Regrets are often written in the words, if I had only known. It’s doubtful my great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts ever saw the end coming.
By his twentieth birthday in 1850 John Anderson Roberts is a fairly successful farmer in the 13th District of Williamson County[i], Tennessee. But it’s not his farm. He doesn’t own it. It once belonged to his grandfather John Roberts who died in November of 1823[ii], seven years before John was born. But he worked the farm his grandfather bought and built, no doubt with the help of his grandmother Rebecca and certainly by 1850 with the help of his aunt and uncle Fanny (Frances Roberts) and A.G. Tatum. And while J.A. fills out the ag census for the 1850 farm year, he’s listed in the 1850 population census as part of the household of his father[iii]. This implies the Tatum family moved to the McCrory Creek farm around the time of the census and John A. moved a few miles south to Rutherford Creek where he joined his father and brothers on their larger and even more successful farm.[iv] Previously, in 1840, the Tatum family lived in Hickman County, TN next door and probably on the same land as John’s uncle Anderson G. Roberts.[v] His grandmother Rebecca Roberts will appear in the 1850 census in the household of the A.G. Tatum family now in Williamson County and on the same farm John A. had worked as a twenty year old.
John was a farmer all his life. He seemed to be good at it, providing for his family. Unlike his father[vi], he wasn’t a slave-holder. I’m not saying how he felt about holding slaves[vii]. I don’t know. I’m saying I’ve never seen evidence he held slaves.
In 1852 John married Lavina Jane Wallace in Maury County, TN just southwest of Williamson.[viii] On July 21, 1853 they welcomed their daughter Cornelia Ann Roberts into their lives and onto the farm.[ix] She would spend the first years of her life under the tutelage of her mother and grandmother Rebecca Ann Roberts. In fact, she would enjoy and benefit from these two influential women for many years, never living far from her mother’s companionship until Lavina’s death.
By the middle of the 1850s the Roberts clan is on the move. Enticed by the opportunity to buy fresh land in the Jackson Purchase[x], they point their oxen toward Calloway County, Kentucky. John Anderson’s father John Rivers buys his first tract there in 1855 from W. Futrelle.[xi] John Anderson purchases his first land in Calloway County in October of 1856 on Jonathans Creek[xii]. In 1857 John R. files papers in Calloway County giving his eldest son William Claiborne Roberts power of attorney to sell land in Williamson County on his behalf.[xiii] They’re definitely pulling up stakes in Williamson. John Anderson buys more land on Jonathans Creek this same year, but in 1858 he sells the Jonathan Creek property back to David Miller for a $100 profit.[xiv] The deed records for Calloway County show the Roberts continue buying land throughout the 1860s. Rebecca Sammons Roberts dies in Williamson County sometime after 1850 and the A.G. Tatum family moves just over the Calloway County line into Marshall County, KY according to the 1860 census. They’re a very short distance from Fanny Tatum’s family, the Roberts.
On August 17, 1857 Lavina Roberts delivered a stillborn female child in Calloway County.[xv] The record lists the child as being “dead” and is not given a name. This sad event occurred nearly four years after Cornelia’s joyful arrival. Did Lavina and John have another pregnancy? Did they lose another baby? We don’t know.
John Rivers Roberts and his sons William Claiborne, Thomas Paschal, and Clement Smithson are regular land purchasers in Calloway, but not so much John Anderson. He never seems to get a “toe-hold” in the county. I’m not sure if it was the poor quality of the land for what he wanted it to do with it, unknown problems or noisy memories. It may have been as simple as his future son-in-law’s decision to go to Texas and Cornelia and her mother’s close ties or any combination of these factors. Unlike his brothers, he would not die in Calloway County.
By the 1860 Federal Census in Calloway County all the Roberts men are owners of real-estate. Father John Rivers’ land is valued at $3000.00, William Claiborne’s at $1200.00, Thomas Panchal’s at $1250.00, Clement Smithson’s at $1,000.00 and John Anderson’s at only $840. John Rivers personal estate is valued at nearly $5000.00.[xvi]
On the eve of the Civil War 1,500 slaves are living in Calloway County. (This and other insights are available in an article entitled “The Civil War in Murray, Calloway County, Kentucky” written by Robert W. Caldwell.)[xvii] John Rivers Roberts held five of these slaves which may explain the large value of his “personal property”. As far as I’ve been able to determine, his sons did not hold slaves. (Please see endnote[xviii]) Why not? Their uncles held slaves. Their cousins held slaves. Their Virginia ancestors certainly held slaves. If it’s true John Rivers Roberts sons did not hold slaves, I don’t know the reason.
There were 1,800 fighting age men in Calloway at the beginning of the war. According to Caldwell, 1,000 will fight for the South’s cause and 200 will join the Union army. This means 600 men chose to set out the war. For whatever reasons, the Roberts men appear to be in this group. They would not, however, miss the conflict. Approximately twenty to forty “Calloway County citizens were shot by guerrillas during the war years, these guerrillas being undisciplined groups of deserters wearing both blue and gray. Residents buried food in mounds during the winter months, and hid their cattle in hollows and fence rows at night. Women would bar doors and windows against feared attacks while men would stalk the shadows around their homes. Arson, rape, and murder were commonplace. Both armies were compelled to live off the land, and competed for available horses, livestock and foodstuffs.”[xix] The neutrality of Kentucky made Calloway a “no man’s land”.
I’m not sure John Anderson Roberts was in the county during the war years. His brothers are purchasing land and building farms but I don’t see him in the records. I can’t find them in the 1870 Census as well. According to a letter written to Glen Gambill by Dorthy Tillie in December 2001, the John Anderson Roberts family were in Tennessee when the Civil War broke out. She says after Lavina became pregnant they “sent her to stay with relatives in a safe place”. She states “becasue of the war she could not get home for about 2 years.”*
The 1880 Census from Red River County, TX has W.W. Roberts place of birth as Kentucky. I believe this is correct as were the other birthplaces given in the reocrd. I lose their trail however after 1860 but know his son Wallis is born on the 7th of November 1862[xx], the same day Ambrose E. Burnside assumes command of the Army of the Potomac, relieving George B. McClellan. John Anderson may have been ambivalent about Lincoln’s appointment of Burnside but I’m certain he was overjoyed at the birth of his first son.
In July of 1869 John Rivers Roberts sold his 195-acre tract of land on the Tennessee River in eastern Calloway County to his children for $1,500.00. John A., William C., Thomas P., Clement S., and Sarah Martin shared equally in this purchase.[xxi] I’m not sure what triggered this sell. Was it the death of his wife Anna? Was it property he was not utilizing and on which he no longer wished to pay taxes? Was it to raise capital for a project or simply an infusion of cash for living expenses.
By 1870 Cornelia Ann Roberts found the man with whom she’ll spend the next forty years of her life until his death in 1910. She marries James B. “J.B.” Lassiter at her parent’s residence in Calloway County on October 30, 1870.[xxii] They welcome their first addition in 1871, William Hardin Lassiter, John Anderson and Lavina Jane’s first grandchild. The Lassiter’s first daughter Estella Jane arrives June 30, 1874 in Calloway County. This is where I lose the Roberts and Lassiter trail until I pick it back up in Red River County, Texas in 1880. There is one intriguing clue as to the timing. The Sheriff of Calloway was after John Anderson! Well, yes he was, and then he wasn’t. Apparently John failed to pay his part of the taxes on the land he owned with his brothers and sister (abandoned land?). The Sheriff put the notice up June 27, 1876 and the property went on the auction block in 1877. John’s older brother W.C. was the winning bidder.[xxiii] This event suggests to me the John Anderson Roberts and Lassiters were on the trail to Texas by 1875. (Note to my uppity Texas brethren, you know who you are. Before you go on and on about how late we were getting to Texas, know this, ancestors on my Mother’s side were here in time to be part of The Republic! I think that’s sufficient. Whew! I feel better.)
The Roberts and the Lassiter families appear in the 1880 Federal Census in Red River County, Texas. The Roberts are living in Precinct 1. J.A. Roberts’ wife’s name is reported as V.J. and his son as W.W. I can hear John Anderson answering the census taker’s question. “Let’s see, there’s me, John Anderson Roberts. And then my wife, Veeny Jane and our son Wallis William.” The Roberts are in a “rents for shares” arrangement according to their 1880 agricultural schedule.[xxiv] They’ve yet to settle down.
From the Ag Schedule for J.A. Roberts in Red River County, Texas June 17, 1880
Rents for shares of products
Tilled including fallow and grain rotation: 42 acres
- Implements and Machinery $40
- Livestock $1000
Estimated value for all farm productions for 1879 – $700.00 ($16,282.00 in today’s money)
Livestock: 5 horses, 2 mules, 2 working oxen, 6 milk cows, 5 other cows, and 4 caves dropped
Production in 1879: 100 lbs. of butter, 30 swine, 20 poultry producing 250 dozen eggs[xxv], 30 acres of corn produced 800 bushels, 12 acres of oats produced 240 bushels and 12 acres of cotton produced 6 bales.
J.B. and Cornelia are living in Precinct 2 of Red River County with their now three children. Their youngest, Mary Elizabeth, is only six months old. She was the first to be born in Texas. The census record for 1880 report everyone in the family born in Texas with the exception of J.B. From what I know, this is incorrect and their births should be reported as previously stated. Next door to the Lassiter family in 1880 are J.W. and S.E. Dickson. They are related by marriage on the Lassiter side and I believe J.B. and Cornelia may have moved to Texas to join them in business and investment endeavors. We know the Lassiters and Dicksons were later associated with grocery and drug stores south of Clarksville, Texas in Bogota and perhaps in Clarksville as well. As mentioned in a previous post, J.W. Dickson has quite a story to tell and I hope someone will tell it. There’s still much research to be done on these families.
First land in Lamar County, Texas
John Anderson (Jackie to his Lamar County neighbors) and his son Wallis William Roberts purchase their first Lamar County property in 1885.* It’s 160 acres of land located northwest of Paris, Texas. (It should be the land located north of the intersection of today’s CR 34250 and 2820) This was University Land, land set aside to help fund Texas education. It was part of a vast grass prairie once the dinner plate for thousands of buffalo. Prairie grasses in places would have been as high as a man’s waist. In 1886 they purchased sixty more acres of prairie along with an additional twenty acres of timber land.[xxvi] I believe the timber property may have been located some miles northwest of the land they farmed. The wood it produced was essential for building structures, heating and cooking. You can imagine John, William and others spending fall days here cutting and stacking wood for the winter and then hauling it back to the farm. John eventually built a small house on the property and probably used it to make his stays here more comfortable. He eventually would allow a few “orphaned” ladies to live there in the middle 1890s.
In 1887 John Anderson bought land in the northwest part of Red River County. I’m not sure if he hasn’t made up his mind about the Lamar County location or if he is investing in land for resale. I do know J.B. Lassiter buys town lots in Clarksville, Red River County, in January 1888. He also invests with a number of other investors by purchasing land in Clarksville in this same year.[xxvii] That is if this J.B. Lassiter is ours and not the one out of Bowie County next door to the east. These Lassiters may be related but I have yet to determine the connection. In 1893 John Anderson and William buy additional University land in Lamar County. It’s clear they have decided to live the last years of their lives in this place. For John’s dear Lavina it will not be long.
Lavina Jane Wallace Roberts is buried in Little Vine Cemetery in May of 1895. The cemetery is located north of the farm between there and the timberland. The earliest readable inscription in the cemetery dates from 1876.
Her sudden death will influence the tragic end of John Anderson Roberts.
End of Part 2
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[i] 1850 Ag Schedule for J.A. Roberts in Williamson County, TN
[ii] Copy of probate record in my possession and also available in the Williamson County Archives, Franklin, TN
[iii] 1850 Williamson County, TN census
[iv] 1850 Ag Schedule for John R. Roberts in Williamson County, TN
[v] 1840 Federal Census for Hickman County, TN
[vi] 1850 Slave Schedule for Williamson County, TN and 1860 Slave Schedule for Calloway County, KY
[vii] I use the term “holding slaves”. It’s a new term for me and one I will have to get used to using. It better expresses the reality that while you can hold slaves, you can’t actually own them. OK, it’s just my opinion.
[viii] See Part 1 of The Tragic End to the Life of John Anderson Roberts
[ix] Mrs. C.A. Lassiter’s death certificate from Lamar County, TX January 11, 1939. Copy in my possession.
[x] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Purchase
[xi] Calloway County, KY deed index records Book J p.110 accessed in person December 5, 2013.
[xii] Calloway County, KY deed records Book J p. 536 accessed in person December 5, 2013. Copy in my possession.
[xiii] Copy in my possession and available in Williamson County Archives, Franklin, TN
[xiv] Calloway County, KY deed index records Book K pp. 295,296 accessed in person December 5, 2013. Copy in my possession.
[xv] Copy of Calloway County, KY death records for 1860 in my possession.
[xvi] 1860 Federal Census for Calloway County. John R’s name is mistakenly transcribed as “Boberts”.
[xviii] According to the 1850 Williamson County Census Clement Smithson Roberts occupation is “overseer”. Due to his close proximity to his cousin W.R. Roberts it’s possible he is overseeing slaves for his uncle Benjamin F. Roberts in the Arrington community.
[xx] Photo of Wallis William Roberts grave marker in Little Vine Cemetery in Lamar County, Texas taken by me in 2012 and 2014.
[xxi] Record accessed 5 Dec 2013 in Calloway County Courthouse. Deed book R p. 357. Copy in my possession.
[xxii] Copy of J.B. Lassiter and Cornelia Ann Roberts wedding license in my possession.
[xxiii] Copy of this legal transaction in my possession obtained on December 5, 2013 from Calloway County, KY courthouse deed records.
[xxiv] Census Year: 1880; Census Place: District 98, Red River, Texas
Ancestry.com. Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
[xxv] Now how’s that for egg production Caleb, Amber and girls? Sounds a little much.
[xxvi] Copies of deeds obtained from Lamar County records February 2014 in my possession.
[xxvii] Copies of deeds obtained from Red River County records February 2014 in my possession.
* In February 2014 I photographed a letter in the possession of Glen Gambill in Lamar County, TX from Dorthy Tillie. She is writing to tell Glen what she knows about the Lassiter family. Glen’s mother was a Lassiter. He has been very generous to share with me his knowledge of the Roberts and Lassiters.
One Reply to “The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts, Part 2”
I love your line about having a “toe hold” and noisy memories, but, oh, how horrible for Lavinia. Well written post, and I simply love the photo up there in front of the house and the wagon. Nicely done.
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