Wednesday, August 1, 2018
The Start of a Step-Mother Story
"You can't take it with you," the 1936 hit comedy quips, but what happens to the stuff that gets left behind?
In the case of George Edmund McClellan, my third great grandfather, that stuff just might have made it out of town on the sly, thanks to a crafty step-mother, right under the noses of the bereaved children awaiting settlement of their father's probate.
Well into the 1900s, the descendants of George Edmund McClellan had nothing good to say of his second wife, Celestia Relief Holman. What did she do to merit such scorn? It was in the multiple pages of George's probate file that I began to piece together the story which precipitated such long-lasting animosity.
To set the stage for this story—at least for those who don't know the McClellan family of nineteenth century Wellborn, Florida—George Edmund McClellan was a respected member of the region which became known as Suwannee County. Born in South Carolina in 1808, he eventually arrived in that northern portion of Florida which once was part of Columbia County, where his household was counted in the 1840 census during Florida's territorial era.
George had married Sidnah Tison sometime before the arrival of their first child, Julia, in 1833. While Sidnah was from Pitt County, North Carolina, her marriage to George likely occurred in or near Glynn County, Georgia, where her parents had settled by 1820. The marriage of George and Sidnah was blessed with many children, at least seven of whom survived to adulthood.
From the time of George's arrival in territorial Florida onward, he was active in public affairs, in everything from serving in the militia to serving on the state constitutional delegation, to serving as county judge. His judgment was evidently respected, seeing his name on the list of appraisers in probate files for neighbors; his name appeared, for instance, in the intestate case for Drucilla Charles Hines Odum, whom we discussed yesterday.
When the baby of the McClellan family, my second great grandfather William Henry McClellan, was just fifteen years of age, his mother died. Sidnah's passing was on July 7, 1860, barely two months before the 1860 census was recorded in Suwannee County on August 29, 1860. There, in that record, was the widowed George and all his children but his older son, John, who by then had attained legal age to acquire land of his own.
What happened after that snapshot of life in the bereaved household of the widowed George McClellan involved the predictable. Though George no longer had to worry over having someone to care for the younger children of the family—William by then being nearly sixteen—nevertheless, barely six months after losing his wife, George married again.
George's new wife was a woman by the name of Celestia Relief Holman. Twenty five years his junior, George's new wife was the same age as his oldest daughter. While later records indicated that Celestia was born in Michigan, it is unclear just how she ended up in Florida—or wherever it was that she met the widowed George.
George and Celestia had at least three children: a daughter born in 1862 who died in infancy, another daughter in 1865 named after her mother, and a son, George's namesake, born on March 28, 1866.
The junior George Edmund McClellan likely knew very little of his father, for he lost his father only seven months later. This event evidently precipitated another quick marriage, for the senior George's passing left Celestia in the position of being a mother of young children in an era in which women had few economic alternatives. Within six months, Celestia was married to yet another man twenty six years her senior.
There was only one problem with this scenario: prior to his passing, George Edmund McClellan had named as his executrix this very woman who was now the wife of another man. As you can imagine, this was not a scenario that sat well with the children from his first marriage. And yet, as much as hard feelings could be predicted from this situation, one would hardly expect anything to actually come of such an awkward arrangement. But, apparently, it did.