#52Ancestors Week 4: Close to Home
Many of my ancestors seemed to be born, to live and to die in the same locale. As for the ancestors that lived in the 1800’s that was particularly true. After all, many were farmers and toiled on their lands and could only socialize with close neighbors. Travel was by wagon or horseback and the miles one could cover were limited. For the most part, they just stayed put. Smyth County, Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, was a place many of my ancestors lived their entire lives. I have been researching the James family line and am starting with Mary Ann James, my second great-grandmother. She lived her life in Smyth County around a town called Sugar Grove.
Mary Ann James was born 18 Jun 1838 in Sugar Grove, Smyth County, Virginia and was the first child of eight children of Thompson B James and Susannah J Porter. The 1840 Census for Thompson B James listed the family living in Smyth County with 2 daughters, Mary Ann and her sister Frances Elizabeth. The 1850 Census revealed that they lived on a small farm – certainly not rich folks! The real estate value of their land was listed at $1500 in this census which would be about $42,000 in today’s value. Compared to other farms in the area, this was a smaller farm leading me to believe that the James family were not as well off financially as some of their neighbors.
In the 1850 census, Mary Ann was listed as 12 and Frances as 10 but there were now more siblings. William Porter James was age 8, Louisa Freedom James was age 5 and James A James was just 2 years old. There was another daughter named America Adaline James who was born 30 Oct of 1845 but died of unknown causes on 17 Feb of 1849 at just about 3 1/2 years old! America died before she was listed in any census. Susannah James also must have been pregnant when the census was taken as their seventh child, Oscar LeGrand James, was born on 1 Nov 1850. No doubt that Mary Ann, being the oldest, was relied on for helping with the chores and taking care of her younger siblings. It must have been quite sad for the family to lose little America Adaline at such a young age!
The last and eighth child, Susannah Columbia James, was born 2 Jan 1853. But tragedy struck the family again in 1853 when Thompson, Mary Ann’s father, died on 24 Dec, Christmas Eve! He was but 40 years old and died of “consumption” which was the common term at that time for tuberculosis. He was most likely ill with the disease for a long period of time which would have put more responsibility for the rest of the family to run the farm. Mary Ann was only 15 when her father passed. Susannah was left with seven children to raise on her own and run the farm.
The next year brought more tragedy for Mary Ann’s family. The baby Susannah Columbia died in September of 1854 at about one year and eight months old. How sad for Susannah to have to bury another young child especially after losing her husband! Susannah continued to work the farm with the help of her children for about 9 more years and then remarried to a William M James.
Mary Ann married Columbus Perry Ashlin on 18 Sep 1855. Mary was 17 years old and Columbus was 25 at the time of marriage. Columbus had been also born in Sugar Grove, Virginia like Mary Ann and was the son of Chesley Ashlin and Phoebe Byrd James, local farmers. If you check last weeks blog, you will discover how Mary Ann and Columbus were related to each other! Mary Ann and Columbus went on to have 12 children and lived in the same area around Sugar Grove all their lives. Their first child was Susanna Virginia Ashlin, born in 1856, who married George Lyons, and were my paternal great-grandparents. Columbus passed away in 1902 and Mary Ann passed on 20 Sep of 1921. They are both buried in the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery in Sugar Grove.
Mary Ann (James) Ashlin lived to age 83 and died in St. Clair, a small community outside of Sugar Grove. She lived her whole life in the Sugar Grove area. Although it appears that the first part of her life growing up had a lot of tragedy, she went on and made a good life with her husband Columbus. However, they did not completely escape tragedy. Three of their children, two sons and a daughter, died in infancy. The rest of the children thrived and married and gave them many grandchildren!
Trimble, David B.; Montgomery and James of Southwest Virginia. Austin, Texas, 1992, pg. 20.
Vogt, John and Kethley, T. William Jr.; Smyth County Marriages, 1832-1850. Iberian Press Publishing, Athens, Georgia, 1984, p. 27.
U.S. Federal Census 1840, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: 578; Rage: 396; FHL microfilm: 0029692.
U. S. Federal Census 1850, District 60, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M432_976; Page: 227A; Image: 455.
Hockett, Thomas Jack & Hunt, Sheila Steele; Smyth County, Virginia Marriages, 1851-1891. Hockett and Hunt Publishers, 1999, p. 90.
Register of Births for the Southern District of Virginia, 1856; FHL microfilm: 2,046,967.