Thursday, June 15, 2017

Martha Rebecca's Story

Every person - every family -  has a story. Some are happy and many are not. The Lewis family had more than their share of unhappiness. 

About 1853, William Lewis, wife Martha Rebecca Vaughn Lewis, and their children John, James, Richard, William and Rebecca Jane, left their home in Bedford County, Tennessee and traveled north to Kentucky to start a new life in Crittenden County.  Shortly thereafter  William Lewis purchased land on the waters of Claylick Creek.  

Life was hard in Crittenden County for the Lewis family.  Civil War began in 1861, and  the two oldest Lewis sons, John and James, enlisted in the 48th Illinois Infantry, a Union regiment.  John died at Shiloh in  April 1862. The loss of a son must have been unbearable, especially when bad luck does not stop and seems to follow the family.

William Lewis mortgaged his land in Crittenden County and, unable to redeem the land, he lost it. As a farmer, he no longer had a way to support the family. In 1863, Possibly out of frustration, William abandoned his wife, Martha Rebecca, and their children. This left his son, James, as the sole support of the family. And the family was larger, Herod, Mary E. and Sarah C. having been born after the family moved to Kentucky.

Then came another tragedy in March of 1864 when James Lewis  was shot while home on leave from the Army. As he was returning with companions to their company in Crittenden County,  a Southern sympathizer (some say  an ex-CSA soldier or bushwhacker) shot him. The shooter was quickly caught and turned over to the military authorities in Smithland, but nothing could be done to save the life of the young soldier. 

Martha Rebecca applied for and received a mother's pension based on her son's military service. [1] Martha never remarried and, according to several depositions given in her pension application, she had to depend on her children for support.  She died 14 March 1897 and was buried at Chapel Hill Cemetery, Crittenden County.

So what happened to William Lewis?  The family legend says he left Crittenden County with another woman. This appears to have been true.  The 1870 census shows William Lewis, age 51, living in Posey County, Indiana.[1] Also in  his household were Charlot B. Lewis, 29 born Tennessee; Charlie Lewis, 6 born Indiana; America  Lewis, 2 born  Indiana and an 11 year old daughter of Charlot by her 1854 marriage to John Summers Belt of Crittenden County. No marriage for William Lewis and Charlott (Green) Belt has been found and it is assumed they were living together as a family.

In Martha Rebecca Lewis' pension application, she stated William Lewis was said to have died in August 1872. No death record or newspaper obituary of his death was found in Posey County or in a neighboring county.  One researcher claimed William died in Illinois, but no record has been found there either. No further information on Charlott (Green) Belt has been located. Did she move away from Posey County? Did she remarry or change her name?  I don't know.

The Lewis family endured many tragedies and there are more involving their children we have not mentioned. Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth "Lennie" Lewis, was my great-great-grandmother and had more than her share, but we will save those for another day.

Too many questions on this family are unanswered. 

[1] Declaration for an Original Pension of a Mother, #299.777, Martha Lewis based on service of son, James Lewis, Private, Co. E, 48th Illinois Infantry, National Archives. 

[2] 1870 Posey County, Indiana Census, Black Township, p. 3,, accessed 13 March 2014.

Published 15 June 2017, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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