Something brings me back to Anna J. Henderson Simmons. At no more than 20 years old, she left all the family she knew to follow her new husband 800 miles to Canada, where his Wayne County family had settled decades earlier. It is hard to get a sense of Anna’s life. Her husband Montreville Simmons achieved a measure of success as a farmer in central Indiana, but evidence suggests that he was a difficult man to live with. Did she ever see her birth family again? Probably not, and evidence suggests that her children had an uncertain grasp on the facts of her early years.
Here’s what I know of my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson‘s sister:
In the 1860 census of Westbrooks, Sampson County, North Carolina, appear James Henderson, mulatto carpenter; wife Eliza; and four children, Anna J., Susan, Hepsie, and Alexander. Eliza (or Louisa) Armwood, daughter of John and Susan Armwood, was James’ second wife.
Ten years later, the family had moved about 20 miles east-southeast and appear in the 1870 census of Faisons, Duplin County: James Henderson, 52, mulatto farmer; wife Eliza; and children Ann, 17, Susan, 16, Hepsey, 14, Aleck, 13, John H., 11, Nancy, 6, and Betty, 3, plus James’ son James, 27, and boarders James Ammons and Thomas Cox. (Were the latter two relatives of either James or, more likely, Eliza/Louisa?)
The following spring, on 3 March 1871, Anna Henderson married Montraville Simmons, 19, son of Calvin and Hepsie Whitley Simmons, in Duplin County. The license lists Anna’s parents as James Henderson and Louisa Armwood. Montraville had been born in Wayne or Duplin County and migrated to Chatham, Kent County, Ontario, Canada with his family in the 1850s. After the death of his first wife, Victoria Brown, whom he married in Chatham in 1865, Montraville returned to North Carolina for a new spouse. (There’s a suspicious marriage on 16 April 1848 in Oakland, Michigan, between 23 year-old Montreville Simmons of North Carolina and Harriet Lucas of Richmond, Ohio. Was this yet another early marriage for Anna’s Montraville?)
Duplin County, North Carolina, Marriage Register.
The family was captured in the 1881 census of Chatham, Kent County, Ontario, Canada: Montreville Simmons, 40, farmer; wife Annie, 29; and children Elizabeth, 8, Doctor T., 7, Susan M., 4, and Montreville, 2. All were born in the United States except Doctor and Montreville jr., who were born in Ontario, and all were Baptist. [Where in the U.S. was Susan born? Had Anna gone back to North Carolina? Or had the family lived some short period across the nearby border?]
Sometime in the next twenty years, the Simmonses cast their lot permanently as Americans. For reasons unknown, they settled near Logansport, Indiana, in rural Cass County north of Indianapolis. In the 1900 census of Eel township, on Park Avenue in Logansport, the census taker recorded farmer “Montville” Simmons, born April 1850, wife Anna, born March 1861, and sons James R., December 1879, Montville, June 1882, and Dock, December 1879. Montville and Anna were recorded as born in North Carolina; their sons in Canada. Montraville and Anna had been married 28 years and reported five of five children living. The family was described as black. [The evidence concerning the Simmons children is confusing. Census records name Elizabeth (born circa 1872), Doctor/Dock (born circa 1874), Susan M. (born circa 1877), James R. (born circa 1879), Montraville Jr. (born circa 1880) and Edward (born 1881.) However, records in Indiana indicate another daughter, Moncy, who died in 1942.]
Montraville Simmons was a successful farmer, but a life of material (if heavily mortgaged) comfort did not necessarily spell ease for Anna. Montraville’s name peppered the local paper regularly, as Pharos-Tribune reporters gleefully chronicled his clashes with neighbors and his personal peccadilloes.
Anna herself managed to stay out of print until 1905, when the ailing woman parachuted into a spat between her husband and his creditors. Headlines blared her surprising intervention, and it’s hard not to see Montraville’s hand as a puppet master in this 11th hour shenanigan.
Logansport Pharos Tribune, 22 December 1905.
Sadly (she was only about 50 years old) but perhaps mercifully, within six months, Anna Henderson Simmons was dead. Her death certificate, which contains some curious errors, reported that Annie Simmons, married, died 16 Jun 1906 in Cass County, of Basedow’s disease [now known as Graves’, a disease of the thyroid]. She was born 2 February 1856 in North Carolina and was buried at Free Union Baptist in Irvin township, Howard County, Indiana, by Kroeger & Strain, funeral directors. The informant for the certificate was Montraville Simmons. The father or the son? I don’t know, but it’s hard to believe that either reported Anna as white, though that’s what the certificate notes. It’s less hard to believe that Montraville Jr. might have misreported his mother’s parents as James Harrison and Eliza Henderson. He, after all, had surely never met them. (And when he married Jessie Winslow in Cass County in 1903, he cited his mother’s maiden name as Anna Harrison.)
On 18 June, the Pharos Tribune ran a brief obituary:
Who were Anna Henderson Simmons’ legacies? Is there a lost branch of Hendersons in middle Indiana?
- Elizabeth Simmons (circa 1872-??) probably died before adulthood. Or she is the same person as Moncy Simmons.
- Moncy A. Simmons (1872-1942) married first Daniel Bassett, then Newton Palmer; no known children.
- Doctor R. Simmons (27 November 1874-after 1951) married Fannie Gibson; no children.
- Susan M. Simmons (circa 1877-1937) married Britton Bassett; two children, who died in infancy. She helped rear her brother Montraville’s son Harold.
- James R. Simmons (circa 1879-aft. 1900) probably did in young adulthood; no children. Or, he is the same person as Edward Simmons.
- Montraville Simmons Jr. (circa 1880-31 March 1910) married Jessie Winslow in 1903. His son Harold Simmons was born about 1904. On 7 October 1911, Jessie gave birth to Helen Elizabeth Simmons in Chicago and listed Montraville on Helen’s birth certificate, but he could not have been the child’s father. Similarly, in the 1920 census, Jessie Winslow Simmons, remarried to Earnest W. Griggs, attributes by inference two additional children to Montraville Jr., Frances (born 1913) and Alma (born 1916). Neither were his. Harold is mentioned in his aunt Moncy’s obituary, but does not regularly appear in census records.
- Edward Simmons (24 November 1883-1936) married only after his parents’ deaths, but married four times in 20 years. He had no children.
In other words, improbable as it seems, Anna’s seven children produced a single grandchild, and he seems not to have any children. There are not, it seems, any Kokomo cousins.