Sarah Cook (1774/1775-1863), Epitome of Perseverance – 52 Ancestors #386

Sarah Cook was the wife of James Lee Claxton, or Clarkson. That name changed like a chameleon and trust me, those changes caused Sarah massive headaches too.

Much of what we know about Sarah comes from her application for her husband’s War of 1812 pension benefits and bounty land. These applications were quite difficult and fraught with bureaucratic red tape. This process of application and reapplication requiring several affidavits must have been horribly frustrating for Sarah, but it is quite the boon for genealogists, telling us a lot about Sarah and the people in her life.

It’s in those documents that we discover that Sarah’s father’s name is Joel Cook and that she was married on October 10, 1799 (or 1805) in Russell County, Virginia by Justice of the Peace, John Tate.

Ironically, while Sarah gave two different years in which she was married, her marriage month and day remained constant.

I tend to think that 1799 is accurate, in part because three of her children were born before 1805, by which time she and James were living in Claiborne County, TN.

On June 16, 1805 and twice in September, James Claxton appears in the Claiborne County court notes. It’s very unlikely that he married in Russell County on October 10 of that year. It’s equally unlikely that Sarah had three children before marrying James, and moved to another county and state without the benefit of marriage.

They would not have returned to Russell County, a week’s hard journey across the mountains by wagon to be married by the Justice of the Peace there.

In 1810, in Claiborne County, James Claxton bought land from John Hall – 100 acres on the north side of Powell River.

By 1810, Sarah would have had about 6 children. Number 7 was born in 1811, and number 8 was born between 1813 and 1815.

Sadly, Sarah said goodbye to James for the last time on November 13, 1814, as he left to do his patriotic duty and serve his county in the War of 1812. In February of 1815, just days before the end of the war, James died in distant, cold Fort Decatur, hundreds of miles away from home, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River across from the Creek Nation in what would become Alabama in 1819.

James was buried beside the fort in a now-lost grave, probably marked only with a wooden cross at the time, if that. No one other than his fellow soldiers that dug his grave was at his funeral, such as it was. There probably wasn’t much of a funeral, because every minute the men were outside the fort, they were exposed to attack. Not only that, but many men at Fort Decatur were sick, very sick.

Sarah never got to bring James home, never got to bury him, never got to dress and wash his body, never got to weep over his grave, and never got to plant flowers and speak to him in the springtime. James may never have seen his last child who was probably born after he died.

Sarah was left with at least 8 children, and that’s 8 children that we know about. We don’t know how many might have passed away as infants or as children. It would have been terribly unusual for all children born to a woman to live to adulthood.

If Sarah and James were married for 15 and a half years, and had 8 children, that would have meant Sarah had a baby about every 2 years – about normal for a pioneer couple.

I do wonder if Sarah gave birth the last time after James’ death. Perhaps she did, but before she knew that he had died.

Sarah may not have known that James had perished until the rest of the men in his unit made their way home, on foot, after their discharge in May of 1815.

The soldiers from eastern Tennessee marched the 400 miles or so to Fort Decatur, and they would have marched home, much the worse for wear, only half as many as marched to Fort Decatur the previous November. At the rate of 15 miles per day, the sad march home by the bedraggled men would have taken almost a month, about 26 days – only to bear the burden of telling the families of the men who weren’t with them where they were.

I can envision Sarah, holding a baby and the hands of 7 stairstep children as she excitedly waited for James to appear with the rest of the soldiers. She had probably given the children baths and they would have been wearing their best clothes to welcome Daddy back home.

The soldiers must have been excited to be returning home, but horribly saddened and dreaded seeing the hopeful faces of the families of the men who were buried back at Fort Decatur or along the way.

Perhaps it was Tandy Welch who served beside James and was at his deathbed – the man who would one day become Sarah’s son-in-law – that imparted the terrible news.

I have always wondered if somehow Sarah knew. Maybe she had the second-sight, or maybe she just had a “feeling.” Maybe she was hoping against hope, watching the group of soldiers approach, then pass by, one by one, until one of the men she knew walked up to her and put his hands on her arms to steady her.

Untold grief had arrived, and with it, Sarah’s life as she knew it was upended.

Sarah’s Birth

Based on Sarah’s age given on the various petitions she signed related to James Claxton’s military service, she was born in either 1774 or 1775. In 1851, Sarah gave a deposition on March 8th and in that deposition states her age as 76, which means she was born in 1775. Given that the deposition was given the first week of March, there’s a roughly 25% chance Sarah had already had her birthday in 1851. If Sarah’s birthday happened after March 8th, then her birth year would subtract to 1774.

On October 16, 1858, Sarah signed a deposition in which she states that she is 83 years old, which means that she was born about 1775.

In 1853, Sarah gave a deposition on November 29, 1853 and gave her age as 79, indicating that she was born in 1774.  By the end of November, there was only a one in twelve chance that Sarah had NOT yet had her birthday in 1853.

We even have Sarah’s signature along with son, Fairwick.

Given the two bracketing depositions, it’s most likely from these records alone that Sarah was born sometime between March 9, 1774 and November 28, 1774, someplace in Virginia, according to the 1850 census.

While we find it odd today that someone would provide inconsistent information about their age, birth date or marriage year, it was quite common in that place and time to not know your birthday or year. Even today, sometimes I have to think about how old I am and substract to be sure.

Sarah’s Death

Sarah spent the rest of her life after James’ death as a single woman. She was only 40 or so when he died and lived for 48 years as a widow, longer than she lived before James died and three times as long as she was married. She was reported to be 88 years old on December 21, 1863 when she passed away, which would have put her birth firmly in 1775.

According to this paperwork filed in conjunction with James’s pension, Sarah “died very suddenly of no particular disease being recognized,” with Rebecca Wolf and Nancy Eaton in the room with her when she died.

I wish Sarah had a gravestone, but given that she died in the midst of the Civil War, a gravestone probably wasn’t possible.

I’m positive that Sarah is buried in the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery in Hancock County, Tennessee where she lived with her son Fairwick and where he is buried as well.

In the photo above, the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is fenced on the Claxton/Clarkson original land. Sarah is buried here someplace in one of the many unmarked graves.

Sarah’s Records

In contrast with most women of her era, Sarah was quite active in land acquisition.  Some land may have been awarded to her as a result of her husband’s military service, but certainly not all of her land was thanks to James.

First, we find Sarah mentioned in her son’s land survey.

Claiborne County Survey Book 29 – page 693, Claiborne Co. Tn number 28765 March 16, 1826 – Farwix Claxton assignee of JP Shackleford, assignee of Farwix Claxton, assignee of Sarah Claxton – 100 acres granted to Farwix Claxton and his heirs lying in the county aforesaid adj Sarah Claxton on the north side of Powell’s river, crossing a public road, Sarah’s old corner. Surveyed Oct 14, 1826, filed June 4, 1853, chainers Henry Cook and John Plank

Is the Henry Cook who was the chainer significant, given that Sarah was a Cook before marriage?

It’s rather unusual that this survey wasn’t registered until in 1853, but surveys weren’t free and neither was registering deeds.

Did Fairwick and Sarah each have a 100-acre survey?  It would appear so.

On the same day in 1826, Sarah’s own 100 tract was surveyed, but the survey wasn’t entered for another 4 years, probably indicating Sarah didn’t have the money to pay the surveyor and the registration fee, both. This new survey adjoins her “old tract” which was probably the land that James Claxton purchased in 1810.

On August 16, 1826, Sarah had another 30 acres surveyed. In this deed, she is called Sally, which would have been the nickname for Sarah. So, now we know her nickname as well, called such by the surveyor who clearly knew her personally. This parcel too adjoined her “old tract.”

Chainers were often family members, and Henry Cook, found in all 3 of these surveys, may have been related to Sarah. John Plank was the neighbor, and he would surely have wanted to be sure this land was surveyed accurately.

In the 1830 census, Sarah is shown living with 5 people in her household.

  • 1 male 15-20 – unknown, probably Henry Claxton
  • 1 male 30-40 – unknown
  • 1 female 15-20 – probably daughter Martha Patsy
  • 1 female 30-40 – uncertain
  • 1 female 50-60, which would have been Sarah herself

Sarah’s daughter Rebecca had married John Collingsworth in 1829, so they could be the couple age 30-40 living with Sarah, although the dates and ages don’t align exactly.

In 1832, 25 acres was surveyed for Farwix Claxton on the Powell River adjoining his mother’s land. His brother, Henry, was a chain carrier for the surveyor.

A drawing from the Claiborne County survey book dated December 18, 1832 shows the survey for Sarah Claxton’s 30 acres bordering on Henry Clarkson’s and Levi Parks’ grant and on the Montgomery grant. Shadrack Moore and Henry Clarkson were chainers and the land was on the Powell River near 4 Mile Creek.

We are actually quite fortunate, because we know exactly where this bend of the Powell River was located. In fact, it was even called Claxton’s bend, as shown in this 1831 survey.

In 1834, in the Claiborne County Court Notes we find a lawsuit that may have forced the children of James Claxton to sell their land to their mother to protect it from being sold out from under them by court order. Fairwick, it seems, owed a debt.

Hugh Graham vs Fairwick Claxton – Fidelie S. Hurt JP returned with warrant judgement and execution for sum of 38.30 with the following returned endorsements on said execution to wit: There being no goods or chattels of def in my county I have levied this execution of F. Claxton “undivided interest in 100 ac of land on Powels River whereon Sarah Claxton now lives – June 16 1834”.  Order of sale issued.

It appears that the family was right, because they executed the deed of sale in March and the following June, the next court session, the court orders the land to be sold.  However, by this time, the land had already been sold and Fairwix had enough money in hand to pay his debt, if he so chose. However, if he chose not to pay the debt, the land his mother was living on was protected from his creditors. I’m assuming that Fairwix did indeed pay his debt, because we find nothing else in the court records that suggests otherwise.

We are quite fortunate because the resulting 1834 deed lists the children of James Claxton and Sarah, or at least the ones who were adults by this time. I would wager there were some heated discussions about this transaction, and how it would or might occur. I can’t imagine Sarah and her other children being happy about this turn of events.

1834 – Fairview (Fairwick) Claxton to Sarah Claxton, 1834, Book O-233 for $70.00 – original reads March 27th, 1834, between Farwick Clarkson, Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala, John Plank and wife Elizabeth, Levi Parks and wife Susannah, John Collinsworth and wife Rebecca, Jacob Parks and wife Patsy, heirs at law of James Clarkson deceast of the one part and Sarah Clarkson widow of the aforesaid James Clarkson decd of the other part, all of Claiborne Co. Tn. In consideration of:

    • Farwick Clarkson, $70 (signs with a signature – but all of the rest make marks. Fairwick’s wife is not included for some reason.)
    • Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala – $70
    • John Plank and wife Elizabeth – $70 or 20
    • Levi Parks and wife Susannah – $70
    • John Collensworth and wife Rebecca – $20
    • Jacob Parks and wife Patsy “Polly” – $20

To Sarah Clarkson, widow aforesaid, 100 acres, Claiborne on the North side of Powell river where Sarah lives and land that was conveyed to James Clarkson from John Hall of Sumner Co. Tn… beginning at Hobbs line, bank of Powell river. Witnessed by John Riley and Johiel Fugate. Registered Jan. 1, 1841

Sarah’s youngest child, Henry is conspicuously absent from this deed which probably suggests he was still living with Sarah and was yet underage.

Did Sarah have to borrow the money to pay her children? Did the children accept IOUs from their mother in order to convey the land to her?  Did they expect to receive their payment after her death?  Were they angry with their brother, Fairwick, or were there forces at work that we can’t understand from a distance of 179 years?

Because of the surveys, deeds and later generation lawsuits, we know exactly where Sarah’s land is today. Seen here, looking across the fence from the road, we see the old barn in the distance with the fenced cemetery in front of the barn.

This land, beautiful, but oh so rocky would have proved difficult for Sarah to work as a farm. Not to be deterred, she did work that farm, for 48 years after James died, raised her family, and from all indicators, was successful by any measure they had in her lifetime.

In 1839, Sarah was listed on the Claiborne County Tax list with 100 acres of land worth $250. The tax was 12 and a half cents and 30 acres was valued as school land, although I’m not entirely sure what that meant.

Almost everyone had a “school land” amount, and clearly everyone didn’t have a school on their property. Sarah’s entire tax was 12 and a half cents.

In the 1840 census, Sarah Claxton is shown living with one male, age 60-70 and two females aged 60-70.

One of those females would have been Sarah, but I have no idea who the other is. I have only a slight inkling of who the male might be. He might possibly have been John Helloms who we find living with Sarah in 1850.


I hate it when my research starts forest fires of rumors that I can’t later extinguish. More than two decades ago, I discovered that Sarah was living with an elderly Helloms male in the 1850 census and made the mistake of excitedly sharing my discovery with other researchers. It appears that they were excited too, and before long, Sarah’s maiden name was Helloms in countless online trees. Sarah’s maiden name was actually Cook, discovered later, but there is no catching up with a tidal wave of misinformation once it is unleashed.

In 1850, Sarah is age 75, born in Virginia, with one John Helloms, age 70, listed as idiotic, living with her. Both Sarah and John were born in Virginia. Sarah’s grandson through son Fairwick, Samuel Claxton lives next door, probably on the same land and just another house away we find Farwick with his wife, now age 50. The census was taken on December 13th, but was supposed to be taken as of April in that year. In any case, Sarah’s birth year subtracts to be 1775.

This is the record that caused many researchers to infer that Sarah’s middle name was Helloms, and that John Helloms was her brother. Until we discovered Sarah’s birth name given in James’ War of 1812 records, that assumption that John Helloms was probably her brother and she was caring for a family member stood as the conventional wisdom. However, that was incorrect and illustrates quite aptly why one should never draw even tentative conclusions, at least not out loud. Unfortunately, the majority of trees available still show Sarah’s maiden name as Helloms.

Conversely, it’s probably accurate to speculate that Sarah is somehow involved with or related to the Helloms family. In the Claiborne County Court Notes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819 – 1822, on page 106 we find:

May 9, 1820 – Sarah Claxton admitted to administer on all the singular goods and chattels rights and credits of William Hulloms (this is clearly the name) decd who entered into bond with Josiah Ramsey for her security and was qualified as the law directs.

The combination of this record and that of John Hulloms living with Sarah in 1850 was truly convincing that her maiden name was Hulloms or Helloms, but it wasn’t, as sworn to by Sarah herself. However, there is very clearly a connection in some fashion to the Helloms of Hulloms family.

It’s worth noting that there is no Helloms entry in the reconstructed 1790 Virginia census using tax records from the 1780s, as provided by, but there are several Helms.  There is, however, one William Hulloms in Westmoreland County on the 1791 “census.”

There is also a William Hulloms in Ashe County, NC in 1790, although he appears to be fairly young with 3 young children – so he can probably be ruled out – but not positively.

An 1804 tax list for Knox County, TN shows a William Helloms Sr. with 229 acres on Hickery Creek with 1 white poll, along with a John Hellams with 237 acres on Hickery Creek with 2 black polls (but no white polls.)

While these might be red herrings, they may not be. Clearly there is some connection to the Helloms/Hulloms family, by whatever spelling. Sarah was a close enough relative to become administrator of William’s estate and 30 years later we find John Helloms, “idiotic,” living with Sarah.

The Helloms/Hulloms mystery stands to this day.

John Riley

Sarah continued to be involved in the community, and once again, we find her interacting with John Riley.

On August 8, 1855 she is noted as having a receipt for $24.22 in the estate of John L. Riley.

John Riley appears throughout Sarah’s life, including having been at her wedding in Russell County, according to depositions relating to Sarah’s attempts to receive both a pension and bounty land as a result of James’ death during the War of 1812.

The Russell County, Virginia deed abstracts tell us that John Riley lived on Mockason Creek in Russell County, at the foot of Clinch Mountain adjoining the Hustons and Fugates and with James Tate as a neighbor as well. John Tate was the JP that married Sarah Cook and James Claxton/Clarkson.

Members of the Riley family, along with James Claxton and the Fugates migrated together to the Powell River in then Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Riley family was one of the earliest founders in Russell County, information provided by the Riley family history. In other words, the Riley family was already well established in the region, with their first land grant in 1774, long before the Cook family arrived 20 years later in about 1795.

The Last Census

Sarah lived an amazingly long time in an era with little medical care, or at least not as we know medical care today. They didn’t have antibiotics, or assistance during childbirth other than midwives. No matter how skilled they were, fate determined in many cases whether you survived or not.

In the last census where Sarah appears, 1860, she is 85 years old, born in Virginia, and still living in her own household beside son, Fairwick. Living with her we find her grandson, Robert Shiflet, spelled Shifley in the census, along with his wife Sary (Sarah, named for her grandmother) and their daughter Elizabeth.

Sarah’s occupation at age 85? Housework. Not retired. How does a woman ever retire from housework?

It looks like Sarah spent her entire life taking care of a long list of people. Perhaps as she aged, some of those same people helped make her life a little easier. I hope so.

Sarah’s granddaughter, Sarah Claxton Shiflet is shown above. I can’t help but wonderif she looked like her grandmother.

The Civil War

The Civil War in Hancock County was brutal. Families into the late 1900s told stories of hiding their livestock and what little food they had in caves, and finally, secreting themselves there as well.

To begin with, this part of Tennessee was highly divided. Tennessee was the last state to secede and join the Confederacy on July 2, 1861. Most of the men in this part of Hancock County crossed the state line into Virginia, then into Kentucky, under cover of darkness in the night and enlisted with the Union forces. But not all.

Hancock County saw fighting, as did every county in eastern Tennessee. Making the situation even worse, this area was a crossroads for the marauding soldiers of both the north and south, and all soldiers arrived hungry. The area was savaged.

Most of the families in Hancock County did not own slaves. The land was rocky and difficult to farm. I would describe the lifestyle as subsistence living. Most people were too poor to afford slaves, had they been inclined. However, the neighbor, William Harrell owned one slave, a female name Harriet and her son, who, it turned out, was also William Herrell’s son, Cannon.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell, the county seat of neighboring Claiborne County, burning the town in November.

Cumberland Gap, directly north of Tazewell was a strategic military point between the north and the south, and the Gap itself changed hands several times during the war.  Each time, the forces encamped at the Gap didn’t have enough supplies to feed the men, and the soldiers of both sides ravaged the landscape of everything available to eat, leaving the residents with virtually nothing.

Food was scarce and life was incredibly dangerous throughout the Civil War. At least two and probably four of Sarah’s grandchildren died during the Civil War. We don’t know why Sarah died. It could easily have been attributed, at least in part, to the war.

By the time the war ended in 1865, Sarah was gone – having joined James a half-century later in watching over her family from the other side.

Military Records

Poor Sarah. James’ military files were then, and remain, a mess.

After I initially received part of them about 25 years ago, I managed to misplace some. When reordering those same records, they aren’t there. I’m glad I took notes at the time. I wish I had made copies, but that was before scanners.

To begin with, the military recorded his service records as Claxton on the unit’s roster, and Sarah applied as Clarkson. Eventually, they got that straightened out, but the Civil War interfered in that process too.

Sarah did succeed in receiving half of James’ pay for 5 years. She eventually received a 40-acre land grant, which she subsequently had cancelled, persevering to obtained an 80-acre grant instead, claiming she had been short-shifted. Forty acres was awarded to those who served for 30 days and 80 acres was awarded for four months service. Apparently, the powers-that-be agreed that an error had occurred, because Sarah received her 80-acre grant. We don’t know where that land was located, or if she simply sold the grant. By that time, she already had obtained her own land grants in Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN and I’m sure she wasn’t the least bit interested in moving elsewhere. Sarah would have needed her family to help with the farm, and eventually, probably to help care for her.

For all the headaches this process caused Sarah, it provided wonderful information not available elsewhere.

On May 3, 1861, Sarah signed a Power of Attorney assigning Fairwix, her son, as her attorney to act on her behalf. In most of her documents, in later years, she signed with an X. Note that her surname is spelled as Clarkston. Unfortunately, the surname vacillates between Claxton, Clarkson and Clarkston. Based on Y-DNA matches, it appears to have originally been Claxton , but there is little consistency in James’s records.

This list of pensioners and their payments from Knoxville, TN shows Sarah Clarkson, widow of James, as a pensioner. Unfortunately, this record series is titled U.S., Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1801-1815, 1818-1872, which is clearly incorrect, because he served in the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War.

This record shows that Sarah was restored to the pension list in May of 68, meaning 1868 of course, correcting sheet June 8/69 in the amount of 3.50 per month. James was a Private. Commencement is February 3,1858, and then September 4, 1860.

The columns appear to be March and September of each year, and she is noted with 4 and 2 until in 1861, then 1, and then September of 1863, it looks like she did not receive anything. Sarah died in December of 1863, so it looks like her heirs were finally paid in full in January 1869.

What this summary record doesn’t tell us is that Sarah had been dealing with this in one form or another since 1816, shortly after James’ death. Nor does it hint at the disruption caused for these families by the Civil War. For that, we need to look at Sarah’s various applications beginning in the 1850s.

Benefit Applications

In the 1850’s, Congress passed several acts benefiting military survivors and widows. It was during that period that Sarah Clarkson applied for both James’ pension and bounty land. An act passed on September 28, 1850 provided for the granting of bounty land warrants. We know about the circumstances of James’ death because Sarah applied for both land and his pension.

According to the Treasury Department letter dated Dec. 30, 1853, James Claxton enlisted on November 8, 1814 and died on February 11, 1815. His widow, Sarah, had received a soldier’s half-pay pension of $4 per month under the Act of April 16, 1816 which was to last for 5 years, at that time. This means, of course, that James was paid $8 a month. In other words, he marched 400 miles and died at Fort Decatur for the sum of $24.

Hancock Co, State of Tennessee – On this 8th day of March 1851 personally appeared before me a JP John Riley of Hancock Co., Tn. and John Taylor of Lee Co., Va. who being duly sworn according to law declare that Sarah Clarkson is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. John Brockman in the 4th regiment of East Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Baylis – in the War with Great Britain declared by the United States of the 18th day of June 1812. That said Sarah Clarkson was married to James Clarkson decd in Russell Co. in the St. of Va on the 10th of October 1805 by one John Tate a JP in their presence, that the name of the said Sarah Clarkson before her marriage aforesaid was Sarah Cook, that her husband the said James Clarkson died at Fort Decature on the 20th of Feb. AD 1815 and that she is still a widow, and they swear that they are disinterested witnesses. Signed by both John Riley and John Taylor and witnessed by AM Fletcher. Sworn before William T. Overton JP

There’s John Riley again. A disinterested witness means that they don’t stand to benefit from the statement.

A second sworn statement is given below:

On March 8th, 1851 personally appeared before me Sarah Clarkson aged 76 years a resident of Hancock Co. Tn. who being duly sworn according to law declares that she is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock (number of regiment not recollected) regiment of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Colonel (too light to read) in the war with Great Britain declared June 18th, 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Knoxville Tn. on or about the 13th of November AD 1814 for the term of 6 months and continued in actual service as she is informed and believes in said War for the term of 3 months and 7 days and died at Fort Decatur or near there on or about the 20th of February 1815 as will appear on the muster rolls of his company on account of sickness. She further states that she was married to the said James Clarkson in Russell Co. VA on October 10th 1805 by one John Tate JP and that her name before her marriage was Sarah Cook and that her said husband died at Fort Decatur as aforesaid on the 20th of February AD 1815 and that she is still a widow. She makes this declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which she may be entitled under the act passed September 25th, 1850. Witness Fairwick Clarkson (possibly others as the bottom of page is cut off) and she makes her mark.

James Lee Claxton’s death date is given variously as February 11 and February 20, by different sources.

In another statement, Sarah gave her marriage date to James Lee Claxton as October 10, 1799 which meshes better with the births of their children. By 1805, James and Sarah were living on the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, raising a family. Their oldest son, Fairwick (Fairwix, Farwick, Farwix) Claxton/Clarkson, also my ancestor, was born in 1799 or 1800.

A third document tells us a little more about the circumstances of James death.

State of Tennessee, County of Hancock, on the 29th day of August in the year of our Lord 1853, personally appeared before me a JP within and for the county and state aforesaid. Foster Jones and Tandy Welch citizens of said state and county who being duly sworn according to law declare that they were personally acquainted with James Clarkson decd (sometimes called and written Claxton) who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock in the 4th regiment as well as recollected of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Bales in the War with Great Britain declared June 18 1812 and that the said James Clarkson (or Claxton) sickened and died before the expiration of the time for which he engaged to serve in the said war and he belonged to the said company and regiment to which we did and that we each of us have applied under the act of Sept. 28 1850 and obtained land warrants for our service in said war. Tandy Welch and Foster Jones both make their marks, AM Fletcher a witness and Stephen Thompson a witness.

Another statement indicates that both Tandy Welch and Foster Jones swore that they witnessed the death of James Claxton.

Tandy Welch, the man who was at James’ side when he died, five years later, on June 22, 1820, married James’ daughter, Mary. I wonder, did Tandy promise James, on his death bed, to take care of his family?

On November 29, 1853, personally appeared before me Mrs. Sarah Clarkston, a resident of Hancock County aged 79 years…widow of James Clarkson…married about 1799…drew 5 years half pay in 1816…obtained 40 acres of land bounty dated Sept. 22, 1853 number 92928.

One of the absolute best things about these applications is that we actually have Sarah’s signature and it’s not an X.

We also have her son, Fairwick’s signature, as well, in several locations. Now that I see this, the surname looks identical so I wonder if he signed for her. On other documents, she signed with an X.

Sarah filed another deposition in March of 1854, claiming she was entitled to 80 acres instead of 40. The 40-acre grant was canceled (a copy of the canceled certificate is in the pension file) and the 80-acre grant was approved. Sarah also received a widow’s pension of $3.50 per month. However, under the Act of Congress of February 4, 1862 her pension was suspended due to the war with the Confederate States of America. As Tennessee had seceded to join the Confederacy, all pensions payments in the state were stopped. This, combined with the effects of the war itself in Hancock County surely had to be a hardship for Sarah.

After the war had ended, Fairwix Clarkson applied for a restoration and arrears of payment on September 25, 1866. He filed as the administrator of the estate of Sarah Clarkson, who had died on December 21, 1863, at his home on the Jonesville Road. That’s some “Merry Christmas,” especially in combination with the ongoing war.

After the Civil War, on September 24, 1866, to obtain payment, Fairwick, as administrator of Sarah’s estate was required to sign an oath of allegiance, which he gladly did, I’m sure. His son, Samuel Claxton/Clarkson (below) would yet die of injuries and illness he received in the war, enlisted as a union soldier.

Missing Documents

In addition to the information, above, now available at Fold3, I’m missing the following documents:

  • Sarah started receiving James’s half pay amount under the 1816 Act, but I don’t have that 1816 application and associated paperwork. She mentions in later documents that she submitted proof of her marriage in 1816.
  • Anything between 1816 and 1851
  • I do not have the 80-acre bounty land grant, or any information about it.

One of these documents included the statement that her father was Joel Cook.

I paid an on-the-ground researcher to pull these files at the National Archives, and the records mentioned above seem to have been misfiled someplace, probably together. The only saving grace is that I know I didn’t dream it, because the documents we do have refer to earlier, now missing, documents.

James Taylor

In addition to John Riley, another family that Sarah was involved with in early Claiborne County was James Taylor. James, then living in Kentucky, also signed that he was present at her marriage.

Who was James Taylor?

According to an 1816 survey in Russell County, James Taylor’s land shared a property line with Joel Cook, at the mouth of Musick’s spring branch.

92 – August 19, 1816 – James Taylor – 330 ac – part Treasury Warrant 11962 dated May 10, 1782 – on both sides of the north fork of Clinch River – corner to a big survey of Andrew Hebourn – corner to John Wilson – corner to Hebourn, James Madison & Harris Wilson – on the west side of a gap – corner to Joel Cook – at the mouth of Musicks spring branch – corner to Abednego White – corner to Henry Bowen.

Sarah’s Burial

Although no record officially tells us, I’m positive that Sarah is buried right here, in the Claxton cemetery, where the rest of her family is found.

Sarah’s son, Fairwick is buried here, along with his son, Samuel.

Samuel’s name is misspelled for eternity as Saluel. If one couldn’t read, how would they have known? Or did they get such a good “discount” on the stone because of the error that they just decided to leave the name alone? After all, they knew who he was.


This cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is found in Claxton bend on the original Claxton land on what would then have been known as the Jonesville Road. This picture, taken from the road, shows old barn behind the cemetery.

Me, inside the cemetery one VERY hot May day.

My cousin and I were infamously trapped inside the Clarkson Cemetery by an amorous bull who wanted to add us to his harem.

Oh, the things memories are made of.

There are many fieldstone headstones and even more graves entirely unmarked.

Sarah is here someplace.

Sarah’s Life and Times

We know that Sarah endured a great deal in her lifetime, but nothing ever defeated her except the grim reaper himself, and then not until she was 88 years of age. Sarah was the epitome of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, she persisted.

Her life was incredible. She was a child during the Revolutionary War, lost her husband in the War of 1812 and lived to lose grandchildren in the Civil War, dying herself in the midst of the fighting.

During her lifetime Sarah moved across state lines and lived on the frontier when land on the Powell River was first being settled. She and James were the first settlers on Claxton’s Bend, and their choice of location would inform who their children and grandchildren would marry. There was no one else to marry except your neighbors.  That old adage about the choices of the parents affecting the children into the 7th generation holds true. My children are that 7th generation.

Not long after Sarah and James moved to Claiborne County, Sarah’s father, Joel Cook, sold the family land in Russell County and literally disappeared. It’s speculated that he went to Kentucky, but we really don’t know.

In any event, if the family ties had not already been severed when Sarah moved to Claiborne County, they surely were at that point by simple virtue of geography.

We don’t know if Sarah had any children that died young. We do know she had 8 children that lived between her marriage in October 1799 and James’s death in February of 1815. Four may have been two sets of twins, but twins that survived in that time are rare. It’s more likely that we just don’t know their accurate birth years. Keep in mind that Sarah gave conflicting information herself about the year in which she was married – and she was certainly present and old enough to remember. If she was born in 1774 or 1775, she would have been 14 or 15 when she married in 1799.

Birth and marriage years didn’t seem to matter terribly in that time and place. Close enough was good enough.

Sarah and James had 8 known children:

  • Fairwick born 1799/1800 in Virginia, died Feb. 11, 1874 in Hancock County, TN, the 59th anniversary of his father’s death. He married Agnes Muncy and had 8 children.
  • Mahala born Dec. 7, 1801 in Virginia, died March 1892 in Claiborne Co, TN, married Andrew Hurst, had 10 children.
  • Elizabeth born 1803 in TN, died May 1, 1847 in Claiborne Co., TN, married John Plank, had 11 children.
  • Mary Polly born September 4, 1803, died June 22, 1887 in Hancock Co., TN, married Tandy Welch Sr., had 17 children.
  • Susannah “Sukey” born October 11, 1808, died May 22, 1895 in Iowa, married Levi Parks, had 11 children.
  • Rebecca born December 6, 1808, died September 4, 1880 in Union Co., TN, married John Collingsworth, had 12 children.
  • Martha Patsy “Polly” born September 11, 1811, died December 23, 1898 in Claiborne County, TN, married Jacob J. “Tennessee” Parks, had 9 children.
  • Henry born ? 21, 1815, died August 1838, married Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker, had 3 children.

If Henry was indeed born in 1815, Sarah was pregnant when James marched off to war, and James never saw his son, Henry, who died young himself.

We receive information about Sarah’s children at her death from this 1868 letter detailing her son Fairwix’s attempts to obtain her War of 1812 pension payments that were suspended during the Civil War.

Sarah’s children and grandchildren here are stated as:

  • Fairwix who was loyal and who had 3 sons in the Federal Army. Samuel, Henry Avery and John – two of whom died in the war, and Samuel who died later of illness contracted during the war.
  • Mahala Hurst who left the county long before the war.
  • Polly Welch of Hancock County thoroughly loyal through the Rebellion.
  • Patsy Parks of Claiborne County – she and her family thoroughly loyal.
  • Rebecca Collingsworth of Union County who is reported as disloyal but from personal knowledge can say nothing.
  • Sukey Parks who moved to Iowa many years before the war.
  • Two children of Henry Clarkson deceased who died some 20 years ago named Edward H. and Flora A. Clarkson who were both loyal all during the war.
  • The heirs of Elizabeth Plank who died some 20 years ago and all of whose children were considered loyal.

In 1815, when James died, Sarah was 40 years old, give or take a few months, and she had 8 children at home, or 7 and 1 on the way. The oldest, Fairwick or Fairwix, was 15 or 16. The youngest, Henry, if born yet, was just a baby. It’s certainly possible that Henry was born after James’ death, meaning of course that James left a pregnant wife when he enlisted. James enlisted in November of 1814 and died in February of 1815. Henry’s birth was recorded in 1815. If Sarah became pregnant about the time James left, that tells us that Henry was born sometime before September of 1815. It’s certainly possible that Sarah was pregnant, with 7 children, when she received the devastating news that James had perished.

The younger children would have had no memory of their father.

Life couldn’t have been easy. Later depositions taken regarding the death of Fairwick gave us a glimpse into the drama that took place in these early very-interrelated family families living on the banks of the Powell River. All was not a bed of roses.

The Civil War introduced additional strife and upheaval. The families in this area were horribly divided, a rift that was to last for decades, certainly into the 20th century.  When I first visited Claiborne and Hancock Counties in the 1980s, more than 115 years after the Civil War ended, the families still identified each other by which side their “kin” had fought for in “the War.” While most of the families in this part of Hancock County fought for the Union, that wasn’t universal and almost every family had its share of “disloyal” or traitors. Of course, the definition of traitor depended on your perspective.

The division was still palpable and real in the early 1900s when these families still actively feuded and denied any relation to each other over Civil War alliances.

Sarah’s grandsons and great-grandsons marched off to war. For Sarah, this must have been a horrible déjà vu, a repeat of her James marching off to the War of 1812, never to return. Sure enough, just like James, some didn’t

In Sarah’s lifetime, two of her children died. Henry, her baby, died in August of 1838 and Elizabeth who married John Plank died in 1847.

Sarah’s grandson, James Claxton, son of Fairwick who named him for his father, James, had died by 1845, and Fairwick raised James’ 4 children. Of course, they lived next door to Sarah, so in reality, the entire family raised those children.

One of those boys that Sarah raised, William, died on May 4, 1863, serving the Union, at Camp Dennison, Ohio.

Fairwick lost 2 sons and a son-in-law during the Civil War. The Civil War was cruel to this family.

John Clarkson enlisted for the Union on March 15, 1862 and was killed on March 20, 1863 in Nashville, TN, almost 9 months to the day before Sarah died. John was likely buried near where he fell, so the family never got to bury him or say their goodbyes. For Sarah, a repeat of what happened to her beloved James.

The other two died a few months after Sarah. Perhaps she greeted them on the other side. Henry died February 2, 1864 in Louisville, KY and John Wolfe, Fairwick’s son-in-law and Sarah’s grandson-in-law, died March 16, 1864.

Before Sarah’s death, Fairwick’s other son-in-law, Calvin Wolf, had been captured in Atlanta, Georgia during a battle, also serving the Union, and was held prisoner under utterly horrific conditions at Andersonville Prison for 3 very long years. Sarah died without knowing what happened to this man, or what would become of her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren. Miraculously, somehow Calvin survived.

Sarah’s grandson, Levi Hurst, the son of Mahala Clarkson, shown above, who had married Andrew Hurst, also died in the Civil War. Levi was a Confederate and died September 18-20, 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga, three months before Sarah’s death.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Sarah to have grandchildren literally fighting each other on both sides of the war.

Mahala’s granddaughter, Charity, appears to have died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, or she married and left no trail. Mahala’s son James Hurst married Elizabeth Farmer and we lose track of him as well.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s a total of 2 grandchildren, 2 grandchildren-in-law and 1 great-grandchild killed in the un-Civil war, along with 1 who served three tortuous years as a POW.

Sarah suffered another kind of grief as well – that of departure. Her daughter, Susannah married Levi Parks about 1824. Sarah witnessed the births of 11 grandchildren, born to Susannah. The last arrival, a baby girl joined the family in 1848, just before Susannah and Levi would sell their belongings, hitch up a wagon, and head for David County, Iowa. That sweet baby girl born in 1848 would die in 1850, the first member of that family to be buried in Iowa soil. Departure was, in those days, a form of death – because Sarah and Susannah, mother and daughter, both very clearly knew that their departure was a final goodbye and they would not be reunited until after their deaths.

So, Sarah grieved the absence of Susannah and all 11 of her children, and then the death of the baby. That bad news would have arrived by letter, if Sarah ever knew at all. It’s somehow ironic that I can discover more today about what happened to Sarah’s children who moved away than Sarah could in her own lifetime.

We know less about what happened to the rest of Sarah’s children and grandchildren, but it stands to reason that those families were negatively affected by the war as well.

Sarah Cook and James Lee Claxton had 8 children and 91 grandchildren. Sarah wouldn’t have known all of her grandchildren, because daughter Susannah Parks moved to Iowa in the 1840s and Rebecca moved to Union County, TN. Two other daughters, Patsy and Mahala were living close by in neighboring Claiborne County, so Sarah probably saw them from time to time.

Mary who married Tandy Welch (cabin shown above) and their family lived close, as did Fairwick of course, who lived next door, and several of his children.

Henry, Sarah’s son, had lived just down the road, before his death, near the Edward Walker cabin, above, where his wife, Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker had lived with the Edward Walker family.

After Henry’s death, Henry’s widow, Martha, married William Claxton, son of Fairwick and moved to neighboring Claiborne County where they became estranged from the Claxton family. I told you there was drama!

Sarah said premature goodbyes to a lot of family members in her lifetime, if she got to say goodbye at all. Aside from her parents, Sarah lost her husband, several children and grandchildren to early deaths and warfare.

She was one of very few people who saw three monumental wars in her lifetime.

Sarah’s life was anything but easy and pain-free, yet, she persevered, a testament to fortitude.

Sarah’s Mitochondrial DNA

I was fortunate enough to connect with a cousin who descends from Sarah Cook Claxton through all females. I am ever so grateful to her for testing her mitochondrial DNA.

Several of her matches have taken the full sequence test, the test needed to obtain the full haplogroup designation, which allows us to narrow the scope of the geography where Sarah’s ancestors may have been found.

Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H100, meaning she is the 100th branch named in haplogroup H.

On the FamilyTreeDNA  haplogroup tree, you can see that H100 is a branch of H.

Haplogroup H100 is found in the FamilyTreeDNA  database in Ireland, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, the US and Scotland. Saudi Arabia? That’s unusual.

Our tester who descends from Sarah shows exact full sequence matches to four people, none of whom have entered their most distant ancestor information, and only one has provided a tree. Their ancestor is first found in Ohio in the 1800s.

Sarah’s descendant is fortunate to have 7 additional mutations that, along with her four exact matches, will likely form a new haplogroup together when the new mitotree is released. That should also provide a time estimate for a common ancestor which will help everyone immensely.

Sarah inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother whose name was Alsy, probably short for Alice.

Alsy was born sometime around 1750, probably in Virginia. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll have mitochondrial DNA matches to Virginia families. Then, Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA, combined with genealogy records and autosomal matches will help us break down that next brick wall.


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10 thoughts on “Sarah Cook (1774/1775-1863), Epitome of Perseverance – 52 Ancestors #386

  1. Love reading this account of your ancestor who lived in my home county. One of my cousins (a Walker) married a Cavin. I think she lives on the land you describe. Also, my ancestor, Josiah Ramsey, is mentioned. He was a justice of the peace and one of the commissioners in Claiborne County court. This Ramsey family is one of the divided families because of the Civil War.

  2. The pension papers of James Claxton who married Sarah Cook were in the same folder with the papers of James Claxton who married Temperance Rackly/Ratliff at one point. That is how the biographer of Philander Priestly Claxton (1862-1957) and Philander’s family concluded that James and Sarah were the parents of James who married Temperance. Philander was a grandson of James and Temperance.

    I am positive that is true because that is what I received when I sent for the papers of James who married Temperance. I don’t know the exact date (should be able to locate it) but it would have been after 1973 and likely before 1980.

    Depending on when you got the first set of Claxton papers and the second set and some were missing…………….

    Philander was the first United States Commissioner of Education (1911-1921). If his family had “borrowed” the papers and never brought them back, it should be no surprise.

    About the school land: the ladies who transcribed the 1836 tax list for the Bedford County, TN Historical Quarterly in 1975 said the school land was laid off in early surveys, then when it sold the purchase money went to a school fund. Later, when taxes were paid on that land, the tax money went to the school fund.

  3. Roberta, you are an inspiration. After beginning my Tennessee research, writing such as this article has inspired me to write a book about my McBees, called The McBees of Grainger County, Tennessee and Associated Families. I expect it to take some years, perhaps the rest of my life, but if I don’t do it, who will?

    • Absolutely! And you don’t have to do this all at once. Organize your info and focus on one chapter at a time. I’m excited for you and wish I had McBees in my line.

  4. Oh, Roberta, This amazing work of this ancestor hat you brought forth to us today, really touched the importance of understanding in many forms. It’s always been a thorn in my side, that my mother’s plaque, graciously arranged and paid for by one of her sister’s, has not only the wrong spelling of our last name, month, but also the wrong year. So many of our Ancestors had years wrong, as it is. You have made it clear that times and written information from as early as 1966, can be incorrect. Wars, Burned down buildings of records, and even family members who were split up due to deaths of their parents! We must be forgiving and patient. None of that changes the heart of the Ancestor and their amazing life and hard work. I feel a calm and better understanding unfolded. Thank you!

  5. Well, there’s that old synchronicity again, as a friend often remarked. I was just searching last week for a great-grandfather’s land warrants for W1812 service that cousins could never locate. An answer on WikiTree forum advised searching BLM’s General Land Office records. The ScripWarrant Acts of the 1850s authorized the GLO for their issue.

    My ancestor was quickly found, and so was Sarah:

    Sarah and her administrator assigned the warrants to others just as my ancestor did. I presume they were cashing out the lots in new western public lands. What else to do with them if you won’t move? Perhaps the assignees will be familiar to you.

    And thanks for the tip on the miscategorized dataset of W1812 pensions at

  6. Pingback: Joel Cook (c1745 – after 1805); Sold Out and Disappeared into Thin Air – 52 Ancestors #388 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  7. Loved this very interesting article! Great job, Roberta. I shared it with my other Shiflet relatives. Thank you!

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