The prompt for Week #7 of the 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Challenge is LOVE, as in, Which ancestor do you love to research? I don’t even have to think twice about the answer to that one. It would be Eliza Jane Campbell, my maternal 2x great grandmother. I feel so lucky to have found Eliza Jane early on when I started researching my family, because she led me to one of the most interesting branches of my family tree, the ones I call the Flat Branch Bunch, the families of Flat Branch Township, Shelby County, Illinois.
My mentor and genealogy maven Doris Denton once wrote:
I used to feel that someday I would find the one person in the world who was descended from every family in Flat Branch. I collected a lot of this before I was even sure that Preston’s son, Jonathan, was the right one. I got so fond of them all that I didn’t care.
Eliza Jane Campbell Simmons Gordon Denton, 1836-1904, my 2x great grandmother, wasn’t that “one person,” person, but like almost everyone else in Flat Branch, she could lay claim in one way or another to about half the people in the area. And I agree with Doris about the way the stories of all these interconnected people of the Flat Branch area just draw you in.
Eliza Jane was born to Jeremiah Campbell and Hannah Stone Campbell on 22 July 1836 in Sangamon County, Illinois. She was the seventh of 11 children and the first child in the family to be born outside of Carter County, Tennessee. The father had moved the family to Illinois to take advantage of the land grant given to him for his participation in the War of 1812. The family first tried Sangamon County, but by 1842 they were buying land in the area that would be their home in Flat Branch Township, Shelby County.
Eliza Jane was only 15 years old when her father died in 1851. She was the oldest daughter still at home, with four younger siblings, ages 13, 11, 9, and 7. Her mother Hannah Campbell is found in the 1860 census with $5,000 worth of real estate, a considerable amount for that area and that time, so the family was well-off enough. So it wasn’t poverty that caused 18-year-old Eliza Jane to marry Isom Simmons in 1855. They were married in the neighboring Christian County where Isom was a farmer. Like Eliza’s father, Isom’s father had also died when he was barely 50 years old, and probably didn’t leave his family as well-off as Eliza Jane’s, since the 1860 census describes him as a “farm hand,” indicating he did not own any land of his own. The couple began having children right away, and had four children by 1862 when Isom mustered into the Illinois infantry to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
Eliza Jane Simmons was left a widow in 1864 with four small children when Isom was killed in action in Georgia shortly after he participated in Sherman’s march to the sea. Her oldest child had died at age 3; the twins Alfred and Hannah were six years old; John was four; and an infant in arms was born and died the same year she was widowed. She was married a second time to the widower Benjamin Gordon of Shelby County in 1865, but that marriage lasted only months, as he died in 1866.
Jonathan T Denton of Shelby County became “Jane Gordon’s” third husband in June of 1867.
Doris Denton, a Denton family researcher from about 1970 to 2005, found the marriage index for Shelby County, Ill. for the 1860’s (remembering that she was working before the Internet).
DENTON, JONATHAN T GORDON, JANE SHELBY
From Doris: This is Jonathan Denton and Eliza Jane Campbell. She had 2 previous marriages and with first and last name differences it took me over 2 years to get it figured out because I was looking for a marriage to Eliza Campbell.
So THANK YOU, Doris Denton. You saved me at least 2 years of research work on Eliza Jane and her families and marriages.
The Dentons would have been well-known to the Campbells in Flat Branch, since the families owned land near each other in that township. Jonathan’s father Preston Denton had died in 1860, and by all accounts he had no land of his own to pass on to his children. Jonathan was 20 years old when his father died, and what Jonathan was doing or where he was living for the 10 years between 1857 when he was 17 years old and 1867 when he married Eliza Jane is simply unknown. There are no known records of his participation in the Civil War. By all accounts, this was Jonathan’s first marriage, and on the face of it, he doesn’t appear to have been much of a catch compared to other young men in the area who were his same age, a farmer at the age of almost 30 with no land of his own. Perhaps he was a kind and good man, and that would have been enough for Eliza Jane.
Eliza Jane and Jonathan settled into housekeeping in another neighboring county, Montgomery, perhaps purchasing their small farm near Audubon sometime shortly after their marriage. Eliza Jane’s Civil War widow’s pension must have been welcome monthly income to the couple, who had five children in the next ten years of their marriage: Martha Jane (Mattie), George Harvey, Hattie M, Alice B, and Edward. Her obituary says that Eliza Jane became a member of the Methodist Episcopal church in 1867, at some time changing her affiliation to the Baptists. Depending on when they changed their affiliation, perhaps the family attended the Shiloh Baptist Church in Audubon, a short one-half mile from their farm house where Jonathan owned and farmed his forty acres.
Without the 1890 census, it’s not immediately clear when Jonathan and Eliza Jane moved from their farm near Audubon, Montgomery County to Milam Township in Macon County. In the 1900 census, when Jonathan was 59 and Eliza was 63, the couple was farming in Milam, although somehow I imagine that Jonathan was busier being retired than he was farming. Eliza Jane was widowed in April of 1904; she died just three months later in July.
Eliza Jane and Jonathan are buried at Zion Cemetery, Montgomery County, Ill. Family lore says that their youngest son, Edward Denton, last heard from as serving in the U.S. Army in the Philippines, sent the money for their gravestone. Someone certainly provided a good deal of money for that stone, since it is by far the largest and most ostentatious gravestone in Zion Cemetery. As Doris Denton once commented in a letter to me,
It looks like it’s fit for the richest people in town. Poor Jonathan and Eliza, they probably never had anything so good in their lifetimes, but they sure are sitting pretty now.
I found myself feeling sad about Eliza Jane after I finished this week’s post, created by pulling together all of my research. I didn’t realize before that she spent 20 to 25 years of her life in a 2-room house on a 30-acre farm. She died at the age of 67 of heart disease complicated with rheumatism. I can only imagine how achy and miserable she must have felt during a “bad” winter, sort of like the one we’re having this winter, and yet, according to her obituary:
She was a true devoted Christian, a loving wife and mother, always thinking of the comforts of others.