His background before arriving in Tennessee is a mystery. He may have been the John Ferguson listed on the 1798 tax list of Montgomery County, Tennessee as a single white poll, but he was not on the 1800 tax list two years later. The birthplaces of his children suggest he was in South Carolina from 1790 through about 1800 – all his children gave South Carolina as their birth state in 1850 and later censuses. (While there are no Jonathon Fergusons in South Carolina censuses, there are seven John or “J.” Fergusons in the1800 census, none of whom appear to be this man.)
According to several sources he was an original settler of Springfield, in Robertson County, which was founded in 1798. One sketch of the county published in 1900 said “The first settlers of Springfield were Arthur Cheatham, John Hutchinson, Thomas Dickson, Jonathan Ferguson, and Thomas Johnson.”1 Goodspeed’s 1887 history of the county, says that one of the four original residents of the town of Springfield in 1808 was “Jonathon W. Ferguson”.2 Two of the other three residents were bondsmen for his estate. The 1812 Robertson County tax list lists Jonathan Ferguson and his son John Ferguson consecutively in Capt. Richard Crunk’s company along with two of the other early residents. (Elsewhere in the county was a Henry Ferguson.)
He was in the county by 1 November 1805 when “John Ferguson” bought a cow and calf at the estate sale of Henry Sherod. Sherod’s inventory also included a $9 note on John Ferguson. (That must have been Jonathan Ferguson, as his son John was barely 15.) As “Jona. Ferguson” he witnessed the 10 October 1811 will of Nicholas Conrad.3
He died intestate in Robertson County sometime in 1814. There are clearly probate records for him in the missing first 60 pages of Will Book 2. The first preserved record is a supplemental account of the sale of Jonathan Ferguson’s estate recorded sometime in late 1814 at which Elizabeth Ferguson purchased a horse and a wire sieve.4 An accounting by the administratrix Elizabeth Ferguson dated 1 May 1815 shows that the estate sale yielded only $67.05 and debts collected added another $10.39. 5 The court records contain additional references to the estate in November 1814 and February 1815, both giving Elizabeth Ferguson as the administratrix but giving the deceased’s name as “John” Ferguson.6
Elizabeth Ferguson, the widow, was in the Robertson County 1820 census as head of a household that appears to consist of the entire family, evidently living in the town of Springfield.7 In 1830 she was apparently the female aged 60-70 in the household of her son John W. Ferguson.8 In 1840 she was enumerated as age 70-80 adjacent to her son John W. Ferguson in Springfield.9 Her household apparently included her two spinster daughters and her orphaned grandson George W. Baird. She was dead by 3 November 1845 when her grandson George W. Baird was appointed administrator of her estate.10 He submitted a final settlement of the estate in August 1849.11
Several records identify the children. His own estate records identify four living children in 1855 and a later record identifies a fifth child. In 1878, Alzeda Ferguson Persise sued her siblings over the estate of an unmarried sister.12 The heirs were named as the widow and children of George W. Baird (the deceased son of her sister) and Joseph J. Ferguson (surviving child of her brother John W. Ferguson). The suit declares that these were “the only heirs” of Alzeda’s unmarried spinster sisters Mary and Nancy Ferguson. If Jonathan Ferguson had other children than these five they were all dead without issue before he died himself.
These and other court records, plus the letters from Mary and Nancy Ferguson to George W. Baird written in the 1850s (see BAIRD pages), identify five of the children.13 They also make it clear that Elizabeth Ferguson and her two maiden daughters raised George W. Baird, who was the son of a deceased daughter. There appear to be additional sons, whose identities are guessed at, and who evidently died young. Given her apparent age, Elizabeth was likely the mother of all the children:
John W. Ferguson (c1790 – 7/8 February 1855). The 1850 census gives his birth state as South Carolina and age as 59. He must have been 21 by the 1812 tax list, when he appears consecutive to his father. He also made regular appearances as a buyer of livestock, tools, and books at estate sales as early as late 1811.14 According to Goodspeed’s history, he served in the War of 1812 from Robertson County and was the town’s first hatter.15
On 2 September 1817, as “John W. Ferguson” he bought land in Robertson County near Springfield jointly with Isaac Baird; they sold the parcel on 4 September 1820.16 Both men were hatters, perhaps in business together, and they became brothers-in-law sometime during this period when Isaac Baird married his sister. Two months later he bought a town lot in Springfield.17 John W. Ferguson probably supported his mother and younger sisters after his father’s death. In 1820 he and his own young family seem to have been in the household of his mother Elizabeth Ferguson. From 1827 through 1830 he and his presumed brother Moses K. Ferguson jointly bought and sold land in and around Springfield (see below) and John bought an additional two town lots on which he seems to have lived.18 He was one of the original town commissioners in 1825 when Springfield was incorporated and served as its first postmaster for two decades.19 From 1830 through 1850 he appears as head of his own household. The 1850 census includes his second wife and two younger children are in the household.
His first wife and the mother of his children is unknown; her name never appears in any record. She was apparently alive when the 1840 census was taken, but died shortly thereafter. About 1844, according to later court records, John Ferguson married Elizabeth Binkley, the widow of Darby Izor. The will of her father, Jacob Binkley, left $5 to his daughter Elizabeth Ferguson in 1846. 20 She petitioned for divorce in 1852, citing emotional mistreatment, but the divorce was never granted.21 After John W. Ferguson’s death nearly three years later, Elizabeth sued his children over the estate, and apparently settled the suit when she was awarded a year’s provisions.22
John W. Ferguson was declared a “lunatic” by early 1854, when Joakim Green was appointed his guardian.23 He died intestate on either 7 or 8 February 1855 (court records give both dates) with Joakim Green his administrator.2425 Court records identify the four children shown below, and clarify that his widow, Elizabeth, was not the mother of these children.26 At his death, John W. Ferguson owned a livery stable in Springfield, some slaves, three town lots, and two plots of 60 acres and 128 acres. The stable and slaves were sold in his estate sale. His children were:
1.1. John W. Ferguson Jr. (c1825 ‑ 1868). The 1850 census lists him as age 25 (born in Tennessee), and a hatter, in his father’s household. He married Martha W. Persise, daughter of his aunt Alzeda Ferguson and John B. Persise, in Robertson County on 9 January 1853.27 By 1855 he was “of Alabama”28 but evidently returned to Robertson County by 1859.29 His wife must have predeceased him as she was not mentioned in any of his estate records. He died in Robertson County in 1868; Daniel P. Braden was appointed his administrator, and returned an inventory and sale in December 1868.30 His debts exceeded his assets; the estate was declared insolvent in early 1870 and creditors were paid roughly two-thirds of their claims.31 He evidently had no children alive in 1878 when Alzeda filed her suit.
1.2. Joseph J. Ferguson (c1827 ‑ aft1878). He was age 23, a shoemaker, in the household of N. M. Langsford in 1850, listed two households away from his father. He was “of Davidson County”, Tennessee in the administration records of his father’s estate in 1855, but apparently returned to Robertson County in time to administer his brother James Ferguson’s estate in 1857.32 He was “of Louisiana” in Alzeda Persise’s suit filed in 1878.33 I have not further traced him.
1.3. James Ferguson (c1829 ‑ 1857). He was age 21 in the 1850 census. He died unmarried in 1857. Joseph J. Ferguson was appointed his administrator in November 1857.34
1.4. Mary E. Ferguson (c1834 ‑ 1856). She was age 16 in the 1850 census. She died unmarried in 1856. Her brother John W. Ferguson Jr. was appointed her administrator in November 1856.35
- Moses K. Ferguson (c1803 – ?) Although there is no proof he was a son of Jonathon Ferguson, he was clearly related in some way. He and John W. Ferguson jointly bought 25 acres near Springfield in early 182736 then jointly bought two town lots the following year.37 A third deed referenced later was apparently a purchase of 60 acres. In 1830, Moses K. Ferguson sold his half interest in all three purchases.38 He does not appear again in Robertson County records, nor can I find him elsewhere. He was apparently the male aged 16-18 in Elizabeth Ferguson’s 1820 household and perhaps one of the males aged 20-30 in John W. Ferguson’s 1830 household. Whatever happened to him, he apparently died childless before 1846, since he is not mentioned as an heir of Elizabeth Ferguson. Nor is he mentioned in Alzeda Ferguson Persise’s 1878 suit as an heir of his sisters.
- ________ Ferguson (1790s? ‑ 1820s?). She was the wife of Isaac Baird. Letters from Mary and Nancy Ferguson to George W. Baird, as well as several court records in Robertson County, make it clear that he was the son of Isaac Baird and one of their sisters.39 Several Robertson County court records also identify George W. Baird as an heir of Elizabeth Ferguson and a nephew of Mary and Nancy Ferguson.40 I would guess this daughter was born before 1800, since she was married before 1820. She apparently died before 1830, perhaps at the time of George W. Baird’s birth in 1821. (See BAIRD pages for additional details.)
- Alzeda Ferguson (c1797 ‑ aft1878). She married John B. Persise before 1820, and is apparently the female in his 1820 census household.41 The 1850 census gives her age as 53 and the 1860 census as 62. She gave the place of birth as South Carolina in both censuses. John B. Persise’s will is dated 26 January 1846, and was proved ten years later in March 1856.42 It names their children as Elizabeth B. Epps, Emily Ingle, Martha W. Ferguson (wife of John W. Ferguson Jr.), John W. Persise, Susan Persise, and James M. Persise. The will left Alzeda the entire estate except the home place, in which she had a lifetime interest and which was be distributed equally among the children after her death. Alzeda appeared by herself in the 1860 census. She was still alive in 1878 when she sued George Baird’s widow and children, and Joseph Ferguson over the estates of her sisters Mary Ferguson and Nancy Ferguson. The suit claimed Alzeda and the defendants were the only heirs of her sisters. As a side note, an 1849 letter from Mary and Nancy Ferguson to George W. Baird (see BAIRD pages) says that “uncle John B. Persise has moved to Batesville, Arkansas” though he must have moved back almost immediately.
- Mary Ferguson (c1800 ‑ c1876). She was born in South Carolina according to the 1850 census, when she and her sister Nancy were living together in Springfield. Both Mary and Nancy were spinsters, part of the households headed by their mother (1820 and 1840) and brother (1830) in earlier censuses. On 19 September 1839 she bought a town lot in Springfield next to her brother, “reserving fifty feet sold to John W. Ferguson”, where the two sisters were apparently living in 1850. George W. Baird sold her the adjoining lot in 1849 when he moved to Texas.43 Mary later sold both lots to her sister Nancy, and then sold them again to George Baird’s wife. 44 This double sale of the same property precipitated the suite by Alzeda Ferguson Persise in 1878, who claimed that the lots were the property of Nancy Ferguson’s estate and should be distributed to her brothers and sisters.45 Nancy was unmarried and, according to the Persise suit, had no children. She died in 1876 according to that suit.
- Nancy Ferguson (c1807? ‑ 1855). She was born in South Carolina according to the 1850 census, which gives her age as 42. That is surely understated. She died unmarried in 1855 according to the Persise suit.
It is possible there were additional children (see “Associated Fergusons” for some possibilities). Elizabeth Ferguson’s household in 1820 included one male 26‑45 (who must have been John W. Ferguson), two males 16‑26, and one male 16‑18. In 1830, when John W. Ferguson was head of household, the household included four young males (John W.’s three sons and George W. Baird) plus three “extra” males, one aged 30‑40 and two aged 20‑30. In 1840 George W. Baird was clearly in Elizabeth’s household, and John W. Ferguson’s household included one “extra” male age 30‑40.
While there is no evidence any of these “extra” makes were family members, this all suggests at least one, and perhaps two, other sons of John/Jonathon Ferguson and Elizabeth; one born circa 1794‑1800 and one born circa 1802‑4. Note that this would nicely fit the gaps in the apparent birth years of the known children. Whoever they were, they had evidently died without heirs by the time of the settlement of Elizabeth Ferguson’s estate in 1849.
- American Historical Magazine, Vol. 5 (October 1900), “Sketches of Sevier and Robertson Counties”. [↩]
- History of Tennessee, (Goodspeed Publishing, 1887), p840. [↩]
- Robertson County Bonds, Inventories, Wills Book 1, p401. [↩]
- Robertson County Bonds, Inventories, Wills Book 2, p163. The return is dated in 1814 but the date is obscured. The surrounding entries were dated in November 1814. [↩]
- Robertson County Bonds, Inventories, Wills Book 2, p200-201. [↩]
- Robertson County Court Minute Book 3, p524 and Book 4, p558. [↩]
- Robertson County 1820 census, p1: Elizabeth Ferguson 001210-01101-0. [↩]
- Robertson County 1830 census, p395: John W. Ferguson 2200211-000021001 [↩]
- Robertson County 1840 census, p151: Elizabeth Ferguson 0001-0000110001; J. W. Ferguson 0021011-0100001-2 [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 12, p507. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 14, p233. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Case #1269. [↩]
- See Baird pages for copies of these letters. [↩]
- Robertson County Bonds, Inventories, Wills Book 1, p414 and Book 2, p96, 109, 194, 262, 265, and 355. These sales covered the period November 1811 through late 1815. [↩]
- History of Tennessee, (Goodspeed Publishing, 1887), p854. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book N, p200 and Book Q, p20. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book N, p215. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book T, p391. Lots 41 and 43, purchased 14 June 1828. [↩]
- Goodspeed, p841 and p842. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 13, p28. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Case #163. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 15, p794. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 15, p459. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Case #89 (suit by M. D. Crockett over non-payment of a note from George W. Baird and John W. Ferguson Jr.) states that John W. Ferguson Sr. died on 8 February 1855 – and mentions his lunacy again. Case #316 gives the date as 7 February. Both cases were filed the year of his death. A third case, #193, by his administrator simply gives “February 1855”. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 15, p472. There appears to be no familial relationship with Joakim Green. [↩]
- Chancery Case #89, #316, and #193 identify the four children. [↩]
- Robertson County Marriage Book I, p222. The marriage was performed the same day as the license was issued. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court cases #89, #102, #316 [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Minutes #582, 2 December 1859 [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p302. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p459. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p536. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Case #1269, 20 April 1878 [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p536. [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p293. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book T, p48. G. W. Cheatham to John W. and Moses K. Ferguson. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book T, p392. 14 June 1828, William Seal to John W. and Moses K. Ferguson. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book V, p111. 29 March 1830, Moses K. Ferguson to George Conrad and Thornton Cook. [↩]
- See transcripts of these letters in the BAIRD pages. [↩]
- E.g., see Robertson County Chancery Court Minutes #1269, 19 April 1878. [↩]
- Robertson County 1820 census, : John B. Persise 000010-10100 [↩]
- Robertson County Will Book 16, p163. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book 6, p166. [↩]
- Robertson County Deed Book 7, p124-5 and Book 11, p177. [↩]
- Robertson County Chancery Court Records, Suit #1269. [↩]