Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Joel Braxton Mabry beat Lewis & Clark to Puget Sound?

As genealogists, we've all gone through county histories hoping to find a biography of one of our more respectable ancestors. Many such books, usually with a title along the lines of "Portrait and Biographical Record of Marion County", were published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They include a history of the county, its towns and townships, and brief biographies of the more prominent locals. Of course these aren't meant to be rigorous historical essays - they are vanity bios, meant to sell books.

While the subjects are are always described in glowing terms, the recent information is usually fairly accurate. The biographee shouldn't have had any problem supplying his birth date, name of his wife, children, and parents, and location of his business or farm. The information gets less reliable, however, the further you go back in time. It's not surprising that information about great grandpa's service in the Revolutionary War, or a description of the ancestral home village in Germany might not be accurate. Often the stories have enough of a grain of truth to be helpful in piecing together an accurate family history. Sometimes, though, the description of ancestral feats just makes me do a (figurative) double take. The biography of William C. Mabry (born 1871), is just such a history.

According to “History of Glendale and Vicinity” by John Calvin Shere (published 1922), Dr. William C. Mabry was born on October 29, 1871 in Montgomery County, Illinois, the son of William Dudley Mabry (born about 1844) and Irene Dutton (born about 1851). The Mabrys moved from Illinois to McGregor, Iowa in about 1878, where William grew up. His father was a government appointee, eventually moving to Washington D.C. to head a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department.

William Mabry was a graduate of Western Reserve Medical College in Cleveland, and served as an Army Medic for many years. He first served in the Hospital Corps during the Spanish-American War, and later served in China and the Philippines in the Army Medical service, becoming an expert in tropical diseases. After a number of years working for the Sonora Railroad Company in Mexico, he moved north to Tropico (now part of Glendale), near Los Angeles. He married his wife, Bessie Mayne, in 1904 and they had three children: Janet Elizabeth, Bettie, and William Braxton.

While that's an amazing life story, it is well within the realm of reality. What is a little harder to swallow is the description of his ancestry. According to the biography:
Robert Mabry was a Major in the Revolutionary War serving with the Virginian troops. He was a pioneer in Southern Illinois, where he became a large landowner and a man of big business. Joseph Braxton Mabry, grandfather of Dr. Mabry, was a soldier in the Mexican War. As a young man he, with an older brother, made the trip to Puget Sound, two years before the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the continent. Mabry’s Landing, a town on the Ohio River, was named after the Mabrys. They were owners and operators of a line of boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. They were large slave owners, but gave all their liberty before Illinois was admitted as a state.
There are a number of inaccuracies here.

What do we know about William C. Mabry's ancestry?

As it says in the history, William C. Mabry was the son of William Dudley and Irene (Dutton) Mabry. William Dudley and Irene were married on December 1, 1870 in Effingham County, Illinois. The family can be found living in Tama County, Iowa in the 1880 Census.

William Dudley Mabry was born in about 1844, the son of Joel Braxton Mabry and Jane Gamble Copeland. Joel and Jane were married on March 22, 1838 in Johnson County, Illinois. At about that time, Joel purchased land in Pulaski County, where the Mabry family was living when the 1850 Census was taken (at that time, Joel's borther, and our ancestor, Robert Smith Mabry, Jr. was also living with the family). Joel died in 1854 in New Orleans of yellow fever.

Joel Braxton Mabry was born on March 27, 1805 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, the son of Robert Smith Mabry and Rebecca Adams. Robert Smith Mabry married Rebecca Adams on December 6, 1799 in Pittsylvania County, Illinois. They headed west in about 1812, first settling on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, then pushing on to Marion County, Illinois in about 1827.

That sequence of ancestors - Robert -> Joel Braxton -> William Dudley -> William C. - is at least essntially correct.

Robert Mabry was a Major in the Revolutionary War serving with the Virginian troops.

The statement that Robert Mabry, great grandfather of William C. Mabry, served in the Revolutionary War can be refuted by a single fact: our Robert S. Mabry was born in 1777, one year after the Declaration of Independence was issued. While it can be fun to imagine a toddling warrior fighting the redcoats, the reality is a bit more boring. There was a different Robert Mabry (son of Nathaniel and Susannah Mabry) living in the same part of Virginia who did indeed serve as a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. Just to confuse things, this other Robert also had a wife named Rebecca.

Unfortunately the military service for Robert (son of Nathaniel) was submitted to the Daughters of the American Revolution as our Robert (son of Braxton) in the early 1900s, http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifso old copies of the DAR lineage books carrying this piece of misinformation are still floating around. That was probably William C. Mabry's source of information.

[Robert Mabry] was a pioneer in Southern Illinois, where he became a large landowner and a man of big business.

Robert Smith Mabry and family were indeed pioneers in Southern Illinois, settling in Marion County in 1827. Robert owned at least 120 acres, which may or may not have made home a "large landowner and man of big business".

Joseph Braxton Mabry . . . was a soldier in the Mexican War. As a young man he, with an older brother, made the trip to Puget Sound, two years before the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the continent.

The first inaccuracy is in the name of William's grandfather: he was Joel and not Joseph. That may have been a natural mistake, however. Robert Smith Mabry, Jr.'s son Joel appears to have gone by "Joe" and this is essentially back-translated as "Joseph" on some records. The same may be true for Joel Braxton.

Was Joel a soldier in the Mexican War? I haven't been able to find any evidence of that. The Illinois Mexican War Veterans Database lists several "Mayberrys" and a "Maybry", but none named Joel. Pulaski County, Illinois does border on Kentucky, so maybe Joel enlisted in that state.

Could he have traveled to Puget Sound before Lewis and Clark? This was the statement that drew my attention to this biography in the first place. I would say that is completely impossible. The first clear inaccuracy is that he supposedly traveled "with an older brother". While Joel did have two older sisters, Martha (Mabry) Allen and Nancy (Mabry) Bass, he was the oldest son of Robert Smith and Rebecca (Adams) Mabry. That might be a trivial issue - he could have traveled with a cousin or a younger brother, for example. A little background information about Lewis and Clark shows that this feat would have been impossible.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were chosen to head an expedition exploring the new western territory of the Louisiana Purchase by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. They reached the Pacific Ocean at mouth of the Columbia River on November 7, 1805. (The Library of Congress has an excellent exhibition on the exploration of America, both before and after Lewis and Clark.)

The problem with the story of Joel's is clear: He was less than a year old when Lewis and Clark arrived in Oregon. I am really curious as to the source of this story. Did a Mabry really make a journey to what would become Washington state in the early 19th century? Was this a tall tale that became a family legend? We may never know.

Mabry’s Landing, a town on the Ohio River, was named after the Mabrys. They were owners and operators of a line of boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

I have no idea whether this is true or not. Pulaski County is at the southern tip of Illinois, with the Ohio River forming the boundary with Kentucky. A short distance to the west, the Mississippi River forms the boundary with Missouri. (The meeting of the rivers at Cairo was made famous by Mark Twain). It's possible that there is (or was) a local feature called "Mabry's Landing".

They were large slave owners, but gave all their liberty before Illinois was admitted as a state.

It's not clear who the "they" is in this statement, other than the Mabry family. I could not find a record of Robert Smith Mabry owning slaves in either Virginia, Kentucky/Tennessee or Illinois. On top of that, Illinois became a state in 1818, about 10 years before the Mabrys arrived. The safe bet is that this statement refers to the slaves owned by the Mabrys in Virginia - including Robert's father Braxton Mabry.

Most of the description of the life of William C. Mabry's grandfather and great grandfather was either partially or wholly incorrect. It's a bit of a lesson in the pitfalls of using such biographies in genealogical research.

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1 Comments:

At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope someone will see this and make a correction. I believe there is an error in the following paragraph:
"Joel Braxton Mabry was born on March 27, 1805 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, the son of Robert Smith Mabry and Rebecca Adams. Robert Smith Mabry married Rebecca Adams on December 6, 1799 in Pittsylvania County, Illinois. They headed west in about 1812, first settling on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, then pushing on to Marion County, Illinois in about 1827."
It should say: "Robert Smith Mabry married Rebecca Adams on December 6, 1799 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia." - not "Illinois".
I am a Mabry living in Southern Illinois, and I enjoyed reading the post.

 

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