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Pettis County, Missouri

Notes on the Families Allied to my Swope Line

Contributed by Gary Farley, Conyers, Georgia - Nov/1996

It has been relatively easy to gather lots of material on Rev. Benedict Swope due to the significance of his public life. As I note in the chronology he played an important role in the development of religious life both at the time of the War of Independence and on the western frontier. He befriended Bishop Asbury of the Methodists when he first came to America. He was founding pastor of the Old Otterbein Church in Baltimore. He played a role in the formation of the United Brethren denomination. This was a kind of German version of Methodism, which ultimately merged with the Methodists to form the United Methodist denomination. It seems that he had a role in the formation of several congregations in Kentucky which took as their name German Presbyterian. They were able to secure German speaking pastors, it seems. But their origin is unclear. Early records speak of German Reformed congregations in the West, but the records are not very clear as to who or what.

Swope also bought and sold many tracts of land in the Blue Grass area from Mt. Sterling in the east to Bardstown on the west. There are deeds in the courthouse records in Lexington, Louisville and all about the area. One of his sons, Jacob, had even more land transactions.

Finally, his membership in the 1792 Kentucky Constitutional Convention also prints his name on the pages of early history. In the square in Danville, Kentucky, one finds the building where the constitution was framed. He voted against slavery. He represented Lincoln County along with Isaac Shelby, soon to be the Governor.

Yet, I have not been able to find the location of his burial place. And early land descriptions make locating specific places very difficult. In the early 1970s George Swope of Stanford, Kentucky took me to an old house on a farm near the Dix River which he owned. (In the river bottoms off of Swope Lane.) The house was used for the storage of hay then. It was a double pen log house to which clapboard siding had been applied in earlier years. The rooms were plastered with a mud type substance which used horse hair for binding. He understood this to be an old Swope house.

A Gilbert Swope gathered a lot of data on the Swope family about the end of the 19th century. He published a large book which is available in several state historical libraries. So, I have the names and the location of residency for many, many Swopes down to that time. Like many families of that era, most had many children. Some remained in the area, others moved on west.

My line comes down through Rev. Benedict's oldest son, Benedict, Jr. ,one of 9 children who survived infancy. I know little about his mother, Susan Welcker, except the tradition that the Swopes and the Welckers were on the same ship coming to America in about 1730, and both families settled in the York, Pa., area. Junior died in 1817. He was buried in a family plot on what I take to have been his farm, west of Bryantsville, Ky. I was there about 1972 and saw his stone. Christine Dunn, a cousin, took me to the place. (Locally known now as the Cotton place.) She lived nearby and the land had belonged to her father. I think that he lost it during the depression. The cemetery was not well kept. Most of the surviving stones had been pushed over against a tree. (Other stones I found were for Margaret Keno, wife of Benedict Swope, no date; John Swope, 1791-1858; his wife, Fanny Swope, who died in 1856 at age 59; Dorcus Swope, wife of Ben III, and a cousin via the David Swope line; Elizabeth, the wife of a fourth Benedict, 1825-1893; and Joshua Swope, 1825-1893.This fourth Benedict was a graduate of Columbia University and a physician. Yet he practice in the rural area where he grew up.)

Junior was born in 1756, so he was of an age to have served during the Revolutionary War, but I have not found any records of this, unless some of the patriotic service attributed to the Rev. was actually his, and the name resulted in some confusion. His wife was named Margaret Keener (not Keno), Swiss-German, and of the Reformed faith. (I wonder if the Keeners may have been in the Baltimore congregation which the Rev. Ben served.) Her father, Melchoir Keener, is said to have disinherited her when they married. No reason is given. He seems to have been a prosperous Baltimore merchant. (Interestingly, the name, Malachi Keener, continued to be used as a "given" name in the descendants. For example, my mother's grandfather had that name.) One of the Swope daughters married one of the Keener sons. Junior and Margaret married in 1777 and moved to Kentucky about two years later. His brother John, his father the Reverend, and others siblings all moved there during the time of the Revolutionary War. Some stayed on in Baltimore, and several seem to have made trips back and forth. (John was killed by the Indians in 1782 on Long Run, where Louisville is now.)

Like his father and brothers, and brother-in-laws, Junior bought and sold many tracts of land in Kentucky. He was probably something of a booster. He settled north of his father, also on the Dix River, a little east of Danville. This is in Gerrard County, a place made famous by the historical novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I have found him listed in some of the old records in the courthouse in Lancaster, the county seat.

The family of Junior and Margaret Swope lists 9 children. He died at age 61. Two of the sons and one of the daughters moved west to Missouri. My ancestor, Jesse Swope, did so in 1819. I suspect that this might have been connected with the settlement of the estate of Benedict, Jr., about that time.

Jessie had married Mary (Polly) Headrick in 1816. Her father, according to the marriage bond was Jacob Headrick. They apparently settled first near Franklin, Missouri, and then about 1825 began putting together a tract of land in what is now northern Pettis County, about 3 or 4 miles south of the Saline County line and a little east of highway US 65. My cousin, Vivian Crain, has collected copies of the land grant entries from 1825 to about 1840 totaling about 320 acres. Jessie was born in 1792 and died in 1864. Jesse is listed first among the children of Junior and Margaret, but it seems strange that they did not have any children for the first 15 years of their marriage and then had 9. Note that Jesse's brother John, the fourth of the children listed, has his date of birth listed as being 1791 on his grave stone. I am guessing that either Jessie was born between 1782 and 1786 or the listing of the children is not in chronological order. Probably the latter is true. Jesse's wife, Polly, is listed as being born in 1792, and this may be the reason for the confusion. She died in 1869.They are both buried, it is reported, on their family farm.

Jesse was a grandson of Rev. Benedict Swope. About the time of his death, a second-cousin of his children, Thomas Hunton Swope was settling in Kansas City. He was a graduate of Yale and a lawyer. He saw a future there and began buying real estate, much of what would become the downtown area. He prospered and became a millionaire. Late in the century he gave over l,000 acres south of the city for a park. (With the condition that they would build a streetcar route to it. He owned more land along the right of way which he then developed.) Swope also gave the land on "hospital hill" on which the KC General Hospital stands. (My wife, Jackie, graduated from its school of nursing in 1961.) His brother Logan and a Hunton cousin were his associates. While Thomas never married, Logan married into the Chrisman family of Independence. They were in banking and railroads. The old high school there was named for Logan's father-in-law, William Chrisman. After Logan died Thomas moved to Independence to live in the home of his sister-in-law and her children. There he was poisoned, allegedly, by a nephew-in-law, Dr. Hyde, in 1909. A famous trial followed. (The old Swope-Chrisman mansion had fallen into disrepair by the time I first saw it about 1950. He has since been replaced by the LDS Welcome Center.)

Another second cousin of Jesse's children, J. C. Keener, had become a minister in the Methodist church. During the Civil War he served as chief of chaplains for the Confederacy west of the Mississippi. After the war he settled in New Orleans and became the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church, South. His son was later the president of the Methodist college in Greensboro, Alabama which is now relocated as Birmingham Southern.

Another second cousin, Benedict IV, was a physician in Bryantsville, Ky, and another was Armitage Swope, a lawyer and prominent Kentucky Republican leader. He was killed when attack by a rival in 1889 at the post office in Danville. He is buried in the old cemetery in Sanford under I huge obelisk.

At the time of his death the estate of Jesse was inventoried and among Jesse's holdings were 8 slaves. This too may be a source of some interesting stories. Missouri, though a slave state, had remained in the union. And the Emancipation of the Slaves had been proclaimed in 1863. Why the delay? I suspect that the estate was hoping that there might be some reimbursement for the loss of property. Further, Several of his sons and grandsons served in the Union Army and/or Home Guards during the war. How does this harmonize with slaveholding? What became of these slaves? (Note: when the estate was sold, no mention is made of the sale of the slaves.) The estate was handled by the second son, Hiram. The first son, Meredith, had married a Greer and moved west in 1860. Hiram also married a Greer, as did their sister, Orpha. This initiated an intricate interconnectedness among the Swope, Greer, Divers, Wasson, Ellis, Henderson, Dillard, Ramey, Benscoter, Rylands and other families. My aunt Wilma expressed it this way. One term in the 1920s at the Bothwell School, north of Sedalia, there were 51 students and 48 of them were cousins in some degree, many of them double cousins. These were really the first families of Pettis County. They settled along Heath Creek and Muddy Creek. They were hunters and trappers and millers more than planters.

I wonder why so many of them opted to remain there in Pettis rather than following the movement of the hunters further west. (Maybe they were family folk.) It is also important to note that they tended to follow the lifeways of the frontier, hunting and small farm operation, more than seeking a profession and/or moving to the cities like many of their relatives. Perhaps Jesse and his kin and in-laws were small time planters, and perhaps the Civil War disrupted this, but still most of the Swopes in his line stayed on the land until the Great Depression and World War II.

The Greers, along with the Divers, (and the Farleys) were in Franklin County, VA., at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth Greer was the 5th child of Benjamin and Mary Francis Divers Greer. She was born in 1823 in Virginia. The 8th child, John Wesley, was born in 1830. By 1840 the family had moved to Pettis County. (Family tradition puts the move in 1830 with Elizabeth walking most of the way at age 7.) She married Hiram Swope in 1843. He was born in Gerrard County, Kentucky, in 1819 and apparently was carried as an infant to the wilds of Missouri. Like his father he enjoyed hunting and trapping. He lived to 1893 and she to 1914.

(A few years ago, I visited an elderly Greer cousin of my mother, Gordon Greer. He lives at Newland in the house where my mother was born in 1913) The Hopewell Baptist Church, up the hill, is full of Rameys, more in-laws.

Hiram and Elizabeth lived along Turkey Creek not too far from Newland and Georgetown, in the Thornleigh community. They had 7 children, 5 sons reached adulthood. The three older sons, along with Hiram, served with the Union forces. I have been told that he was at the battle of Wilson Creek, early in the war. The boys were born in 1845 (Jesse), 1849(James) and 1850 (Malachi Keener). Malachi was very young, but seemed to like soldiering and joined the regular army after the war and severed for several years in Texas trying to keep the Indians peaceful. (It is of interest that Hiram's first son was named Jesse III. Hiram had a younger brother who was Jesse II. I suspect that Hiram must have had great love for his father, and so he did this. Jesse III was only 8 years younger than Jesse II.)

Hiram and Elizabeth spent much of their lives on a farm. They are buried in the churchyard of Mt. Herman Baptist Church, a former union church and one of the oldest in the country. It is just off of US 65 a short distance north of Sedalia.

Their son Malachi Keener Swope was born in 1850 and lived to 1922. My mother remembered him and his wife, Laura Ann Wasson. (See the handwritten account by mother in my Swope line notebook.) After the Civil War he served in the army in the West. Like his father and his grandfather he gained a great reputation as a hunter. (I imagine that there are some interesting stories about those years. V. Crain includes a letter written by him from Jacksboro, Texas, in her material.) Perhaps, Pettis County was too settled for a hunter by then. He must have returned to Pettis in the late 1870s. Then, almost 30 years old, he began paying court to a young lady not yet 16. Her father, it is said, told Mal that he should find a mate his own age. He was nearly old enough to be her father. They married in spite of this objection in the Fall of 1880. They settled on a 200 acre farm between Sedalia and Thornleigh. He opened a country store there in 1883, and in 1905 bought a bigger store in Thornleigh. Aunt Wilma said that the money for this came from his wife, Laura Ann Wasson Swope. Her father Ryland Wasson, had died in 1901, so I assume that this was part of an inheritance. They had six children. The two boys were named for their grandfathers, Ryland and Hiram. She died in 1916. He died in 1922. He had gone fishing on his birthday in December and fell into the creek (Muddy). He chilled and soon died.

Like the Swopes, the Wassons were among the earliest families in Pettis County. Ryland was one of ten children of Thomas and Polly O'Bannon Wasson. His father, Joseph, was involved in the creation of a mill on the Muddy Creek, near the site of Newland. At first it was called Pinhook and then St. Helena. The first courthouse was nearby at the James Ramey home. And the Marmaduke family, famous merchants in Arrowrock, must have had a branch store there as well. The town site was subject to flooding. This caused the town to move up the hill a little and be renamed Newland. Flooding also caused the countyseat to be moved to Georgetown, on land subdivided by the Wassons and George Smith. When the railroad came though it stayed on the prairie land to the south of Georgetown. There Smith platted Sedalia and the countyseat relocated there, making George Smith rich.

But in the 1830's St. Helena was on the old Osage Indian trail (at a ford on Muddy Creek) that ran from Booneville to Fort Scott, Kansas. This trail was the basis for the old cattle trail to Sedalia. For several years following the Civil War the terminus of the railroad was at Sedalia. The 1960s TV series, Rawhide, had Sedalia as the destination of its cattle drive. And earlier this trail was the base for Booneville, Franklin and Arrowrock to be important trade areas on the western frontier. Later the railroad pushed on the Kansas City, and it became the trade center for the West as it became the junction of many rail lines and these towns settled into a quieter existence.

The Wassons had moved to Pettis from Kentucky. Joseph was born in North Carolina in 1775, married Ellen Ryland in Kentucky, but then died back in Ohio, Eaton, in 1845. (There is probably an interesting story here. His parents had died by 1830 and are buried in New Paris, Ohio.) He was one of the 9 children of Joseph and Sarah Smith Wasson. This Joseph Wasson was a Revolutionary War veteran. One might join the DAR or the SOR through his service. He was born in England in 1744. His parents were Archibald and Elizabeth Woods Wasson. The name seems to have a Finnish origin, but the family trace back to England, only. The Rylands also moved to Pettis County where John F. Ryland became the county's first judge. The Rylands were from Kentucky. Ellen's brother, John R. Ryland, became a circuit judge in Booneville and served on the Missouri Supreme Court. In this role he reviewed the Dred Scott case prior to it going to the Supreme Court.I am not dead certain of this connection, yet.

The mother of Laura Ann Wasson was named Lousetta America Sprinkle. Her parents were from Kentucky also. She was born in 1836 and died in 1873. This means that she died when Laura Ann was only about 8 or 9. One interesting thing to note here is that while Laura Ann was the fifth child, the three older girls had already married and the brother just older than Laura Ann died in 1886, so he may not have well and of much help to his father. He later remarried, I think. So, my point is that father Wasson might have been about as much concerned about having some help from Laura in raising the remaining family as he was about her young age when Mal Swope came courting. In any case things must have smoothed out by the time that he died since she received a substantial inheritance.

There are still many Wassons in Pettis County. I was pleased to get acquainted with Bob, a grocer and bivocational Co-pastor of the Broadway Baptist Church. I have not found out much about the Sprinkles yet. I believe that there are still some O'Bannons around. Some further checking indicates that the store Mal bought in Thornleigh in 1905 was owned by the sister and brother-in-law of Laura Ann. Her sister had married Grant Butcher. The other siblings had married Henderson, Reams, Greer, and a Benscoter. a common pattern in the area north of Sedalia prior to World War II. And perhaps Bob comes by both of his professions by culture and by genetics. Most of his ancestors are buried either at Hopewell or at Mt. Herman Baptist Churches. And being a merchant appears often in the Wasson and the Swope lines. Mal Swope is described as a short, wiry person with a big, long beard. (Note: he had an uncle by the same name.)

The fourth of the 6 children of Malachi and Laura Ann Swope was Hiram Wayne, my grandfather. He died in 1924, May 24, exactly 12 years before I was born. (Sort of glad my mother did not name me Hiram. A younger cousin got the Wayne.) He left a widow with 5 children under age 12. It was a heart attack that killed him, a result of having had rheumatic fever as a child. But the strain of a large family, a new job, perhaps some economic reverses, might have contributed to it all. He married Pearl Dillard on December 7, 1910. She was not quite 18. He was 21. He had completed a business course at the Sedalia Business College. He and his older brother, along with their father, operated country stores at Thornleigh and at Newland. Modern transportation has made both places no longer needed. The hamlets have dried up. But then they served real purposes. Mother has written some reflections which are also found in my notebook. Another one that she did not included was what may have been the origin of stock car racing. One year the auto races at the State Fair were not any good. So, Hiram and Ryland pulled two of their cars out on the track and began to race around it. Other dealers/exhibitors joined in. Soon a really exciting race, or so my mother remembered it, was in progress. I do not know how the race ever concluded.

Sedalia was very much a railroad town in the 1920s with two major shops--Missouri Pacific and Katy. In 1922 a national strike crippled the industry. While the biographical sketch on Hiram from 1918 pictures him as an auto dealer, his 1924 obituary pictures him as only a car salesperson. I just wonder if he did not hit bad times brought on by the strike and worried himself into a heart attack.

Grandmother Swope was a Dillard. This family had come to Cooper County about 1830. Cousin Carol Ann Dodd, who has furnished me loads of data on the Wassons, Hendersons, Dillard,etc, thinks that there is a connection between James Dillard who died there in 1836 and the pioneer Cole family. She is still working on it. James had a son, William, in 1800. In turn William had a son, James, born in 1839. (The land grants in Cooper County for about 1830 list tracts for William, Nicholas and Major Dillard about midway between Otterville and Clifton City.) He married Malinda Ellis in 1860. She was only 14 or 15. My impression is that the Ellis family was rather wealthy. Her father's property was valued for the 1870 census in excess of $30,000. They too were an old Pettis County family. Her mother was a Ramey, another first family. The marriage of James to Malinda was the third one involving a Dillard and an Ellis. Mary Dillard had married James Ellis and Joe Dillard had married Mary Ellis. James Dillard died in 1891 as a result of being struck by lightning in his barnyard. This must have made a deep impression my grandmother and through her on my mother, because she repeatedly warned us to stay in the house during a thunder storm.

Among the 6 children of James and Malinda, the second was named Benjamin Franklin Dillard. He was born in 1865. So while his father was of the age to have served in the Civil War, he must have gotten home some before the war ended. (I do not know which side he might have served with. But his father-in-law-to-be was such a Confederate, I doubt that he would have allowed his daughter to have married the son of a Yankee.) B. F. Married Ruanna Lee Henderson. She was born in 1864, so her dad must have gotten some furlough time away from fighting Yankees. (Note the Swopes were all Unionists. But my grandmother was a "Yellow Dog Democrat.") B.F. and Ruanna Lee married in 1886. She was one of 10 children of Nathaniel and Amanda Flesher Henderson. (Three of the children died within a month in 1875. Another died as a infant.) Of her remaining 5 siblings three married Swopes and another married a Wasson. This set up lots of double cousin possibilities for the Hendersons. Nate and Amanda Hendersons had married just before the start of the Civil War. At the time they lived in what is now Lewis and Nelson Counties, West Virginia. The Lee in Ruanna Lee was to honor General Robert E. Lee. (My mother had a stick pin with an "R" on it which had been the possession of this grandmother.) The story goes that soon after the war the Hendersons sold out and moved to Missouri. The date was probably about 1875. This is because the seventh child, Walter, was born in Missouri. The sixth was born in 1874 in West Virginia. Perhaps, they moved because of the death of the 3 children in 1875, or perhaps the children died along the way. (Is there another story here?)

Mother shared tales concerning the great strength of her grandfather Dillard. Wilma, somewhat more candid than Mother, told me that he had a serious problem with alcohol. He would work hard, but then go on a binge. Mother remembers them living at Blue Lick, a little village north and west of Marshall Junction, just over in Saline County. It is along the Blackwater River. The Missouri state Wildlife Commission has recently purchased much of property in the old community and is turning it into a recreational area. A small cluster of houses and a rural community church can still be found at Blue Lick. They had 9 children. I knew three of them Neoma, Opal and my grandmother Pearl. Neoma was married to a farmer, Hampton Perkins. They lived near Moberly, Missouri. (There had been an earlier marriage to a police detective in Kansas City, KS., but I do not know the name.) We visited them a time or two on the farm. I recall that they had a old victrola with some of the old "Black" records. I enjoyed listening to them. After Hampton died she moved back to Sedalia and spent time with my grandmother. Opal married a fellow called Punk Polley. He was a machinist. They moved to California in the 1920s or 30s. He did well with war contracts and had a shop in Downey. We visited them there in the 1950s. They had three boys, two old and one younger than I. He was getting into sand blasting and doing well in that with some inventions. I think that she died about 1969. I do not know what happened to the sons.

My grandparents married in 1910, as I noted previously. They had 5 children beginning with Marcel. Mother's notes tell some good things about each of them. I recall him to have been a rather quiet person. His wife made up for this. He was a talented artist, but worked in a setting that probably did not really utilize his talent. Mother was the second. She was beautiful as were all of the girls. Mother's looked very much like her mother. She was a good person. Wilma did not have a good first marriage. She seemed to have a zest for life. I always enjoyed visiting with her. Marge seemed to be sick a lot. And Bud was quite a bud. a real hairy guy. I enjoyed them all. They had a total of 12 children.

I hold my grandmother in high regard. She was left in 1924 with 5 small children. There was no social security. I doubt there was much help from the Dillards or from the Swopes. I recall her telling about significant amounts that folks owed on their store bills to Hiram, which were never paid. She married a cousin, Gus Ream, the following year. It was likely a match of convenience. Both had children. His first wife had died. He had recently divorced the second. It did not work well. They separated in the mid 1930s. She ran a rooming house in the 300 block of South Mass, across from the old Post Office for the next 30 years. She was a sweet woman. Struggled to get by. Proud. Independent. Gus would come to visit, but he was usually drunk. They divorced in the late 1940s just prior to his death. Grandmother died in 1969. My mother had a trip scheduled overseas and with the support of her siblings she went ahead and took the trip. Now all of her children have died. One of the grandchildren has also died.

This concluded what I think I can do for now on the Swope line and its related lines. My sense is that they were among the earliest folk to settle in Pettis County. They came to hunt and trap, an appropriate economy for the time. But the world industrialized about the second half of the 19th century and most of my Pettis County relatives continued to be people of the land. Several got into being rural storekeepers, and later auto dealers. I did not mention it much, but most seem to have been involved in the life of the basic Protestant denominations. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Disciples are all well represented. Few into the professions. It has been of interest to me to see how strong the hunting and trapping theme has been in their lives.

There must be lots of stuff that can be added to this-- correcting, expanding, enriching. Please share it with me. I hope to find opportunity next year to do a video that will provide footage for a kind of family documentary in the Pettis County area. This would involved identifying places likes churches, schools and farms that figured in the life of the family.