“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.
In a few years the brother J moved to the town of B, a distance of twenty two miles from Green Castle. In a little while the two brothers met and talked the whole matter over and were as friendly as two brothers should be and in the course of time this brother, who attended to the brother S’s business while he went to steal Nay had married and moved to the town of B. Also one of the sisters married. Time rolled on and in the winter of 1837-8 the brother S exposed himself and took cold which brought on the consumption and in the spring of 1839 he died leaving a wife and three little girls and just two weeks to the day the brother J died leaving a wife and six children. Nay was with both brothers during their sickness. Now comes another trouble on Nay. His brother S’s family went back to their friends in Kentucky. There Nay was as he supposed without home or friends and both brothers gone the way of the world. Although a little over twenty one years of age he knew not what to do, he would sometimes get into bad company. Once in a while he could get a little work to do, but times were hard and the people did not hire much done. So Nay would glide along, just about makeout to pay his board during the summer months. He went to Kentucky and spent part of the winter. In the spring of 1840, a friend of his got him into a job of work on a public building in Green Castle which kept him busy for one hundred and four days and four nights. Then the building was finished.
For the sake of simplicity and clarity, I have been referring to the characters in the story by what I have deduced to be their real names. This section contains some of the biographical information about Ambrose Epperson’s siblings that helped verify their identities.
In the last section, we learned that Brother S married in Kentucky in 1832 and returned to Indiana in 1833. He eventually settled in Greencastle, Putnam County, Indiana. Brother S is Squire Boone Epperson, who married Malinda Hurtt in 1832 in Mercer County Kentucky. On 10 Sep 1838, he received patents on two 40-acre tracts of land in Putnam County, Indiana near Greencastle.
Marriage bond for Squire B Epperson's marriage to Malindy Hert (sic). Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954, FamilySearch.org
A few years later (than S came to Indiana), brother J settled in “B”. As discussed in previous posts, J was John Barnett Epperson. Based on the distance (22 miles) from Greencastle specified in the story, I believe “B” is Bowling Green in Clay County, Indiana. The only evidence I have that John Barnett Epperson may have lived in Clay County is that his children lived in the area after his death. A biography of his son James Riley Epperson says that he was born in 1829 in Bartholomew County, Indiana, but lived mostly in Clay County, Indiana until 1852. In the 1850 census, several of John’s children were living together in Bowling Green. However, if John himself lived in Bowling Green, he must have moved there not long before his death in 1839 (see below.) On 16 March 1837, John Barnet Epperson of Jennings County, Indiana received a patent on 40 acres of land in Bartholomew County, Indiana. On 2 Aug 1838, he received a patent on another 40 acres there. At that time his residence was given as Bartholomew County.
The last brother mentioned was the one who tended business for S while he was away “stealing” Nay. The story says that this brother married and also moved to “B”. By a process of elimination, we know that this brother was James Harvey Epperson. James H. Epperson married Martha J. Osborn on 30 Sep 1833 in Putnam County, Indiana. On 18 Mar 1837, he received patents on two 40-acre tracts of land in Putnam County. On these patents his residence is given as Tippecanoe County, which is two counties north of Putnam County. James’s oldest son, John Lowery Epperson, was born in Lafayette, Tippecanoe, Indiana on 6 Nov 1834, while his second son was born at Greencastle on 10 Oct 1837. The land James Harvey Epperson purchased was not near Bowling Green where he supposedly lived. However, by 1840 James was living in Clay County, Indiana, where Bowling Green is located. It seems that the brothers were more mobile than Ambrose’s story suggests.
The sister who is mentioned in this section would be Emily Epperson. She married John Burchfield of Clay County, Indiana. I have not been able to locate their marriage record, probably because Clay County records created prior to 1851 were lost in a courthouse fire.
Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954 FamilySearch.org
James Riley Epperson memorial page, findagrave.com
Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007 FamilySearch.org
U.S. Federal Census Collection, Ancestry.com
A Double Blow
For a brief time, five of the Epperson siblings were living in the same vicinity in Putnam and Clay counties. Unfortunately, their reunion did not last long. Brother S died of consumption (an old-fashioned term for tuberculosis) in the spring of 1839. Just two weeks later brother J died too! In the Cemetery Records database of the Putnam County Library, I found an S. R. Epperson buried in the Hanna Street Cemetery in Greencastle, who died 4 Mar 1839 at the age of 29 years. Everything except the middle initial fits perfectly with this being brother S, who we know to be Squire Boone Epperson. I imagine that a B could easily be mistaken for an R on an old, worn tombstone.
After Squire’s death, his widow Malinda and their three daughters moved back to Kentucky. When Malinda died a couple of years later, John Harvey Epperson went to Kentucky and brought the girls back to live with his family.
I have not found any record of John Barnett Epperson’s death. By 1850, his children had likely lost their mother as well, since three of them are living with their older sister’s family.
After his brothers’ deaths, Nay felt alone in the world and “would sometimes get into bad company.” This is exactly the time period (1839) when Ambrose Epperson was arrested for fighting and disturbing the peace (see earlier blog post). It’s not hard to imagine that the deaths of both brothers who had raised him, especially in such quick succession, would have been very upsetting to Ambrose and left him floundering for a while.
Putnam County Library Cemetery Database
Edna Epperson Brinkman, The story of David Epperson & his family of Albemarle County, Virginia : with supplementary notes on the Epperson family in America. (1933); online images, (www.ancestry.com).
The story mentions that Nay (Ambrose) had a difficult time finding work after his brothers died. The late 1830s through the early 1840s were a time of economic depression throughout most of the United States. This recession began with the Panic of 1837 when many banks failed and real estate prices plummeted.
For a few months in 1840, Ambrose found work constructing a public building in Greencastle. I found it interesting that he knew exactly how many days he worked on the job. Most likely, he was paid by the day making it important to keep track of the total. I also wonder why he spent four nights working on the building. Did they work by lantern light to meet a deadline? Or perhaps they laid brick by the light of a full moon to escape the heat of the day.
By consulting county histories, I learned that a new, brick jail was built in Greencastle during 1840. Perhaps that was the building that Ambrose helped construct. I would love to see a picture of the building, but so far have not been able to locate one.
Weik's History of Putnam County, Indiana
Putnam County Jail History
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."
Please visit the KinSeeker Genealogy Services Facebook page
This blog is owned by Teresa Shippy. Content may not be copied without permission.
©2016, copyright Teresa Shippy