Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Covington Family in Rhea co., Tenn. & Crawford co., Ark. 1800s

Rhea and Meigs Counties, 1840

I believe that our Covington family is descended from Richard Covington, born in about 1775. It's likely he himself was born further east, probably Virginia or one of the Carolinas, but census records indicate that all of his children were born in Tennessee, beginning before 1810.  The earliest record I have found so far is the 1840 US census, showing Richard, his wife, and twelve children living in Rhea County, Tennessee, in the southeast corner of the state.  Rhea County is located in the Tennessee River Valley, in the Appalachian Mountains. Two of their sons were married and lived nearby: John, also in Rhea County and William, across the Tennessee River in the newly formed Meigs County.


Cherokee Connection?

Indian Removal (graphic from Wikipedia)

The Covingtons were in this location probably as part of a natural westward expansion into fertile farmland along the Tennessee River. But perhaps there is a Cherokee connection.  In the late 1830s, the US government forced the Cherokee Nation to move from their territory to the Oklahoma Territory, their very difficult journey known as the Trail of Tears. (This was part of a broader displacement of the largest eastern tribes during the 1830s.) The Covington properties were just outside of the Cherokee territory in 1840. The Cherokee followed two routes, both beginning at the Tennessee River between Meigs and Rhea Counties. (Click on the graphic caption for a larger image.) By 1850, most of the family had moved to the Fort Smith, Arkansas area, which was near the other end of the Cherokee route and just across the border from the new Cherokee territory. Family history claims there was "Native American blood" in the Covington family.  I have not found any records showing Native Americans in the family, but records are sparse. I wonder if the Covingtons were just a family in a westward expansion, or whether they had family in the Indian Territories.

Crawford County region, from 1850

I'm guessing that Richard and his wife passed away in the early 1840s.  In 1841, three of the kids were married in Rhea co.: Sarah and Anna married Silas and Thomas Conley (brothers?) on August 17th, and Jackson married Rebecca Smith in December. By 1850, William, John, James "Mat", Lorenzo, Rebecca, Gregsby and Richard, i.e., half of Richard's kids, were all in Richland township, in Crawford county, Arkansas. Crawford county was on the western edge of Arkansas, bordering the (Oklahoma) Indian Territory. Jackson and Anna (Conley) were back in Rhea co. I haven't found the other five.  By 1860, Jackson, Rufus and Louis join Mat in Crawford county, in Mountain township, bringing to 10 of 14 kids that came through Crawford co..  The remaining four are Sarah and Anna Conley and Richard's oldest son and daughter, that I have not been able to identify.  As the 12 known families continued to spread out, I lost track of most of them.  From census and marriage records I assembled the following Covington family tree:

(If you're in the OurFamilyForest family but don't know how you'r related to these folks, click on the genealogy link to our family tree on the right side of this blog, type in the name of your nearest deceased family member [father, grandfather, etc.] [last name, first name], click on the "list" button, click on your relative, then select the pedigree tab.  One of the branches of your tree should be a Covington.  If this doesn't work for you, contact me.)

Accuracy of the Covington Family Tree

Census records contain all sorts of errors, including ages, places of birth, and name spellings, the 1840 enumeration does not include names of those counted, and relationships are not shown prior to 1880.  There are very few vital records (at least available through to support (or refute) the guesses I've made.  So there is plenty of opportunity for errors in the above family tree.  However, given the proximity of these Covingtons to each other in the towns where they were located in 1840, 1850 and 1860, assuming only making reasonable assumptions based on their ages, and matching ages with the 1840 data, the Richard Covington family tree I've assembled is a very reasonable estimate. As more evidence becomes available, I will modify the tree as appropriate.  (If you have any data that either supports or refutes some part of the family tree, please contact me or leave a comment.)

Family Names

It was common in the South to name children after prominent people.  The Covingtons include an Andrew Jackson, Lorenzo Dow, James Madison, and Martin Van Buren.  Presumably, these namesakes represented values important to the Covington family.  At the time of Andrew Jackson Covington's birth in about 1820, Andrew Jackson was a war hero for his victories against the Creek Indians and the British in the War of 1812 and victories over the Seminole and Creek Indians in The First Seminole War in 1818, subsequently was responsible for taking Florida from the Spanish, was a very successful planter and merchant, had been Tennessee's first US Representative in 1796, and owned about 40 slaves. He was a Tennessee hero long before his election to two terms as US President in 1828 and 1832. (Note that Jackson's battles with the Creek and Seminole Indians does not mean he was "anti-Indian".  In other battles he was allied with Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee Indians, and two of his three adopted children were Native Americans.) Lorenzo Dow Covington was born in about 1827, near the end of a 30 year tenure of the very popular traveling preacher after whom he was named, Lorenzo Dow.  Dow was eccentric but eloquent, often shouting, insulting, and telling jokes. Very unconventional in the conservative religious services of the time.  He travelled throughout the United States, on foot, "did not practice personal hygiene", carried only the clothes on his back and a box of Bibles to give away.  He was a fierce abolitionist, often making him unpopular in the South. There are several Lorenzo Dow Covingtons, probably indicating their profound admiration, and may indicate the Covingtons were anti-slavery.  James Madison served two terms as President, from 1809-1817. He, too, was a slave owner.  Not being an historian, it is not clear to me why Madison would be a popular choice for naming children, other than that he was President at the time.  He tried to use the US Army to protect Indian lands against encroachment by settlers.  If the Covingtons had ties to the Cherokee near whom they lived in the 1830s, this may have endeared Madison to them. Martin Van Buren Covington was one of Richard Covington's grandchildren, and was born near Van Buren, Arkansas in 1839, right in the middle of Martin Van Buren's single term as President of the United States, so his name probably has more to do with circumstance than admiration.  Van Buren was anti-slavery, though opposing abolition. I believe it was common in the South for people to be anti-slavery as immoral, but against Federal abolition of slavery as an encroachment on States' rights, so Van Buren's position may have resonated with many in the South.

1860 Murder in Van Buren

On Saturday, October 13 1860, the town of Van Buren had been "called out to muster".  I'm not sure whether this was a regular town militia training, or whether is was a recruitment day for the US Army.  For a little historical context, Abraham Lincoln was elected with only 40% of the popular vote the following month, and in December southern states began seceding from the United States, including Arkansas in May of the following year.  There was heated debate over the issues of slavery and States' rights and many European-Americans in Arkansas were probably upset that there was apparently so much open land just across the river in the Oklahoma Indian Territories, but that they could not settle on it. In the early evening of October 13, 1860, two local troublemakers, brothers Ben and Silas Edwards, shot and stabbed to death Andrew Jackson Covington, then his 17 year old son, Richard, who tried to intervene, and then his brother, Rufus.  The reason was allegedly some combination of troublemakers and a family feud.  The Edwards brothers were caught and jailed, and one of them was shot by an angry group of Covington family and friends who tried to intercept the arresting officers. From an Edwards genealogy, I know that neither of the Edwards brothers died that day, but I do not yet know what happened following the murder. (If you have access to the compilation of newspaper article published in Van Buren Press: 1859-62 Volume 1, I"m very interested in learning the rest of this story.)  The families of Jackson and Rufus may have been split up following their deaths.  I can't find Jackson's family in 1870; I found two of Rufus' kids living with another family.

Fort Smith

Fort Smith, just a few miles from Van Buren, was on the Arkansas-Indian Territories border, was/is the second largest town in the state, and had a reputation for a very tough, "wild west" town.  Often death certificates of Covingtons who had moved away will show Fort Smith as a birthplace, because when asked while living they undoubtedly said they were from near Fort Smith, an easily recognizable place.

My Covingtons: On to Texas and Indian Territories

My own Covington family descended from James "Mat" Covington, and his oldest son, John.  He married Mary McLaughlin in Crawford co. in 1873, where Sarah, their oldest daughter was born the following year, then moved to join his father's family in Denton co., Texas in about 1875.  Both families were there in 1880.  John died in 1900 and was buried in Lehigh in the Pushmataha District of the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory, later Lehigh, Coal co., Oklahoma.  (A booming town in the early 1900s and later as a coal mining town, but since the Depression has become nearly a ghost town.) I don't know what became of James and Winnie Covington's family.  They scattered in the 20 years between the 1880 and 1900 censuses.  I have picked up the trail of John and Mary's family (which is what led me back to the Covington's in Arkansas and Tennessee in the first place).

Unanswered questions

1) What is the Kuykendall-Covington connection?  I know of two marriages(John C. to Sarah K. in Franklin co., Arkansas in 1872, and Lorenzo Dow C. to Parthena K. in 1881 in Crawford co., Arkansas) but there are multiple instances well prior to that of Covington kids living with Kuykendalls and of Covington and Kuykendall neighbors in various places.
2) The Van Buren murders:  What happened to the Edwards brothers? What was the feud about? What became of Jackson and Rufus' families? Where are Jackson and Rufus buried?
3) Where were Richard & family before 1840 (children's births indicate Tennessee since at least 1810, but can't find in census)?  Where did they go after 1860?
4) Strays that might link to previous marriages: Who was 9 year old Jasper Brown, living with Lorenzo and Eliza Covington in 1850 and 1860 in Richland? Who was John Hardin, living with this same family in 1860? Who was 5 year old Richard Loyd, living with William and Mary in Richland in 1850?
5) James "Mat" Covington was married to Martha in 1850 and 1860, but Winnie in 1870 and 1880.  Were they the same person, or did James remarry?

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