Sonnystone Saga: the British Settlement

To celebrate 17 years living at Sonnystone Acres, we are publishing  a series of posts chronicling the first three families who lived here, spanning 111 years… This is the seventh installment of the series…

Soon after the death of his wife in 1817, Charles McCutchan-Johnstone sold his businesses in County Longford, Ireland, gathered up his seven children, and set out for the USA.  They arrived at Pittsburg, PA, where Charles (hereafter the family name is McJohnston) bought flatboats and traveled down the Ohio River to Evansville, IN.  Eville had little to show for itself in 1819, so McJohnston continued past it and up the Pigeon Creek until he reached Stringtown Hill road where he disembarked.  He had brought with him, besides household goods, a wagon, horses and plenty of pounds sterling…  He headed northward along Stringtown Road Ridge.  In 1819 the “road” was nothing more than a winding path through the forest from which the saplings and underbrush had been cut, but which had giant forest trees standing in its center along its entire course.

Instead of following the road northward and on toward Vincennes and Princeton, as earlier arrivals had done, Mr. McJohnston struck out eastward on an Indian trail about a quarter mile past Sonnystone, now called Petersburg Road.  The family crossed the valley, and climbed the next ridge of hills where they stopped. The land had been government property since the Indian treaties and was open to claim. He registered approximately one thousand acres at the Vincennes Land Office.  Upon those acres lay the future village of McCutchanville.

There was an influx of settlers who followed the McJohnstons.  Do you remember the Inwoods?  William Inwood, father of both of John Reed’s wives, also arrived in 1819 with his family; his son John married one of McJohnston’s daughters.   There were the Erskines, the Wheelers, the Maidlows, the Hornbecks.  McJohnston’s brother, William McCutchan, came later.  The area around McCutchanville was known in those early days as the “British Settlement”. By the end of 1820 there were 53 families who owned 12,800 acres of land and capital of $80,000…about 1.2 million today.  Not a bad start.

It was 1823 before Levi Igleheart, Sr. arrived with his family.  The Igleheart family had come to Maryland from Germany in 1740.  Levi’s father, John, had fought in the Revolutionary War and owned plantations in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  Levi and his wife were Woke!  They decided slavery was wrong and sold their slaves (you could not actually Free slaves in those days; there were Laws against free black people living in the slave states).  However, they found they couldn’t farm the property without the slaves, so they sold their land to relatives and pioneered west.  After a stop in Kentucky, they finally settled on the outskirts of McCutchanville along the eastern edge of Vanderburgh County.

The community was tight-knit.  There was a lot of work to be done clearing and building homes, barns, and mills.  Though of varying denominations, there was a circuit rider that began to visit the village in the early 1820s. The homes most often visited were those of Charles McJohnston, Sr., Levi Igleheart, Sr., Mark Wheeler, John Erskine, Sr. The preacher came on Saturday night, sometimes traveling for a month to get there. Two services were held on the Sabbath, morning and afternoon. The living room was cleared, beds were removed and slabs were brought in and set up for seats. The “congregation” had traveled anywhere from 5 to 10 miles on horseback, in wagons, and on foot. They brought cold lunches with them that were supplemented by cooking done the day before by the homeowner.

The village built their first schoolhouse in 1832.   Girls were given the same consideration for education as the boys. It was 1845 when Samuel McCutchan (McJohnston’s nephew) was appointed the first Postmaster and the community was named after him.  That same year, ground was broken to build a Methodist-episcopal church-building with $300 old Charles McJohnston had willed for that purpose.

From McCutchanville to the Evansville Court House it was about 8 miles.  The only way to get there was down Petersburg Road to Stringtown Rd, past Sonnystone Acres and down the hill across Pigeon Creek to the flatland.  We are situated about about halfway between the two places, so the residents of McCutchanville passed by Sonnystone on a regular basis on their way to town.

100 years after McJohnston blazed that trail, one of the descendants of those early settlers, Albion Mary Smith, moved into Sonnystone and she and her husband, George Davis Smith,  placed the S on the chimney.

But first, let’s meet Mrs. Smith’s ancestors…

Stay Tuned…

 

Sonnystone Saga: The Will

To celebrate 17 years living at Sonnystone Acres, we are publishing  a series of posts chronicling the first three families who lived here, spanning 111 years… This is the fifth installment of the series…

I wonder if his family were aware of the stipulations of John Reed’s Last Will and Testament before he died. The Will starts off quite normally:  Being of sound mind but failing body, Thank the Lord for his Goodness, pay all the debts, etc.  He leaves his beloved wife, Mary, all of his personal property and 1/3 of his real estate.  He dictates that she should keep all the income from all of the property for the first year.  Later in the Will, he names her as executor.

Then it gets convoluted, and of course it’s about Jack.

“I give and devise unto my son, John Reed, a sum of money equal to 1/15 in value and amount of this devise shall be ascertained in the following manner to wit:  Within ninety days from my death, two reputable free-holders of Vanderburgh County, state of Indiana, wholly disinterested and not of kin to any of my devisees shall be selected, one of my said son, John, the other by Thomas Reed, George Childs, Minnie Olmsted, and Ada Belle Van-Dusen, to appraise the whole of the real estate of which I may die seized.”

I don’t think he trusts them..  There’s more…He says if any of them fail or refuse to select an appraiser then one should be chosen by his wife Mary along with the Vanderburgh County Court Clerk…and if they fail to agree with that choice, a third should be chosen and the majority rules… Rather expecting an argument, doncha think?  So once they finally agree and get it appraised, John’s 1/15 is to be a lien on the property of the others and paid in a very specific manner

“Within ninety days from the day of my death and each of every ninety days thereafter on demand, the sum of twenty-five dollars, until the amount is fully paid; said sums so paid to be a credit upon my said son John’s legacy. “

He goes on to say that if the full amount isn’t paid within two years, interest of 4% should be paid to Jack.  If Jack dies before the full amount is paid, the rest is to be given to his grandchildren (Jack’s daughters) Alice and Mary Reed.  He also wills 1/15 of his real estate to Alice and Mary, to be held as joint tenants. No other grandchildren are mentioned.

Thomas Reed, George Childs, Minnie Olmsted, and Ada Van Dusen are each given 9/60 (nine sixtieths).  He stipulates that’s only if they give John his money.

Furthermore, he states:

“It is my further will that in case any of my devisees or legatees shall object to the provisions in this my will made for them and shall institute any legal proceedings for the purpose of setting this my will aside or in any manner interfering with the disposition herein made of any of my property, then and that case the devise of legacy herein made to the objector or objectors shall immediately become null and void and the share, or shares of the objector or objectors shall be divided equally share and share alike among those of my devisees or legatees who are satisfied and content with the provisions herein made for them.”

The will was signed and sealed on 12 January 1881.  John Reed died 14 January 1888, age 72.  Mary Inwood Reed,  was 64.

Phew!  I don’t get it.  It’s obvious something was Wrong with Jack.  Given my Life Experience, I’m gonna guess alcohol is involved. He has run out on his wife and daughters, obviously ran up debts to his cousin James, and — Spoiler Alert! — his life gets no better.  Yet his father writes a Will that forces his brothers and sisters to Support him and gives Jack’s daughters a share of property equal to theirs.  John Reed’s actions are those of a real enabler.

In 1889, Thomas, George, Minnie, and Ada did go to court against Mary, the grand-daughter.  Alice Reed had died before her grandfather.  Mary had claimed that the Will gave she and her sister Each 1/15 and that she was her sister’s legal heir. However, the case was found in favor of the plaintiffs and Mary was given only 1/15…which is what it seems to me that John wanted.  The land is partitioned off in that document, giving Jack’s daughter, Mary, about 14 acres, leaving 100 or so to the Big Four.

Sonnystone proper belonged to Mary Inwood Reed as part of her 1/3.  It consisted of the house and about 60 acres.  Thomas Reed and George Childs sold their share of the land to their sisters and George bought a place in Chandler, IN.   The Van Dusens and Olmsteds pretty much stayed in the homes where they’d always lived and continued to farm through the decade of the 1890s.

By 1900, Charles and Minnie Olmsted and their three teenagers were living at Sonnystone with Mary, age 77.  Louis and Ada Belle Van Dusen lived just down the road and Louis’s 84-year-old mother lived with them.  Both families had a servant living with them.  Both men are listed as gardeners…!

George and Anna Childs were still in Chandler.  George is listed as an “agent machines?”.  The machine part is pretty clear, but I can’t read the first word well. Son John, 25, was a schoolteacher like his Mom.  19-year-old son Leslie was a day laborer.

Thomas Reed was still on Goodsell Street, still working as a drayman.  He had a houseful: four children, Harry, 24; Ben (also called Inwood), 21; Thomas, jr., 18; and Sarah Belle, 13;  and one niece, Ella, 30 (daughter of cousin James Inwood, who had died in 1884).  But that’s not all..  Thom’s wayward brother, Jack Reed, 55-years-old, is also living with him, not working… What a guy…

Mary Inwood Reed died 17 April 1908.  Her death certificate states cause of death as senility.  She was 85-years-old.  The following month court papers were filed stating that Thomas Reed, George Childs, and Ada Van Dusen gave up all their claim to Mary’s property and giving it to Minnie Reed Olmsted.  It is the first time that I see the property listed as our address on Stringtown Road, though it is still a rural route.

Minnie Reed  Olmsted was now the proud owner of her family home, Reedmont, aka Sonnystone Acres.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

 

The Sonnystone Saga: Intro

Introduction to the Intro

To celebrate 17 years living here at Sonnystone Acres, today we start a series of posts chronicling the first three families who lived here, spanning 111 years…this could take a while.

In 2003 we bought a falling-down old house on 4 acres of property, just about a mile from where we were living in Evansville IN.  We were new empty-nesters and had been looking for a fixer-upper with some land for a while. This one fit the bill and was less than a mile from the neighborhood where we’d lived and raised our children for 18 years.

We bought the house from a couple of 80-somethings who had lived here for 30 years. The lady was ill and he was old and it fell into disrepair.  They had no children and when the gentleman died a nephew moved her to St. Louis.  About a year after we moved in, we received a package from the nephew that contained the property’s original paper abstract, a collection of legal documents that chronicles transactions associated with the land, including references to deeds, mortgages, wills, probate records, etc.

The abstract is only about the property and though its owners are named, it gives me no clue as to what was built here, e.g. homes, barns, businesses.  It’s full of measurements using chains and rods and stones that interest my husband, but I was more intrigued by the presence of a Last Will and Testament and a couple of court records, as well as recognizing the surnames of some of the former owners who have streets around here named after them.

I had already been curious about the “S” on the chimney outside…what did it originally stand for?  (Smith)  There is a name carved in a stone step (with a boot-scraper embedded) that sits at our front door.  Who was that? (John E. Reed) The answers in the Abstract only led to more questions, and nearly 15 years ago I collected some info at our Historical Society. The venture was sidelined for years until I subscribed to ancestrydotcom. Recently I started a Sonnystone Acres Family Tree and uncovered all new info about the first three families, stretching from 1846 to 1957.

We’ll start, though, with the original land patent.  On March 26, 1821, the northwest quarter of Section 5. Town 7 south, Range 10 west, containing 169.2 acres according to Government survey was entered at the U.S. Land Office at Vincennes, Indiana, by William Hampton.

This land is located in Vanderburgh County, Center Township, specifically in an area once known as Mechanicsville.

From “A History of Vanderburgh County, from the Earliest Times to the Present”, published in 1889:

{referencing Center Township}: The principal village in the township is Mechanicsville, commonly called Stringtown, because its houses are strung along the road.  At a very early date, the point where the Petersburgh road left the State road was selected as a good place for a smithy and wagon shop. It was a busy place in early times…

Mr. Ira Fairchild, who came with his family from New York to Indiana in 1818, thus pictures the early days of this village : “In 1829 my father removed’to Mechanicsville and opened a blacksmith’s shop …  which was a famous institution in its day. This house was built of heavy hewed logs, 30×40 feet square, had five forges and worked a force of seven or eight hands. All the livery horses of Evansville were brought there to be shod, and all sorts of iron work was done. At this time Mechanicsville seemed in a fair way to outstrip Evansville in the race for position. Thomas Smith had built a saw-mill on Pigeon creek, and on the hill where he afterward kept tavern he carried on a cabinet shop, … and supplied the demand for furniture for miles around. The village also boasted of a well-kept hotel, a’ wagon shop, and country store, and was withal a place of very considerable local importance.”

In 1839, William Hampton and wife conveyed to John H. Craig 89.2 acres.  The next year, 1840, John H. Craig sold 20 of those acres to Jacob Miller and another 20 acres to Jacob Winkleman.  Mr. Winkleman sold his 20 acres to John Hardy in 1845.  In 1847, Hardy and his wife sold those acres to Jacob Miller.  Miller now owned about 40 acres of the original William Hampton land patent.

Jacob Miller and his wife Maria (Mary) were Sonnystone’s first residents.

Stay Tuned…

Peace