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Whither Boston?

If you take the northern route, to Chattanooga, then west through Nashville, it’s about 535 miles.

More directly west, through Memphis, it’s more than 450 miles.

Or south to Birmingham and then west through Memphis, still nearly 490 miles.

No matter how you get there, it isn’t an easy trip now.

And it couldn’t possibly have been less so whenever it was, in the years between 1850 and 1860, that Boston Shew and others packed up what they had, left Cherokee County, Alabama, behind, and headed to new territory.

West — northwest to be more precise — to Izard County, Arkansas.

Sitting here in Arkansas in the moments before today’s 2017 Genealogy for You Seminar at the Saline County Library in Benton, The Legal Genealogist can’t help but wonder…

Why did my fourth great grandfather make that trip?

What did he hope to find?

What did he leave behind?

And what happened to him there?

Boston Shew was born around 1790 in North Carolina.1 He took out a marriage bond in Wilkes County in October 1816 to marry Elizabeth Brewer;2 later census records support the conclusion he and Elizabeth actually did marry.3

By 1820, Boston had two children under age 10 in his household — one boy and one girl.4 By 1830, there were two boys and four girls.5 In 1840, there were three boys and five girls.6

By 1850, Boston had moved his family to Cherokee County, Alabama. There, the census and other evidence lets us put names on the sons who had been so steadily recorded as tick marks in earlier years: Simon, the first-born, born around 1819 in North Carolina;7 Daniel, the second son and my third great grandfather, born around 1826 in North Carolina.8

But that 1850 census is the last record of their mother, Boston’s wife Elizabeth. There are no official death records for the time; we haven’t found a cemetery record.

And the record in 1860 tells a very different story. Not in Alabama, where Boston’s sons by Elizabeth continued to live.

That 1860 census puts Boston all those miles west of Alabama, in Izard County, Arkansas. Not alone, but living with a 33-year-old woman named Nancy and a one-year-old child named William.9

Now Boston was hardly a young man at that time. The 1860 census records his age as 70. So it’s certainly possible that the father of Nancy’s child was someone else.

Except for a few key facts.

• The full name of that child from the 1860 census was William Boston Shew.10

• There wasn’t just one child involved; a second boy, Jefferson Davis Shew, was later identified as the brother of the first boy.11

Now my theory has long been that these were Boston’s sons by a late-in-life second marriage. But there’s a hitch here too. We’re not sure what happened to Boston and Nancy; we only know that there isn’t a trace of either of them by 1870 — and both of the boys with the Shew name were back in Cherokee County.12

So… I can’t help but be looking at those 500 miles, give or take a few, and wondering.

Why did my fourth great grandfather make that trip?

What did he hope to find?

What did he leave behind?

And what happened to him there?

Are these his sons (are there descendants out there who want to DNA test???)?

There are answers, I hope someday to find, here in Arkansas…


SOURCES

  1. See 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 26th District, p. 6(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 75, Boston Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  2. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1816, Boston Shew to Elizabeth Brewer; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  3. See, e.g., 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 26th District, p. 6(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 75, Boston and Elizabeth Shew.
  4. 1820 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 494 (stamped), Boston Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 83.
  5. 1830 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, p. 335 (stamped), Boston Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 125.
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Grayson County, Virginia, p. 305 (stamped), Boston “Shoe” household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Nov 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 555
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th District, p. 136(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 1054, Simon Shew.
  8. Ibid., dwelling/family 1055, Danl Shew.
  9. 1860 U.S. census, Izard County, Arkansas, Franklin Township, population schedule, p. 349 (stamped), dwelling 150, family 148, Boston Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Oct 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 43.
  10. Texas Dept. of Health, death certificate no. 40531, William Boston Shew (1945), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  11. See 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Leesburg, population schedule, p. 268(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 23, B and J D Shoe in R M Hale household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Oct 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7. And see 1880 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Beat No. 9, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 23, p. 332(D) (stamped), dwelling 29, family 31, Davis Shew in William Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 6.
  12. See 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., Leesburg, pop. sched., B and J D Shoe in R M Hale household.
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