Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Elizabeth Robbins' Demons

 Having just spent a very long time and a great deal of research on a post, only to lose the whole thing following the very last sentence, I just had to step away. Step away from the subject, the road I was going down and that lane of research and topic altogether. Breathe. All due to one missed keystroke on my phone. That happens. It has happened before and in those two cases I've not yet returned, but held some of my steps in my mind. Who knows how long it will take for me to want to take those same steps again?

Instead, I will return to a series I have been back and forth on a few times. I call it the "Bad Girls of Stanly County." It's good to be back home. The 'bad girls' were the rare females who showed up as defendants in the early courtrooms of Stanly County, North Carolina. Some appeared over and over, others only once. Occasionally, women appeared in Civil proceedings, challenging inheritances, dower rights, tenant contracts and the such. These were not the bad girls. The bad girls were those who stepped outside the boundaries of proper behavior for ladies of the 19th century. Sometimes they were drunk and disorderly, sometimes they even went to brawling. Most of the time, the offenses had to do with the control, or lack of it, of their sexuality, adultery, fornication, or giving birth to a child out of wedlock. A few even ran 'bawdy houses', or dens of iniquity, a place where immoral or illegal things happened. 

The genealogical importance of these events come in the form of brickwalls in family trees. Children born out of wedlock, most of the time, took the surname of their single mother. Occasionally, the individual would go by different surnames at different times in their life, making it difficult for those trying to build their family tree. Some ill-begotten folks would even invent an imaginary father, usually "John", to disguise their shame of not having a father and use it on their legal documentation, their spouse and future children never knowing the difference. And then comes DNA testing and all those old secrets coming spilling out.

For this post, I have returned to an old list, made over a year ago, and a few individuals in my own family tree.

The simplest way to explain Bastardy Bonds to a novice to old court records is that they are the antiquated form of child support. The scrofulous word used to describe them, simply meant, in its day, a child born out of legal wedlock, which  was considered a shameful thing to be. The thing colors the word, the word doesn't color the thing, a fact modern society seems to have forgotten. They keep printing up new terminolgy to refer to something, to make it more, um, palatable, 'a rose by any other name.' In time, the new terminology becomes unusable because it is offensive, as it describes 'the thing', and they have to create new, unoffensive terminology again, and that new term will also become offensive in time. The cycle repeats itself.

John T. Honeycutt, (1803 - 1878) was my 4th Great Grandfather. I don't know for certain who his parents were, despite the several guesses of other researchers. There were more than a few Honeycutts in early Stanly County and how they were related to one another has not been nailed down to my knowledge. That's a mountain I haven't climbed. I have been able to find mention of John, himself, in a number of places and had always thought of him as a good and decent man. 

It was John who owned the  land where Liberty Hill Baptist Church near Red Cross in western Stanly County was originally built, a church co-founded by another of my ancestors, the Rev. John Lambert. The current building is directly across the road from where the original building stood, so that gives me a general idea of where John Honeycutt lived. 

Liberty Hill Baptist Church in Stanly County, NC 

You can imagine my surprise, when, while perusing the bastardy bonds of Stanly County, NC from the 1850's, looking for something else, for someone else, I came across the following entry.

The ancient script is a little difficult to read, and was written in 19th century legalese, so, I will translate a few of them. Above, the mostly printed document stated that John and George Huneycutt were held and firmly bound to a bond of 500 hundred dollars, a significant amount of money in those days. The bond was for an Obligation that John Huneycutt was the reputed father of a Baseborn child begat upon the body of Elizabeth Robbins, a single woman of Stanly County, a fact he did not deny. John Huneycutt and Elizabeth Robbins had concieved a child out of wedlock. The year was 1853.

Following are several excepts from the same group of documents.

Basically, in November of 1853, John Huneycutt had been taken to court to answer to the charge of Bastardy.

He had given bond, along with George Huneycutt, in order to support the illegitimate child for at least the first 5 to 7 years of its life. 

George D.Whitley was the Justice of the Peace hearing the motion.

Bonds were given and plans were made and all parties went on to live and the child was provided for, for a time.

The question remained, which John Huneycutt and who was Elizabeth Robbins?

John Huneycutt, my 4th Great Grandfather first shows up in census records in 1830 and by that time, he is a young man with a wife and 3 small children under 5, two boys and a girl. No marriage record is found, but it can be easily assumed he married around 1825. His neighborhood was typical west Stanly names, Tucker, Efird, Furr, Crisco, Little. A Great to some degree Uncle of mine is also listed on the same page, Frederick Lambert, who ends up moving to Mississppi. 

John and his wife Sylvia, grow their family. There appears to have been at least one child who was lost before 1850, when they were named, which was typical of the times, but they appear to have brought in to the world a pretty healthy brood, as 11 children made it to adulthood. These were:

1) Frances Caroline (1827-1903)
2) George Washington (1828-1907)
3Charles McKinley (1830-1910)
4) John Timothy (1832-1892)
5) Asberry Franklin (1837-1912)
6) Ephraim E. (1839-1935)
7) Eben Zebulon ( 1842 - 1863)
8) Sylvia Samira (1844-1916)
9) Mariah Priscilla (1846-1887)
10) David Levi (1848-1893)
11) Eli Filmore (1850-1922)

Of these, Charles McKinley, known as "Kin" or "Ken', is my line and my 3rd Great Grandfather. He, his sister Fanny ,and brother, George, were the three children who would have been in the 1830 census. Next came John Timothy "Jackson" Huneycutt, the fourth born. In 1853, John Timothy would have been a 21 year old man, young and full of vinegar and spit. His father, notably pious, would have been a time-worn 50 year old. Older brother George also gave bond on this situation, to help John, whom I believe was John the younger. It makes more sense. 

So, who was Elizabeth Robbins?

In the early records of Stanly County Superior Court, in 1843, the estate of one Isham Robbins was settled. His will was mostly one full of religious rhetoric and prayer, but after about 3 paragraphs of behailing the Lord, Isham finally names his wife, Fanny, short for Francis,  as the recipient of all his wordly goods and names John Huneycutt as the executor of his Will. Isham Robbins does not appear in one census record of Stanly County, or in the 1840 one of Montgomery, which is where the citizens of Stanly, which didn't exist until 1841, were enumerated. Oddly, he is listed in the very first tax record of Stanly County, in 1841, with 100 acres of Cucumber Creek. There is no record of him purchasing this land. Four years later, in the 1845 Tax List, his widow, Frances, is shown with 100 acres of property on Bear Creek, and their son, Solomon F. Robbins, is shown with 125 acres on Stony Run Creek. Of note, John Huneycutt, in this same list, is shown with 300 acres on Stonly Run.

Isham Robbins and wife, Francis had two known children, Solomon Franklin Robbins, born in 1826, and Elizabeth "Betsy" Robbins, born in 1823. Solomon had married Sarah Hinson, daughter of William F. or T. Hinson and wife, Martha Curlee Hinson, in the late 1840's. Elizabeth never married. 

Betsy Robbins was already a tainted woman by the time she had a child with John Timothy Huneycutt. In the August, 1849 Session of Stanly County Superior Court, we find this entry:

'Samuel Coley, reputed father of baseborn child begot of Elizabeth Robbins gave bond of $500 for maintenance of said child with G. M. Sides, S. F. Robbins, Hardy Hatley and J. C. Kennedy as securities." 

Betsy's brother and some of their neighbors had agreed, together to help support this child with Sam Coley. It was unusual to see the name of J. C. (Jordon) Kennedy, as the very next paragraph had found him in the very same situation with a child born of Sarah Smith.

Sam Coley (1818-1901), was a man about 5 years older than Betsy and had lived in the same general area. The twist was that when he had the trist with Betsy Robbins, he had been married to the former Martha Eudy for about 5 years and was already the father of 3 children with 6 more, by his wife, to follow. Lyndsey, the son of Sam Coley and Betsy Robbins, was born the year between Coley number 3 and Coley number 4. Such was the life in mid 19th century Bick Lick Township. 

The 1850 and 1860 census records for the Huneycutts and Robbins have to be seen together to understand what was going on.

In 1850, we see the Charles Cagle household, followed by the John Huneycutt household. In the John Huneycutt household is 17 year old MaryAnn Burris, who will marry his son, Charles McKinley and become my third great grandparents. MaryAnn or Anna, was the daughter of Susan Honeycutt and Joshua Christian Burris, who was a man with many mistresses. I believe Susan was a sister of John's, making Mary Anna his niece. 

Listed after Mary Ann Burris is a 70 year old Frances Huneycutt, with Elizabeth 27, and 'Linda' (actually Lyndsey), in the home. Following them is George W. Huneycutt, John's son, who is already married, and working as laborer on his father's farm. John T. is 18 years old at this time.

In 1860. is the Charles Cagle household followed by the John and Sylvia Honeycutt household. Several more of the children are know adults. They are followed by the household of 80 year old Fanny (Frances) Robbins, Betsy, (Elizabeth), now 36, and her two sons, Lyndsey (fathered by Sam Coley) and Greene, (fathered by John Huneycutt).  After them is Susy (Susan) Huneycutt, 55, whom I believe was John's sister, and her youngest daughter, Syliva, 18. Susan had a son, Joshua and I believe another son , John, who are shown as being bound out, as Mary Anna was, in the early court records. Sylva, at 18, seems to have stayed with her mother, and reveals the name of her father, J. C. Burris, on her documents. 

It's easy to see that Fanny and Betsey "Honeycutt" of 1850 were actually Fanny and Betsy Robbins of 1860.
Why were they enumerated as Huneycutts in 1850? What was the exact relationship of the Robbins and the Honeycutt family, beyond that of John II and Betsy?

Another oddity is the appearance of a 14 year old Fanny Robbins in the home of Susy Honeycutt, who was a tenant of John (and likely sister). Who was this? Solomon Franklin Robbins had a daughter named Frances Caroline, who is shown as a 9 year old in the home of her mother, Sarah, in 1860. She marries Robert Cagle, son of the above mentioned Charles. Was this the same girl, and the census taker was off on her age? Was she visiting her grandmother, whom she was named for and just happened to be in Susy's house, on the same farm? Or was this a different girl altogether? Was she the daughter of Betsy, maybe? She wasn't anywhere in 1850, and she is not shown again, unless she was Solomon's child. And in case you missed it, the oldest daughter of John and Sylvia Honeycutt was also named Frances Caroline. Was this a clue?

Fanny Robbins, the older lady, was Frances Caroline Whitley Robbins, daughter of George Whitley II. I've read several accounts of the Whitley family, and they all give her a death date of 1858, yet, here she was, counted in the 1860 census. The particular place I found this information was "George Whitley Family", compiled by Walter Charles Whitley of Little Rock, Arkansas. 
Fanny was not in the 1870 census. 

Also not in the 1870 census was her grandson, Lindsey Robbins, son of Betsy and Sam Coley. 

Name:Linsey Robbins
Estimated Birth Year:abt 1853
Birth Place:North Carolina, USA
Death Date:Feb 1870
Cause of Death:Pneumonia
Census year:1870
Census Place:Big Lick, Stanly, North Carolina, USA

Lyndsey died of pneumonia in February of that year at age 17, according to the Mortality Schedule. It would have been nice if they had kept a mortality schedule for every year.

With her mother and oldest son dead, Elizabeth and her younger son, Green, took refuge with the Borroughs or Burris family.

Elizabeth was found living with the Davidson Burroughs family, while Green, 14, was in the home of J.C. Burroughs, previously mentioned.

Her brother, Solomon Robbins was still alive and has a story of his own, but as for Green and his mother Betsy, they disappeared to be seen no more. Or did they? 

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