Monday, November 24, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #45 William W Maddox, The Victim at Mauvaisterre Creek

145 Years Ago, near Merritt, Illinois

November 24, 1869, 2 PM

A gunshot rang out, echoing across the barren fields of Scott County. William Maddox, 49, was mortally wounded by his son, Lewis. Both men had been drinking.

Murder at Mauvaisterre Creek

How did an ordinary farmer come to kill his father, have his name splashed on newspapers all over the midwestern United States and fuel family legends that persist to this day? Did the jury make the right decision? There are no surviving transcripts of the trial, but we can read the evidence presented to the grand jury.

As we meet each family member over the next few months, bear in mind that there is a family history of alcoholism, especially in the 19th century. Our Native American heritage left our ancestors unable to metabolize alcohol. My great-grandmother, niece of Lewis, claimed to have one-eighth Native American blood. That would have made Lewis one-quarter and William, the victim, as much as one-half. There is no proof to date of these claims; however, the oral tradition lives on in several diverse branches of the Maddox family.

Meet the Victim

William W Maddox was born in Ohio, about 1820, to Lazarus Maddox and Elizabeth Greaton (Gratton) of Pickaway County. He was either the first or second son, with an older sister and a total of seven siblings. The family owned and worked small farms of 75 to 90 acres.

William married Nancy Jane Webb on February 21, 1840, in Pickaway County. He worked as a farm laborer, according to the 1850 census. They were the parents of at least seven children: John, David, Lewis, William H, George S, Joseph Allen and Margaret. John and Margaret died young, while David, a soldier, died near the end of the Civil War. Gaps in the birth years indicate a possibility of two other children who would have died young.

Image credits: GZitzmann custom sketch, Scrap Girls template, elements by Mommyish for Digital Scrapper

In about 1853, after the birth of George, the family moved to Scott County, Illinois. The Maddox family moved near the Greaton/Gratton family members of William's mother. They had settled in the area some 20 years before. William had been charged with assault in Pickaway County shortly before the move out of Ohio. Did he move as a way to avoid the consequences?

William bought land adjoining a deep bend of Mauvaisterre Creek. The agricultural supplement to the 1860 census shows that some 75 acres had been improved, with another 85 acres yet to be planted. By the time of his 1869 death, William owned 270 acres, much of it in fields of wheat, oats, rye, corn and barley. He also produced wool. As well as sheep, the family also kept pigs, cows and bees. There were likely chickens, though they are not shown in any record.

William and his sons had been industrious. He had tripled his father's peak of 90 acres and his sons wanted some of the land to start their own family farms. The boys wanted to receive their portion as a birthright, but William agreed only to lease half the tillable land to sons Lewis and William H. Witness statements reveal that Lewis and his father had been arguing about the land on the day of the murder.

After he was shot by Lewis, William needed someone to care for him. His treatment of his family had been abusive, based on the family stories. His assault charge adds weight to that legend. The family faced a problem. If William died, Lewis could be charged. Thus the family had every reason to keep him alive, though wanting him dead.

The hired hand, Samuel Coleman, must have been trusted by everyone, as he tended William throughout the agonizing days of his decline. William W Maddox died on December 1, 1869. His burial place is unknown, though it is likely on or near the family farm.

Be sure to follow me to a new blog, Murder at Mauvaisterre Creek, where the evidence will be revealed in 2015.

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