Friday, February 8, 2019

Yanking a Few More Bricks
Out of the Proverbial Brick Wall

Sometimes, a research journey can unearth momentous discoveries. Other times, well, a few more chinks chipped out of the genealogical brick wall still help.

This time, the chips are falling from around the brick labeled Mary Charles McLeran. I've been stuck on the details of her life. I don't have a date of death for her, a dilemma since she was also the subject of a local legend, that of Mary of the Red Scarf.

Granted, she may not be one and the same as Ruben and Rebecca Charles' daughter Mary, reputedly shot by angered Native Americans who mistakenly took her for yet another one of those settlers encroaching upon their land. Still, red scarf or not, I have been able to locate a Mary, daughter of Ruben and Rebecca, who was very much alive, well into adulthood.

While this Mary outlasted not only her pioneer parents in the early days of northern Florida settlement but also her husband and only daughter, I still lacked some details about her life. Mainly, I wanted to know what became of her in her later years. Since I couldn't find any trace of her after the 1880 census—and even that entry I had doubts about—I needed to examine records to see if perhaps she had remarried.

This past week's visit to Suwannee County put some of my doubts to rest. Not entirely, of course, but I'm closer to gaining a resolution on her life's story.

Mary's story is not a happy one. With her father dying young by about 1835, and her mother in the 1850s—both meeting a violent end, according to local legends—Mary had married William T. McLeran, member of another local family whose surname subsequently had become well known in the area. Even Mary's marriage date is in doubt, because I have yet to find any documentation of that event; with some counties in the area lacking local records until long after that date, I may never find such a document.

I'm fairly sure the date of her marriage was before 1859, for that was the date of birth for her first and only child, a daughter she named Fannie. The second reason I feel that was a reasonable guess for date of her marriage was that her husband unexpectedly died the very next year, on May 29, 1860.

William McLeran's death in May was quickly followed by Fannie's, in June of that same year. After that, we can find the bereft Mary subsequently losing her sister Drucilla and caring for Drucilla's two surviving daughters, as well as temporarily caring for the children of her deceased brother Andrew.

I managed to find, among the records I thumbed through in the basement of the Suwannee County courthouse last week, a petition by the widow Mary McLeran to have her two nieces apprenticed to her for training in "housewifery."

From the date of that petition—though entered farther down the page, it was hard to read, possibly stating February 28, 1861—until the next time I found mention of Mary, it was far beyond the entry in the 1870 census which was the last date of which I had been most certain.

Now, it turns out, there were several letters written concerning the estate of Mary McLeran. While I can't yet determine the exact date of her passing, what I could glean from the various messages was that when Mary died, she had been left in a destitute state. I'm not sure why the nieces she had raised were not in a position to assist her, nor any of the few remaining more distant relatives. It just made me sad, in my visit to the courthouse two days ago, to discover the letter from an attorney to the local sheriff about her property.

Dear Sir:-
     Replying to your letter reference to the condemnation proceedings against the old of house of Mrs. McLeran, now deceased. The house is absolutely worthless and I suppose the best thing that can be done is to let any one tear it down who will do it for the wood, or let the city do it. I am working on the matter I spoke to you about the day that I came to Live Oak.
       Yours truly,
       [signed] M. M. Scarborough, Jr.

The date on the letter—a clue I could have used to determine Mary's actual date of death—was rather enigmatic: October 24 of what year? I checked another letter regarding the same issue—what to do with the "worthless" property the widow McLaren had left behind. The date there on an "Administrator's Notice" was given as July 11, 1899. Poor Mary had undoubtedly passed away before that point, but a reasonable approximation could be given as the year of 1899, or possibly early in the winter of the preceding year.

Staking my claim on a few extra numbers in an ancestor's vital stats is hardly satisfactory in the wake of a story as intriguing—and yet so tragic—as Mary's must have been. Just in these scant details, I feel for her in the continual plight of her life's story. While hers seems to be a life lived in the gaps—before documentation was widespread in the pioneer settlements of territorial Florida, at the establishment of a new county, or resident in other counties with less carefully-held records—surely, there was much more that could have been told, if anyone had valued the story that would have been her life's tale.

Above pictures of documents retrieved and photographed by the author on February 6, 2019, at the Suwannee County Courthouse, Live Oak, Florida. 


  1. What a sad, sad life. Poor Mary. It would have been nice if some of the children she helped raise could have stepped up.

    1. Of course, they might have been as destitute as she was, Miss Merry. I don't want to seem too harsh concerning them. I'm trying to trace their family lines, as well, to see what I can find. Perhaps there is more to this story.

  2. She had very sad life, losing so many people:(

    1. Even knowing how hard life must have been for many people back then, it did seem hers was a particularly unfortunate lot.


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