Local historian unearths the roots of his own family tree

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By Tom Watson

Like so many people, I’ve been interested in my family tree and have an ongoing search for information. In recent years, I found that my great, great, great grandfather, Joseph Watson, fought in the American Revolution before coming to a part of Nelson County in 1807 that became a southern part of Spencer County when Spencer was formed in 1824. Joe Watson married Margaret Fields in Loudoun County, Va., but she died when the couple arrived with sons Tom, John and William in the Grays Run Road area of present Spencer County. Margaret was very pregnant and may have died in child birth when her fourth son, Joseph Fields Watson arrived.

Joe’s second wife was Margaret (Mason) Haddox, the widow of Daniel Haddox. They had seven children.

The Watson family has been in Spencer County (including the portion of Nelson that became Spencer) for 204 years. As one of his great, great, great grandsons, I feel it my duty to publish some information on Joe’s military career, including a particularly vicious battle near Savannah, Georgia.

If Joe Watson was being truthful when he applied for a pension here in Spencer County, he was an 18-year-old terror in fights with the British and Creek Native Americans, especially in the Georgia battle.
A fellow minuteman, John Ringo, who came to what was to become Spencer County at the same time as Joe, swore that Joe was telling the truth and Joe verified John’s statement when both applied for war pensions.

One of Ringo’s kinsmen is Eli Summers. I have not been able to prove that the famous western marshal Johnny Ringo was a descendent of John Ringo, although I interviewed the Ringo family in Ringoes, N.J., several years ago.

Alexander Purcell, another great, great, great grandpa of this scribe, also fought in the American Revolution. His son, Shelby, introduced the thrashing machine to Spencer County. What this says is that if you work on your family lineage, it is possible that interesting information can be found.  

Other veterans who fought the British and made their homes in Spencer County included:

John Anderson, 74 when he applied for a pension Oct. 8, 1832. He was a native of Virginia; John Barr, 77 when he applied Aug. 14, 1833. Barr enlisted in Pennsylvania. Widow’s maiden name was Polly or Martha Lachfield who later married Uriah Hand; Joseph Brown, 78 when he applied June 4, 1833, born in Cumberland County, Pa., widow’s name Margaret. Daughter Jane Brown was 61 in 1843.

Continuing with the age at the time of application and the date the application was filed, plus other notations included for some of the petitioners:

Simon Bridewell, 76, Nov. 17, 1832, enlisted Stafford County, Va. Moved to Kentucky in 1807, settled in Nelson County (possibly in part that became Spencer); Anthony Crafton, 85, Sept. 10, 1832, born in King William County, Va., enlisted in May, 1778, previously in South Carolina; John Davis, 79, Sept. 10, 1830, enlisted Cumberland County, Pa.; Joseph Gray, 79, Jan. 18, 1833, born March 9, 1753 in Hanover County, Va., enlisted Goochland County, Va. where he lived and also had lived in Hanover and Henrico counties, Va., moved to Shelby County, Ky. Oct. 11, 1805; Gregory Spittsby, alias William Spillsby, 75 or 80, Nov. 12, 1832, enlisted Spottsylvania County, Va. in Oct., 1778, later lived in Fayette County, Ky. before moving to Spencer County.

Also, Jacob Heady, 82, Nov. 8, 1832, enlisted in North Carolina in 1780; Moses Hugh or Hough, 73, Sept. 10, 1832, born in Somerset County, N.J. June 11, 1759, lived in Franklin and Bullitt counties, Ky. after the war; Leander Murphey, 72, Nov. 12, 1830, born Prince William County, Va., Nov. 3, 1760 where he enlisted Oct., 1776, moved to Jefferson County, Ky., then a part of Shelby County that became Spencer; Michael McMasters, 78, Dec. 8, 1828, lists no family, enlisted in Virginia spring of 1777; William Maffit, 65, July 17, 1820, since the war lived at Taylorsville. In 1820, Maffit’s wife, Elizabeth, was 52, son Henry, 27 and crippled, Peggy, 23, William, 33, and Elijah 18.

The spellings of surnames (last names) over the years may have changed, sometimes due to errors of clerks.

There are probably other men who were veterans of the Revolution who made their homes in what became Spencer County.

Not all of our kin have had spotless records, but let’s be proud of the ones who distinguished themselves and forgiving of those who stumbled.