Simon James 1770s-1820s

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1768 - 1822

“WHO IN HELL HAS GOT ME ANYWAY?” version 1.2

6 November 2005

Everything we know about Simon James (~1768??-~1822??)


Simon James was born in southwestern Wales, probably a little before 1770. We have no picture or description of him. But we can say that he was physically strong, as he dug graves and wrestled ghosts. He was mentally independent, since he was a Baptist preacher, not an adherent of the established Anglican church. (This probably means he had a good carrying voice, too.) The four of his children we have been able to track into later life seem to have been ardently religious and well-informed. He seems to have been responsible, but more often a deputy than a leader; able, but not well-off; a literate individual, who left us almost nothing in writing.

Family tradition has it that Simon learned the trade of weaver but later on became a Baptist preacher. That tradition is confirmed in the letter that marks his first appearance in the historical record, a letter of introduction and reference from William Richard at St. Dogmels near Cardigan, Wales, to Rev. Samuel Jones of Pennypeck Church, near Philadelphia, dated 16 March 1796:

   The Bearer of this Simon James is a worthy member of the
   Baptist Church at Blaenywaun in this neighbourhood — He
   has of late exercised his gifts with good acceptance among
   his brethren as a preacher, & has made one excursion over
   North Wales as an itinerant Preacher with approbation. -
   He is very intimately acquainted with our Cousin David
   Robert & others of your relations in this Country. He is by
   trade a Weaver, a business which will I hope procure him
   a comfortable livelihood in your happy country — His wife
   who accompanies him is also a religious person & member
   of the Church of Cilfowyr. I beg leave to recommend both
   to your friendly notice & regard, trusting you will never
   have any reason to regret the kindness or hospitality which
   they may meet with from you.

Six days later Richards again wrote to Jones, referring to Simon as “a young man from Pembrokeshire” and further identifying David Robert as a deacon in the Blaenywaun church. It seems unlikely that “young” would refer to anyone over 30, and equally unlikely that anyone under 20 would have been a preacher. So we can guess that he was born around 1770. (1)

According to an e-mail from Paul Sambrook of Eglwyswrw 29 October 2002,

   Blaenwaun (as it is now spelt) is one of the oldest
   Baptist causes in the region and was under the joint ministry
   of Cilfowyr Chapel during the late 18th century. It was a
   veritable powerhouse at that time, producing a great
   number of preachers. It drew its membership from a very
   wide area, being the mother-church of many late-18th and
   19th century Baptist chapels in north Pembrokeshire.
   A detailed history of the cause exists (in the Welsh
   language) “Hanes Blaenywaun,” written in the late 19th
   century by Benjamin Rees, Granant. I do not know if
   anyone has translated the book to English. But here is a
   translation of the relevant passage regarding the history of
   your Simon James;
   “Simon James was baptised here in March 1786, and he
   began his preaching at Llangloffan Chapel, as he lived near
   that place, but he was very useful to Blaenywaun also; and
   from here he went over to America in 1796.”
   This suggests that Simon James came from western
   Pembrokeshire, Llangloffan in the parish of Granston being
   a small hamlet near Fishguard, famed only for its chapel, a
   hymn of the same name and a modern organic cheese
   farm! (2) 

At a guess, Simon’s 1786 baptism might push his birth back to, maybe, circa 1768.

No later than 1794, Simon met Elizabeth (last name unknown), born in the same part of the world 20 January 1772. (3) Their marriage record has not surfaced, but their oldest and longest-lived child, Phebe, was born in Wales 16 August 1795. (4)

Phebe lived to the age of exactly 93, dying on her birthday, but she had no memories of Wales. In the spring of 1796, she and her parents embarked for the New World with a party of friends and neighbors on the ship Amphion. (5) The emigrant party was led by Thomas Philipps and Theophilus Rees, wealthy men who paid for many others’ passage.

Why did they go? There were more than enough reasons. Every harvest in Wales from 1789 to 1802 was bad. (5.5) The French Revolution and ensuing wars bred popular discontent, which called forth political and religious repression in Great Britain. Philipps had sons who were political refugees in the U.S. already. Inflation sparked by the wars encouraged large landowners to squeeze out their tenants (“enclosure”). (6)

In addition, many Welsh people were apparently drawn to the New World by the story that Prince Madog, son of Owain Gwynedd, had come to America in 1170 and that a tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians, the Madogwys, still lived somewhere in the heart of North American continent. Historian Gwyn Williams describes this as part of “a crisis of identity in Wales,” and contends that the myth of Madog connected pietist Protestants (Baptists and Methodists) with secularists (Jacobins) who idolized the French Revolution. “The migrations,” he writes, “were consciously directed towards the creation of a new, free, ‘restored’ Wales in the west.” (6.5)

Williams says that the Amphion sailed from Milford Haven and reached New York in May. Its Welsh passengers went to Philadelphia, nearby Chester County, and the “Great Valley.” Simon James may have preached there.

That fall some of them moved to the western Pennsylvania town of Beulah, then in Somerset County (now Cambria County). Rev. Morgan J. Rhys had purchased 20,000 acres there to resell to his Welsh brethren. A second party, including Simon James and family, came to Beulah in the spring or summer of 1797. (7) During their seven-year stay there, Simon and Elizabeth had at least two more children, Daniel and Mary. (8) Simon became a citizen of the United States in Somerset County on 6 September 1802. (9)

But Beulah was a disaster from the beginning. “They seriously underestimated the difficulty of the land,” writes Gwyn Williams. “No native American [i.e., knowledgeable white inhabitant] would tackle it. The weight of timber was crushing and much of the land turned out to be stony. Rhees thought one thousand-acre hill was so littered with rocks that it was worth scarcely a cent a hundred acres. The settlers were precariously strung out at the end of a 30-mile supply line” — too far to make regular trips to an established mill, but close enough so that discouraged pioneers could escape to easier land in Ohio. (9.5)

Again according to Williams, “Simon James began to make a name for himself as a surveyor and land agent,” but the Welsh Utopia had already begun unraveling. In 1797-1798, “a year of unremitting labour had been succeeded by a winter of unrelieved disaster.” The repeated washing away of mills was bad enough, but “worst of all had been the collapse in morale,” which took the forms of drunkenness, nervous breakdowns, dissension, and desertions. “Some seem to have quit at once. Others were scarred by an insecurity and a susceptibility to panic which were to prove permanent.” (9.6)

Perhaps about 1799, Simon James made a deal with speculator Zaccheus Collins. He leased a tract of 400 acres from Collins, and agreed to live on the site and within ten years clear and enclose 100 acres, put in 200 apple trees. At the end of ten years he could buy the tract for $1082 on easy terms. As was customary at that time, he was to pay for it by subdividing and selling portions to other settlers.

His report three years later, preserved in the Zaccheus Collins papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, tells Beulah’s hidden history as well as anything:

   house F. Edward Evans . . . GOING. house Q. David Reese
   . . . cleared about 12 acres . . . DEAD. house V. Simon James
   . . . cleared 18 acres . . . house Wiliam Thomas . . . blacksmith
   . . . GOING. house Samuel Jones . . . cleared 9 acres . . . GOING.
   house Thomas Powell, Baptist minister. Cleared considerably . . .
   GOING. John Reese made some clearance on George Stead
   Tract but left it, finding it too hard to clear. (9.7) 

The failure of Beulah can only have been a heavy personal and financial blow to the Jameses. Soon Simon was once more looking westward.

In 1801, Rees, Philipps, and four other members of the Amphion party negotiated to buy 3196.8 acres — the entire northeast quarter of Township 2, Range 13 in the Ohio country “U.S. military lands” (then Fairfield County, now Licking County) — from Samson Davis of Philadelphia, provided that the land looked as good as it sounded.

A party of three — Chaplain Jones, Morgan Rees, and Simon James — was deputized that August to travel west and look it over. According to William Harvey Jones, they returned and delivered a favorable report by 4 September 1801, when the deed was signed. Smucker says merely that the purchase took place “in 1801 or earlier.” (10)

The following year, Theophilus Rees, David Lewis, David Thomas (“big Davy Thomas”) and their families moved to the Welsh Hills. Once more, Simon James went along — this time to “build a cabin on the Phillips [sic] tract, and clear some land, and then to return to Cambria which he did.” Not until the fall of 1804 did he make a third and presumably final journey from Beulah to bring his own family to the new settlement in Ohio. (11)

According to William Harvey Jones, the James family first built a cabin in the summer of 1804 “near the present [1905] location of the Evan Davis house, most likely at the spring on the farm now owned by D.E. Williams, just north of the school house.” This was the first settlement in the “Pugh tract,” 400 acres in Granville Township. In later years they lived in a cabin on the Philipps tract, near the east boundary of the Henry Williams farm, north of the road. “Later still, Simon James moved to the Brushy Fork valley (Dry Creek), west of the William Griffith homestead.” Simon’s Run in the north part of the county is said to derive its name from his discovery of coal in its banks. (12)

Aside from the family story told below, there is no evidence that he ever lived in the town of Granville itself.

In Licking County Simon and Elizabeth had at least two more children — one, possibly Elve, died in infancy and was the first burial in the Philipps Cemetery in the Welsh Hills. The other, Hannah, probably their youngest, was born in 1809. (13)

In September 1808 the Welsh community organized the Welsh Hills Baptist Church. The name of Elizabeth James appears on a monument in the Welsh Hills Cemetery commemorating the nine founding members, but it is not at all clear that she was one in fact. William Harvey Jones gives the name Elizabeth Thomas instead. Smucker gives the name Elizabeth Jones instead. Strangely, there is no record that Simon James was involved in the church’s founding, or indeed that he was ever a member. (14)

He was definitely around. On 6 February 1808 Theophilus Rees gave land for a graveyard, “and on said day Rees, son of David Thomas, was buried therein, which was the first interment. David Lewis, and Simon James, dug the grave.” (15)

Simon James paid taxes in Licking County in 1809, 1810, 1814, and 1816. (16) On 15 August 1812, he mortgaged 380 acres in Range 12, Township 2, Section 1 of Licking County to a David Roberts of New York City for $380 — a mysterious transaction, since the area had only a barter economy, and remained so for a generation to come. (17) It’s hard to see how he could have redeemed the property by repaying the money plus “lawful interest” by 1 May 1814. He did pay taxes in 1814 on 75 acres in Range 13, Township 2, Section 1 in Licking County. We have not established whether this is the same “David Robert” referred to in the 1796 correspondence.

Somewhere around this time occurred the event for which Simon James is most vividly remembered, as recounted by his granddaughter Hannah Caroline Thrall Campbell in a letter probably written in the early 1900s. She heard it from her mother Hannah James Thrall:

“I just recall one [incident] that mother [i.e., Hannah] used to tell me and laugh over. At one time the little town was terribly rent and torn by a so-called ghost that appeared frequently in some most ghostly attire scaring the women and children nearly to death. One night he knocked at grandfather’s home and one of the children opened the door and ran back giving a terrible scream, but her father happened to be there and he jumped and caught the fellow, threw him on the floor and began pounding him with all his strength.

“The ghost got scared and yelled for mercy but grandfather, without speaking a word, just kept pounding away till at last the ghost cried out, ‘Who in hell has got me anyway?’ Then grandfather spoke. ‘Simon James has you. No, you are not in hell yet but soon will be for if you are a man I’ll kill you and if you are the devil I’ll keep whacking away.’ At last he told the ghost that if he would throw off his rig, show his face, tell his name and promise to quit the dirty business he would let up on him but just as sure as any more of this was heard of the officers should have him right away. When he threw off his mask grandad knew him at once as a man living just out on the edge of town. That ended the Granville ghost.” (18)

On July 4, 1808, Simon James made another subdivision deal with David Pugh for 400 acres of land in Granville Township. He was to pay Pugh $500 three years later and Pugh was to clear any taxes on the land. At least that’s what one document filed in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas 10 October 1817 states. Other documents and testimony state that Pugh didn’t own the land but was acting as an agent for the owner, the ubiquitous and mysterious David Roberts, that Simon James knew this, and that Simon James was supposed to find out if anyone had a tax claim on the land and reduce his payment to Pugh by whatever amount he might have to pay to settle it.

Simon did sell parcels of the land to John Creamer (50 acres for $100), Thomas Powell (53 acres for $79.50), John Price (65 acres for $97.50), and Daniel Griffith (62 3/8 acres for $109.16), and Benjamin Jones ($40). But when 1811 rolled around, he refused to pay Pugh on the grounds that Pugh had no good title to the land. Pugh replied that Simon James had known all along that Pugh was just Roberts’ agent, and accused him of dealing in bad faith and never intending to pay.

Simon James told the court in 1817 that he had “made a large, lasting and valuable improvement” on the land. Pugh replied that he “has made considerable improvements on the land but in such manner, that it is rather an injury to the property.” One Samuel Philips deposed that at a meeting between Simon James and David Pugh, James had made what seemed to be a damaging admission. James’s lawyer quickly asked if he’d been drunk at the time. Philips said, yes, he was drunk, “and had been in Newark the day before and had liquor with him at the time of the conversation and that he was in the habit of getting drunk.” (18.5)

A failed attempt at arbitration, a mislaid or stolen deed, and other capers ensued, with Pugh finally seeking “writs of Ejectment” on James and the rest. Eventually a judge ruled in Pugh’s favor but awarded him only a few pennies in damages.

Part of the frustration of dealing with court records is that we don’t know the end of the story. But whether Simon James was finally evicted or not, it’s fair to say that his ventures in building wealth through real estate never did work out.

Simon James appears as a head of household in the fourth census of the United States in 1820, two doors down from Eliphas Thrall, who twelve years later would become his daughter Hannah’s father-in-law. (19) Soon afterwards, the family’s older children began marrying and leaving home (20):

  • Phebe, 16 August 1795 - 16 August 1888, married Owen Owens,

a Baptist preacher, on 1 March 1821. No known children. In later years they lived in Harmony Township, Morrow County, and Owen preached a big revival at the Chester Baptist Church.

  • Rachel, perhaps born around 1798, married Rufus

Blackmer/Blackmore/Blackman on 27 July 1821. After his death in the fall of 1823, she married second Jesse Foos. It’s not clear whether she ever had any children, but she did live into her 80s. In the 1880 census she and her widowed sister Phebe shared a household in Harmony Township, Morrow County, Ohio, with their 14-year-old step-grandnephew, Daniel Rhodabeck, whose stepmother was their brother Daniel’s daughter Ermisenda.. (20.5)

  • Daniel, 1802 - 18 October 1876, married Mary ____ not

much before 1835. Seven known children; on existing evidence Daniel may have had two wives named Mary. He was a shinglemaker and the family was quite poor. He was known as “the philosopher of the Welsh Hills” for his cheerful and learned indifference to that poverty.

  • Mary, 4 July 1804 - April 1893, married Henry Aye on 8 July

1824. Fourteen known children. Her grandson William Curtis Aye listed her library and described her as “an exceptionally well educated woman, largely, almost wholly self-educated, doubtless with a good substantial background in her Welsh, Baptist preacher father. No one in the community [Vermillion County, Indiana] was in any sense her equal, and none even approached her in knowledge of the Bible. Very few ministers of that age could teach her anything about religion or the Bible text.” (21)

  • Elve, nothing known.
  • Hannah, 11 April 1809 - 27 March 1875, married Worthy Thrall

15 November 1832. Seven known children. Worthy died young, and Hannah’s children remembered falling asleep to the sound of her loom as she worked to support them. She saw her youngest, Leonidas, through McKendree College and into the beginning of a distinguished career as a Methodist minister in southern Illinois. (22)

Whether Simon and Elizabeth ever cared much about reconstituting a Welsh nation in America, from the above list it’s clear that their children didn’t — three of their daughters chose non-Welsh spouses.

Simon’s name does not appear on the county tax rolls in 1826, nor can he be found in the index to the census of 1830. Hence he probably died between 1820 and 1826, but there is no known gravestone or other definite evidence.

Where and how his widow Elizabeth and young daughter Hannah lived after his death has not been found, but they did attend Sunday School at Granville’s Methodist Church between 1831 and 1833, where Hannah furthered her acquaintance with her future husband. (23) Rosalie Thrall Carmichael, a great-grandchild of Hannah and Worthy whose Thrall genealogy was an indispensable starting point for this research, says, “It is written that Hannah taught her mother to read and write English,” but doesn’t say where.

Some time after Hannah’s marriage Elizabeth apparently remarried, to a man named Eaton or Eton, possibly Joseph, and lived to bury him as well. In 1850 she was living with her son Daniel’s family in McKean Township, Licking County. (24) In 1860 we suspect that she was living at daughter Phebe’s house, but have yet to confirm this.

Caroline Thrall Campbell recalled, “After she was 90 years old she was living with one of her daughters and one Sunday morning announced that she was going to the old country church [omitted words — where she had attended?] during her first husband’s life. Her son-in-law said he would take her in the carriage but no she just wanted to walk the old country road to church again a distance of about or near 2 miles, I think, and would take dinner with a relative who lived near there and come home in the evening. So she went but the family was not there that she expected to visit so she staid for church and walked back to town making the four mile walk before dinner. Shows how well she held her strength at 90.

“Also about the same year she pieced a block of patchwork and sent one to each of her granddaughters as a starter for a quilt — pieced it without glasses as she had received her second eyesight several years before.” Some of this story is consistent with Elizabeth’s living at the Owens residence and walking to Chester Baptist Church, but not all of it. Did any of the granddaughters use, or otherwise preserve, their quilt starters? (25)

Elizabeth Eton — as her gravestone reads — died 23 December 1861, aged 89 years, 11 months, and 3 days. She is buried alongside her children Phebe and Daniel and grandson Origen (Daniel and Mary’s son) in the graveyard behind the Chester Baptist Church. (26) The quiet rural site is two miles south of Chesterville, in Morrow County, Ohio, north of Columbus. Their stones are at the north (church) end of a row toward the west side of the cemetery, at a rise in the ground near a sugar maple tree. (27)

Elizabeth’s stone is moss-covered and barely legible. It leans slightly to the east. Unlike most of the stones in the cemetery, it faces east. Just above ground level is a fast-fading inscription. It reads, “Heaven is my home.”


Notes


1. Both letters are in the manuscript collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, MS 1542, Box 12, Folder of correspondence 1794-1799; photocopies in the author’s possession. The March 22 letter was available on line, as Jill Carter Knuth quotes it in an April 1996 article “Theophilus Thomas Rees and the Rev. Theophilus Rees,” but the link www.westwales.co.uk/dfhs/members/trees.htm now leads nowhere.

2. The Registers of the Baptist Church of Llangloffan & Castlemorris 1745- 1787 don’t mention Simon James, but they don’t seem to record many preach ers anyhow. NLW Ms Dep 412A, FHL microfilm #82976.

3. Date by calculation from her tombstone — see below.

4. Clippings from “The Cambrian” magazine in the scrapbook of William Harvey Jones, Denison University archives, Granville, Ohio, include an account of Phebe James Owens’ 90th birthday, and a brief obituary after her death on her 93rd birthday.

5. Many sources give 1795 as the date of this emigration, but this is impossible since William Richards’ letters, clearly predating Simon and Elizabeth’s departure, are dated in March 1796. Besides, Phebe James was on board and her birth date is established as 16 August 1795. No one has yet located a passenger list or other contemporary data about the Amphion.

5.5 Source:The Search for Beulah Land : The Welsh and the Atlantic Revolution, (Croom Helm Ltd., 1980), by Gwyn Williams, page 130.

6. Most of our knowledge of this migration comes from two sources: Isaac Smucker’s 1869 essay, “History of the Welsh Settlements in Licking County, Ohio . . . read at the Licking County Pioneer Meeting, April 7th, 1869,” a pamphlet published in Newark, Ohio, and available at the Newberry Library in Chicago (F 8925.5) and at the public library in Granville. Equally valuable is William Harvey Jones’s booklet, “The Welsh Hills: The Story of a Pioneer Community.” For general Welsh history, A History of Wales by John Davies.

6.5. Williams, pages 35 and 43.

7. W.H. Egle, History of Pennsylvania, p. 470, cited by Jones in his appendix, p. 3.

8. Secondary sources give Mary’s birthplace as Philadelphia, but this seems implausible.

9. William L. Iscrupe, “Naturalization Records 1802-1854, Somerset Co., PA,” p.7. Published 1979, SW PA Genealogical Services, Laughlintown, PA.

9.5. Williams, pages 146-147, citing correspondence between M.J. Rhees and Benjamin Rush, 26 July 1798, Benjamin Rush papers, volume 14..

9.6. Williams, pages 150-151.

9.7. Williams, pages 156-157.

10. Smucker, p. 4. Jones, pp. 4, 10.

11. Smucker, pp. 4, 5. Jones, p. 10.

12. Jones, pp. 27-28.

13. Rosalie Thrall Carmichael, “Thrall Genealogy” typescript, pp. 4-6.

14. Smucker, p. 14. Jones, pp. 31-32.

15. Smucker, p. 14. In April 2001 Robin and I were unable to locate this stone in the Welsh Hills Cemetery.

16. 1809 — OH Early Census Index ID# OHS1a1763908 and OHS1a1763912. 1810 — OH 1810 Washington Co. Census Index ID# OHS1a1763909 and OHS1a1763911. 1814 — p. 19.

17. Licking County Recorder’s Office, Volume E, Deeds, p. 17.

18. Thrall, p. 5.

18.5. Licking County, Ohio, Court of Common Please, Law Record, Volume B, 1811-1818 (or 1820), pages 387-409, Ohio Historical Society microfilm GF 3374, Simon James vs. David Pugh. Photocopy in author’s possession.

19. 1820 U.S. Census Ohio, Licking County, Granville Township, Series M33, Roll 94, page 17, fifth and seventh lines from the bottom of the page.

20. Licking County, Ohio Marriages, Transcribed Book, 1808-1875, copied by Polly Barcus and Mildred Francis, Licking Co. Genealogical Society, Newark Public Library, Newark, OH. Original list of children from Thrall, p. 5.

20.5. 1880 US Census, as transcribed at www.familysearch.org, Harmony, Morrow, Ohio, page 273A, Phebe Owens household, FHL# 1255053, NA# T9-1053.

21. Detailed information on the descendants of Mary James and Henry Aye was at jacksonville.net/~mccumber/, but is no longer available. Quote from William Curtis Aye, “Sidelights on the Family of Henry and Mary Aye.”

22. More information on the descendants of Hannah James and Worthy Thrall: http://wc.rootsweb.com/~hendersonscholes, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~robinsgenealogypage/

23. Church records viewed in person by Robin and Harold Henderson 12 April 2001, courtesy of Sandy and Ken Nihiser, First Methodist Church, Granville, OH. The records are fragile originals which have not been copied or transcribed.

24. U.S. 1850 Census.

25. Thrall, pp. 5-6.

26. Cemetery viewed in person 31 July 2001 by Sandy and Harold Henderson, thanks to the Morrow County Genealogical Society’s books of tombstone inscriptions.

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