Tombstone of John Behagg, Smithland Cemetery.
John Behagg never bought or sold land. He never applied for a license to keep a ferry, tavern or coffee house. He was never appointed to appraise an estate or to work on the public roads. He never left a will or had sufficient estate to require an administrator. Very likely his life was one of hard work trying to provide for himself, his wife and his step-children. John Behagg was the sexton, or grave digger, for Smithland, Kentucky in the mid-1800s. While he generated few public records, there is enough information to get a glimpse of his life.
I first ran across Behagg’s name while researching Martha Barner Taylor. Miss Pattie, as she was usually known, died in Nashville in 1869 and her body was brought back for burial in Smithland Cemetery. One of the estate expenses listed was to “Behagg for digging grave, $5.00.” That was enough to make me wonder who “Behagg” was and if this was how he earned his living.
Records on John Behagg were few and far between in Livingston County. However, I found several vouchers in county court minutes for digging graves for paupers and also found that in August 1845, he was appointed to take charge of the courthouse. This was likely for keeping the courthouse clean and orderly.
Census records show that John Behagg was in Livingston County by 1840 and had a number of people in his household, including a female who was of the age to have been his wife. No marriage record for him was found in Livingston County, but there is a marriage for John Behagg and Amanda Leftridge 9 May 1836 in Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana. There were other Behaggs in Evansville, but they didn’t show up for some years after this marriage. However, maybe he was related to some Behaggs in neighboring Warrick County, Indiana. Were John and Amanda living in Indiana at the time of their marriage or did they make a special trip to Evansville to marry?
The Behaggs were still living in Smithland at the time of the 1850 census, along with Amanda and Joseph Leftridge, who were probably the children of Amanda by a former marriage. On the 1860 and 1870 census Livingston County census records, John Behagg is listed with Hester Behagg. I have an idea Amanda and Hester were the same person as on 7 November 1841 in Livingston County, Sarah Lefftrage, daughter of Mrs. Hester Behagg, married James Drewry.
Per Livingston Circuit Court Order Book L, page 260, John Behagg appeared in court on 2 October 1844 and made a declaration for the purpose of becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. He stated that he was “born in the Kingdom of Great Britain in Huntingfordshire [sic] England. That he left that Kingdom and came to the United States of America in the year 1828 …” According to Circuit Court Order Book M, page 276, on Friday, the 19th of November 1847, John Behagg was declared to be a citizen of the U.S.
Amanda/Hester must have died after she and John appeared on the 1870 census as John married Rebecca Stevenson on the 23rd of October 1872 at the Methodist Church in Smithland. When John obtained the marriage bond (Marriage Bond Book 1, page 4), he stated it was his third marriage and he was sexton of a church. He was 71 years old. This was the first marriage for his bride, Rebecca, who was 26 years old.
When John Behagg died 2 November 1875, he left no will or estate settlement. However, his grave is marked by a tombstone, now on the ground, in Smithland Cemetery. It states he was 78 years and 3 months old at the time of his death. Although the age differs from what was shown on the census records, it is surely the same man. There was no other person in Smithland or vicinity with the name Behagg. Nearby is a tombstone for a child of Joseph Leftridge.
So, even with few available records, a small picture of John Behagg has emerged. This proves that no matter what the occupation or social class, every person in town has a story to tell. John Behagg may not have served in public office or been a large landowner, but he was a part of the town and performed a useful service in his job.
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by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog