Thursday, July 14, 2016

A "Most Substantial" Citizen

Perhaps a lifelong residence in the same small towna town, incidentally, full of aunts, uncles and cousins of many degrees of relationshipcan bestow upon one the air of importance. Or perhaps, it is just within the covers of those 1880s volumes of local history that people achieved that appearance. No matter what the cause, the family of David and Nancy Gordon Spragg seemed to be one of significance in their small home town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

By the time David Spragg had married William Gordon's daughter Nancy in 1826, the town was barely more than three hundred people in population. Even by the time of his death in 1877, the place contained barely twelve hundred people. So perhaps when the Samuel Bates History of Greene County, Pennsylvania called one of David and Nancy's sons "one of Greene County's most substantial citizens," it might be expected that the term was a bit of editorial hyperbole.

Still, that oldest son of David and NancyCaleb A. Spraggwas a successful farmer. Noted parenthetically in his father's biographical sketch in the Bates History was one particular assessment of Caleb:
In connection with the raising of stock and the management of his farm of 125 acres, upon which he has bestowed much care and attention, Mr. Spragg has filled various offices in his township, and served as a member of the school board two terms.

David Spragg had named his firstborn son after his own father, a man who had moved his family to Greene County from Trenton, New Jersey. Doubtless, this move had also been one of several family members, as the Spragg surname was big enough in the county to merit a small post office with that very name. Variations on the name Spraggstown often showed up on birth records of descendants of this extended family for generations in Greene County.

The younger Caleb, born in Greene County in 1829, married early and, like his father, had five children of his ownat least by his first marriage. His bride was the former Sarah Johnson, who gave him four sons and one daughter before passing away at the age of fifty one. At her death, Sarah's youngest childthe lone daughterwas barely eighteen, herself, but already married to a Spragg cousin. By that point, Caleb's oldest son, Sylvanus, was a doctor and about to propose marriage, himself.

Of the other three sons, oneWilliamhad become proprietor of Waynesburg's marble works. Another, said to have been a newspaper editor, eventually left home to take a position in far-away Missouriperhaps following that family penchant for wanderlust we had seen in his maternal grandfather and the Gordon men before him. The other son, a farmer, decided to follow his brother to Missouri, perhaps in hopes of better land.

While the Spragg name in Waynesburg was customarily appended to that phrase, "a prominent Greene County family," a move to Missouri would not bring with it any guarantee of such recognition. That, however, is the move which will capture our attention as we shift our focus to what becomes of the next generation of the Spragg and Gordon descendants from Waynesburg.

Above: 1876 photograph of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, courtesy Greene County Historical Society, via Greene Connections Item #GCHS-AN027-0001-0000.


  1. It's really not saying ALL that much to be a "most" substantial citizen when there are only 1,200 of them!

    1. My thoughts, precisely! Of course, that doesn't take into account all those farmers scattered throughout the rest of the county. I guess he must have had a reputation outside those city limits, as well.


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