Friday, September 16, 2011

Tracking Down James Champion

James Champion was my great great grandfather.  He was one of nine children born to John Champion and Mary Polly (Cannon) Champion.  James was born in Washington County, Kentucky, in either 1802 or 1808 and later moved to Perry County, Indiana, where he married, had children and died about 1845.  

Pinning down James’ travels from Kentucky to Indiana has always been of particular interest to me.  I have a theory concerning his route and timing based in part on documentation that is available and in part on my interpretation of the known facts.
Some think that James was born in 1802 but I believe the year was 1808.  In his Last Will and Testament, my great great great grandfather, John Champion, listed all five of his sons and James was listed next to last.  As a practicing attorney for almost a quarter of a century, I've written hundreds of Wills and I know it to be customary to list children in birth order.  If John followed this pattern, it would put James with an 1808 birth date.  If that is accurate, he was only 3 years of age when his father died in 1811.  
I believe Ruth Champion, older sister of James, took on part of the role of caregiver for young James when his father died.  Ruth was 16 at the time and Mary Polly, mother of James and Ruth, may have spent much of her time caring for her mother, Elizabeth Cannon. We know that Elizabeth joined the Shaker community in 1815 and died in 1822.  Although she did not formally join the community, we also believe Mary Polly was heavily involved with the Shakers, possibly in connection with the care of her mother.  If this is the case, it is likely that Ruth took up the slack in raising James and his younger brother, Joseph.
It is likely that Ruth and James stayed in Washington County at least until their grandmother died in 1822.  Sometime after 1822 and prior to 1826, Ruth moved to Crawford County, Indiana, a county that adjoins Perry County to the northeast.  We know that Ruth married William McMurtry in 1826 in Crawford County.  Volumes could be written about Ruth's husband, William McMurtry, (and much has been) since he was a larger-than-life figure in his community.  He was clearly a highly respected citizen who became a State Senator and eventually the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois after he and Ruth moved to Knox County, Illinois in 1829.  Since Ruth helped to raise James and Ruth's husband was likely a major influence on James, James named his first child William McMurtry Champion.  It is for these reasons that I believe James followed Ruth and her husband to Crawford County, Indiana sometime between 1822 and 1829.  
When Ruth and William moved to Knox County, Illinois in 1829, I believe James stayed behind.  James' older brother, Thomas, is listed in the 1830 census for Perry County, Indiana as head of a household with five males ages twenty to thirty.  Although I have no direct evidence, I believe one of these males was James.  It's only logical that he stayed in the Crawford/Perry County area when Ruth and William moved to Illinois in 1829 because we know that James married Elizabeth V. Langdon in Perry County in 1834 and they had two children there in the next couple of years, one being William McMurtry Champion and the other being my great grandfather, Francis A. Champion.  
James does not appear as the head of a household in the 1840 census for Perry County but I believe he and Elizabeth lived with a family member of Elizabeth, perhaps Lemuel C. Langdon.  Lemuel may have been Elizabeth’s father but that has not been established.  After James death around 1845, Lemuel was appointed guardian of James and Elizabeth’s oldest child, William McMurtry Champion, by the Perry County Probate Court in February, 1846.  Lemuel does not appear in a Perry County census until 1860 but the guardianship papers for William McMurtry Champion refer to Lemuel as “a discrete citizen of this county.”     
An interesting side note involves the guardianship.  Why was a guardian appointed for William McMurtry Champion but none for his younger brother, Francis A. Champion?  I’ll raise three possibilities.  First, William may have been given property, perhaps by William and Ruth McMurtry, while Francis had none.  This would necessitate a “guardian of the estate” but not a “guardian of the person” since William’s mother, Elizabeth, was still alive.  Secondly, could it be that Elizabeth was not the mother of William McMurtry Champion?  That’s a possibility, but unlikely.  Third, was Francis the child of another Champion family member who had died and he had been placed with James and Elizabeth under a guardianship from a Probate Court in another county.  I’ve found no record of another guardianship so I put little stock in this possibility.

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