While an ancestor’s death record might not seem like much to write about – Michael’s is – at least to this descendant.
We’ve looked for informatoin about his death for what seems like forever.
Michael was a Revolutionary War pensioner, so you’d think his death would be recorded in his pension records.
Maybe on the Tennessee roster of pensioners and payments?
Well, then was he listed in the 1840 census in someone’s household as having been a pensioner?
1839 and 1840
I knew that Michael was taxed in Claiborne County, Tennessee in 1839 for 40 acres of land total, and that on June 20th, 1840, Michael sold 2 of those 40 acres to his granddaughter Margaret Herrell and her husband, Anson Martin.
Michael would have been 93 or 94 years years old. He was not listed individually in the 1840 census, but that’s not surprising. If he was alive, he would probably have been living with one of his children – at least one would presume, especially if his wife was deceased or equally as elderly too.
Michael doesn’t appear in his sons’ households, but in 1840, Rev. Nathan S. McDowell, not a son but possibly a grandson, has a male of age 80-90 that could be Michael living with him.
I would have thought that were the man living with Nathan, Michael, he would have been listed as a pensioner, but there was no such listing on the second census page.
Therefore, I initially figured that Michael gone by the census enumeration date of June 1st until I realized he sold land on June 20th, so he was very clearly alive then. Not only that, but he was healthy enough to sign the deed, possibly going to town to do so.
Given that information, Michael’s military service had probably simply been overlooked in the census. After all, he was a quite elderly man.
Obviously, the census can’t be taken everyplace on the same day, so the census is taken as of a specific date. At the end of the Claiborne County census, it’s signed as being completed as of October 1.
Maybe Michael had died between June 20th and October 1st? If that was the case, then who was that man living with Nathan and if it was Michael, why was his military service overlooked? Something doesn’t add up.
Speaking of adding up, even more confounding is the fact that Michael apparently died owning 38 acres of land.
Why was there no will or probate in the Will and Probate books? Why was there no deed recorded? One or the other had to have happened. You can’t just die owning land and have it flopping around in a the state of limbo. SOMEONE had to own it which means that the disposition of Michael’s estate had to be managed by an executor or administrator unless Michael sold the land before his death. But there’s no record of that either.
Surely, at his age, Michael had prepared a will? One would think.
Michael was obviously an optimist.
The Claiborne County Court Notes are not indexed and published, at least not completely. I decided to read them page by page because I had at least three ancestors who died in the span of a decade or so, and I wanted to obtain as much information as possible.
In Michael’s case, I was hoping that I would find some evidence of at least a year, and maybe a month that he died.
I found quite a few McDowell references.
Michael’s son John was assigned as a road hand or was responsible for overseeing road maintenance. He was allowed to purchase a sledge hammer to break up unyielding rocks in the road. Backbreaking work, and Michael would have done that as a younger man. But that’s not what I was looking for.
I discovered that Nathan McDowell had a “sugar camp.” Interesting, but that’s not what I was looking for.
John, Michael’s son, and Nathan were assigned as jurors in court several times, commissioners and even guardians. That’s not what I was looking for either.
John P. McDowell, also related and probably a grandson, not to be confused with John McDowell was assigned as a Justice of the Peace. Still not finding what I was looking for.
But then…there it was.
The Death Record
On Monday, September 7, 1840, William McDowell, in his first court record ever, appeared in court at Tazewell, gone to do a son’s sad duty.
Satisfactorily evidence was produced in open court to prove that Michael McDowell a pensioner departed this life on the 6th day of July 1840 and there upon came William McDowell and took upon himself the administration of said estate who gave bond and security that was accepted by the court after taking the oath requested by law.
Wow, that’s wonderful – not that Michael died of course – but that we found evidence of when. Happy dancing a little jig.
Hmm, I wonder was constituted “satisfactory evidence.” If Michael had a will, it would have stated that a will was produced, so there was none.
William McDowell was administrator, so that would mean an inventory would be filed. We’ll be able to see what Michael owned. We’ll discover what happened to his land, and we’d know if Isabel outlived Michael. It’s possible since a female of the same age was living with daughter Mary McDowell who was married to William Herrell.
Dead Silence (Pardon the Pun) and Unresolved Questions
I read the court notes through 1842 and nothing at all.
How is that even possible when an administrator WAS appointed. There had to be assets or an administrator would not have been required, nor would bond and security.
I discovered that the court records through 1850 had been at least semi-indexed by WPA back in the 1930s, but nothing there either.
One question answered, and several left twisting in the wind, like fall’s final leaves.
Michael died only 17 days after selling 2 acres to his granddaughter and that deed was recorded. Furthermore, Michael clearly had $50, a substantial sum in addition to his pension payments. That cash would surely need to be accounted for. Michael was no pauper.
Isabel could have still been alive and they had at least 6 living children, and possibly more, to share an estate. I had hoped to obtain a full list of Michael’s legatees in an estate settlement, but that didn’t happen either☹
Perhaps Michael had already given all his possessions away?
Buried on Slanting Misery
Standing at the top of the hill on Michael’s land, aptly named Slanting Misery, you’d never know you were overlooking the cemetery where Michael is assuredly buried.
The family stood in Michael’s field under that cedar tree, directly between me and the barn, on July 6th, or 7th at the latest, in the mid-summer heat of 1840, dug a grave and said their final farewells. Reverend Nathan S. McDowell likely preached Michael’s funeral sermon about everlasting life with a final Amen.
The heat was likely oppressive in the heavy clothing of the time, and the funeral probably correspondingly short.
Michael’s granddaughter, Margaret Herrell Martin who bought land just days before was probably pregnant for a child who would soon be laid to rest beside her beloved grandfather.
Margaret would have sheltered her 6 stair-step children as they ceremonially dropped their single handfuls of dirt onto the planks of their great-grandfather’s coffin after the wooden box was lowered into his grave – as was the custom.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
No stone marked Michael’s final resting place, or if one did, it was a wooden cross or a fieldstone. Perhaps that Cedar tree was planted in Michael’s honor or memory, to shade family members who came to visit.
Michael’s remaining acreage, along with his human remains, simply melted back into the remote, achingly beautiful, mysterious, Slanting Misery.
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