved one mystery:  Why my father diagnosed every illness as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. He made a joke of it and that little catharsis must have eased a great fear passed down through three generations.



  1. That’s a wonderful story! It must represent many hundreds of hours of research, winnowing out the plausible lines of descent. I, too, had an ancestor who walked the Cumberland road with tow brothers. They left Maryland in 1829, and my grandmother’s great-grandfather took Zane’s trace from Wheeling to Cleveland.
    your ancestral background in tobacco farming reminded me of the wonderful Barth book, The Sotweed Factor.


    Comment by Jane — December 31, 2015 @ 7:01 am | Reply

    • thanks for noticing! yes, a simple narrative based on oodles of research…but it gives me a structure for remembering a whole lot of American history. what was it like not to have any roads to anywhere? and tick fever must have been as terrifying as ebola.
      love the word sotweed…


      Comment by jchatoff — December 31, 2015 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  2. Very entertaining true or not I enjoyed reading that thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Avery — January 3, 2016 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

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