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The death of a son

You can’t help but wonder what dreams and plans there were for that boy.

He was born 190 years ago yesterday, on the 13th of June 1824. His parents, Josias and Nancy (Parks) Baker named him William H.1 — and nobody today knows what the H stood for.

WilliamHe was likely born in Monroe County, Indiana. His North Carolina-born parents had moved there with his mother’s family before 1820,2 and they stayed there until the 1850s when — as was true of so many others — you could write “Gone to Texas” after their names.3

William wasn’t the first-born child of this couple. He had three older sisters — Mary, called Polly, born in 1817; Elizabeth M., sometimes called Milly, born in 1819; and Nancy Caroline, called Caroline, born in 1822.4 But he was the first-born son.

And perhaps especially in farm families like the Bakers, and perhaps even more especially in families with many daughters, a son occupies a special place.

You can’t help but think William’s place became even more special when the next child arrived — another girl, Martha, in 1826.5 And even if his special place was a little diluted when the next baby, born in 1829, was a boy, given the name John T. Baker,6 you can’t help but think it became just that much more precious to that family when they lost John, only 14 months old, in May of 1830.7

But William grew and thrived and managed to be recorded as one of those tick marks on the census records. The family in 1830 consisted of one adult male, aged 40-50 (Josias), one adult female aged 30-40 (Nancy), all their many daughters — two females aged 10-14 (Polly and Elizabeth), one female aged 5-9 (Caroline) and one female aged 0-4 (Martha) — and just that one boy, aged 5-9.8

He welcomed two more younger siblings. Rebecca was born in 1831 and Barsheba in 1834.9 He might have danced at the wedding of his sister Polly to Isaac Payne in 183610

Did the family start to breathe easier when William became a teenager in 1837?

When he turned 14 in 1838?

You can’t help but wonder, did they celebrate his birthday when he turned 15 in 1839?

Because you can’t help but wonder what plans and dreams those parents saw when they saw their boy growing up tall and strong and so very close to manhood.

And you can’t help but wonder what dreams and plans died when William died.

The Family Bible offers no details beyond the date. 30 August 1839.11 Fifteen years old. Ten years after his brother John. Ten years before his sister Martha.12

There’s no record of what caused William’s death.

No record of where William was buried.

And nothing, beyond our imaginations, to tell us exactly what dreams and plans died with that boy, born on a June day 190 years ago yesterday.

RIP, cousin William.


  1. Baker Family Bible, 1787-1878; The Holy Bible (Philadelphia : Jesper Harding, printer, 1846), births column, entry for William H. Baker; Bible Records Collection; Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Texas.
  2. 1820 U.S. census, Monroe County, Indiana, population schedule, p. 117 (stamped), line 36, Josiah Baker; digital image, ( : accessed 4 November 2009); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 14.
  3. Josias first appears in Texas records on the tax rolls in 1853. Ellis County, Texas, 1853 Tax Assessment List, p.1, entries for Josias Baker; Texas Comptroller’s Office, Austin; FHL microfilm 2,282,181.
  4. Baker Family Bible, births column.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., deaths column.
  8. 1830 U.S. census, Monroe County, Indiana, p. 149 (penned), line 12, Josiah Baker; digital image, ( : accessed 4 November 2009); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 30.
  9. Ibid., births column.
  10. Monroe County, Indiana, Marriage Record A, 1818-1840, pp. 140-141, entry for Isaac Payne and Mary P. Baker, 11 November 1835; Monroe County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Bloomington; FHL microfilm 1,295,699, Item 1.
  11. Baker Family Bible, deaths column.
  12. Ibid.
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