Saturday, September 10, 2016

My Ancestor, George Washington Spencer

This post told the story of my third great grandfather, Cornelius Spencer. He lived most of his life in Daviess County, Kentucky, on a farm in the tiny farming community Pellville. That's just outside of Knottsville, by the way. Daviess County is on the Ohio River, with Spencer County, Indiana, bordering to the north (Spencer County's largest town, you should know, is Santa Claus, Indiana). Pellville is also just 80 miles to the west of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln (Hogdenville, Kentucky), and about 30 miles to the north of Rosine, Kentucky, the birthplace of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.

The eldest son of Cornelius Spencer, my second great grand father, was George Washington Spencer.
George was born on December 18, 1838 in Bullitt County, but the family was in Daviess County by 1841 or 1844 (conflicting evidence here). Wikipedia tells us that Knottsville's first schoolhouse opened in 1854, so  G.W. may have had no formal schooling. Like his father, Cornelius, who signed his last will and testament with an X, he may have been illiterate. It should be noted, however, that a brief biography of G. W. from the Daviess Conty Atlas of 1876 states that he had a "common school" education ("common" being the 19th century equivalent of a public school).

In any case he seems to have prospered. The 1876 publication of "An Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Daviess County, Kentucky" (see it at the David Rumsey Map Collection, here) lists him as a patron, and its map of the Knottsville Precinct (here) shows his farm of 140 acres near the eastern border, just south of the 75 acre farm of his father, Cornelius (listed on the map as Geo. W. and C. Spencer).

G.W. got married to Sarah Early when he was just 18 years old, in February of 1857. The interesting thing is that his younger brother, William, marries Sarah Early's sister, Susan, around the same time. So the two Spencer brothers married the Early sisters, which mirrors what their father and his brother did, marrying the Bess sisters.

In the 1860 census George and Sarah are still living with Cornelius and family. In 1862 their first son, William Wellington, is born. Elizabeth (Eliza Jane) would follow in 1863. On July 1 of 1863 George and his younger brother William signed up for the draft. They probably didn't know yet of the battle of Gettysburg, which was just beginning on that date. Their enrollment on this date was no doubt in response to the infamous Enrollment Act of 1863, which led to the New York City draft riots just two weeks later.

I have no knowledge of the nature of George and William's service in the war. But it's probably safe to say they were lukewarm as to the Northern cause. This was a family, after all, whose roots went back to Virginia.
Strong emotional ties to the South made many Daviess County residents supporters of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. The county gained a reputation as a hotbed of rebellion, although most residents preferred a neutral position and opposed only Lincoln and the prospect of emancipation. Lincoln and the Republicans could attract only seven votes in Daviess in the election of 1860, as a majority of voters maintained the county's former Whig allegiance by voting for the candidate of the Constitutional Union party. [see The Paper Trail of the Civil War in Kentucky 1861 -1865]
In 1866 George and Sarah's third child, James Cornelius, is born. That would be my great grandfather. I'll post a little about him in the future.

As mentioned above, George W. is listed in the 1876 Daviess County Atlas as a patron, and in his brief bio he is depicted as a prosperous and respected citizen. But only one year later he would die tragically in a tree cutting accident on his farm at the age of 38. He was buried in the Pellville Cemetery near his mother, Dorothy.

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