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.

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