Three Lives Lost With Too Few Clues: The Strange Demise of Branson Colvin and Family


Branson Colvin, wife and daughter, death registry listing. Only the term

Branson Colvin, wife and daughter, death registry listing. Only the term “direct” is given for their sudden deaths. Click to enlarge. Source: http://www.familysearch.org

In 1871, in Guernsey County, Ohio, an unnamed tragedy struck the Branson Colvin household, wiping out its head, Branson Colvin (1802-1871), his wife, Mary Sarah (nee Alloway )(1799-1871) and their first born daughter, Sarah Ann Colvin (1825-1871) – all within the space of a few weeks. The medical record of the period show the trio died that year between June and August.[1] Branson’s wife, Mary Sarah Colvin,  age seventy-two, was the first to die on June 11th, followed by her first born, Sarah Ann Colvin, then aged  forty-five on August 12th,  followed by her father, age sixty-eight on August 28th.  Other than using the term “direct” to describe the deaths, the record is entirely silent regarding the cause.  More frustrating, perhaps, a review of period medical literature offers no context as to what such a term might mean when used in 19th century death registries.

The cause,  however, was both sudden and clearly unanticipated. Among the other records extant for review is Branson Colvin’s  Last Will and Testament, executed a year earlier in March of 1870.[2]  In it he names his several heirs, including  his wife, and his daughter, Sarah Ann Colvin. Clearly,  in so doing,  he fully expected they would survive him. To his wife, for example, he devised the bulk of his estate — including all the lands, buildings, livestock, and chattels. That estate would only go piecemeal to his other heirs  upon her death, and only then with the proviso that any outstanding debts were to be paid first.  Thus it strains credulity to imagine Branson would have  made such bequeths to beneficiaries he thought would not outlive him. The remainder of his heirs – three sons and two daughters , however,  did survive him. The eldest male, Zachary Taylor Colvin, (1849-1923) for example, went on to father seven children — five of whom were sons — who, in turn, continued their Colvin line with their progeny, many remaining in the region for several more generations.

Branson was the son of Charles B. Colvin, (1770-1840,) himself a son of  Charles Colvin, an itinerant Overseer originally of Culpeper County, Virginia,  and whose own familial heritage seems rooted in Virginia’s Piedmont.[3] Records show Branson was born in Stafford County, Virginia, a region where his ancestors had farmed for several generations. Whether he came to Ohio on his own, or with his father or family is currently unclear. What is clear is that by 1840, he was established enough to be  enumerated in that year’s federal census for Guernsey County. However, marriage records also make it clear he had likely settled in the area much earlier. In fact, nearly two decades earlier, he had married a twenty-five year old, Mary Sarah Alloway , in Jefferson County, Ohio on December 30, 1824.[4] She was a few years his senior.  Much later, in the 1850 federal census, he is listed as a farmer.[5] His death registry entry likewise lists his occupation this way.

Although the death registry does not give their causes of death, ongoing research may ultimately reveal the reason – whether by an outbreak of disease or some terrible accident – that lay behind the trio’s sudden demise.

 

Sources:

[1]  Branson Colvin et all, entries, digitized original death registry, “Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001”  in Guernsey (County, Ohio) Death Records, 1867-1908 database. www.familysearch.org lines 123-125.

[2] Branson Colvin Last Will and Testament, Executed March 22,  1870, Wheeling,  Guernsey County,  Ohio, Will Bk Z: 338.

[3]  Charles B. Colvin was named both in the Last Will and Testament  of Charles Colvin as his son,  but also as one of two executors.  See: Charles Colvin Will, Pendleton County, Kentucky, Deed Book B (1803-1815):287.

[4] Branson Lee Colvin and Mary Sarah Alloway marriage registry listing, December 30, 1824, Jefferson County, (Ohio)  Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Book 3: 16.

[5] Branson L. Colvin household,  digitized original,  1850 U.S. federal census, Washington,  Tuscarawas County, Ohio, household 2517, lines 25-30. http://www.ancestry.com

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About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional publishing credits can be found at the link:
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