#52 Ancestors: Week 5: So Far Away
Most of our ancestors lived in Virginia and North Carolina and when I think of it, they were so far away from where we live – So far away in distance and in time. The only way to get to know them is through research. I need to look at when and where they lived, their parents, siblings and children, their occupations, their neighbors, and anything else I can find. I want to envision them as individuals and not just a name on a pedigree chart. Last week I wrote about Mary Ann James, my second great-grandmother, who had married Columbus Perry Ashlin. Columbus was the son of Chesley Harrison Ashlin and Phoebe Byrd James. Yes, both Mary Ann and Columbus were of James lineages! ( I will add the links to what I have written about these families below.)
Phoebe Byrd James, my third great-grandmother, had a very interesting name and so far I have not been able to find anyone she may have been named after. Phoebe was born 17 July 1797 in either Henry County or Franklin County, Virginia and was the daughter of James Spencer James and Frances Davis. Her birth was most likely in Franklin County as her father, Spencer James, recorded a land grant there in 1796 and purchased more land in that county in 1797 and in 1799. Of the eight known children on Spencer James and Frances Davis, Phoebe was the seventh child.
On 30 December 1822, she married Chesley Ashlin. At the time of marriage, Phoebe was 25 years old and Chesley was 29 as he was born in 1796. The average age at that time for woman to marry was 20-21 and for a man was 26, so they were a bit older than the average to marry. The 1840 Census for Smyth County, Virginia only lists the head of house and numbers of free white person and number of slaves. Chesley and Phoebe’s household in 1840 consisted of nine whites (2 parents and 7 children) and nine slaves and employed an additional 5 persons in agriculture. Comparing all their census information to their neighbors, Chesley and Phoebe were fairly well off.
In 1850, Chesley’s real estate was valued at $5000 which would be about $165,000 today – very comfortable! Of course, all that changed after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the many slaves Chesley owned. His personal estate dropped from about $400,000 in 1960 before the War to about $9,000 by 1870. The War was certainly devastating and life changing for the Ashlin family! By this time, Phoebe and Chesley were in their early 70s and may have looked back to see how very much their lives had changed in the last ten years.
Of course, it would be wonderful to have a picture of any ancestor but most of the time, there are no photos. I have not found any pictures of Phoebe but I did happen upon a picture of her sister, Elizabeth Booker James who married a William James, her second cousin. Now sisters don’t always look alike, of course, but a picture of a sibling is interesting, nonetheless!
During the better years, Chesley and Phoebe Byrd raised their family of seven children. Their first child, Frances Elizabeth Ashlin, named after Phoebe’s mother, was born 23 Oct 1823 when they lived in Franklin County, Virginia. Frances married Andrew Adam Kincannon in 1841 when she was just 17 years old. Her husband served in the Civil War and they had a farm in Smyth County, Virginia before moving to Atchison County, Missouri in about 1875. Andrew died in 1901 and Frances died in 1912 of pneumonia. They are buried in the English Grove Cemetery in Clarke, Missouri.
The second child was Lucy Ann Ashlin, born about 1826 in Smyth County, and according to one source, was a superb horsewoman and very beautiful. She was named after Chesley’s mother, Lucy Baker. In 1847, Lucy married John Hill Groseclose, and they lived on a fine plantation on Cripple Creek, Wythe County, VA. However, John was a womanizer and drinker. Lucy died in 1860 at about 34 years old of tuberculosis but family legend says she died of a broken heart due to John’ drinking!
James Hartwell Ashlin, third child of Phoebe and Chesley, was born in 1828 and married Elizabeth Dutton in 1851. James fought in the Civil War in the 48th Regiment of the Virginia Infantry, Company D and was in many battles. How Phoebe must have worried about him and his brother German Baker who also fought in the War! After the war, James died of “pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis)” at just 42 years old in 1870. My great-grandfather, Columbus Perry Ashlin was the next born in 1830 and I will add a link to his story below.
Daughter Catherine Mildred Ashlin, called “Kate,” came along in 1834 and married Robert Crow Williams in 1867. They lived in the Sugar Grove, Smyth County area and Robert served in the Civil War and lived until 1907, dying of old age. In 1916, Catherine applied for a widow’s pension which revealed that she had an income of only $95 a year and owned no property. She passed away in 1924.
Virginia Clementine Ashlin was born in 1836 and married John P Myers in 1875. It seems Virginia had a hard life as she was sickly and on the 1880 Census, she was just 42 and listed as “maimed, crippled or bedridden” with dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a condition of the stomach that may include gall bladder trouble. John Myers died at 42 or 43 in 1884 and Virginia died in 1890 at age 54. The last child of Phoebe and Chesley was German Baker Ashlin, who I have already written about and will put a link to his post below. He had an interesting story!
Phoebe and Chesley had a lot of struggles in their life together for sure. They had to contend with losing their standard of living after the war. They had to worry about the safety of their sons in the war along with worrying about their other children- one who moved to Missouri and one who was sickly. They also endured the early death and burial of their daughter Lucy and their son James Hartwell Ashlin both dying of tuberculosis after a prolonged illness. Chesley Ashlin died on 10 June 1876 in Sugar Grove, Smyth VA and Phoebe passed away the next year on 24 April 1877. They were buried side by side in the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery on Chesley’s farm in Sugar Grove.
Links to Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James: Mary Ann James: Living Close to Home
Link to German Baker Ashlin: German Baker Ashlin/ A GREAT-Uncle!
- Trimble, David B. (David Buchanan), 1922 (Main Author); Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia. Austin, Texas: D.B. Trimble, c1992; Pages: 10, 16.
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for Virginia, 1850-1880; Archive Collection: T1132; Archive Roll Number: 10; Census Year: 1870; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia.
- National Park Service; U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
- Ancestry.com, Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
- 1840 U.S. Census, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: 578; Page: 382; Image: 782; FHL microfilm: 29692.
- Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current (Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.)
- U. S. Federal Census; Year: 1860; Census Place: Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M653_1377; Page: 1050; Image: 532; FHL film: 805377.
- U. S. Federal Census; Year: 1870; Census Place: St Clair, Smyth, Virginia; Roll: M593_1679; Page: 97A; Image: 197; FHL film: 553178.
- Virginia, Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917 (Ancestry.com Operations Inc.)