The Fascinating Facts, Fiction, and Frustrations of Family History and My Obsessive Desire to Possess Them All.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

(Train) Tracking William Taylor Slaughter

My great-grandfather, George B Slaughter, was a railroad man.  His father, William Taylor Slaughter, was a railroad man and his son likely would have been one too had George not died when his son was only 2 months old.

Frisco Watch Inspection Card for
G B Slaughter
(in possession of author)

 William Taylor “WT” Slaughter (1848-1927) has been a difficult ancestor to track.  I know he was married in 1876 in Obion County, Tennessee.  He was in the 1880 Federal census in Weakley County, Tennessee.  By 1900 he had moved to Southeast Missouri where he lived the remainder of his years.  Much circumstantial evidence puts him as born in Meriwether County, Georgia in 1848 and living in Tallapoosa County, Alabama in 1860.  However, he is not with his family in Gadsden, Etowah County, Alabama in 1870 and I have not been able to locate him anywhere in the federal census for that year.

Save for one instance WT declares his occupation as railroad related:
1880 (Federal Census, Weakley TN) – Engineer
1900 (Federal Census, Dunklin MO) – Farmer
1910 (Federal Census, Cape Girardeau MO) – Hostler RR (someone who moves
                                                                    trains around in the train yard)
1912 (City Directory, Cape Girardeau MO) – Fireman
1920 (Federal Census, Scott Co MO) – Engineer, retired

Frisco Rail Yard
Chaffee, MO
c 1914

The Slaughters were employed by the St Louis – San Francisco (Frisco) Railway which ran through southeast Missouri in the early 1900s.  Frisco had a roundhouse in Chaffee, Missouri where the Slaughters lived in 1920 and thereafter.  Though it had lofty goals, the railroad never actually made it to San Francisco concentrating more in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

However, Frisco did not run in Western Tennessee where WT lived before 1900.  So what railroad employed him?  Would that help me find him in 1870?

In 1876 WT married Margaret Neoma Ellis in Obion County, Tennessee.  The Ellis family lived just outside of Union City.  According to Obion History books, Union City was a crossroads of railroads.  The East to West railroad was Nashville, Memphis and St Louis (NC&StL) and North to South the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio (M&O).  WT lived in Greenfield, TN in 1880.  The M&O railroad ran through that town.  So it’s likely WT worked for the M&O railroad as an engineer in 1880.  He could have worked for either line in 1876.  According to the History of Greenfield, the railroad didn’t come through until 1873, the first dwellings built there in 1875 so WT couldn’t have been there in 1870. So where was he?

Railroading has a colored history in the United States.  Many fortunes were made and lost over the years building and operating rail companies.  When our country was first settled by Europeans, rivers were the best means of transport of goods.  The frontier had paths not roads.  It was not until the 1830’s that the railroad industry began to grow.  A small group of investors (usually the community leaders) could pool their resources and build a small rail line to connect with a main system for the sole purpose of moving their own goods to market.  These small companies were often bought by a large railroad or sometimes failed to make a profit and went defunct.  Companies came and went with alarming frequency.

Daily Ohio Statesman
Columbus OH
23 Aug 1867
The Civil War brought havoc to the railroads in the south.  Lines were damaged by both sides in an effort to keep the enemy from shipping supplies.  The M&O was no exception.  After the war, the executives reported the entire line across Tennessee was in need of repair.  However, this also brought opportunity.  Gadsden became an industrial center of Alabama.  A young man, like WT, with some mechanical skills would likely be drawn to the town for work.  Many workers were needed to repair rail lines and this could have taken WT across several states in the 1870’s. One of the railroads thru Gadsden connected with the M&O in Mississippi.   It’s entirely plausible that a migrant worker like this would have been not enumerated at all in the 1870 census.

Memphis (TN) Daily Appeal
23 Oct 1871
Railroad work was difficult and dangerous.  Most people identify train robberies with the Wild West, but they happened in Tennessee as well.  Workers would strike over poor working conditions and this could lead to violence in the railyard.  It’s possible WT moved from company to company, state to state, as jobs started and ended.  Railroad employment records could help me find WT, however not many from the 1870’s still exist.  So discovering which railroad(s) he worked for may be impossible.  

But I haven’t yet given up on finding WT in 1870.  I’m obsessive after all.  

William T Slaughter
M Neoma Slaughter
Fairmount Cemetery, Cape Girardeau MO

Friday, October 14, 2016

Where was David Robinson in 1870?

A common practice of genealogists is finding their ancestors in all census records available.  This helps identify geographical movements, children’s names (where noted), and neighbors who may also be kin. I have a spreadsheet that I have check-marked years as I find each record for an ancestors’ lifetime.

Notably missing is the 1870 census record for David Robinson, my 3rd Great Grandfather.  David was born in 1818 in Southeast Missouri.  He married Jane Seabaugh 10 Aug 1841 in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri.  I have located him living in Cape County in 1850, Bollinger County in 1860 and 1880.  He died in Patton, Missouri 27 Sep 1897.  He and Jane had several children, including David Jr. my 2nd Great Grandfather born in 1854.

I have scoured the 1870 census pages for David and family but they are nowhere to be found.  It doesn’t seem likely for David to move away and come back.  Perhaps that page of the census has been lost or illegible.  Or perhaps David had other reasons for avoiding the census taker.

The 1870’s were difficult times in Southeast Missouri.  The Civil War had just ended and the area was still rebuilding.  Missouri did not join the confederacy but many folks in the area had immigrated from Tennessee and North Carolina and sympathized with the South.  Each side set up ‘home guards’.  No major battles were fought in the area but constant skirmishes between the home guards, military detachments, and guerilla fighters left towns and agriculture in ruins.  Being confederate sympathizers (and some former rebel soldiers), people there were not happy with the government in general.

So, given these harsh conditions, how was David to support his family? Likely he did what many of his neighbors did, set up an illicit distillery.  Yup, moonshine.

1870s Excise Tax Stamp

 As this was way before Prohibition (1920-1933), a person could make liquor but you had to have a federal license (or stamp) for your still.  In 1872 a stamp cost $25 – around $500 in today’s money – much more than poor farmers like David could afford.  These federal excise taxes were introduced in 1862 along with the income tax to pay for the war.  After the war the income tax was allowed to expire but the excise taxes remained.  These taxes made up over 1/3rd of the government’s income so they were strictly enforced.

1880 Census of Bollinger Co Missouri
John Bollinger and David Robinson

John Bollinger
  On 11 Jan 1872 David Jr. married Mary Emeline Bollinger, the daughter of John Bollinger.  In 1880 the Robinsons, including David Sr., were living next-door to the Bollingers.  I located a newspaper article from 1878 describing the criminal case of John Bollinger in St Louis Federal court for illegal liquor manufacture.  (Evading the excise tax was a federal offense.)  The article describes John as an old man but a persistent and determined offender.  Another article describes the arrest of Damon Robinson for the same offense.  Damon was a cousin of David Sr.  Other articles from newspapers across the country describe southeast Missouri as a hotbed of illicit whisky manufacture, citing numerous arrests and destruction of stills.   At one point the militia had to be called in as backup for the federal agents against a mob of local citizenry determined to keep them out. 

St Louis (MO) Post Dispatch
July 12, 1878

So it’s likely David was also involved in this illegal activity.  Avoiding government agents, even just a census taker, may have been a normal response.  A thorough search of the archives of the Federal Court dockets may yield an arrest or conviction.  Something for the to-do list.  By the turn of the century the Robinsons and their neighbors in southeast Missouri settled back to agriculture as a profession.  David Jr. died in 1922 and is buried in Patton Missouri.

 Also interesting to note, several of the newspaper accounts describe the women in these situations as being profane and abusive to the federal agents.  I prefer to think of it as strong-willed and determined in defense of their family and homes, at least when it comes to my heritage.