Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sarah Jane's Story

A week ago I mentioned that a very generous researcher had shared a number of documents and photographs of portraits of my favorite family of Smithland, Livingston County, Kentucky. Thanks to his kindness, I now know what most of the Barner famly members looked like and also more details about their lives. I've examined and re-examined each item, trying to determine how to share these items with you and it seems best to me that each person should be addressed separately. Let's start with Sarah Jane West, mother of the Barner family.

Sarah Jane West was born in Robertson County, Tennessee, but moved to Nashville at an early age. Nothing is known of her early life, but written documents indicate she was well educated. Her handwriting is clear and legible. Perhaps penmanship was part of her education.

On the 8th of August 1838 in Nashville, Sarah Jane married Sterling M. Barner, a prominent steamboat pilot on the Cumberland River. Sterling was quite a bit older. In fact, he was approximately 45 years old and Sarah Jane was 16. How they met is a mystery, but Sterling was known in Nashville and had friends there, including Andrew Jackson, President of the United States 1829 - 1837. In spite of the age difference, they were clearly fond of each other as evidenced by their correspondence shortly before their marriage. In a letter dated May 1838 from Sterling to Sarah Jane, he calls her "my dear girl" while her letter states " I have become so much attached to you, but let me assure you that your absence cannot erase from my heart those fond and devoted feelings ..."

Following their marriage, Sterling retired from steam boating and moved his family from Nashville to Smithland, Kentucky about 1841. Sterling's brother, Benjamin, had lived in Smithland for a number of years, was a prosperous businessman, and being single, it was only natural that Sterling's family would move into Benjamin's house on Charlotte Street. Perhaps it was at that time the house was enlarged and conveniences added to appeal to the females in the family. The house was not far from the business houses on Water (or Front) Street. The Episcopal Church was less than a block down Charlotte Street and the courthouse was a few blocks away on the other side of Adair Street (today U.S. 60).

Five children were born to Sterling and Sarah Jane. The first child, a daughter born in Nashville, lived only one day after birth in 1839. The fifth child, a son, was stillborn in 1854 in Smithland. The three middle children were Joseph, born in 1840; Mary Elizabeth "Mollie," born in 1842 and Martha Jane "Pattie" was born in 1848.

As part of a well-to-do family, Sarah Jane's life was one of comparative ease. Goods not available in Smithland could be ordered from Nashville and shipped by steamboat. The three Barner children also traveled to Nashville to attend school. The 1850 and 1860 Livingston County slave schedules show that Sterling Barner was a slave owner so Sarah Jane likely had help in caring for the home and children. But even those living a life of privilege are not immune to tragedy.

The decade of the 1860s was a sad time for Sarah Jane. The Civil War was brewing and changes were coming to Smithland. Federal soldiers began occupying Smithland in 1861, making life uncomfortable for those favoring the Confederacy. Then, on the 21 June 1862, Sterling Barner died at the age of 69 years, one month and 11 days, leaving Sarah Jane a widow at 43 years of age. Just a few months later her oldest daughter, Mollie Barner, died of typhoid fever in Nashville. The family on Charlotte Street was now composed of Sarah Jane, her brother-in-law, Benjamin Barner; her 22 year old son, Joseph, who had enlisted in Cobb's Company and was serving someplace in the South, and 14 year old Pattie.

Death was not yet finished with the Barner family. In May 1863, Joseph died of disease in Georgia and Benjamin Barner died in February 1865. With the family all but gone, Sarah Jane was left to rear her teenage daughter, Pattie. Together they inherited the estate of Benjamin Barner with Sarah Jane as executrix.

Pattie was a most eligible young lady in 1865. She was young, pretty and an heiress. Somehow she met Benjamin Waller Taylor of Henderson and they married in Smithland in 1868. I've told you about Miss Pattie's marriage to B. Waller Taylor, her abandonment and what happened to her newborn son. It appeared here:

Once again Sarah Jane had suffered a tragedy. Now she was alone except for her infant grandson, Sterling Barner Taylor. The house on Charlotte Street must have held many sad memories for her. After Pattie's death, Sarah Jane wrote her sister, Elizabeth Saffarrans, and asked if she and little Sterling could live in Elizabeth's home in Russellville. Elizabeth wrote back, "I know you feel that your hope is at an end and you are lonely but my dear sister you are not alone in trails [sic] and afflictions ... Sister you wished to know if I had room for you and the dear little babe. As for room we have plenty and will be very happy to have you with us ..."

The photograph above is of Sarah Jane in her widow's clothing at age 50 in 1870. You can almost see tragedy etched on her face.

Sarah Jane and Sterling Barner moved to Russellville and it was there that Sarah Jane met and was married on 1 October 1873 to George D. Blakey, who so thoughtfully wrote a number of articles on various families, including the Barners, for the Russellville, Kentucky newspapers. Blakey and Sarah Jane only lived together until 5 January 1879, when Sarah Jane died in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Her last years were painful, having had her hip dislocated by a fall, leaving her a cripple. Her obituary describes her as "a woman of excellent mind and culture, and elegant manners." She was a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for a number of years before her death. She was 60 years old.

Today there are only a few remnants of the Barners in Smithland. The burnt out shell of their home is visible on Charlotte Street and their name is written in the old record books in the County Office Building. Sterling, Benjamin, Pattie and Mollie Barner are all buried on the hill in Smithland Cemetery. I would like to think Sarah Jane rests there, too, but, if so, no tombstone marks her grave.

Copyright by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog


Deb said...

That's a very interesting, well written story. Great job.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Thanks, Deb. I have researched this family so much that I feel like I am related to them.

Craigjon said...

I am searching for a link between H.R.W. Hill, a prominent business man and contemporary of Sterling M. Barner (my great X4 grandfather) and someone with the initials of L.M. Barner. Take a look at the engraved initials of the cup in this ebay auction.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Craigjon, thank you so much for this information. I would love to talk to you about the Barners. I think I know how you descend from Sterling and his daughter, Pattie and from her son, Sterling Barner Taylor.

I will be happy to see how H.R.W. Hill connects to Sterling.

Please contact me at or