Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dustin Bellfield Willard’s Louisiana Years

1851 - 1885

Dustin and his family arrived in Bossier Parish, Louisiana between 1851 and 1858.  Evidence of this is found in two real estate transactions.  The 1st involved 80.49 acres (32°44’7.07”N 93°37’48.49”W) located 7 miles NW of Benton, La.  There is some confusion regarding when Dustin actually acquired this property.  A Federal Land Patent was issued to Private John Gibson who on 8/1/1860 assigned the property over to Dustin.  The description states that Dustin’s farm was already located on this property.  However, a Probate Record states that Dustan B. Willard (as spelled on the document) sold the property to John Coats on 7/22/1859.  So he must have acquired the property before 1859.

The 2nd property was 39.88 acres (32°47’43.48”N 93°42’11.30”W) located 6 miles NE of the 1st property and 7½ miles South of Plain Dealing, La.  A Federal Land Patent dated 4/2/1860 was issued to Dustan B Willard (as spelled on the document) granting him title to the property.  On 11/16/1865, Dustin sold the property to WSC Gardner (his son-in-law) for $100.  About 5 miles to the NE of this property is a place called Collinsburg, La.  To my knowledge it was never a town but during the late 1800’s a post office was located there and family mail was addressed to it.

Prior to 1875 Jacob Willard and Thetis Willard Gardner moved their families 61 miles NW to Richmond, Little River County, Arkansas.  Year’s later daughter Angelina Willard High and Dustin’s widow Nancy would also relocate to the Richmond area.  No one knows for sure why Jacob and Thetis left but Jacob may have gotten into trouble with the law.  On 10/1/1868, someone named Jacob Willard along with Peyton Ward, Mr. Cox, John Arnold and 4 others were charged with the murder of Henry Dixon as part of what became known as the Bossier Riots of 1868.

Dustin and Nancy don’t seem to be included in the 1870 Census.  However, in 1880 they are living with their daughter Mary Ella Bush near Collinsburg, La.  He was 80 and Nancy was 72 years old.  And according to the Willard Family Bible, on 1/3/1885 Dustin passed away.  His published obituary reads, “The death of Mr. Dustin B. Willard, which took place at the residence of his son-in-law Mr. M. E. Bush, near Collinsburg, on the 3rd instant, in the 85th year of his age, removes from our parish a valued and venerable landmark.  Mr. Willard’s experiences and acquaintances cover a large and prominent space in the history and progress of Bossier parish.  In the several relations of life, he was characterized by a high appreciation of those duties which made him esteemed and honored as a citizen, a husband, father and friend, and leaves a large and interesting family to mourn his loss.  It is an old adage that the young may die, but the old must.  In this instance death comes at a ripe old age, and when every passing moment was mellowed with the pleasing reflection that his life had been well and profitably spent.”  As of this writing, I have not been able to find Dustin’s grave site.

The Civil War was fought while most of the family lived near Collinsburg, La.  Two of Dustin’s sons, Roswell and Jacob enlisted into the Confederate army as well as 3 future sons-in-law.
  1. Roswell B. Willard enlisted into the army twice.  I will detail his life in one of my next postings.
  2. Jacob Willard enlisted in 1863, joining Company C, 6th La. Calvary.  
  3. WSC Gardner enlisted in 1862, joining Company A, 25th La. Infantry as a teamster in Capt. Head's supply train.  During a battle in 1864 WSC was badly wounded in the leg.
  4. Moses E. Bush enlisted in 1862, joining Company B of the 28th La. Infantry.
  5. William B. High, enlisted in 1862, joining Company D of the 9th La. Infantry.
Nancy Willard and her grand-daughter Thetis Bush wrote some letters to a family friend named Micajah Wilkinson, a farmer living in Liberty, Amite County, Mississippi.  "Their letters reveal information about religion, the temperance movement, agriculture, race relations, and community events in Collinsburg, La."  The original letters are a part of the Micajah Wilkinson Papers Collection housed at the Hill Memorial Library at LSU in Baton Rouge, La.  I plan to visit the library someday and obtain copies of these letters.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dustin Bellfield Willard’s Mississippi Years

Purportedly Nancy Rachael Curry
1826 – 1851

The first indication of Dustin living in Mississippi was his marriage to Nancy Rachael Curry on August 3, 1826 in Amite County.  His name however was spelled Justin on the marriage certificate. Nancy came from a large family in Amite County that traced their roots back to South Carolina.  Her last name has also been spelled Currey.  The picture shown here is purportedly that of Nancy.  Together they raised 3 boys and 3 girls listed below.
  1. Roswell Bellfield Willard (1827-1904) my direct ancestor.  Married to Anne Elizabeth Anderson.
  2. Mary Ella Willard (1829-1893).  Married to Moses E. Bush .
  3. Jacob Willard (1832-1914).  Married to Laura Ann Yarborough.
  4. Thetis Francis Willard (1835-1906).  Married to WSC Gardner.
  5. Angelina Willard (1838-).  Married to William B. High.
  6. Dustin Bellfield Willard Jr. (1848-1871).
In their son Jacob’s bio published by Goodspeed, he states that there was a seventh child, a girl that did not live to maturity.  

On October 21, 1829 the Amite and Florida Auxiliary Bible Society at its meeting in Liberty, submitted a report containing the names of heads of families in the two counties who were destitute of a full copy of the Holy Scriptures.  Included in the report was the name Justin B. Willard.

On November 10, 1840 land grants were issued to Dustin for the purchase of two parcels of land totaling 159.75 acres.  This property was located four miles west by northwest (31°11’09.68”N 90°52’12.30”W) of Liberty, the county seat for Amite County.  The actual purchase agreement however was dated and signed February 6, 1841 and shows the spelling of the family name as Williard.  This agreement discloses that the purchase price was $25 and that the cash came from Nancy.  It also includes an additional agreement between Nancy and Martha, the wife of the land seller, whereby Martha transfers her dower rights to Nancy for $1.  Back in the 1800’s property was always recorded in a man’s name.  To protect women, a legal provision called a dower was used to prevent her from losing the property if she were to become a widow.  It is likely that the family farmed the land however, the only family member that listed his trade as a farmer on census records was Jacob.  Dustin by trade was a carpenter.

The November 1850 Census shows us that the family was still in Mississippi.  And on December 3, 1850, Dustin sold the 159.75 acres for $270.  As part of the agreement Nancy relinquished her dower rights.  

Shortly after selling their property, most of the family moved to Bossier County, Louisiana.  The only family member who didn’t move was Roswell.  He had already married and elected to stay in Mississippi to be near his widowed mother-in-law.  Many of their friends and relatives from the Liberty area also relocated to Bossier County.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dustin Bellfield Willard's Early Years

Dustin Bellfield Willard
1800 - 1823

Our Willard history starts with Dustin. Nothing is known of his youth or who his parents were.

Dustin wrote that he was born March 25, 1800 in Washington County, Vermont just 17 years after the Revolutionary War ended. Vermont joined the Union in 1791. Washington County was originally named Jefferson County, which was established November 1, 1810. It was made up from parts of Addison (Formed 1785), Orange (1781), Caledonia (1792) & Orleans (1792) counties. The name was changed to Washington County on November 8, 1814. Today, the main city in Washington County is the capital of Vermont, Montpelier. Towns in Washington County that were organized before 1800 are: Barre (Formed 1781), Berlin (1763), Calais (1781), Duxbury (1763), Marshfield (1782), Middlesex (1763), Montpelier (1781), Moretown (1763), Northfield (1781), Plainfield (1797), Roxbury (1781), Waitsfield (1782), Warren (1780), Waterbury (1763) & Worchester (1763). Dustin probably came from one of these 15 towns.

There are a number of Willards in the New England area around 1800, but no connection has been made yet between Dustin and any of them. The most prominent was Major Simon Willard who emigrated from England in 1634. His story and many other Willards are found at the Willard Family Association.

As I said, no one knows about Dustin's youth. But we do know what was happening in the Country when he was ages 12 to 15. The Country was at war with England in the War of 1812. In 1813 America took control of Lake Erie and seized parts of western Ontario. And in 1814 Napoleon was defeated in Europe allowing England to move more troops to Canada thereby pushing the Americans out. This solidified Canada as a nation. The War of 1812 was over by 1815.

But the War of 1812 had a direct consequence on the inhabitants of Vermont. Many were of French decent and they traded in the underground market with French Canadians. “The settlers in Vermont carried on substantial trade with Canada, most of it avoiding British revenue officers. The War of 1812 severely restricted this smuggling so Vermont was very antiwar. When the war ended, many Vermonters left the state to farm better lands in Ohio and a few New Englanders came to replace them.” (Pg. 691 of the Handybook for Genealogists, 10th edition). One of Dustin’s sons Jacob wrote about him by saying that he was of French decent and that he emigrated at an early age from Ohio to Mississippi and later to Louisiana.

The War Of 1812 had left most of the Vermont population severely in debt. And 1816 was an especially bad year economically for the state. It was called the “Cold Year” or the “Famine Year” marked by a near total crop failure. The state suffered extreme frosts and a drought that lasted most of the year. A great number of livestock froze to death. Stories circulated about the land of plenty westward in the Mississippi Valley. By 1818, most of the inhabitants of Vermont had abandoned their homesteads and headed west. The majority settled in Ohio, but some became residents of Indiana, Missouri and even Northern Louisiana.

Scores of pioneers found work in New York State to finance their move west. In 1817 work had begun on the Eire Canal, a man made waterway connecting Albany on the Hudson River with Buffalo on Lake Eire. Construction lasted until 1825 upon its completion.

Dustin knew that the County where he was born was known as Washington County. Since the County had not been renamed that until 1814, it is likely that he left Vermont sometime between 1814 and 1823 whereupon he enlists into the US Army in New Orleans, Louisiana. On January 22, 1823 he enlisted for 5 years, but there is no record of a pension in the National Archives in Washington DC, where these records are kept. He was a member of the 1st Regiment Infantry. His enlistment papers stated that he was 23 years old (he was really only 22), 5 feet 7 inches high, of dark complexion, blue eyes, sandy hair, and by profession a carpenter. Militarily not much was going on during the years that he was in the Army. There was some action in Florida with the Seminole Indians. But much of that was guard duty. There was also limited action in Cuba and Puerto Rico dealing with pirates.

It would appear that Dustin was discharged from the Army by 1826.  Because in that year he got married and settled down in Mississippi.

There are many ways Dustin could have migrated to New Orleans. But I believe it likely that Dustin traveled from Vermont to Ohio and then journeyed down the Ohio River to the Mississippi river. From there he would have navigated south to New Orleans. But as of now I have no substantiation of my theory.