Sunday, October 25, 2015


"I, James Michael, do hereby report in conformity to the acts of Congress relative to Naturalization that I was born in the Parish of Soumagne on the river Schelde in the Kingdom of Holland, subject to the Dominion of the Crown of Holland, and that I migrated on the thirteenth day of April A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen directly from Flanders to Anapolis [sic] in the State of Maryland, United States of America which place I landed at on the twentieth day of August A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen and that it is my intention to settle in the State of Missouri and that I am twenty-seven years old." 
Source: August 17, 1823, Court records, Perry County, Missouri

What little we know about James Michael's early life comes from this record. If his age here is correct, he was born in 1796. Later records show that he may have been born as early as 1793. "Michael" was the Americanized version of his name, which was probably "Michel" or "Michiel." Many variations of the spelling are found among the records of James and his descendants.

He is only one of a handful Belgians living in Missouri in the 1820s. His reason for migrating there at that time is a mystery. From the time James was a small child, Europe had been engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and Belgium was occupied by the armies of Napoleon in 1814. After the battle at Waterloo, in 1815, the country, which was predominantly Catholic, was placed under the rule of the King of Holland, a Protestant. Dutch replaced French as the national language. Belgian missionaries, Father Nerinkx and Father de la Croix had been in Missouri, and stories of them may have traveled back to Belgium. Perhaps this was what inspired the young James to board a ship in April for the grueling four-month voyage across the Atlantic to America. And grueling it was, as in this account of the difficulties of transatlantic travel by an Irish immigrant to Canada in 1817. It was just one year before James Michael made his trip to America.

May 26th, 1817 [11 days at sea] -
"Being much afflicted with sickness these few days past, I have been unable to write, but thanks be to God, now feel better. I never witnessed such a scene before as the storm which we had on Friday night. About eleven o'clock, the captain being just gone to bed, it began; on which he immediately got on deck and ordered all the sails down, which being done, restrained the motion of the vessel; nothing could equal the awful change that took place-the vessel rolled from side to side, and overturned all the passengers' boxes, pans, kettles, and vessels of water, in such a manner as that no tongue can express, or mind conceive the state we were in-all, I may say, expected every moment to be swallowed in the great deep. My mind was seriously impressed on the occasion, but my whole soul was stayed on god. The captain had, by his own account, three dozen of plates broken, besides several bottles of porter. This storm continued partly till Sunday evening."
Source: Dublin to Quebec on the Mary and Bell, 1817. From Narrative of a Voyage from Dublin to Quebec, in North America, by James Wilson, 1822, CIHM #63247

It appears that after arriving in Annapolis, Maryland, in August of 1818, James headed straight for Missouri, which was still two years from statehood. He made his new home in the part of the Ste. Genevieve District that became Perry County in 1821. James quickly ingratiated himself into the community. He was married shortly after his arrival in Missouri to Susannah Layton and their first child was born in 1820. 

"James Michael(s) m. Susanna Layton, b. ca 1800, by 1820, dau. of John Layton and Monica French."   
Source: 1823 Parish Census of St. Mary's of the Barrens Congregation

Susannah's parents were John Layton and Monica French, who were originally from Maryland and had migrated to Kentucky with the group which have come to be known as the "Maryland Catholics." Susannah was born in Washington County, Kentucky, and moved to Missouri with her family about 1810. They settled on a Spanish land grant, most of which today is within the town of Perryville near the Seminary church. John Layton was a Justice of the Peace, and was involved laying out the county roads and the town of Perryville. He was selected by the Governor to represent Perry County in the State Legislature in 1836.

Unlike most other early settlers in this area, James Michael was not a farmer. In 1828 he is shown on the tax list with 50 acres, probably deeded to him by his father-in-law. In his homeland, the River Schelde in Belgium was known as a major shipping and trade route even in the early 19th century. In 1836, James received a grocer's license, and in 1841 he was licensed to operate an inn and tavern. In the 1850 census, he is listed as a "tavern keeper" living in a dwelling identified as a "hotel" in Cinque Hommes township. Although it is never mentioned, Susannah was probably very active in running the business as well, taking care of the housekeeping and seeing to the needs of travelers. 

James Michael was likely a most accommodating innkeeper, so much so that it got him into trouble a couple of times. In 1832, he was indicted for "suffering a card table to be used in his house." The indictment was dropped at the next session of the circuit court. In 1841 he got into trouble with the law again, this time for selling liquor without a license. Attempts to quash the indictment this time were unsuccessful, and he was tried by a jury of twelve "good and lawful men who being elected tried and duly sworn," found him guilty. After a couple of attempts to get the verdict overturned, presumably he paid the twenty dollar fine.

January 10, 1841 was a date the family would never forget, for that was the day that Mary Maddock Layton was murdered. Mary was the daughter of Richard Maddock and Elizabeth O'Connor, and had come to Missouri with her family from Ireland between 1815 and 1830. She became the sister-in-law of James and Susannah when she married Susannah's brother, James Layton, in 1832. Mary and James Layton had five children over the next eight years, and she was expecting her sixth when she was brutally killed by her husband. He attempted to escape justice, but was eventually captured, convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

"At that time [bef. 1845] most of the Perry County Circuit Court practice was done by non-resident attorneys. However, the James Layton murder case came up in 1841. Albert Jackson of Cape Girardeau County was then Circuit Attorney and Edward M. Holden was employed by Layton as the attorney for the defense. This was a savagely cruel wife murder case. Layton obtained two continuances, and finally a change of venue to St. Francois County. This so infuriated the masses of the people that a vast mob composed of Perry County men augmented by citizens of Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois Counties marched to Farmington, took possession of Layton and hanged him and riddled his body with bullets."  
The Centennial History of Perry County, Missouri, 1921.

This drama had lasted three years, and the Layton family were severely affected by it. Some of the Laytons left Missouri and moved to Texas, and it is speculated that Susannah's father, John Layton, at age 69, was one of them. The diarist, Archibald Little Hager, recorded in April 1846, "Theire was a sale at John Laytons" and "John Layton started to the Texes [sic]."

James and Susannah Michael remained in Perry County and raised a family of ten children. They were married until James' death in December 1857 at the age of 64. Susannah outlived him by fourteen years. 

In 1860, Susannah was living with two of her sons, William and Amatus Michaels. Her daughter, Theresa Michaels Doerr lived next door, which was fortunate. When her son-in-law, Philip Doerr, died suddenly in 1861, Susannah was there to help Theresa and her six grandchildren. Susannah Layton Michael died on the last day of the year 1870.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Perry County Republican, Perryville, Missouri, 1903
           On the 17 of June, 1843, now a little less than 60 years ago, the first, and so far as I have been able to learn, the only lynching that St. Francois county ever indulged in occurred in Farmington. The tragic occurrence is only remembered, not only by the writer, but by many of the older residents of the county still living. The event that led an outraged public to take the execution of the law into their own hands on this occasion may be briefly stated as follows--
          On the night of the 10th of January, 1841, James Layton, a dissolute, worthless character, living in Perry county, came home drunk and drove his wife and little son out into the winter night and storm. Mrs. Layton, who was Layton's second wife, was at the time, about to become a mother, and her little stepson attempted to make their way through the darkness to a neighbors. But she was persued by the drunk-maddened demon, who overtook her and the child as they were crouching over and trying to warm themselves by the embers, where some laborers had been burning brush in a clearing during the day.
          Seizing one of the green sticks that had been burned to a sharp point, at the first blow he struck down his helpless and unresisting victim and continued to beat her until life was extinct.   Then, with brutality from which an ordinary savage would have turned from in horror, he thrust the pointed club through her body and thus literally pinned to the earth his wife and unborn child.
          Layton at once fled, leaving his little boy, who had been a witness of the whole horrible affair, alone with his dead stepmother. The child made his way to a neighbor's house and related the tragic story. 
          The next mourning [sic] the neighbors flocked to the scene of the tragedy and were horrified by what they saw. Though at that time the telegraph was unknown and the newspapers were few and far between, the news spread quickly over Perry and all the adjoining counties. 
          It was, nevertheless, nearly a year before Layton was arrested. He was found in hiding in Wayne county and brought back to Perry where he was put on trial, charged with murder in the first degree. 
          His own son, the little 9-year-old boy, who fled with his mother on the fatal night was the only witness put on the stand. But so clear and convincing was his story that no cross-questioning of the lawyers could confuse or shake it, and upon the conclusion of the trial the jury was scarcely 10 minutes in bringing a unanimous verdict of guilty. 
          The interest in the case instead of dying out, had increased, and now that sentence had been passed on the wretch the whole country breathed easier in the belief that justice at last was about to be meted out to the wife murderer. 
          But on an appeal which Layton's lawyer took to the supreme court the judgment of the trial court was set aside and the case remanded for a new trial. Then followed another tedious delay, during which the case was brought on a change of venue to St. Francois county. 
          At the May term of court, 1843, the case came up for trial the second time, and as before Layton's little son was the only witness called, but on his testimony the father was again convicted and sentenced to death on the 17th of June following. 
          Owing to the peculiarly atrocious features of the murder and the long delay that had already followed its perpetration, the deepest interest was felt in the approaching execution.   By 10 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, fully 3,000 people, many of whom had come 20 or 30 miles, were assembled in and about the public square in the then little village of Farmington, all eager to witness the execution. 
          The jail in which the prisoner was confined was a two-story log structure, the first story being built with triple walls.   Access to this "dungeon," as it was called, could only be had by a flight of stairs on the outside to the second story, from which the entrance was made by a trapdoor near the middle of the floor. Through this the jailer descended by means of a movable ladder, which was drawn up after being used, and the heavy trap-door shut and securely locked.   
[Old jail at Farmington -- Click to see a larger view]
          Around this dingy little building the people crowded, each morbidly eager to see the culprit when he should be brought to his death. At a few minutes after 11 o'clock the sheriff with considerable effort crowded his way through the dense mass of humanity to the foot of the stairway that led to the jail. 
          As he ascended the stairs it was observed that he held a paper in his hand and it was taken for granted that this was the death warrant and as soon as it was read to the prisoner he would be brought out and the execution would at once take place. 
          On reaching the top of the stair, however he paused, turned toward the crowd and waved the paper above his head to attract attention. Amid almost breathless silence he announced to the crowd that the paper he held in his hand, and which he had but a few minutes before received from the governor, contained an order for a stay of execution for 30 days. 
          The effect of this announcement was keen disappointment and was quickly succeeded by a feeling of deep indignation, and as the honest farmers recalled the mutilated form of that young wife and her unborn babe the appeal to their manhood was too strong to be surpressed, and what at first was only murmur of dissatisfaction in a few minutes swelled into a roar of indignation that would be satisfied with nothing short of life. 
          No one knew how or by what process the determination was reached, but in a few minutes it was universally understood that the jail was to be forced and the prisoner handed without further delay. A few of the more conservative citizens pleaded with the mob to allow the law to take its course, and in deference to this suggestion a vote was ordered and all in favor of hanging were requested to take one side of the square while those opposed were to take the other. 
          It was found that an overwhelming majority were in favor of hanging. In another minute a rush was made for the jail, and with heavy iron bars and sledge hammers the door was soon beaten down. The trapdoor to the "dungeon" was next pried up and half a dozen of the lynchers descended, and having tied the prisoner's hands behind him and placed a rope around his neck they carried the trembling wretch bodily up the ladder to the second floor and out on the platform at the head of the stairs. 
          An open buggy, from which the horse had been unhitched, was backed up to the foot of the stairs, and in this the victim of the mob's vengeance was placed and willing hands took hold of the shafts and rapidly drew the vehicle under the rude gallows tree improvised for the occasion. At this juncture the culprit was given opportunity to speak but on his declining to avail himself of it the rope was thrown over the beam and secured and the buggy was quickly drawn from under. The body swung back and forth for several minutes and then was still. 
          The brutal murder of Mary Layton was avenged.  The crowd quickly dispersed, the body was cut down and buried, and during the 70 years that have elapsed since then St. Francois county has not felt again called upon to usurp the prerogative of the constituted authority, and it is safe to say that but for law's delay this lynching would not have been charged to her account.

            Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2015


Incident of a Breach of Promise Suit at Bakersfield

Bakersfield, Cal., Oct. 14. -- Mrs. Murphy, mother of Louise E. Murphy, who on Friday last filed a breach of promise suit for $20,000 damages against George A. Rankin, a well-known resident of this county, and a prominent dairyman, today had an encounter with the dairyman in which fists and cuspidors were freely used.

As Mrs. Murphy and her daughter were going up the stairs inside the courthouse, Mrs. Murphy saw Rankin at the foot of the stairs. She immediately ran down and, grabbing Rankin by the lapels of his coat, slapped his face.

Rankin pushed her roughly from him, the irate mother falling to the floor. Quickly jumping to her feet, she picked up a cuspidor which was at her feet, and, raising it with all her strength at the surprised Rankin. The weapon struck him on the hand, and as he started to run down the stairs, another cuspidor just missed his head. 

No arrests were made., San Diego Union, page 4, column 3, Bakersfield, California, Oct 14, 1901. 
Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Alberta's Secret

          On Saturday, 8 April 1939, Earl Bagley of Macon County, Illinois, and Alberta Rankin of Perry County, Missouri, took out a marriage license. They were married the same day by Judge Homer J. Graff. There was a sense of urgency.

           Alberta was six months pregnant. 

          Just five days after their marriage, something terrible happened. Alberta went into labor. Her infant daughter was born three months early. 

          The baby did not survive.

          The death certificate names Alberta as the mother, but the father's name is shown as "unknown." The baby, Ann Marie, was buried in the Perry County Poor Farm Cemetery.

          The death record suggests that Earl was not the father of Ann Marie. Had he been, there would have been no reason to conceal the identity.  

          Earl appears to have been a good husband to Alberta. They soon left Missouri and moved to Decatur, Illinois, where Earl had grown up. They had no other children. Earl passed away in 1985. 

          Alberta died three years later, taking her secret to the grave.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


          Mrs. Bridget Dillon, aged 57, died last evening at 5 o'clock at the family home, 402 Hazle avenue. She was hurt, it was said, about ten years ago while alighting from a street car. Complications developing caused her death. She is survived by the following children: John, Thomas, Joseph, Daniel, Elizabeth and Mrs. Paul Haydt, and one brother, John Gilroy of Scranton.

          The funeral will take place on Saturday morning at 9:00 with a high mass of requium in St. Mary's Church at 9:30. Interment at St. Mary's Cemetery at Hanover.

The Wilkes-Barre Record
Thursday, 29 February 1912

Friday, October 9, 2015


My 3rd great-grandfather, Lewis Thorp was a pioneer. He was born on 19 March 1798, in North Haven, Connecticut. Lewis was just a year old in 1799 when his family left Connecticut and headed into pioneer country in the Western Reserve of Ohio. Later they lived in Buffalo, New York. 

His father died in 1813, massacred by the Indians. Without a father to provide for them, the five youngest children were placed under court appointed guardianship until age 21. All the children stayed up north, either in New York or in Michigan. 

All except Lewis. 

He went to Missouri, which had just become a state. In 1821, Lewis married Ann Preston. Ann was the daughter of Jonathan and Mary Preston from Virginia. They had been in Missouri since 1803. 

Ann Preston had five children with Lewis Thorpe. Then she died. 

Lewis did what any man with young children and no wife would do. He remarried. His second wife, Elvretta Phillips, was the widow of Joseph Sadler. She had two children. 

Lewis and Elvretta had six more children, and the second-eldest was my 2nd gg-grandfather, Joel Calvin Thorp.

Here's the twist: 

Because Ann Preston died, she is not my direct ancestor. 

But her younger sister, Sarah Preston is.

Sarah Preston was married to Joseph Massey. Joseph was from a French Canadian family. They had four children.

Their daughter, Mary Venicia Massey married William Kline, and they had a daughter, Ellen. 
Ellen married Samuel E. Rankin and eventually had twelve children. Their son, Sanford, was my great-grandfather.

And even though Ann Preston is not my ancestor, her children are my half-cousins. 

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