52 Ancestors – Week 8 John Vincent Davis: MURDERED

John Vincent Davis (22 Sept 1850 – 28 May 1922), son of Thomas and Nancy Davis, was a farmer at the start of his adult life. In time, he began preaching locally for several Methodist churches, starting with his home church of Brown’s Chapel Methodist near Hopkins, South Carolina.


The church was torn down in the mid-1900’s.


John continued to farm and preach for about ten years before he was called to minister full time. For 15 years he served in various churches in South Carolina including churches in Darlington and Great Falls.

John Vincent Davis photo from newspapaer article

John Vincent Davis photo from newspaper




He married Rebecca Ellen Roberts (1855-1900) in 1876. John and Ellen had 12 children together, nine of who lived to maturity. After Ellen’s death in 1900, John married Sallie Ellen Lovin, and they had one daughter together.

John retired from preaching to become the superintendent of the Richland County Almshouse. Although John was a kind and godly man, one of the residents (or inmates as the newspaper called them) didn’t care for John…and murdered him.

According to the article from The State newspaper, Mr. Davis had asked Mr. John Watts Crocker to refrain from using bad language on the grounds of the almshouse about ten day before the murder. Crocker became angry and abused Mr. Davis.

Then on the day before the murder, Mr. Davis asked Mr. Crocker about letting his wife assist in the kitchen. Mr. Crocker again became angry and refused. Mr. Davis said he would have to report Mr. Crocker to the supervisor. According to a witness of this encounter Crocker shouted, “Look here, John Davis, you have been trying for the longest time to get me away from here, and I want to tell you that you are going to leave here before I do. You will be gone before sundown tomorrow.”

Was John Davis alarmed or scared by Mr. Crocker’s proclamation? I don’t know, but with him being the godly man he was reported to be I expect he took it to God and left it there.

The next morning when Mr. Davis and one of the cooks were handing out tobacco, Mr. Crocker shot Mr. Davis in the chest and killed him. Crocker was arrested. He claimed he didn’t do it.  His claim fell on deaf ears, though, since he was found with the recently fired gun in his hand, and shell casings were found in the room. Also the cook witnessed the shooting. Crocker’s wife said he did it because “he could not stand to be picked at.”

John Davis’ funeral was held at Shandon Methodist Church in Columbia, SC. According to the article, the funeral was one of the largest ever held in Columbia and the church was unable to accommodate the huge crowd attending. He was buried beside his first wife at his home church, Brown’s Chapel. The funeral procession from the church to Brown’s Chapel was about 400 cars.

John Vincent Davis headstone

John Vincent Davis headstone


I’ve been to the Brown’s Chapel churchyard. The church is no longer there, but the cemetery is mostly intact. It’s on a barely two-lane gravel road out in the country. I don’t know where those 400 cars parked, and I am sure people walked a long way to the churchyard.

Browns Chapel Cemetery-2

Brown’s Chapel Cemetery


The newspaper article about John Vincent Davis’ death was in my grandma’s belongings. I kept it for years, figuring he was a Davis and we have Davis ancestors so he would show up in the family history eventually. And he finally did a few years ago. I expect my grandma knew him and had heard him preach, and he was her cousin, too.


52 Ancestors Week 7 – Goldie, the grandmother I never knew

My dad’s mother, Goldie Isabel Price Heiser, was born in August 1893 to Montgomery Price (1859-1947) and Sarah Rebecca Pyles Price (1862-1940). She had three brothers, and a sister who passed away young.

Goldie Isabel Price Heiser, most likely, photo in locket belonging to Myrtle Hillard Burroughs

I believe this is a photo of Goldie


Goldie was born in Montgomery County, Maryland.  She married my grandfather, Daniel Wilbert Heiser, 16 July 1912 in Frederick, Maryland even though they were both residents of Montgomery County. I don’t know why they didn’t marry in Montgomery County, but it might be because Goldie’s parents had moved to Frederick recently.

Goldie and Dan lived in Dickerson, Maryland (Montgomery County) at the start of their marriage and moved to Washington, DC in 1915. They had three in a short order:  Charles Leroy in 1913, Dorothy V (Dot) in 1915, and Mary Helen in 1917.

Goldie died on New Year’s Day 1919 from the Spanish Flu. She was in the hospital for six days before she passed. Her burial didn’t happen for a week.There were so many victims of the flu that caskets couldn’t be made quick enough for earlier burials, and the ground so frozen they couldn’t dig the graves any faster. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

My father’s only memory of his mother was seeing her dead, laid out on a couch at someone’s house. He remembered someone saying, “There’s your mother,” as they pointed to her. And he remembered that she had dark hair. He was only five when she died.

My dad had traveled to see his deceased mother with his maternal grandparents and he left with them, too. He told me he believed he had been staying with them before his mother passed, but he wasn’t sure about that.  The Spanish Flu was heavy in Washington, DC, so perhaps he had been sent to stay with his grandparents in Frederick to get him away from the flu. He never asked so we’ll never know.

Sarah Rebecca Pyles Price cropped

Sarah Rebecca Pyles Price, mother of Goldie


When going through the belongings of Goldie’s first cousin Myrtle Virginia Hillard Burroughs (1903-1977), I found a locket with a photo of a young woman with dark hair.  The face reminded me of Goldie’s mother and Goldie’s daughter, Dot.  Myrtle and Goldie were close even with the age gap, so I concluded the photo is of Goldie.

Dorothy Heiser Brown 1957 cropped

Dorothy Heiser Brown, daughter of Goldie


I never knew this grandmother, but I knew my dad’s sister, Dot, and I heard stories about Goldie’s mother. Both were tough, determined, spirited, and loving. I have to believe Goldie probably was, too.


52 Ancestors Week 6 – Mean Aunt Maggie

Maggie Martin Marshall (born 22 Sept 1889) was another one of my grandfather’s sisters.  She was the 3rd of the 14 children born to Adolphus Burdine Martin and Elizabeth Patience Lee Martin.

Margaret (Maggie) Martin Marshall

Maggie Martin Marshall, circa 1920’s


My mom always said Aunt Maggie was mean, but never told me any stories about her.   If you remember, a few weeks ago I wrote about Florrie Martin Duckett, sister of Maggie and my grandfather.  In a conversation a few years back, Florrie’s daughter, Lydia, confirmed that Aunt Maggie was indeed mean, and she had some stories to back that up:

Story #1  Lydia’s mother, Florrie Martin Duckett, told Lydia that one time Aunt Maggie put a cat on the top of one of those old wood-burning kitchen stoves when the stove was hot.  Florrie said that Aunt Maggie laughed about it because the cat was jumping all over the place, and Aunt Maggie thought it was funny.

Story #2  After Lydia was married, Aunt Florrie came to live with Lydia and her husband.  One time, Aunt Maggie came to visit for a while.  While visiting, Aunt Maggie locked herself in the bathroom and wouldn’t come out.  Lydia and her husband didn’t have a key for the door, so they had to call a locksmith to open the door.

Story #3  During that same visit, Aunt Maggie gathered up all the scissors in the house, including Lydia’s favorite pair of bandage scissors, and hid them.  Lydia said they never did find any of the scissors.

Aunt Maggie married Charlie L. Marshall around 1918. Lydia also told me that Aunt Maggie had at least 5 babies, and all of them died within a few months of being born. I remember that my mother, too, said that all of Aunt Maggie’s babies had died. It sounds like Aunt Maggie was mean before losing all those babies, and I’m sure that losing all those babies didn’t help her disposition any.

She wasn’t all mean, though.  When their mother died in 1937, Maggie sent the poem below to her brother, Joel Daniel Martin (my grandfather).

Poem sent to JD Martin from sister Maggie when their mother died cropped

Maggie Martin Marshall, circa 1950,SC

Maggie Martin Marshall, circa 1950

Aunt Maggie died 27 April 1961 from a stroke.  Her death certificate says she was a widow, but I don’t know when Charlie died.  One of Maggie’s other sisters, Annis Martin DeBruhl, provided the personal information for the death certificate.  Maggie is buried at Hermitage Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.



52 Ancestors Weeks 4 & 5 – The elusive Billy Thomas’s

I was able to find out a lot about my 3rd great-grandfather, Renatus/Rhenatus Thomas.  With a name like that, there weren’t that many records to sift through.  Plus my grandmother remembered his name and his wife’s name and all his children’s names.  Easy peasy.


Not so with Renatus’ father and grandfather, the elusive Billy Thomas, Jr. and Billy Thomas, Sr.

According to notes prepared by two of Renatus’ sons (George Washington Thomas and John Thomas) in February 1922:

Billy Thomas, Jr. was a carpenter and mill-wright by trade.  He set out on a western trip in quest of better business conditions, but when he reached the vicinity of Jackson Creek [Richland County, South Carolina] he had to strike camp for several weeks on account of the illness of his little son, Rhenatus. 

The lad did not improve in health sufficient to warrant his father in resuming his trip westward, so he began to do carpenter work in the neighborhood and as favorable were the conditions for employment, that he gave up all the thoughts of journeying westward and settled for life at the present site of the old Thomas cemetery.  However, Billy Thomas himself is buried in the old Medlin Cemetery, near an old oak tree (now dead).

He also built the old Joel Medlin house which is still in use as a dwelling.  Thus it was thru fate and disappointment of Billy Thomas, Jr. that the present Thomas generation became Southerners instead of Westerners. Rhenatus Thomas was born near Wilmington, NC.  [According to census records, though, Renatus was born in South Carolina circa 1799.]

The brothers also said:

Billy Thomas, Sr., father of Billy Thomas, Jr., who was the father of Rhenatus Thomas, who was the father of John Thomas, came direct from France and settle in Habana, Maryland. [There is not a place in Maryland called Habana…then or now]

Billy Thomas, Jr was married to Polly Ralston near Fayetteville, NC and reared the following children:  Rhenatus, Tempey, Betty, Dorcas and Polly.

You’d think with knowing all that would make it doable to find the Billys.  Not so. In fact several of my distant Thomas cousins and myself have looked for records in Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina and really can’t find much of anything about the Billys.

We don’t believe Billy Sr was French, but that he was on a ship that left from France. There is a Renatus Thomas in Maryland at the time that the Billys would have been there, and with an uncommon name like Renatus you might think they are related.  Still, none of us have found any connection between that Renatus and the Billys or our Renatus.

Thomas Cemetery-3

Thomas Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina


I do know the location of the old Thomas Cemetery.  Some of the Thomas family is buried there.  Some broken stones exist, too, probably belonging to Renatus and his wife.




Thomas Cemetery-6

Broken headstone at Thomas Cemetery







I’m pretty sure of the location of the old Medlin Cemetery, too, but the area is densely wooded and the cousin who checked it out didn’t find any stones at all.

For now, the Billys remain elusive.  I am leaving that mystery for my descendants to solve.

52 Ancestors Week 3 – Florrie the Late Bloomer

Florrie Martin Duckett cropped

Florrie Martin circa 1920

My Aunt Florrie Martin Duckett (born 22 Feb 1894) was the sister of my maternal grandfather, Joel Daniel Martin.  Florrie was the 5th of 14 children born to Adolphus Burdine Martin and Elizabeth Patience Lee Martin. Aunt Florrie and my maternal grandmother, Florrie Jane Thomas Martin, were the same age and got along well.

Aunt Florrie is always easy to recognize in photographs because one of her eyes wandered – a problem easily fixed nowadays, but not so in the early 1900’s. From what I know and remember of Joel Daniel’s other sisters, only Florrie was soft-spoken. I have to wonder if self-consciousness about her eye made her timid.

At the time of Adolphus’ death in 1917, all of Florrie’s older siblings had married and started their own families except one who died as a child. Of the nine siblings younger than Florrie, five were married and/or on their own by about 1920 and two had passed away. Florrie and the remaining two siblings, Stella and Gary, continued living with their mother.

Back Stella Martin and Gary Martin, Front Lizzie Martin and Florrie Martin,circa 1927,SC

Stella and Gary in the back, Lizzie (mother) and Florrie in front, circa 1929


In the 1920 US Federal Census, Florrie was a spinner at a cotton mill in Winnsboro, SC (about 30 miles north of Columbia, SC). Her mother was the head of house on the census with Florrie, Stella, and Gary as her dependents.

In 1930, Florrie was the head of the household on the census with her mother, Stella, and Gary as the dependents. Florrie, Stella, and Gary all worked at a cotton mill, but now the family lived and worked in Camden, SC (about 36 miles NE of Columbia, SC). Florrie was about 35 now, Stella 24, and Gary 19.

Being single and 35 years old in 1930, Florrie had probably resigned herself to never having a family of her own and just being the old maid aunt to her many nieces and nephews. But that began to change the very next year.

I don’t know how Florrie met Hebron Sylvester Duckett (1861-1940) or what brought them to marry. He was a 69 year old widower with grown children and she was nearly 36. He had children, probably some even older than Florrie. Was he lonely? Did he love her? Did she think this was her last chance at having her own home and family? I’ll never know.

Florrie and Hebron were married on 17 Feb 1931. Their only child, a girl named Lydia after Hebron’s mother, was born on 13 Sept 1933. In just a few years’ time, Florrie went from ‘maiden aunt’ to ‘wife and mother’.

Lydia Duckett Fallin 1930's

Lydia Duckett Fallin, 1930’s


Hebron died 30 Sept 1940, leaving Florrie to raise Lydia by herself.  I know Florrie and Lydia stayed in the Columbia area for a while which is where the family was living in the 1940 census, but they also lived in Baltimore for a time. One of Florrie’s sisters lived in Baltimore, too.

Lydia came to settle down in Manassas, Virginia where she married, had children, and worked as a nurse. Florrie lived with them, probably helping take care of the children and working here and there, too. As Florrie aged, she eventually became so feeble that she had to live in a nursing home. Florrie died on 2 Feb 1997 at nearly 103 years old.

Hubert and Eva Martin 50th Anniv-Hubert and Florrie Martin Duckett

Florrie and one of her brothers, Hubert, in 1970


I saw Aunt Florrie many times at family get-togethers and when she would come and stay a few days at my house to visit with my maternal grandma. (My grandma lived with my family.) When Aunt Florrie was in her 70’s she still had long, long hair that she kept in a braid and wrapped in a bun on her head. It never looked that long all wound up on her head, but when she took it down I was always amazed at how long it was.

Aunt Florrie was sweet and soft-spoken and always kind. And she had a pretty smile. Agnes Jeffords Jacobs, one of my mother’s first cousins, remembers that ‘Florrie would come and visit at her house sometimes and bring her daughter, Lydia, with her.’ Agnes remembers that Florrie always talked sweet and was always positive.

Click here to learn more about the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge


52 Ancestors Week 2 – Boy in a man’s body

My father’s half-brother, Ralph L. Heiser, was born 15 Jun 1923. He and my dad had the same father (Daniel Wilbert Heiser) but different mothers.


Ralph was ten years younger than my dad, and they didn’t know each other well. You see, Ralph was raised by their father and his second wife, but my dad was raised by the first wife’s parents. (That’s a story for another week.)

I don’t think I ever called him Uncle Ralph but simply Ralph. I always knew he wasn’t a regular grown-up but more like a boy in a man’s body. It was much later in my life that I came to understand what made Ralph that way.

On one of our rare visits to Jacobus, Pennsylvania to visit my dad’s father, I noticed there was fair or a picnic or something going on in the field behind the church across the road from my grandfather’s house.

I’m sure I asked my mom about going, but what I remember was my grandfather’s reply, “Ralph can take her. Everyone knows him. She’ll be alright.” Amazingly my mother let me go.

Ralph Heiser, half-brother of Charles Leroy Heiser, ca. 1940's cropped

my uncle, Ralph L. Heiser

Such freedom I felt as I walked across the field with this man-child. I barely remember anything about the event at the church.


What I remember is Ralph – his almond eyes and his easy laugh. He wasn’t tall like my father or grandfather, but still I felt safe with him. I stayed right with him, and he stayed right with me. It was like being with a big brother or an older cousin. Warm feelings still come to me when I think of that day.

Ralph died 14 Feb 1968 at age 44. I was eight years old, and I remembered enough about him to be sad about his passing. He’d had a very high fever and went into shock. An autopsy was performed, but the cause of the fever wasn’t identified. The doctor suspected a kidney infection.

My dad said that Ralph had hallucinated when he was sick, that he mistook a hose for a snake. I imagined Ralph in my mind, the man-child that he was, screaming and pointing at a hose thinking it was snake and how frightened he must have been.

Daniel W. and Ralph L. Heiser tombstone cropped

Daniel W and Ralph L Heiser gravestone

Ralph and my grandfather are buried side-by-side in a cemetery in Jacobus. They share a stone, but the death date for Ralph is wrong. It says 1958 instead of 1968. I still don’t understand why people don’t have gravestones corrected when the date is wrong.


More details about the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge can be found here.

52 Ancestors Week 1 – Clarence and the Outhouse

Clarence Price (29 Jun 1867 – 24 Sept 1912) was the third of four children born to Charles Thomas Price (1833-1902) and Mary Ellen Howard White Price (1828-1910). Clarence was my great grand uncle on my father’s side. He lived a seemingly ordinary life…up until his death, that is.

52ancestors-2015First, the basics…Clarence was born in Montgomery County, Maryland and lived there his entire life. Clarence was listed in his father’s household in the 1870 and 1880 US Federal Census.

Clarence married his first cousin Ida Madora Price (1868-1927) on 11 Oct 1893 at the Washington, DC home of her uncle, Jim Carlisle. A notice of the wedding was in the Montgomery Sentinel newspaper. * Clarence and Ida had a son, Wilford Price, in March 1899. Wilford passed that same month for reasons unknown.

The couple was living in Montgomery County in 1910 according to the census, and Clarence worked as a merchant in a grocery store alongside two of his wife’s siblings who were also his first cousins.


Clarence died on 24 Sept 1912 at 45 years old. According to the death certificate he died of carbolic acid poisoning by suicide. His suicide was also noted in the Montgomery Sentinal.* Not so seemingly ordinary anymore, is he!

When I was researching this family line in the 1980’s, I became acquainted with Mrs. Elgin of Poolesville, Maryland. She was the wife of Charles W. Elgin, Sr. who was the mayor of Poolesville at that time. Mr. and Mrs. Elgin were active historians of Poolesville and graciously helped many people with researching that part of Montgomery County.

According to Mrs. Elgin Clarence was working at his uncle’s store, and he was caught stealing money. Instead of facing up to what he’d done, he locked himself in the outhouse and drank carbolic acid (aka phenol).

From what I’ve read carbolic acid poisoning is a terrible way to die. Perhaps it was just the first thing he could get his hands on.

When I told my father this story, he wasn’t surprised. Dad was raised by his grandfather, Montgomery Price, brother of Clarence. Dad said that whenever Clarence’s name came up, everyone looked embarrassed and ashamed and the subject was changed quickly. He said he knew it had to be something bad.

*Excerpts from the Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper can be found at the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, Maryland.

Photo By Valag.  Here’s a link to it:  Valag 

Merry Christmas to All


Our tree this year.

It’s December 24th, and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas, then I wish you a merry celebration for whatever you are celebrating.

2015 will bring a few changes to my website and blog. For one thing I will be participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.I will say more about the changes in next week’s blogpost.

Pearl Harbor attack through young eyes

My mother, Gladys Martin Heiser, lived in Washington, D.C. before and during World War Two. From her memoir concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor:

On one Sunday, while listening to the radio, we heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and we would be going to war. Needless to say, it had a very sobering effect. Our minds raced trying to figure out the many changes our lives would take. Our immediate concern was for the military and families stationed at Pearl Harbor. I had a brother on the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier. We heard later that some of the aircraft were not in port, including the Hornet.

Carlisle Entzminger Martin_cropped

My mother’s brother, Carlisle Entzminger Martin, who was on the USS Hornet and the USS Iowa


The Hornet escaped the attack that morning, only to be sunk by Japanese planes later. My brother’s life was spared again and he was transferred to the USS Iowa where he remained until the end of the war.