This post is a three-for-the-price-of-one post. Why? Well, it manages to blend one of my Monday Madness problems with my continuing series on my Browning family as well as directly relating to my previous post about a photo comparison. It concerns John Wesley Browning, the eleventh child of Samuel Browning and Margaret Markee.
John Wes is a Monday Madness problem for me because after 1864, he just.....vanishes. Did he leave Illinois? Go serve in the War? Did he die? I'd love to know but even if I did manage it somehow it would be a bittersweet victory because my cousin Pat -- who's descended from him -- is no longer here to enjoy the knowledge.
Here's what I do know.
John was born around the year 1835 in Moorefield Township in Harrison County, Ohio. He came to Crawford County, Illinois with his parents and siblings when he was about 12 years old. John almost always used his middle name (Wesley) with one exception; upon his marriage to Matilda Corderman in 1856 he placed the name Francis on his marriage certificate. Matilda was born around 1834 in Ohio and was the daughter of David Corderman and Sarah Viola Barron. She was also the older sister of Minerva Corderman, who had married John Wesley’s brother Asbury Taylor Browning in 1852.
Evidence shows that the Corderman family and the Browning family knew each other for some years (and in two states) prior to the intermarriages between them. Matilda’s sister Minerva claimed in her widow's pension papers in May 1863 that she had known her husband Asbury Taylor Browning "from a young boy." (As Taylor was a young boy in Harrison County, Ohio and Matilda and Minerva grew up in Licking County, Ohio this little clue is important -- other Brownings lived in Licking County and I'm very interested in where that leads me research-wise.) Anyway, it seems evident that Matilda got to know Taylor’s younger brother better as a result of her sister’s marriage. Matilda was likely already engaged to John Wes when she was listed as the assistant midwife at the birth of Charles Otho Browning, Taylor and Minerva’s son, on 6 April 1856 because she and John married the next month on 23 May 1856 in Crawford County.
After their marriage the couple may have lived briefly in Crawford County before they moved to Pleasantville in present-day Woodbury Township in Cumberland County, Illinois. The couple is found with their daughter Alice on the census there in July of 1860. Pleasantville was a small community annexed to the west of the town of Jewett and today no longer exists in the county. (The road that presently goes south out of Jewett was the dividing line between Jewett and Pleasantville.) John Wesley and Matilda lived next door to Matilda’s parents and very near to John’s brother Asbury Taylor. At that time, John listed himself as a laborer. By September the couple had moved to Pleasant Grove Township in Coles County, Illinois and are found enumerated on the census in that township. Wesley’s occupation at that time was listed as engineer. It's possible that the family moved to Coles County because John had found a job as an engineer in either Charleston or Mattoon, both well-populated cities at the time.
The next documented evidence found for John Wes and Matilda is October 1864, when Wes filed a patent application in Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois stating that he was a resident of Mattoon. The patent was numbered #44594, was dated 11 October 1864, and was for a “new and improved device for transmitting motion." An engineer I know took a look at the patent drawings and said that John was technically adept and his ideas were good ones (though of course perpetual motion machines have folly written all over them!)
This patent is the last record that John Wesley Francis Browning leaves behind. By July of 1865 his wife Matilda and the couple’s two daughters were living alone in Sumpter Township in Cumberland County. They were enumerated beside Matilda’s sister Minerva, who'd become a widow a few years before. It's uncertain whether John Wesley left his family for reasons unknown, joined the war effort, or simply died. If he did die, I've never been able to locate where he was buried.
Pat told me that stories passed down through her family expressed the belief that he may have served “in the Grey.” This is interesting for it suggests that John Wesley may have been a southern sympathizer and might have fallen in with the Copperhead movement that was prevalent in Mattoon during the Civil War years. He might have joined the Confederate cause -- it's certainly possible -- but despite my research into southern war records I haven't uncovered anything to substantiate Pat's family tale. Lacking hard evidence to the contrary, it's tempting to assume that John Wes died sometime between October of 1864 and July of 1865. This assumption, however, is by no means proven.
In March of 1867 Matilda went before the county clerk of Cumberland County as a witness to help her sister Minerva gain a minor’s pension for the children of her marriage to Taylor Browning. Matilda testified to her attendance at the birth of her nephew Charles Otho Browning and claimed that she was a resident of Prairie City. Three years later, in July of 1870, Matilda was still living in Prairie City with her daughters Alice J. (b. 1857) and Sarah Viola 'Kate' Browning (b. Mar 1863) a few doors down from her parents. She was listed as a seamstress.
After July of 1870 there is no further record of Matilda either. She isn't found on the 1880 census but this might be because she was remarried before that date. Sadly, a courthouse fire in 1885 caused the loss of all Cumberland County records filed before that date so I may never know if Matilda remarried. I can't even hunt her down through her daughters -- if Alice married in Cumberland County her marriage, too, is lost, and then of course there's no 1890 census.....
And what of Kate? By 1880 Kate -- Pat's g-grandmother -- had become pregnant out of wedlock and stories in Pat's family relate that Kate and Matilda never got along again after that. The pregnancy drove a wedge between Kate and her mother and before she gave birth Kate took her father's picture and his patent papers and ran away to Terre Haute in Vigo Co., IN. I wonder, though -- if Kate took his papers that mean John didn't take them. Surely if he left the family for some reason other than death, he'd have taken his papers?
I just don't know what happened to John Wes. I don't know whether Matilda remarried or died. I don't know what happened to their daughter Alice. John Wes and his family drives me mad. I do have the patent papers and I do have the one photo that Pat gave me (the positively identified photo from the previous post) though it is not a good copy. Pat was given the other unidentified photo (the black and white one, not the sepia toned one) from another cousin who believed that it was John and I think she was right. The collar that he is wearing reminds me of a war uniform, perhaps? If so, maybe the story about John Wes going into the service isn't just a family rumor. Anyway, I'm working on obtaining good, high-resolution scans of both photos and when I do I'll unashamedly take Brett up on his offer of digital overlay.
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