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For noting the hatter’s death

It has been exactly 152 years, today, since William M. Robertson died in Attala County, Mississippi.

The Legal Genealogist‘s third great grandfather, William was born in North Carolina around 1794.1 Although the case isn’t 100% proved just yet, we believe he married Delilah Moore in Monroe County, Mississippi, in January 1822,2 and that their family was enumerated in the 1830 census of what was then the newly-created Lowndes County.3

Judge Jason Niles (1814-1894)

Judge Jason Niles (1814-1894)

We know what he did for a living: he was a hatter. In 1831, he needed money, and borrowed $155.40 from John Billington. As security, he put up his hatter’s shop in Columbus, his grey horse and a 35-year-old female slave named Fan.4

In 1840, the family was in Winston County,5 and William got a land patent there for 40.02 acres in 1841.6

We don’t know when Delilah died, but William was living with son Gustavus and his family in 1850,7 and moved with them to Attala County by 1860.8

And it’s there, in Attala County, 152 years ago today, that William M. Robertson died.

Now there aren’t any death certificates in Attala County in 1864; official death records don’t begin in Mississippi until 1912.9

There’s no probate file for William and no records that he owned any land at the time of his death.

There is no stone marking William’s death with a carefully engraved date on it.

And we don’t have any of those family treasures like a Family Bible or other record with the date noted.

So… how do we know when William died?

Because, in Attala County, as in so many places at so many times, there was one man who did keep records.

And his name was Jason Niles.

His official biography says that he was:

a Representative from Mississippi; born in Burlington, Vt., December 19, 1814; attended the common schools and was graduated from the University of Vermont at Burlington in 1837; taught school in Ohio and Tennessee for a number of years; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1851 and commenced practice in Kosciusko, Attala County, Miss.; delegate to the State constitutional conventions in 1851, 1865, and 1868; member of the State house of representatives in 1870; circuit judge for the thirteenth judicial district in 1871 and 1872; elected as a Republican to the Forty-third Congress (March 4, 1873-March 3, 1875); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1874 to the Forty-fourth Congress; editor of the Kosciusko Chronicle 1876-1880; resumed the practice of his profession; died in Kosciusko, Miss., July 7, 1894; interment in the City Cemetery.10

And there’s one thing the official biography doesn’t mention.

Judge Jason Niles kept a diary.

It’s now in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, donated in 1963 by Mrs. Swanson Niles of Kosciusko, Mississippi. A transcription of part of the diary online has entries starting in June of 1861 and running through December 1864.11

In it, Judge Niles noted that June 22, 1861 was “Clear, hot, dry and dusty.” That “A special Term of the Circuit Court of Attala County, under Judge Cothran was held” on the 20th of January 1862. That “a few flakes of snow fell” on the 27th of January 1863.12 The every day facts of every day life in Attala County.

And the facts of death there as well:

• October 24, 1862: “Child of Dolph Clark’s died.”
• November 1, 1862: “Jared P. Walker died this morning.”
• November 9, 1862: “George J. Wilson died today about 10 o’clock.”
• January 3, 1863: “Old parson Kelly died this morning. Reynard A. Woolley died on Friday last, Jan’y 2nd, having become crushed by a log on a cart, against a post. Wash Hudspeth died recently at Werrona–it rained awhile today–cool.”
• February 11, 1863: “Mrs. Col. Hanna died yesterday–John Teague is dead–Tishemingo Bill Rimmer died of typhoid fever in hospital at Grenada, on Sunday the 8th Inst.”13

And there it was.

The entry for June 26, 1864:

Rode over to Price’s this morning. Mrs. Crowder and daughters there. Albert Mitchell & Lucas here P. M.–rode with M. 3 miles P. M. At night a sudden shower. Turner Price died 17th Inst.
Old man Robertson (hatter) yesterday–man named Land hung in Carthage on 17th for murder of Ward in 1860. A very warm day this.14

Now just how many “Old man Robertson (hatter)s” could there be in a county that barely had 14,000 people by 1860?

Hats off to Judge Jason Niles, for noting the hatter’s death.

And for reinforcing the lesson: we always need to see who the record-makers are in a community — and they won’t always (or even often) be the official record-keepers at all.


Image: Judge Jason Niles, via Wikimedia Commons

  1. See e.g. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 373(A) (stamped), dwelling 809, family 816, William M. “Robinson”; digital image, ( : accessed 30 Aug 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 382.
  2. Monroe County, MS., Marriage Book 1:4
  3. 1830 U.S. census, Lowndes County, Mississippi, p. 84 (stamped), William M Robertson; digital image, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2003); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 71.
  4. Lowndes County, MS, Deed Book 1: 55-56; FHL Film 901930.
  5. 1840 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, p. 266 (stamped), Wm. M. Robinson; digital image, ( : accessed 27 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 219.
  6. William M. Robertson (Winston County, Mississippi), land patent no. 13267, 27 February 1841; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records ( : accessed 14 June 2015).
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Winston Co., Miss., pop. sched., p. 373(A) (stamped), dwell. 809, fam. 816, William M. “Robinson.”
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, Township 14, Range 8, population schedule, p. 76 (penned), dwelling 455, family 494, Wm. M. Robertson; digital image, ( : accessed 29 June 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 577.
  9. See FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Mississippi Vital Records,” rev. 19 May 2016.
  10. Niles, Jason (1814-1894),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, HTML version ( : accessed 24 June 2016).
  11. Diary of Jason Niles June 22, 1861–December 31, 1864: Electronic Edition; Documenting the American South ( : accessed 24 June 2016).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid. (emphasis added).
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