“The Stolen Boy” is a fascinating story that has been handed down through my family. The main character’s name is never revealed, but there are several details in the story that prove it describes the life of my 3X great-grandfather, Ambrose Bowen Epperson. I am almost certain that Ambrose is also the author of the story, although the evidence for that conclusion is a bit more circumstantial. I will be devoting a series of blog posts to a historical and genealogical analysis of the story. The text of the story will be shared exactly as I received it, including all misspellings and grammatical errors.
The Stolen Boy
February 18, 1881
by Old Abe
As nearly as I can ascertain, this boy was born near Christianburgh, Shelby County, Kentucky, in the year 1818. In the year 1820 his parents moved to Jackson County, Indiana, settled on Driftwood Fork of White River about 11 miles below Columbus, on the east side of the river. His father and older brothers managed to open out a good sized cornfield and erect comfortable buildings and were all living at home comfortably and happy until sometime in the summer of 1823. His father died and left nine children, five boys and four girls of which this stolen boy was the youngest, save two sisters.
The widowed mother kept the children together as long as she could like all other good mothers, but in a little while the two older boys which is the natural consequences in most cases, became heads of families and settled near-by. In the spring of 1825 the mother married again and in the summer of 1826, she died leaving an infant of a few weeks old, as it was termed in those days, “away out in Indiana”. Just before she died she requested her second son, J, to take his little brother and raise him. J agreed to do the best he could.
(to be continued)
In 1820, Kentucky and Indiana were part of the western frontier of the United States. Indiana had only recently become a state (in 1816) and was in the process of being settled.
Made by User:Golbez. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Epperson Family
The most convincing evidence that the boy referred to in the story is really Ambrose Bowen Epperson will be discussed in later posts, but the information in this section is consistent with what we know of Ambrose’s life. Ambrose’s parents were John and Phebe (Muir) Epperson, who were married in Fayette County, Kentucky on 16 Jan 1804. Just like the parents in the story, they had nine children (five boys and four girls) who are listed below in what I believe is their birth order.
George Muir Epperson, born abt. 1806
John Barnett Epperson
Squire Boone Epperson, born abt. 1810
James Harvey Epperson, born 19 Jul 1811
Permelia Langley Epperson, born abt. 1814
Emily Epperson, born 22 Nov 1815
Ambrose Bowen Epperson, born 19 Jan 1818
Sarah Ann Epperson, born abt 1819
The names of these children are found in Edna Epperson Brinkman’s 1933 book “The story of David Epperson & his family of Albemarle County, Virginia : with supplementary notes on the Epperson family in America”. The information seems to have been supplied by descendants of Ambrose’s brother James Harvey Epperson. I also have a copy of a handwritten family tree (see below) containing the same names, that was sent from one of James Harvey Epperson’s grandsons to Ambrose’s son (my great-great grandfather) in 1914.
Interestingly, the siblings in “The Stolen Boy” story are identified only by a single letter (presumably an initial), although the full names of some other people are used. This quirk makes it more difficult to identify his siblings, but I am almost certain that the “second son, J” referred to in the story is John Barnett Epperson. I’m not sure why Ambrose (assuming he really was the author) would want to conceal the names of his siblings. There is so much other information in the story that could be used to identify him as the author, that this apparent attempt at anonymity seems pointless.
The father in the story died in the summer of 1823. The only record I have found of John Epperson’s death seems to be consistent with that date. The 19 Aug 1823 entry in 1816-1836 The Executive Proceedings of the State of Indiana says that James Bristo succeeded John Epperson, deceased as a justice of the peace in Jackson County, Indiana.
Phebe Epperson, Ambrose’s mother, is listed among the early members of Ebenezer Church, a Baptist church in Redding Township, Jackson County. According to the “Stolen Boy” story, she remarried in 1825 and died in 1826 a few weeks after the birth of another child. Not surprisingly for that time period and location, I have not found any records to verify this part of the story.
From Kentucky to Indiana
Christianburgh (actually spelled Christianburg), the place where the boy in the story was born in 1818, is a tiny town in Shelby County, Kentucky. Both the date and place are consistent with Ambrose’s birth on 19 Jan 1818 in Kentucky. In the 1820 census, there is a John Epperson listed in Shelby County, Kentucky, who is probably Ambrose’s father. Before 1850, U. S. censuses named only the head of household and identified other members of the household only by their sex and age range. The makeup of this household is consistent with what would have been expected for Ambrose’s family. The enumeration date for the census was 27 Aug 1820, suggesting that the family was living in Shelby County at least until that date. That is significant, since “The Stolen Boy” says that the family moved to Jackson County, Indiana in 1820. If that is true, they must have moved in the latter part of the year. Today, the shortest route between Christianburg, Kentucky and Jackson County, Indiana is about 85 miles and takes about two hours by car. In 1820, the trip would have taken days if not weeks.
Lessons on Land Patents
One of the things I enjoy most about genealogy is how it leads you to explore a variety of historical topics. While researching records related to the Eppersons move to Indiana, I learned a lot about how public land was sold at that time.
At the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office website, I found a land patent issued to John Epperson of Shelby County, Kentucky for 80 acres of land in Indiana. The location of this land matches the description in the story very well (more on this later). However, the date on the patent is 17 Dec 1821, a year later than the story places the family in Jackson County, Indiana. This could be simply because of the time it took for a patent to actually be issued by the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. To find the actual date of purchase, I need to check the tract book for the Jeffersonville, Indiana land office where the land was purchased. Online indexes are available for the tract books of four of the six Indiana land offices. Unfortunately, Jeffersonville is not included yet. I will need to used offline sources or wait for the information to appear online. Of course, the date in the story could be wrong. About 60 years had elapsed and the likely author was very young at the time of these events. It is also possible that the family lived in Indiana for a while before purchasing the land, although the fact that John’s residence is given as Shelby County, Kentucky seems to suggest otherwise.
John Epperson’s land patent states that the land was purchased under “the Act of Congress of the 24th of April, 1820.” Known as the Land Act of 1820, it made important changes to the laws governing the sale of public lands. Prior to that time, purchasers were allowed to buy land on credit and pay in installments. The 1820 act eliminated that option, requiring full payment at the time of purchase. The act also reduced the minimum price of land to $1.25 per acre and lowered the minimum claim size to 80 acres. Thus, land could be purchased for as little as $100. Plots were initially sold at public auction and then later by private purchase. An account of the Jeffersonville land auction indicates that most land sold for the minimum price. It is noteworthy that John Epperson purchased the minimum 80 acres. Perhaps the reduction in the total cost of acquiring land is what led the Epperson family to make the move from Kentucky to Indiana.
The land patent gives the legal description of the land purchased by John Epperson (the W ½ of the NW ¼ of Section 27 in township 7N, range 6E), so we can precisely determine its location. The Bureau of Land Management site has a mapping feature to show the section the land was located in, but it doesn’t seem to have an option to view satellite images. I used Earth Point to search by legal description and then opened the resulting file with Google Earth. This gave me a high-resolution satellite image of the area where John Epperson’s land was located. The section in question was outlined in pink. I added the blue outline surrounding John Epperson's 80-acre plot.. As described in “The Stolen Boy”, the land is on the east side of the East Fork (also known as the Driftwood Fork) of the White River (visible on the left side of the image) about 11 miles downstream of Columbus, Indiana. While most of the surrounding area is rural, the land that the Epperson family once owned is now a petroleum facility of some sort. I have to admit I was disappointed that the land was no longer being used for agricultural purposes. It feels as if the connection to my ancestors has been lost.
Teresa is the the owner of KinSeeker Genealogy Services. She has a Ph.D. in Biology and a lifelong fascination with genealogy. She been researching her own family history for over 20 years and loves helping others "find their stories."
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