“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.
On the 11th of March, 1841, Nay married and settled down. Times being pretty hard, in 1844, he moved to a mill on a little stream called Jourdon and worked on the farm and in the mill as long as he could stand the work, but finding the mill too hard for him, he settled up affairs and started to Illinois in the spring of 1850 and all he had in this world was a small two horse team, a wagon, which was tolerably well loaded for the muddy roads, a wife and three children, and about twenty dollars in money. But he was bound for the far west so he landed in McDonough County, Illinois about the 20th of May, 1850. He remained there till the fall of 1854, he then started farther west intending to settle in Kansas Territory. He stopped in Woppoloo County, Iowa with some relatives and the cold weather overtook him and he remained there all winter.
This section contains one of the most convincing pieces of evidence that “Nay” was actually Ambrose Epperson – his marriage date. The date given in the story (11 Mar 1841) exactly matches the marriage date for Ambrose Epperson and his wife Nancy Burchfield in Edna Epperson Brinkman’s book about the Epperson family -- information which seems to have been provided by the descendants of Ambrose’s brother James Harvey Epperson. I also found Ambrose B. Epperson and Nancy Burchfield listed among the recent marriages in abstracted material from an 18 Mar 1841 Greencastle, Indiana newspaper. If the name Burchfield rings a bell, it’s because Ambrose’s sister Emily also married a Burchfield. Her husband John was a brother to Ambrose’s wife Nancy. The Burchfields were early settlers of Clay County, Indiana and several members of the family patented land in the vicinity of Bowling Green.
In 1844, Nay (Ambrose) moved to a mill on a stream called “Jourdon”, farming and running the mill. With only that information to go on, I was not very hopeful that I could identify the mill or its location. However, it turned out to be exactly the kind of historical puzzle I enjoy most, where details from various sources converge to reveal the probable answer.
I began by searching for a stream named Jourdon (or more likely Jordan) in the vicinity of Greencastle, where Ambrose was last known to live – and where his oldest son was reportedly born on 16 Nov 1844. I didn’t find one there, but I did find a Jordan Creek in Clay County near Bowling Green, where both Ambrose and Nancy had family ties. A 1909 history of Clay County, named four mills that were built in early times “for the production of breadstuff and feed” on Jordan Creek. As I read the names of the owners of these mills, one of them – William Nees – sounded familiar. Checking my genealogy database, I found that William Nees was married to Martha Burchfield, a sister to Ambrose’s wife Nancy. BINGO! Ambrose was most likely working at his brother-in-law’s mill! The possible discrepancy with the birthplace of Ambrose’s son could have several explanations. Perhaps Nancy stayed in Greencastle until her child was born while Ambrose worked at the mill. Alternatively, the date in the story could be slightly off.
Getting back to the location of the mill -- William Nees patented several plots of land in the eastern part of Clay County in 1838 and 1839. However, Jordan Creek ran through only one of these, the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 10 in Washington Township. This 80 acre plot is a little less than four miles northeast of Bowling Green and abuts the Clay/Owen county line. This location fits with other available information about the mill. According to the 1909 county history, William Nees’s mill was located between the Phegley mill on the Edward Thompson place and the mill built by Oliver Cromwell, Sr. A biographical sketch of Edward Thompson, found in the same county history, mentions that he had a farm in section 16 of Washington Township. Section 16 is just southwest of section 10 and includes downstream portions of Jordan Creek. Another county history from 1884, tells that Oliver Cromwell built a small corn mill on Jordan Creek in the southwest corner of Jackson Township in Owen County. This would have been just east of section 10, across the county line.
A location in section 10 is also consistent with the details of a legislative act concerning the construction of a state road. In 1843, Nathan Burchfield (a brother of Ambrose’s wife) was appointed as a commissioner to mark out a road running east out of Bowling Green. The road was to pass near the point where sections 14, 15, 10 and 11 met and then south of William Nees’s mill. An 1876 map of Clay County shows a road just south of Jordan Creek that appears to follow this route.
In the spring of 1850, Ambrose, his wife and three children moved to McDonough County in western Illinois. John and Emily (Epperson) Burchfield had moved to Fulton County, Illinois – the next county east of McDonough County, so Ambrose and Nancy probably decided to settle near them. They loaded all their worldly possessions into a wagon pulled by a two-horse team. Ambrose mentions that he had only about twenty dollars in cash. I again used the inflation calculator to determine that today’s equivalent would be $574.98. That wouldn’t provide much of a cushion for a family starting over in a new place!
The family arrived in McDonough County about 20 May 1850. That means that they should have been included in the 1850 census there, which was enumerated beginning in mid-August and was supposed to reflect an individual’s residence on June 1 of that year. However, I have not been able to locate them. One piece of evidence does attest to the family’s residence in Illinois. A son, George M. Epperson, was born about 1854 and his birthplace is listed as Illinois on census records.
In the fall of 1854, Ambrose and his family moved again. This time their intended destination was the newly established Kansas Territory, but after visiting relatives in Wapello County, Iowa they decided to spend the winter there. Both Ambrose and Nancy had family members in Wapello County. Robert Burchfield, Nancy’s older brother had lived there since at least 1852, while Ambrose’s cousin, John Epperson Ballard, moved there as early as 1850. No doubt they all enjoyed this temporary family reunion. I wonder if Ambrose and Nancy were tempted to settle in Iowa permanently. In the end, the lure of land in a new territory must have been too strong.
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).
Ancestry.com. A history of Clay County, Indiana : closing of the first century's history of the county, and showing the growth of its people (1909) [database on-line]
Counties of Clay and Owen, Indiana: Historical and Biographical (1884) [Google Books]
Local Laws of the State of Indiana (1843) [Google Books]
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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