Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Civil War Twice?

Francis A. Champion was my great grandfather and lived in Perry County, Indiana most of his life.  Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Indiana infantry in the Fall, 1861 and was discharged in early 1862 due to disability.  It was thought that he would not live to travel from the Union hospital at Trenton, Missouri to his home in Derby, Indiana. However, he lived until 1879.  He applied for a Civil War pension in 1863 which was denied.  All of this is set out in my "Anxious To Get Away From Here" page on my website.
I have just discovered some surprising information about Francis.  In October, 1864, he again enlisted in the Union Army, this time at Owensboro, Kentucky as a substitute for Benjamin Davidson of Hancock County, Kentucky.  Davidson was the superintendent of the Victoria Coal Mine in Hancock County.  Perry County, Indiana is just across the Ohio River from Hancock County.  I also have copies of Francis’ bimonthly pay vouchers and some of them show that he was again hospitalized.  I've not yet determined if it was caused by illness or battle injury but the hospital was located at Evansville, Indiana.  I have other documents which show that Francis was struggling to support his family. I have theorized that he managed to convince the Army in Kentucky that he was able bodied so he could fight and therefore might have a second chance at qualifying for the pension.  I’m sure he collected a fee from Benjamin Davidson for fighting in his place.  The customary fee for a substitute enlistment at that time was about $300 which, in terms of todays dollars based on an average inflation rate of 3.25% is about $35,000.
I am positive that this Francis A. Champion is the same person as the Francis A. Champion from Derby, Perry County, Indiana.  The Substitute enlistment states he was born in Indiana.  More importantly, I've compared the signatures on these documents with the signatures on the Indiana pension application and, though I'm not a handwriting expert, it is obvious that it is the same signature.

What Happened To Delilah?

Family research can be both exciting and frustrating at the same time. This is vividly illustrated by the story of Delilah Ann (Phillips) Champion.  She and her husband, Francis A. Champion, were my great grandparents. Their identity had been completely lost over the years until much of their life story was found in the files of the National Archives in Washington.
According to the National Archive documents, Francis died in 1879 from complications of injuries he sustained in 1861 in the Civil War.  After his injury, Francis was disabled and unable to provide much support for his wife and ten chldren.  After his death, Delilah applied to the U.S. Government for a Civil War Widow’s Pension.  In typical fashion, the government allowed the application to become ensnarled in a bureaucratic quagmire and the pension was never granted.  See Anxious To Get Away From Here for a more detailed description of the pension fiasco.  
By 1884 Delilah’s life was a mess.  Her disabled husband had died; seven of her ten children had died; two of her three living children had been sent to an orphanage; Washington was treating her Civil War pension application with bureaucratic finesse until it was eventually denied; and most of her attorneys working on the pension application seemed to be adept at foot dragging.   It is no wonder that Delilah lamented in her June 16, 1884 letter to the U.S. Pension Commissioner that she was “anxious to get away from here.”  
Discovering the existence of Delilah and Francis was exhilarating. My grandfather, John Franklin Champion, was one of the two placed in the orphanage and he had almost no memory of his parents.  The National Archive documents show that Francis died in June, 1879 in Pemiscot County, Missouri although we’ve not been able to locate his grave.  The facts and circumstances of Delilah’s death on the other hand remains a complete mystery.  We do not know when she died, her place of death or the circumstances of her death.  We know that she was still living in Pemiscot County in March, 1886 because we have a notarized signature of hers on an official document submitted to the Pension Office.  We have copies of letters to the Pension Office from her attorneys as late as 1887 and we have copies of internal Pension Office documents dated in November, 1898 closing the file.  Under most circumstances, the next U.S. Census would be enlightening but, unfortunately, the 1890 Census burned in a 1921 fire in Washington.  I’ve not been able to find Delilah in the 1900 Census which is a good indication that she had died by then.  It is possible of course that she had another surname due to remarriage but I’ve found no record of a marriage license.  I’ve searched all online records of Pemiscot County cemeteries and came up empty there.
There was a time that I thought I’d never locate my Champion great grandparents but the success I’ve had with that spurs me on to be diligent and tenacious in my searches so I still maintain hope that eventually I can report back to you that I’ve found Delilah’s grave, gravestone (if one exists) and the circumstances of her death.

Mary Polly (Cannon) Champion: A Mover and "Shaker"

Mary Polly Cannon was my great great great grandmother.  In 1794 at Mercer County, Kentucky, she married my great great great grandfather, John Champion, a man said to be of Irish descent who had moved to the Mercer County area from Berkeley County, West Virginia a few years earlier.  
Little is known about Mary prior to her marriage to John Champion.  She was born in 1773 to Robert and Elizabeth Cannon, who were both born in Ohio, but I’ve not determined if Mary was born in that state or elsewhere.  John and Mary had nine children, all born in nearby Washington County, Kentucky: Ruth, Elizabeth, John, Rebecca,  Mary, James (my great great grandfather), Robert, Thomas, and Joseph.
John, Mary and their family reportedly lived for a time on the highest hill in Mercer County which is on old U.S. Highway 68 just before starting down the large hill to the Cliffs near the Brooklyn Bridge over the Kentucky River.  According to papers in the McMurtry family genealogical documents, Mary was a very religious woman and joined the Shaker Community in Mercer County.  Although there is no formal record of such, Elizabeth Cannon’s name is mentioned in the records of the Shaker Community in 1815.  Although not confirmed, this Elizabeth Cannon is probably Mary’s mother.  
The Shakers were a religious communal society that began in New York shortly after the  American Revolution.  In 1805, three of their missionaries established a community in Mercer County, Kentucky that eventually became known as Pleasant Hill.  The Shakers clung to a peaceful way of life and are still known to this day for their fine designs and craftsmanship.  They were celibate and practiced equality of race and sex and freedom from prejudice.  Their population peaked at about 500 and they eventually acquired about 4,500 acres of Mercer County farmland.  After the Civil War, their numbers began to decline.  In 1910 the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill ceased to exist as an active religious society.  The last twelve members deeded their last 1800 acres to a local merchant who was to care for them until their death.  The last Shaker died in 1923.  Pleasant Hill eventually became a small country town known as Shakertown until historic restoration began in 1961. See www.shakervillageky.org.
After the death of John Champion in Washington County in 1811, Mary eventually followed her oldest child, Ruth Champion, to Knox County, Illinois.  Ruth had married William McMurtry, a larger-than-life figure in Illinois community affairs and state government.  McMurtry was a friend of Stephen Douglas of Lincoln-Douglas debate fame and eventually was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.  Mary died in 1847 in Knox County and was buried in Rice-Blue Cemetery there along with Ruth and William and other family members.

John Franklin Champion's Second Marriage

My grandfather, John Franklin Champion, was married over thirty years to my grandmother, Ida Bell Grooms Champion.  They had twelve children (ten who lived to adulthood).  After Ida Bell’s death in March, 1930, my grandfather married a woman named Irene on October 5, 1930.  I did not know her last name until recently when I discovered the original copy of the Marriage Certificate of my grandfather and Irene Conway.  I still don’t know if Conway was Irene’s maiden name or a married name.  I assume it’s a married name since I know she had two sons and possibly other children.
I also found two letters from Irene to my grandfather, one in 1933 and one in 1934 and it became apparent that they were separated at that time.  I’ve not been able to determine the date of their separation or if they ever actually divorced.  
According to a story told by my cousin, Louise Decker Jones, Irene’s two sons enjoyed playing with my Uncle Albert and Uncle Clifford.  Albert and Clifford were about 12 and 7 years old at the time and, as boys that age tend to do, they “roughnecked” it with Irene’s two boys.  It was all in fun and Irene’s boys throughly enjoyed the play; however, Irene felt that her boys were being mistreated and she abruptly gathered up her boys and left, never to return.  Although she continued to correspond with my grandfather as late as 1934, the marriage was over at that point.  
In the 1920’s and 1930’s around Kentucky Bend and Tiptonville, Tennessee, the Champions and Whitsons were a tight knit group as illustrated by the identities of the witnesses and Justice of the Peace at the wedding of my grandfather and Irene Conway.  Dan Whitson, the Justice of the Peace who performed the marriage, was the brother of Jesse Floyd Whitson, husband of my Aunt Frances Ada Champion Whitson, my grandfather’s daughter.  Joe A. Whitson, one of the witnesses, was also a brother of Jesse Floyd Whitson.  V.D. Barry (full name was Valentine Daniel Barry) was the brother of Laura Edna Barry Whitson, mother of Jesse Floyd Whitson.