Monday, January 6, 2020

The Ghost of Gazzain Harwell

When we see a simple document of a family living in a particular place at a particular time, in can sometimes be reasoned that they lived a resolute existence, that they were a common people in a simple time.


The Times-Argus
Selma, Alabama
27 Oct 1876, Fri  •  Page 3

I recently completed a post on Asa Henson. Well, completed is not the word. That bulky, haunted thing that refused to be published. The "ghost in the machine" that cause me to keep losing everything I had added past the last word of the current post, well, number actually "1876". I tried 4 times to publish that thing and my computer refused. So I cleaned up the computer, deleted a large numbers of files, etc and that didn't work. I tried to publish it on my phone. That didn't work.

That's when I figured out that there must be something within the post that would not allow me to publish. Some map, document or clipping that I had added for illustration, or just a break in words, was just too much for the poor thing to hold. So I chopped it up like a plastic surgeon on a 40 year old Kardashian. After a time away, I discovered that somehow, someway, the blasted thing had published itself. Perhaps the computer kept "trying" and after I had chop-suey'd the thing into an erract text-laden thing that it has became, and finally succeeded. But that doesn't explain why it refused to save everything after '1876'.

But I'm done with it. I'm not touching it. It's out there in the stratosphere in it's current state and that is how it will remain. This post is an attempt to see if it is haunted by the ghost of Gazzain Harwell.

Image result for Rocky river, union, anson, stanly

1876 was the year that Asa Henson died. September 14, 1876, to be exact. He was born on September 5, 1799 in Montgomery County, North Carolina, so he had just celebrated his 77th birthday when his spirit and body parted. I believe him to have been born in that part of Montgomery County that became Stanly County in 1841, along the Rocky River, near where the border of Anson and Union Counties meet on the other side. As a young man, he relocated to Perry County, Alabama along with a great deal of other families from the same area of "Upper Anson". In 1823, he married there a young widow who was in Anson County, alone with her two little girls, in the 1820 census. Land records tell us her families property straddled the Anson and Union County border. There was a family of Hinson/Hensons that had settled just across that border in what is now Stanly County, and I believe old Asa was related to that family.

Image result for union, anson, stanly border

Seventy-seven was a good old age to reach in the 19th century with its many maladies and primitive medical treatment. Few people made it that far. But Asa didn't die of natural causes. He was murdered.

The Weekly Advertiser
Montgomery, Alabama
25 Oct 1876, Wed  •  Page 3

Asa had moved more in his life, from Perry to Sumter to Choctaw to Clarke Counties in the same general area of  West-Central Alabama. He'd had two sons with his first wife, Penelope, and when she died, he in his 50's, had married a petite, pretty young girl named Emeline Elkins who was but 17 years old. Three daughters were born into the marriage, but it was not a happy one. Emeline wanted out and by 30, she was free and moved to Louisiana to live near her oldest brother. Asa remarried to a twice widowed lady more his own age, only 18 years his junior, named Elizabeth.

Image result for perry, choctaw, clarke counties, alabama
Where the counties Asa Henson lived in were in connection with each other in Alabama.

The newspapers do not report what Asa Henson was doing in Leake County, Mississippi. Perhaps he was there on business, or visiting family, as some Hensons did live there. Relation or not, unknown. His last known residence was, however, Clarke County, Alabama, and that's where his widow, Elizabeth, was buried in 1892.

Name:Elizabeth Henson
Birth Date:26 May 1818
Death Date:7 Feb 1892
Death Place:Clarke County, Alabama, United States of America
Cemetery:Stave Creek Baptist Church Cemetery
Burial or Cremation Place:Clarke County, Alabama, United States of America
Has Bio?:N

Stave Creek Baptist Church still exists and is still an active church. They do not have Asa listed as being buried there, but his stone may no longer exist or be legible. It's unknown where he was buried.


Jackson, Mississippi
17 Oct 1876, Tue  •  Page 3

There seemed to be no doubt among the authorities who had killed Asa Henson, and a reward was put out for his capture. Many newspapers reported the murder and the reward for the killer, and all told pretty much the same story. What they didn't tell was why Harwell had shot Henson. Did he chase he down? Did he know him or not? Was it a vendetta? Was it a robbery? What they did tell was that Harwell was from Choctaw County, Alabama where Asa Henson had lived before following his son John W. Henson to Clarke County. They also said he was 26, in 1876, meaning he was born about 1850.

Image result for Leake county, Ms to choctaw county al

The above map shows the location of Leake County in Mississipi. It's not a border county with Choctaw County, Alabama, but pretty much due northwest from there. Modern maps say they're a two hour drive from each other, 104 miles give or take. A day's travel back then, or perhaps there was a train.

But there was only one person who fit the description of the G. W. Harwell born around 1850 who was from Choctaw County, Alabama.

Name:Washington Harwell
Marriage Date:18 Oct 1843
Marriage Place:Sumter, Alabama, USA
Spouse:Rachel Abney

Washington Harwell had married his bride, Rachel Abney, from South Carolina in Sumter County, Alabama, in 1843. By 1850, they had relocated their young family to neighboring Choctaw County. At that time the family consisted of oldest son Thomas Benton, listed only as Benton, age 6, and daughters Vashti, 5 and Ophelia 2. Rachel was probably expecting their 4th child, a son with the unusual name of "Gazzain", that I discovered was an uncommon, but existant, surname, perhaps in one of their family trees. Probably the Abney line from what I can gather.

Name:W Harwell
Birth Year:abt 1812
Birth Place:Alabama
Home in 1860:Northern Division, Choctaw, Alabama
Post Office:Butler
Dwelling Number:97
Family Number:98
Real Estate Value:6000
Personal Estate Value:6500
Household Members:
W Harwell48
R Harwell33
Benton Harwell14
Vashti Harwell13
G Harwell10
Amzie Harwell7

By 1860, their fifth and last child, a son named Amzie, had joined them and Ophelia was no where to be found, probably dying as a child.

Then comes the Civil War. Washington, with a given age of 52, joins the Alabama Volunteer Infantry as a Private under Joshua Morse in March of 1861. By May of that year, he musters in Memphis, Tennessee. A year later, he is entered into the hospital there with pnuemonia on March 16,  1862. A week later, he dies of chronic diarreha and in 1864, his widow Rachel makes claim to his pay due.

Oldest son, Thomas Benton Harwell also served in the War, entering at a later date, probably near the very end. He was also an Infantryman and was captured at "Taylors Ford", in what state, I could not find. I also could not find if he was conscripted, volunteered, or hired on as a substitute. What I do know is that we was taken as a Prisoner of War to Point Lookout, Maryland. There, in 1865, he signed an Oath of Allegiance and was released in July 1865 at New Bern, North Carolina, where a good number of prisoner exchanges on both sides took place. From there, he disappears. Did he die attempting to make it home? Did he relocate altogether? All I know is that his military papers state he was released alive and then he is not more and does not show back up with his family or to his homeland.

Image result for new bern nc during the civil war
The 45th Massachusetts Infantry in New Bern.

In 1870, Rachel is living with her 2 youngest sons, Gazzain and Amzie, two houses from her married daughter, Vashtie, now Mrs. Jesse Kelly, in Butler.

Name:Rachel Harwell
Age in 1870:50
Birth Year:abt 1820
Dwelling Number:377
Home in 1870:Township 15, Choctaw, Alabama
Post Office:Butler
Occupation:Keeping House
Cannot Read:Y
Cannot Write:Y
Disability Condition:Y
Personal Estate Value:200
Real Estate Value:500
Inferred Children:Gazzain Harwell
Amzi Harwell
Household Members:
Rachel Harwell50
Gazzain Harwell19
Amzi Harwell14

And this is the last we see or hear of Gazzain W Harwell. He changes his name, most likely, and disappears into the wild wild west, most likely.

The only one of Washington and Rachel's children to have descendants, that I know of, Vashit, moves with her husband Jesse to Texas, whether out of shame or economic reasons, I don't know.

Name:Rachel Harwell
Birth Date:Abt 1812
Birthplace:South Carolina
Home in 1880:Precinct 4, Sabine, Texas, USA
House Number:72
Dwelling Number:80
Relation to Head of House:Mother
Marital status:Widowed
Father's Birthplace:South Carolina
Mother's Birthplace:North Carolina
Occupation:Keeps House
Cannot Read:Yes
Cannot Write:Yes
Household Members:
Amozie Harwell24
Rachel Harwell68

Rachel and Amzie follow and are found in Sabine in Gregg County in 1880. Amzie is found in the 1880 agricultural schedule, and that is the last I can find of him. He may have died in Texas, sometime before 1900. There is no record of him ever having married. His mother, on the other hand, died that year. Her body was returned to Choctaw County where she was buried in the Harwell Family Cemetery in the unincorparated community of Bladen Springs.

Name:Rachel Harwell
Birth Date:7 Jul 1811
Death Date:1880
Cemetery:Harwell Family Cemetery
Burial or Cremation Place:Bladon Springs, Choctaw County, Alabama, United States of America
Has Bio?:Y
Father:Nathaniel Abney
Mother:Eleanor E. Abney

Hers is one of only two graves recorded there, although there are many presently unmarked ones. The other is that of Amanda Huber Harwell, wife of Washington's brother, Ransom, who died in 1869.

Bladen Springs

Bladen Springs, once a typical mineral springs resort around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, is now an Alabama State Park. The above link is some information on the area from The Harwell property sat of Sea Warrior Creek.

While trying to find any report in the papers that G. W. Harwell had ever been caught, tried or killed, I came across the below articles, which I thought, at first, may have been him. Turns out it wasn't. But they were related. And the story of James H. Harwell is even more interesting than that of the bad-footed, scrawny, scraggily bearded killer of Asa Henson.

Birmingham Iron Age
Birmingham, Alabama
12 Jan 1881, Wed  •  Page 3

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