Saturday, July 11, 2015

The One Less Traveled By

Though the movers and shakers from the Broad River settlement all seemed to prefer Alabama as their destination after departing from Georgia, there was apparently one small faction that chose another route. While the Taliaferros and Meriwethers among my ancestors' relatives became part of the primary economic and political force in the new state of Alabama, one member of the extended Gilmer family—at least, one that I've been able to find—favored a road less traveled.

Routes throughout Georgia were beginning to develop via railroad since the 1830s, making travel across the state to its western border with Alabama quite feasible. Likewise—although somewhat later on the timeline—routes from Georgia headed north to some trade centers in Tennessee.

It was unlikely, though, that the route taken by the family of John Thornton Gilmer was as well-trod. That, however, was not enough to stop families from the eastern seaboard from attempting migration through the wilderness of western lands. Just as earlier settlers had utilized such oft-traveled native pathways as the Great Wagon Road and even the ominously-dubbed Great Indian Warpath to arrive in places like Georgia, later migration was aided by the Wilderness Road, leading into central Kentucky.

Due to their more rustic nature, these original Native American footpaths which had been broadened—in the case of the Wilderness Road, famously by Daniel Boone and his men—to accommodate travel with wagons and livestock meant more challenging travel.

In some cases, the route was considered quite dangerous. That treacherous aspect meant that those choosing to travel to points west on the Wilderness road often traveled in large groups. It was not uncommon for entire communities or church congregations to move en masse along this route to a new settlement further west. It was a matter of mutual protection.

So, when I came upon the biographical sketch of one branch of the Gilmer family which had opted for Kentucky instead of Alabama, I perked up at that mention of a road less traveled:
The subject of this sketch removed with his parents from the place of his birth to Christian County, Kentucky, when he was but a youth.

This "sketch" was an entry in the book, The Gilmers in America, written and privately distributed in 1897 by John Gilmer Speed. The "subject" to which the author referred was Frederick George Gilmer, son of John Thornton Gilmer and his wife, the former Martha Gaines Harvie. This son also happened to be the brother of the Sarah Gilmer whose memorial on Find A Grave was the accidental discovery that turned my research attention to a different direction. 

If you recall the research challenge I'm currently struggling with—that of locating the nexus between my matrilineal line and that of the mystery cousin whose mtDNA test shows him to be an "exact match" to my own test—you may recall that our research had stalled, not in Kentucky, but in Missouri. What, you might be wondering, brought this branch of the Gilmer family from Kentucky further westward, again, to Missouri?

It turns out this Gilmers in America book partially provides an explanation—at least for this family, if not for the family of my distant cousin. The route, again, turned out to be one of meandering progress:
In a few years, [Frederick George Gilmer] removed to Lewiston, Fulton County, Illinois. Later he purchased, from Henry Clay, land in Lincoln County, Missouri, situated fifty miles north of St. Louis, near the Mississippi River.

At least part of these travel details match those we've already uncovered for the line of my mystery cousin: a family settling in Lincoln County, Missouri—then one of the sons marrying a woman who had been born in Kentucky.

While I have yet to discover how this woman from Kentucky—the Sarah Kinslow Stinebaugh we've already discussed—arrived, herself, in Missouri, there are some encouraging signs from the story we now know about this Gilmer line.
  • Any family opting to travel west to Kentucky—and then onward through the wilderness to Missouri—was likely to do so in the company of a large group of people they already knew.
  • There was apparently a mechanism in place to obtain large swaths of land in Missouri—witness the mention of Kentucky senator Henry Clay's land speculation—and then subdivide and sell parcels to many others.
  • However Sarah Kinslow Stinebaugh and my line connect, it will by necessity be through a mother's mother's mother's progression. This Gilmer line, linked with the Harvie—and thus Taliaferro line—coupled with the possibility of emigration with other family members, may mean a connection via the tendency for intermarriages we've already seen in this social cluster from Georgia.

While I can't yet come to any conclusions, of course—it's way too soon—it's at least heartening to see indications that, indeed, someone did choose that road less traveled, and instead of opting for the society of family in Alabama, headed to the relative wilds of Kentucky and Missouri.

Above: Aquatint by Swiss lithographer and illustrator Karl Bodmer, from the book, "Maximilian, Prince of Wied's Travels in the Interior of North America During the Years 1832-1834." Courtesy Old Book Art Image Gallery via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Replies
    1. At least this progress is something to get enthusiastic about!

  2. I would have never expected that Missouri was "Spanish Territory" since the USA bought it from the 1803.

    I wonder how much "politics" was involved in these land grants and sales? Henry Clay is a surprise.

    1. Yes, Henry Clay was a surprise for me, too, Iggy. And the dates don't seem quite right. The family turned out to have gotten land grants with later dates, according to the records at the Bureau of Land Management. I wonder if the Henry Clay transaction was a previous sale.


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