Sunday, September 6, 2009

Comstock Family OOPS - My "Gray" Sheep Ancestor, Ephraim Comstock

Ephraim Comstock, born say 1795 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, was my third great grandfather. The Comstock genealogies have various stories with a positive slant regarding his accomplishments. There definitely are a few sins of omission and evidence of criminal behavior, although he was never convicted. I believe for him to actually qualify for a Black Sheep Ancestor, he would have had to serve some time for his crimes. He led an interesting life to say the least. And although I've uncovered much, I'm sure that's only the tip of the iceberg. Puzzles remain.

One curious fact about Ephraim is that he is much older than his two known siblings. He was born probably within the first year of his parents' marriage. His brother Elijah was born in 1808, and sister Lavinia in 1810 - Ephraim was in his mid-teen years. If there were other children that did not survive, no mention of them has been passed down in the family lore. This gap in the birth order leaves me wondering about the family dynamics and what may be unknown. The younger siblings seem to have led uneventful lives. His father was a local court justice. It is true his grandfather Capt. William "Wild Bill" Hardin was a rather colorful figure.

Ephraim married for the first time, 2 Jan 1817, to Martha "Patsy" Williams, daughter of Amos and Dorcas (Riley) Williams. Patsy died in childbirth when their daughter Dorcas was born on the 30th of November, 1817. Perhaps this tragedy started Ephraim down the wrong path. I suspect the infant remained in the care of Amos & Dorcas Williams from her birth, and Williams family tradition supports this fact, but not until 1820 do the court records reveal the following:

Breckinridge Court Order Book 3; p.156 21 Aug 1820: Amos Williams ordered that Ephraim Comstock be summoned to appear at next term to show cause why Amos should not be guardian of Dorcas Williams. p.188, 19 Feb 1821: Comstock did not appear in Court on that day. Amos Williams was appointed guardian of Dorcas Comstock by default.

In the years between the birth of Dorcas and her grandfather being appointed her guardian, Ephraim's life was in turmoil. I will highlight only the major incidents.

His father died. Court Minutes, Book 3, p. 2 21 Sep 1818 Ephraim Comstock and his mother WinneyAnn Comstock granted administration on William Comstock, dec'd, estate. Security with William Hardin Sr [grandfather] & Amos Williams [former father-in-law]. By November, Amos Williams asked to be released from acting as security and on 21 Dec 1818, Ephriam posted security bond with William Hardin Jr and William Davison [both were brothers-in-law].

His mother died. WinnyAnn Comstock's Will was recorded 18 Jan 1819 leaving a smallish bequest of $6 for Ephraim, stipulating that he was not to have the care of the two younger children. They were left in charge of Winny's brother, John Hardin. Will Book 1, p.8; probate 7 Jan 1819. Many of Ephraim's troubles had not yet surfaced in court when WinnyAnn wrote her simple will; but she must have had no confidence in his character.

On 27 Jan 1819, within weeks, perhaps days, after the death of his mother, Ephraim married the widow Eleanor "Ellen" Pate Clark. Her first husband was William B. Clark, son of Thomas Martin and Milly (Moorman) Clark and Ellen had three small daughters. William Clark was not long dead because a deed in Sept of 1818 between William Hardin Sr [Ephraim's grandfather] and Ephraim Comstock, has William B. Clark acting as one of the witnesses.

Ephraim had a serious fight with his brother-in-law. Circuit Court Order Book 4, p.215. Wed. 21 Jul 1819. Ephraim Comstock sued William Hardin (Jr or Sr - impossible to tell from the handwriting, but evidently it was Jr given a subsequent entry) for Trespass Assault & Battery. The jury found in favor of Ephraim and assessed damages to Hardin for 1 Cent plus costs. The jury seemed to believe Ephraim was not badly hurt.
p.235. Fri 23 Jul 1819. William Hardin Jr against Ephraim Comstock for the same TA & B offense. Jury said Ephraim was not guilty and ordered Hardin to pay his costs. Appeal was filed by Hardin the next day.
I discovered William Hardin Jr took this case to the Court of Appeals, but he lost there, too.

During the fall months of 1819, court records reveal that Eleanor Pate Clark Comstock had apparently inherited 100 acres and a few slaves from her Clark husband. Her father, Edward Pate, took various legal steps to ensure the property would descend to Eleanor's three young daughters as heirs of their legal father. Several cases of debt are levied against Ephraim Comstock, one initiated by his former father-in-law Amos Williams, quite likely for support of the infant Dorcas Comstock. By 1820, a guardian had been appointed for the three Clark girls:
On 15 May 1820 John Dejarnet, was selected guardian of the infant heirs of William B. Clark, dec'd. Commissioners were appointed to settle with Ephraim "Cumstock" and Eleanor his wife. [John Dejarnet was related to the Clarks by marriage and in the future, his son would marry one of the Ellen's Clark daughters.]

In the summer of 1820, Ephraim mortgaged his inheritance, his father's land: Deed Book E, pp.220-221: 18 Jul 1820. Ephraim mortgaged his share (200 acres) of the 600 acres deeded to his parents by William Hardin, Sr.

Also, on 22 August 1820, a son was born to Ephraim and Ellen Comstock. He was named Napoleon Bonaparte Comstock. A bit pretentious, perhaps.

There are hints in some of the various suits for debt that Ephraim had an association with one William Lasewell [Lacewell?] and it did not seem to be for the better. There is a deed dated 30 Dec 1820. George Lee and Mary his wife, to Ephraim Comstock and William Lasewell for $400. 194 1/2 acres on the little fork of Clover Creek, part of a tract patented to William May. [There was some problem with this deed. In 1821 the County Court mentioned a "pretended sale" from Lee to Comstock that was to be set aside and declared void.]

1821 was a bad year for Ephraim Comstock.

Circuit Court Order Book 5. p.69 Mon 16 Apr 1821. Commonwealth vs. Ephraim Comstock for Felony [later records reveal this was for forgery]. Jailor brought Prisoner to Court. Bail set at $500 from Comstock plus $500 Security. William Hardin Sr. [his grandfather] put up the Security that he would appear. Comstock released on his own recognizance.
p.90 Wed. 18 Apr 1821. Ephraim Comstock came not.
p.180 Sat 21 Jul 1821. Ephraim Comstock against Edward Pate and others for Trespass Assault & Battery. Plaintiff hath departed from this Commonwealth and the suit dismissed.

I believe by July of 1821, Ephraim had left the state of Kentucky and gone to Tennessee.

Ephraim forfeited his grandfather's $500. In the Circuit Court Records, Vol. 5, p.193, Monday, 15 Oct 1821, the Commonwealth of Kentucky brought suit against William Hardin for the $500 but notes that he "has departed this life and John E. Hardin is the acting executor of the Last Will and Testament of William Hardin, Senior."

Here is an abstract of the Will of William Hardin, which indicates how William "Wild Bill" Hardin Sr., felt about this errant grandchild.
The Will is dated 19 Jun 1821. Names wife, Susan [a second wife]; remainder equally divided between children Henry, Malinda Crawford, Amelia, Merry Celia Davidson, John E., Hannah Ann, Lucinda, and the children of deceased daughter Winny Ann Comstock - Elijah & Levina. [William Hardin omitted entirely the eldest child of Winny Ann - Ephraim - but that's understandable given the situation mentioned above.] Gives son William $3 and nothing more. Executors were John E. Hardin & Robert Huston. Witnesses: Gideon Brown, Robert N. Washington, Robert Huston. Probate 18 Sep 1821. Will Book 1, p.35.

In 1822, we discover the depth of Ephraim's crimes. He was convicted of forgery and sentenced in absentia. We discover he had title to the land that was to descend to the Clark girls and had sold the slaves that were to be theirs - a situation the Court took steps to correct.
Circuit Court Order Book 5. p.303-304. Mon. 15 Apr 1822. Ephraim Comstock indicted on two counts of Forgery. He came not. Convicted and sentenced to jail for not more than six years nor less than two years. Writ ordered for his arrest.
p.361-362. Sat. 20 Apr 1822. Several cases against Ephraim Comstock. Continued. He is not a citizen of this State and newspaper notices are required for two months in succession requesting his appearance at the next Court Term.
p.415 Mon 21 Oct 1822. William B. Clarks heirs against Ephraim Comstock. The Court delivered their opinion. We discover the 100 acres Edward Pate had signed over to the Comstocks in 1819, he had already deeded to William B. Clark, and Eleanor had full knowledge the deed had been made to Clark. Sale of the slaves mentioned in the bill was declared fraudulent and void. The heirs were awarded the 100 acres by 1st January next. Sale of Negroes to be annulled. The heirs were awarded their costs of the suit.

Since all of the above indicates Ephraim had been missing at least since the summer of 1821, the following record is peculiar. Court Order Book 6, p.26 Friday, 25 Apr 1823. Deed from Ephraim Comstock and wife Ellen to the heirs of William B. Clark was recorded. The deed is signed by Ephraim - one wonders how this signature was obtained. Did the family know where he was? Or did they forge his signature... A fact overlooked by the Court under the circumstances.

Apparently Ephraim and Eleanor were divorced, or more likely they simply agreed to disagree, as she married Edward Hamilton in 1825. She must have kept her son Napoleon Bonaparte Comstock, as he is found living with "Hambltons" in 1850, still in Breckinridge Co KY.

At the time Ephraim & Eleanor were separated, divorce could only be accomplished in Kentucky by an act of the legislature and the party at fault could not remarry within the state of Kentucky. I have never found any evidence that a divorce took place. I believe Ephraim was also guilty of the crime of bigamy...

According to an entry in her Bible, a daughter, Caroline Comstock, was born to Ephraim Comstock and Nancy Goodman, on 14 Apr 1823, probably in Maury County, TN. On 14 Oct 1823, Ephraim and Nancy were married in Maury County. Bondsman was Robert Bates, probably Nancy's brother-in-law married to her sister Mahala Bates. Ephraim & Nancy Goodman Comstock went on to have seven more children - all sons. They are found in Carroll County TN in 1830, Perry County TN in 1840. The youngest son, Harvey Alexander Comstock, was born in 1841.

Ephraim's death was recorded as 1860 on a worksheet in the manuscript file of Samuel Willett Comstock at the NEHGS library which is incorrect as his wife is the head of household in the 1850 census in Perry Co Tennessee. Soon after that census, the family all removed to McDonald County in southwest Missouri. Family papers have recorded Ephraim's death as 20 Dec 1847, but I have found no outside confirmation of the date. The manuscript file said that Ephraim went to Missouri with his family prior to 1850, then returned to Kentucky alone - I believe everything about that statement to be untrue - he was dead, certainly before 1850, and the family did not move to Missouri until about 1852.

Nancy Goodman Comstock's dates of birth and death were recorded in daughter Caroline's Bible. Nancy was born 2 Jun 1805 and died 24 May 1855, likely in Missouri. Caroline did not list her father in the Bible at all. I've been unable to discover much more about Nancy. Family tradition has held that Nancy was half-Indian, but my DNA shows not one drop of Indian ancestry. She was said to have been Choctaw, but there's no indication that she was ever located in a place populated by the Choctaw - if anything, she would have been Cherokee, but of course my DNA test indicates this is one of those mythical "Indian Princess" traditions.

The manuscript collection at NEHGS has this statement about Ephraim: "Ephraim was a school teacher & a Soldier in the Battle of Tippecanoe". This has been picked up in all the Comstock genealogies. He could have settled down to being a school teacher, I suppose. The Comstocks were in general an educated family; documents bear his signature, not a mark. And he could have been in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Tippecanoe is where William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh; a campaign from 16 Oct - 24 Nov of 1811. Ephraim would have been approximately 16. I have found two units listed from Kentucky - the Battalion of KY, Light Dragoons under Capt Peter Funk (27 men) and a Company of Mounted Riflemen under Capt. Fred Geiger (62 men). No Comstock is listed, nor do I find that these men came from Breckinridge County.

One last curiosity about Ephraim is his name. On the marriage bond for his marriage to Nancy Goodman, he signed his name as Ephraim H. F. Comstock. He never used any initials in any of the records in Kentucky. Some of the family references call him "Ephraim Flor Huber Comstock". His grandmother Hardin, nee Winifred Holtzclaw was of German ancestry so he might have known some of the language; his mother would likely have known some German as well. I have found that huber is a German word meaning "farmer"; flor is "bloom". Was he perhaps a fruit farmer, a truck gardener, a nurseryman? Was he given these names at birth, or was this something he adopted for himself?

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