Sunday, April 1, 2018

Where the Blacktop Ends: 52 Ancestors

One of the fun experiences during a genealogy field trip is visiting the homestead where your ancestors lived. Visiting with a local guide enriches the experience, as they can add so much context that otherwise you would never know. For this week's prompt -- Homestead -- I'm dusting off one of those wonderful visits.

Barb Dahman of the then Morgan County Genealogical Society took my cousin and me on a tour of Scott County, Illinois, including a visit to the Maddox farm. She had talked to the current owner in advance of the tour, so she was able to tell us all about the farm as we drove through in 2003. A couple of years later, in a family history writing seminar, I wrote the following paragraphs about my impressions.
If you follow Merritt Blacktop Road west from Merritt and turn north on Turkey Farm Road, you will find yourself sliding on dirt and gravel. Of course, the turkey farm at the top of Maddox Hill has long been abandoned, Maddox Pond next to Mauvaisterre Creek holds no water and the Maddox farm and the Maddox family have disappeared, absorbed into neighboring farms and into the soil of Scott County. As you descend the steep hill to the creek, a fine brown cloud will rise up and surround you with the smell and taste of the rich Illinois farmland.

In summer, you will find wild roses blooming red, wrapping round the broken gatepost north of the creek, to mark the old entrance to the farm. No trace remains of the house and barn, their bones carried away long ago by scavengers. The house is now found only as a dot on the surveyor's plat in the foreclosure file at the Winchester courthouse. Weeds and brush have reclaimed the apple orchards that once climbed the hill north of the house. Much of the long forty acres that once comprised the widow's portion  is now overgrown, occupied only by snakes and other wild creatures.

South of the house site, a few fertile acres sprout corn on land that has been repeatedly flooded by the creek. It was here that the pond ebbed and flowed before the creek was dammed upstream at Jacksonville. The banks of the creek and the adjacent bottom land are a dark red-brown, in contrast to the lighter brown of the surrounding land. The covered bridge that once spanned the creek has been torn away and dragged downstream, leaving only a concrete and timber crossing barely wide enough for one car.

Across Turkey Farm Road to the east, two hundred acres that once were farmed by the Maddox family are now covered in soybeans, guarded by a large sign that announces this is private property. The owners have built a large house in the midst of the soybeans and you will wonder if the wood from the Maddox farm has burned in their fireplace. They will tell you they don't know anyone named Maddox. Yet they will also tell you, over 125 years after the Maddox family moved north to the next county, to drive down past Maddox Pond and climb up Maddox Hill to get back onto the blacktop road.

Nancy Jane Webb Maddox was the widow that asked for the long 40 acres on the west side when the farm went to foreclosure. That request resulted in a survey that shows the layout of the farm in 1876.

Nancy was born in Maryland about 1821. Her mother, Nancy Townson (Townsend?) died young and Nancy and her father, Elijah Webb, moved to Ohio by 1830.

Nancy married William W Maddox on February 21, 1840, in Pickaway County, Ohio. She had at least seven children: John, David, Louis (Lewis), William, George, Joseph Allen and Margaret. Only three of those are known to have descendants: Louis, George and Allen. Each of those three gave her one grandchild prior to her death.

After William's death in 1869, Nancy had to keep the farm running. She also had to raise the money to bail out and defend Louis and William, who were charged with killing their father. The family mortgaged the farm, but lost most of it to foreclosure, due to inability to pay their legal bills.

Nancy became the fifth wife of Joseph Pease in Brown County on September 15, 1878. Tragically, she died of pneumonia in Versailles Township just a few months later, on February 4, 1879. She was buried in the Lavina Henry Cemetery in Versailles Township.

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