James was the eldest child of William Witt, born while his parents were still living in Tennessee. (All of his siblings gave Texas as their birth place in later censuses.) He was probably born in either Bradley County or McMinn County, Tennessee before his parents moved to Texas. He was apparently named after his uncle, James Houston Hayes.1
He married on 17 December 1868 in Titus County, Texas to Unica Abigail Davenport, the daughter of Presley George Davenport and Sarah Ann Credille. The couple appears in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Titus County with their children, James listing his occupation as a farmer. They apparently moved a few miles to Omaha in adjoining Morris County before James died on 7 July 1899. He was buried in the Omaha Cemetery in Morris County.
James Houston Witt appears on CSA service records in 1865 for Well’s Cavalry. In 1915, his widow Unica Witt successfully applied for a widow’s pension based on that CSA service.2 She gave his date of death as 7 July 1898, but his gravestone has the year as 1899, which appears to be correct as the lodge book of the local Woodmen of the World chapter recorded his death date as 7 July 1899.3 The widow gave their marriage date as 17 December 1868 and said James Houston Witt served in the cavalry as a private soldier in Company D of Well’s Regiment. Two witnesses deposed that they had served in the same company. William Allison deposed that James Witt served from February 1864 through “the close of the war” in Company D of Wells’ Regiment. C. W. Wright deposed that he enlisted in the winter of 1863 and served “until the surrender”, initially in Goode’s Battalion which was consolidated into Well’s regiment. Wright deposed that he was his sergeant and “assigned him to duty many times.” Goode’s Battalion was indeed consolidated into Well’s Regiment in early 1864. There are no muster rolls for either unit, but there is one regimental return dated April 1865 for Company I that shows a J. H. Witt “absent without leave since March 18, 1965.”
The widow “Una” was listed as head of household in Morris County, Texas in 1900 with William, Ada, John, Daniel, and James still at home, along with her widowed daughter Abbie Henderson and her children. In 1910 “Unica J.” Witt was head of a household which included the two youngest sons along with Abbie Henderson and her children. In 1920 and 1930 Unica was living with her son James Witt in Mt. Pleasant, Titus County. She died in Mount Pleasant on 13 May 1935 of influenza, according to the Mortuary Warrant filed by her son James Estes Witt.4 Her death certificate contains the same information; her son James Estes Witt was the informant.
A notice of her death appeared on the front page of the following day’s Tyler Journal. The article mentions that her son Doc Witt had composed an instrumental piece entitled “The Mother Witt Cornet Solo”.
They had eight children, all documented by family records kept by several descendants. (Both the 1900 and 1910 censuses confirm that Unica was the mother of eight children, all of whom were living at the time of the censuses.) I have old photographs of most of these children.
- William Presley Witt (11 October 1870 – 6 November 1935). He was apparently named after both his grandfathers – William Witt and Presley Davenport. He married Zula Pool (1886-1967) on 7 February 1907 in Omaha, where he appears in the 1900 through 1930 censuses. I have an obituary published in The Omaha Breeze issue of 7 November 1935, which says he passed away “after a brief illness of typhoid fever and other complications” and was buried in the Omaha Cemetery. The obituary notes that he died “Tuesday night” with a funeral service on Wednesday, November 6; both his death certificate and family records give the date as November 6 so it must have been after midnight. His death certificate gives his birth year as 1869 but his gravestone and family records have it as 1870. The obituary notes that he and Zula had ten children, seven of whom survived him. Those seven children were: Travis Witt (25 January 1908 – 22 December 1990), Edward Loyd Witt (1910, known as Loyd Witt), Vera Witt (c1914), William Witt (1916), James Witt (11 August 1918 – 10 April 1999), Vineta Witt (1920), and Louie Witt (c1924). A daughter Ada Marie Witt (12 January 1911 – 24 May 1934) had died the previous year of typhoid fever. The daughter Venita Witt Ketner, an avid amateur genealogist, was most helpful in providing information about this and related families.
- Abigail Viola Witt (7 May 1873 – 9 May 1946) Family records list her middle name as Victoria, but her death certificate lists is as Viola. She married William Henderson on 13 December 1889, according to family records. Her husband evidently died just before the 1900 census, for Abbie was enumerated as a widow in her mother’s household in 1900 and 1910. Both censuses list her as the mother of three children, all of whom were in the 1900 household: Arthur M. Henderson (11 May 1893 – 14 January 1962), Fred L. Henderson (20 February 1896 – 24 February 1837), and a third son who died in infancy named James William Henderson (5 March 1898 – 10 June 1900). Abbie never remarried, and was living with her son Arthur in the 1920 and 1930 censuses. She died of a coronary occlusion and is buried in the Omaha Cemetery with all three of her sons.
- Lou Ella Witt (4 May 1876 – 9 December 1969) my great-grandmother, she married Edward Young Anthony on 15 March 1896. These were my father’s maternal grandparents. [See ANTHONY pages]
- Walter Houston Witt (26 March 1878 – 18 March 1935) His death certificate gives his middle name as “Hampton” but family records show it as “Houston”. His gravestone reads 1880-1935, but his birth date was in 1878 from family and public records. He died in Harris County, but is buried in Omaha where he lived nearly his entire life. He married Alice Towler about 1901 and had, according to censuses, five sons: Guy Vernon Witt (1 November 1902 – 29 April 1972), Edward A. Witt (19 January 1908 – 25 December 1987), Roy B. Witt (25 July 1911 – 19 February 1989), Jack Witt (18 February 1914 – 17 March 1992), and Morris R. Witt (30 May 1919 – 28 April 2010). Walter and Alice and all five of their children are buried in the Omaha Cemetery.
- Ada Matilda Witt (4 October 1881 – 19 April 1918) She was in her mother’s household in 1900. She married a neighbor, Wylie Alexander Hawkins, on 8 December 1907. The 1910 census for Omaha, Morris County, lists him as a physician and her as Ada M., age 28. Ada died in Omaha of pneumonia, apparently a victim of the influenza epidemic. Her death certificate was signed by my great-grantfather E. Y. Anthony and the informant was her brother William Preston Witt. The 1900 census gives August as her birth month, but her death certificate gives is as October.
- John Franklin Witt (26 May 1884 – 7 February 1952) Like his uncle, he was universally known as “Doc”. He married Willie Evans about 1912. His World War I draft registration card lists his occupation as bandmaster and residence as Tyler, Smith County. In the 1920 census he and Willie were living with her father in Tyler, and John Witt’s occupation was listed as a teacher of band music. In 1930 they were living with her mother. Doc played cornet in several bands, including John Phillip Sousa’s band, and was later a high school, college, and municipal band director in Tyler, Texas. His obituary was carried by several local newspapers. There is a lengthy obituary in the Tyler Morning Telegraph issue of 8 February 1952. His wife survived him and died in 1970. Both he and his wife are buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler. They had no children.
- Daniel Marvin Witt (23 March 1889 – 18 May 1942) He was still at home in the 1910 census. His 1918 draft registration card says he was a dentist in Mt. Pleasant and married at the time. The 1920 and 1930 censuses enumerate him as a dentist in Mt. Pleasant., where he and his brother Jim maintained a joint dental practice. In 1920 his wife was named Annie M. (Annie Mae Coffey) and in 1930 his wife was named Ann (Ann Wilson). Dan Witt is buried in Mt. Pleasant’s Masonic Cemetery with a stone that simply reads “1889-1942”. His first wife Annie Mae is buried next to him (“1892-1822”) His death certificate says he died of congestive heart failure at the age of 53. He evidently had no children who lived to adulthood, although there is a death certificate for his son D. M. Witt Jr. who died at the age of 21 days on 25 June 1917.
- James Estes Witt (11 February 1892 – 4 July 1964) He evidently became a dentist at a young age, serving in a dental infirmary in Camp Travis, Texas during World War I. He married Thelma Henderson about 1920. His mother was living with him in both the 1920 and 1930 censuses of Titus County. Jim lived near his brother Dan in Mt. Pleasant and, like Dan, was a dentist. The 1930 census lists two sons: James H. Witt (c1921 – ) and Bradley Monroe Witt (c1928 – ) who married Nancy Corinne Gibson. He died of a coronary occlusion in 1964.
- Vineta Witt Ketner, a daughter of William Preston Witt, wrote in a letter to me that she thought her grandfather was named for his uncle James Houston Hayes. [↩]
- Texas Confederate Pension File #32166 [↩]
- The lodge book was in the possession of James Coffee of Omaha, Texas in 1975. According to the minutes for that date, the meeting was adjourned so that the members could visit with the widow and family, some of whom were “still ill”, apparently with the measles. [↩]
- The Mortuary Warrant is included in the Widow’s Pension File. [↩]