We find such interesting stories in our family history research!
Madison Stephenson lived in southern Indiana in 1850, with his wife Mary (Polly) Minnix, daughter of Jesse Minnix and Polly Henry from Franklin County, Virginia, and their four children: Susannah, Lucy, Owen and Caroline. But when Madison arrived in the area in the late 1830’s, he came with a wife named Sarah (Wellborn), and children Mary and James. Madison and Sarah had three more children after their arrival in Indiana: Martha J., Madison Clay and Francis Marion, as shown in the 1850 census. Were there two men named Madison Stephenson in the same area? Some of the children within the two families were born in alternating years. It all came to a head in 1838, when Madison wanted to marry the much younger Mary Minnix, who had already borne two children by him. He finally had to admit that he never was married to Sarah Wellborn, and had bigamously created two families. We find in the county criminal court records that the judge fined him 100 dollars for unlawful cohabitation. Sarah Wellborn was sentenced to thirty minutes in jail!
Madison Stephenson’s troubles with the law did not end there. He had several scrapes with the law which earned him a spurious reputation in the community. He gambled frequently in card games. One particular match occurred in November 1842, outdoors on a large flat rock. Witnesses testified in court that an argument ensued between Madison and a William Stinson, each accusing the other of cheating and lying. The two men stood up and each pulled a knife. The scuffle ended with Madison stabbing Stinson in the abdomen, from which Stinson died the following night. Details of the fight and physical descriptions of the combatants come from historical newspaper accounts of that time period. Madison Stephenson was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor in the state prison. That sentence must have been reduced, because we see him in the 1850 census, back at home! His two youngest children were two and three years of age, so he somehow got off with serving no more than five years.
Would you like to know what old newspapers reveal about your ancestors? You might be surprised, and the adventure is thrilling. Let us help you fill in the biographical gaps in your family tree. You might find a nut or two in that tree, but surely some peaches as well.
Raquel Lindaas, AG®, Heritage Consulting