He habitually signed his name using his middle initial, but we have no clue to his middle name.
Nor do we know for certain when he was born. We have four records of his birth year, all different. His brother-in-law, James Houston Hayes, kept a diary late in his life in which he recorded William Witt’s birth date as 16 September 1824.1 The reliability of the diary is suspect, as several of its other dates seem to be inaccurate. William Witt’s granddaughter Ora Witt Belton, the daughter of William Breckenridge Witt, wrote in her family Bible that her grandfather was born in 1817, though this was from her own memory.2 The 1860 census gives his age as 38 and the 1870 census as 50. Whatever the correct year, the fact that he signed the deed mentioned below indicates that he had reached majority by April 1841, and was therefore born no later than 1820.
The proof that William M. Witt was a son of Nathaniel Witt is quite clear, if a bit convoluted. The sale of land on 24 April 1841 by the heirs of Nathaniel Witt establishes that one of the heirs was a son named William Witt of McMinn County who was of age on that date.3 Several later records demonstrate that it was the same William Witt who later moved to Titus County, Texas. One of these is the “CLHW” paper discussed elsewhere, which mentions William M. Witt only in passing: “Some say he [William M. Witt] died near Athens, Tenn.; others say he moved to Texas…John Witt, son of William Witt, lived in Texas, place not learned, and once visited in Tennessee.”4) This is a clear reference to William Witt’s son John Witt, who lived just a few miles outside Chattanooga and did indeed visit his Witt relatives in Tennessee. We also know that William M. Witt’s father-in-law, Solomon Hayes, had lived in the same tax district as the Witts in McMinn County, and came with him to Texas. In addition, three of his brothers-in-law from McMinn County apparently came to Texas with William Witt.56
One of William Witt’s children, William Breckenridge “Breck” Witt, wrote a letter in 1947 to a great-granddaughter of William Witt which cements the ancestry.7 We must remember that Breck Witt was 90 when he wrote the letter, and that his father had died when he was twelve, thus some details may have been embellished. Nonetheless, his statement clearly connects his father to Nathaniel Witt:
My grandfather [Nathaniel] Witt came from France but I do not know his name. They settled in North Carolina where my father was born. My father’s name was William and he had two brothers named Joe and Nathaniel. There were eight sisters which I know very little about. Two of the girls married men by the name of Kates. One married a man by name Rucker. One married a Mr. Box.
The family moved from North Carolina to East Tennessee where my father married Lizzie Hayes. My oldest brother was born in East Tennessee. That was Jim. Then the family moved to Titus County near Old Snow Hill, where all the rest of the children were born…
William Witt was probably born in McMinn County, Tennessee. Indeed, Tennessee is listed as his birth state in the censuses of 1860 and 1870. His marriage to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hayes on 20 September 1845 was recorded in her brother’s diary. It almost certainly took place in either McMinn County, where her father Solomon Hayes lived, or in neighboring Bradley County. William M. Witt had moved into Bradley County by October 1845, when he and his brother-in-law G. W. Cate both signed a petition as residents fo Bradley County.8 In addition, James Houston Witt, the eldest child, gave his birth place as Tennessee in later censuses. (James Houston Hayes recorded his birth date as being just two months after his parents’ marriage. Lest we conclude the marriage was of the shotgun variety, I should note that James Houston Hayes may have misreported the year of the marriage in his diary, as he apparently did for several other dates.)
William Witt and his in-laws move to Texas
We don’t know exactly when William Witt came to Texas, but the persistent family legend is that the move occurred in the winter of 1846.9 That is supported by other evidence. For instance, Joseph Witt who was born in January 1848 consistently gives his birthplace as Texas. It seems likely that William Witt and his father-in-law Solomon Hayes traveled to Texas together, for they both settled in Snow Hill near one another. Unfortunately, while Solomon Hayes appears in the 1850 Titus county census, William Witt does not.
The Titus County courthouse burned in 1895, destroying essentially all its records. Only a few of its early deeds were recovered or rerecorded later. Among them are five deeds to or from William Witt.10 In a deed dated 1 May 1862, William M. Witt mortgaged 18 acres near Snow Hill to T. P. Lockhart for $90. The land bordered Solomon Hays, and was located just outside Snow Hill. Lockhart was the principal merchant of Snow Hill at the time, and perhaps the only moneylender in the area. That same day William Witt sold to Lockhart, for $1,000, a 62-acre parcel adjoining William Hayes.
According to Breck Witt his father served in the CSA, but I found no record to confirm it.
He was back in Titus County by 11 October 1864, when he purchased 325 acres at $1 per acre from Rebecca and Amanda Province. This land was on Boggy Bayou about 9 miles northeast of Mt. Pleasant, between Snow Hill and Daingerfield.11 William Witt apparently moved onto this land, for he sold the remaining land in Snow Hill a few years later. On 11 April 1868 William M. Witt and Mary Witt, his wife, 71.25 acres to Cyrus Wright for $286. And on 6 February 1871, William M. Witt sold 20 acres to Silas Osborn for $200, described as being part of the James F. Box grant, adjacent to “…the fourteen acres on which the village of Snow Hill now stands.” (Snow Hill was located on the border of today’s Titus and Morris Counties. The community was abandoned beginning in the late 1870s when the railroad bypassed it and built the Cason station south of the town. Many of the townspeople moved to Cason.) This was probably the remaining portion of his now lost original purchase. All five deeds identify him as “William M. Witt” and in each case he signed by making his mark.
I could not find William Witt in the 1850 census of either Tennessee or Texas. However, he was in the 1860 census of Titus County enumerated in the town of Snow Hill with the first six children listed below, all but James listed as born in Texas. He is shown as a farmer with $1,600 of real estate and $200 in personal property. He could not read or write. The children’s ages are accurate, and his own age is given as 38, born in Tennessee. There was no wife in the household. James Hayes’ diary, which agrees with other family records in this respect, says that Elizabeth Hayes Witt died on 13 September 1859. [I note, however, that she does not appear in the 1860 mortality schedules, which should have recorded a death within a year of that year’s census.]
He marries the widow Beasley
Sometime after the 1860 census William Witt married Mary Wright Beasley (1830– 1911), the widow of John Beasley. Polly would present him with his last two children. By the 1870 census the Witts apparently had moved onto the Boggy Bayou land, for he was enumerated in the vicinity of Mt. Pleasant, age 50, with his second wife Mary and the six youngest children.12 Also in the 1870 household were four of Mary’s Beasley children and Amanda Price, age 13.
Mary Wright outlived William Witt by forty years. After his death, Mary Wright married for a third time to William Hayes, the older brother of Elizabeth Hayes who had been William Witt’s first wife. After he died, she evidently lived with her children. The 1900 census shows her living with her son Robert Franklin Witt. William Witt and Elizabeth Hayes Witt are both buried in the old Hayes cemetery in Snow Hill. Polly Wright Beasley Witt Hayes is buried in the Concord cemetery.
William Witt dies in 1871
William Witt died on 12 October 1871. According to James Hayes’ diary, the date was 12 October 1870, but William Witt personally appeared in the Titus County court on 10 February 1871 to acknowledge his deed to Silas Osborn. The simplest explanation is that James Houston Hayes was one year off. (The dates in his diary often do not agree with other records. I’ve noted below the differences between the children’s birth dates given by others and by James Houston Hayes.)
Note that I am twice-descended from William Witt. His oldest child was my father’s great-grandfather and his fourth child was my mother’s great-grandfather.
James Houston Witt (21 November 1845 – 7 July 1899) James Houston Hayes’ diary records his birth date as 22 November 1845 but his gravestone records it as 21 November 1845. (It’s interesting that the diary also shows his parents’ marriage two months prior to his birth, but that marriage date may be a year off.) He married Unica Abigail Davenport on 1 December 1868. He was apparently named after his uncle.
[These were my father’s great-grandparents – see the separate paper for more detail.]
Joseph Witt (16 January 1848 – 1 June 1925). James Houston Hayes’ diary records Joe Witt’s birth date as 10 October 1847, but family records and censuses show it as a few months later. He married Malinda V. Barrier (14 September 1853 – 7 June 1938) about 1870. They were in the 1880 Morris County, Texas census with the three children below, although later censuses suggest they had a fourth child who died young. In the 1900 census of Morris County, the son Robert Lee Witt was still in the household, unmarried, and the daughter Ella was enumerated as Ella McCoy, a divorcee with an 8-year old son named Marvin B. McCoy. In 1910 Joe and Malinda were enumerated in Atascosa County, but they were back in Omaha, Morris County by the 1920 census. Joseph Witt is buried in the Omaha Cemetery, his stone giving the above dates, near his wife. In the 1930 census, Malinda was enumerated in a Dallas nursing home. She died in Dallas eight years later, but is buried near her husband in the Omaha Cemetery.
2.1.Mary Elizabeth Witt (22 June 1870 – 23 August 1959) She married Thomas Joseph Pate and remained in Omaha, where she died. She is buried in Omaha Cemetery as “Mollie” Pate, though her death certificate and other records call her Mary Elizabeth.
2.2. Lou Ella Witt (25 November 1873 – 26 October 1930) She was “Louelly” in the 1880 census and Ella McCoy in the 1900 census. She is buried in the Omaha Cemetery, next to her mother, as Ella Witt McCoy Davis.
2.3. Robert Lee Witt (11 October 1878 – 26 September 1936 ) He was still at home in 1910. He became a real estate agent, and died of typhoid fever while living in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. He is buried in Mt. Pleasant.
Nancy A. Witt (15 October 1850 – 19 February 1929) James Houston Hayes’ diary records her birth date as 25 October 1851, but the dates above are from her gravestone in Morris County’s Concord Cemetery. Nancy was still in her father’s household in 1870, but married John T. Barrier, a blacksmith, 28 December 1870.13 The 1880 census of Titus County shows her and her husband with four children in the household, the eldest aged 9. The 1900 census of Morris County shows her as a widow, heading a household of seven children, with an eighth (Thomas) heading his own household a few houses away. In 1910 Nancy was living with her son Andrew, and in 1920 was again head of household with her unmarried daughter Julia and son Mike living with her. Both the 1900 and 1910 censuses list Nancy as the mother of 12 children, eight of whom were living. According to censuses, the eight children were William T. Barrier (1877), Julia A. Barrier (1878-1950), Walter M. Barrier (1881), Mike Barrier (1882-1975), Lee Barrier (1884), Andrew J. Barrier (1888), Mandie M. Barrier (1890).
A ninth child, Georgia Ann Barrier, was listed in the 1880 household as age 9 – she is buried in Morris County’s Barrier Cemetery with a stone giving her birth date as 22 December 1871 and death date as 17 January 1884. The other three children all died in infancy and are also buried in the Barrier Cemetery: Manda E. (1875), Charles E. (1886) , and Mildred P. (1894).
John M. Witt (17 January 1856 – 18 March 1934) Although his middle initial is given in numerous records, the middle name itself is a mystery. James Houston Hayes’ diary records his birth date as 23 March 1855, but his death certificate gives it as 17 January 1856.14 The latter seems correct, as the 1900 census gives his birth as January 1856, and that date is consistent with the other censuses. He is in his father’s household in 1860 and 1870. After his father’s death, John M. Witt lived with his older brother, James Houston Witt, in whose household he was enumerated in the 1880 census. When the post office was established in the Morris County town of Gavett (changed to Omaha in 1886), he was named its first postmaster.He evidently returned to Tennessee, as he married Laura Newell in Meigs County, Tennessee on 31 August 1886.15 They returned to Texas where their daughter Cassandra was born in 1888, after which they apparently separated, Laura returning to the Meigs County area and John Witt remaining in Texas. The (delayed) birth certificate of their daughter Mary Ann Witt, born in 1895, shows her birthplace as Georgetown, Bradley County, Tennessee.16 Their daughter recalled her parents being separated for several years and then reconciling, which appears to explain the curious marriage record several months earlier, on 20 March 1895, in Bradley County of J. M. Witt to “Mrs.” L. A. Witt.17 A separation after the birth of Cassandra would also explain an 1888 deed in which he gifted land in Omaha to his wife “L. A. Witt”.18 Laura Witt died of typhoid fever on 4 August 1896, leaving John Witt with two small children.((Per Mary Ann Witt, her daughter.))John M. Witt then married a widow named Sarah Virginia (Mealer) Dover on 6 September 1898 in Walker County, Georgia just south of Hamilton County, Tennessee.19 The 1900 census shows that she brought into the household a son of her own, Oscar S. Dover, and was the mother of the third Witt daughter.2021) In the censuses of 1910, 1920, and 1930, John M. Witt was enumerated in adjacent Hamilton County, Tennessee (in Chattanooga) with the second wife Sarah Virginia. His occupation is listed as a saw miller in 1900, carpenter in 1910, house building contractor in 1920, and carpenter in 1930. That he was the son of William Witt is proven by several letters he wrote while living in the Chattanooga area to his relatives in Omaha, some of which mention his second wife and children.22 His daughter Mary Ann Witt was also familiar with her grandparents William Witt and Elizabeth Hayes Witt.23 [The “CLHW” paper (q.v.) mentions John Witt as the only child of William Witt known to the author, meaning that John Witt was known to his Witt relatives in the Bradley County, Tennessee area.] He was evidently a Baptist, for his brief obituary in The Chattanooga Times mentions that services would be at the Woodland Park Baptist church.24 He is buried in the Chickamauga, Georgia cemetery a few miles south of Chattanooga where a headstone still existed in 1990. His widow “Jennie” died a few years later, on 24 October 1939.25According to censuses, obituaries, and other records, he had three daughters; two by his first wife and one by his second wife. I have photographs, or copies of photographs, of John M. Witt, his second wife Jennie, and the three daughters.
5.1. Cassandra Elizabeth Witt (15 April 1888 – 9 April 1982) who married Oscar F. Morris and died in Chattanooga.
5.2. Mary Ann Witt (4 December 1895 – 16 April 1991) a lifelong nurse in Nashville and Chattanooga who never married.
5.3. Bessie Ruth Witt (10 August 1899 – 6 August 1978) married James T. Johnson and is buried in Chickamauga.
William Breckenridge Calhoun Witt (23 January 1857 – 18 January 1952) He is in his father’s household in 1860 and 1870, and was listed as a cousin in the household of Charles Price in 1880. He married Willie Huba Honeycutt about 1885, as the 1900 census shows them as married 15 years. They appear in the 1900 and 1910 censuses in Morris County and in the 1920 and 1930 censuses in Bowie County. “Breck” wrote the letter mentioned above to Mary Lou Witt in 1947 while living in Texarkana. According to his death certificate he died in Texarkana, Bowie County of senility and arteriosclerosis at the age of 95.26 His wife died just two months after him on 16 March 1952. Both husband and wife are buried in the Omaha Cemetery in Morris County. According to the 1900 and 1910 census records, Breck and Willie had seven children, four of whom were still living in 1910.6.1. George Witt (22 December 1886 – 29 July 1887) He died in infancy and is buried in the Omaha Cemetery.6.2. Wally Witt (16 March 1888 – 9 September 1892) Another son who died in childhood, he is also is buried in the Omaha Cemetery.6.3. Charles Hudson Witt (4 October 1889 – ) married Gladys Alma Haynes. They appear in his parents’ 1920 household and in Dallas County in the 1930 census. Their full names are given in the Texas Birth Index. His birth date appears as October 1888 in the 1900 census, but as 4 October 1889 on his World War I draft registration card.
6.4. Joel Witt (22 October 1894 – 4 November 1897) Another son who died in childhood, he is also is buried in the Omaha Cemetery.
6.5. Ora Elizabeth Witt (7 August 1891 – 15 February 1972) married a Bolton but was soon widowed. As Ora E. Bolton, a widow, she is in her parents’ 1920 and 1930 census households. She never remarried. She died in Texarkana, Bowie County, according to her death certificate, and is buried in Chapelwood Cemetery there.
6.6. Mary Witt (October 1898 – ) No further record.
6.7. Jimmie Witt (24 April 1901 – 28 June 1992) In every record I found her name was “Jimmie”. She married Frank Jefferson Hawkins (1894-1968). They are in her parents’ 1920 household and in 1930 are in a separate household in Bowie County. Both are buried in Chapelwood Cemetery in Texarkana.
Richard Franklin Witt (18 September 1862 – 28 June 1924) The elder of his father’s two sons by Mary Wright Beasley, he was generally known as “Doc Witt” (sometimes spelled “Dock”.) The 1900 census gives his birth date as September 1863, but his death certificate gives it as 18 September 1862.27 He married Samantha Elizabeth Hayes (known as Bettie), daughter of William Hayes, on 23 January 1882. He is enumerated next door to his brother Joseph Witt in the 1900 census of Omaha, Morris County, and next door to Wilson Taylor in 1910. In 1930 he was enumerated as a cotton ginner in Omaha. He died there on 28 June 1924 and was buried in the Omaha City cemetery with a stone without dates.28 His wife survived him by several years, dying in Morris County on 1 April 1933. According to the 1910 census, his wife bore three children, two of whom were alive in 1910, both daughters. The third child was an infant named Oneal Witt (11 November 1893 – 19 March 1894) who is buried in the Hayes Cemetery in Morris County.
7.1. Loulie Witt (8 February 1887 – 7 June 1946) She married James Estes Parham. In the 1930 census they were living in Omaha with her mother Bettie Witt and her niece Dorothy Legg in the household. Her death certificate says she died of stomach cancer. She and her husband are both buried in the Omaha Cemetery.
7.2. Efland Witt (16 December 1895 – 7 November 1913) She is buried in Morris County’s Omaha Cemetery as Efland Legg, next to her husband B. F. Legg (4 March 1883 – 14 May 1918). In the 1920 census a granddaughter named “Dortha” F. Legg (age 6) was in Richard Witt’s household, and in 1930 Dorothy Legg was in the household of Loulie Witt Parham, listed as a niece. Dorothy Legg (3 November 1914 – August 1983) was evidently the only child of Efland Witt.
- Nathaniel Witt (30 January 1869 – 27 April 1887) He died unmarried at the age of 18, and is buried in the Concord Cemetery in Morris County, Texas.
- James Houston Hayes began a diary in 1902 with names and vital records of many members of his family. A photocopy of the pertinent pages was provided to me by Vineta Witt Ketner. [↩]
- Related by Ora Witt Belton to Vineta Witt Ketner. I strongly doubt this date is accurate. [↩]
- McMinn County Deed Book G, p608. [↩]
- “CLHW” manuscript, p36. (See Nathaniel Witt page for complete citation. [↩]
- John Butler, John Massey, and John Henderson, all sons-in-law of Solomon Hayes, moved from McMinn County to Titus County, Texas. [↩]
- (A Thomas Cate apparently moved with them. Mary “Kate”, age 35, listed in the 1850 census of Titus County with five children. This person was evidently the widow of Thomas Cate, who died at age 35 in December 1849 according to the 1850 Mortality Schedule. [↩]
- The letter was written to Mary Lou Witt (born 1906), the daughter of Fred Witt and granddaughter of George Washington Witt. Her 1963 paper on the descendants of William Witt is invaluable, since she knew many of the Witts personally. [↩]
- TNGenWeb, Bradley County Website – an 1845 petition from 161 “residents of Bradley County” to the state legislature requesting compensation to Samuel Samples for grain consumed by militia in 1836 at his warehouse in Athens, McMinn County. This seems to show that William Witt was living in Bradley County in 1845. [↩]
- Judy Hayes Butler, sister of Lizzie Hayes Witt, stated that it was December of 1846. All the descendants agreed that it was prior to 1850. [↩]
- I have copies of the deeds as loose documents, but the book and page are not noted. All five deeds were apparently re-recorded in Morris County, in which the land then lay, after the Titus County courthouse burned. [↩]
- Boggy Bayou (now called Boggy Creek) runs roughly from Cookville through Morris County into Lake o’ the Pines. [↩]
- Mary Beasley was head of her own household in 1860, with five children. [↩]
- The 1900 census shows her as married 21 years earlier, and she was apparently the mother of the daughter born in December 1871. Family records give the date of the marriage as 28 December 1870. [↩]
- Tennessee Death Certificate No. 5464 (District No. 23301, File No. 412). This lists him as “Mr. J. M. Witt” of 1913 S. Orchard Knob Ave., Chattanooga. His wife Jennie, the informant, left blank his parents’ names and his birthplace. His occupation is listed as “carpenter” and cause of death is shown as pneumonia. The burial place is shown as Chickamauga, Georgia Cemetery. The Bible of his stepson Oscar S. Dover shows the date as 16 January 1857, clearly a year off. [↩]
- Meigs County Marriage Book. Record No. 314. “Jno M. Witt” and Laura A. Newell are listed as age 28 and 18, respectively. [↩]
- Mary Ann Witt’s delayed birth certificate (File No. D-143472), dated in 1942 on her own oath, gives her mother’s name as “Laura Elizabeth Newell” and her father as “John M. Witt.” Her listed birthplace, Georgetown, straddles Meigs, Hamilton, and Bradley Counties. [↩]
- Mary Ann Witt, interviewed in 1989, said that her mother and father were separated after her older sister’s birth, with her father traveling to Texas for lengthy periods and her mother teaching piano in the Hamilton County area public schools. She said her parents were divorced in spirit but her mother’s family would not permit a divorce. Laura became ill and John Witt moved back from Texas to care for. Shortly after she recovered, she had Mary. That seems to explain the marriage record in Bradley County. Mary Ann Witt went on to relate that her mother died of typhoid when she was 8 months old. [↩]
- Synopsis of deed in Morris County dated 20 October 1886 provided by Vineta Witt Ketner. [↩]
- The marriage of J. M. Witt to S. V. Dover is dated 6 September 1898 in Walker County (Marriage Book 2, page 136). She is enumerated as Sarah in 1900, Jennie in 1910, Sarah V. in 1920, and Virginia S. in 1930. She was ne Sarah Virginia Mealer, the widow of Samuel M. Dover, whom she had married in Walker County on 25 September 1892. [↩]
- Her son Oscar Samuel Dover is enumerated in the 1910 and 1920 household as a stepson surnamed Dover. The stepson Oscar Dover was visited by Charlie Witt, the only son of Breck Witt, in Los Angeles during World War II according to Vineta Ketner. Oscar S. Dover’s death certificate, for which the informant was his wife, shows his father as Samuel Dover and his mother as “Jane Meeler.” His obituary, interestingly, notes that he was survived by his mother Mrs. Witt, and “three sisters” (Cassandra, Marry, and Ruth). He was clearly accepted as a full member of the family. In fact, his own family Bible recorded the births of the three Witt girls, their marriages, and the births of the Morris and Johnson children. [↩]
- The 1900 census shows a daughter Cassie (born April 1888) and a daughter Mary (born December 1896) whose mother is listed as born in Tennessee. The wife in the household was born in Georgia. A third child, Oscar (born January 1897), is listed as a son but is shown in later censuses as a stepson. The fourth child in the household, Ruth (born August 1899) is clearly the only child of John M. Witt and his second wife. John M. Witt is also shown as having married first 14 years earlier, and Sarah is listed as having married first 8 years earlier. (She is further listed as the mother of four, two of whom were still living. [↩]
- I have not seen the letters, but was informed of their general contents by Vineta Wit Ketner. The letters clearly prove that the John M. Witt of Chattanooga was the same person as the son of William Witt. Vineta wrote me that they mention the daughters Cassie, Mary, and Ruth, as well as the stepson Oscar Dover. [↩]
- Interviewed in 1989. [↩]
- Issue of 18 March 1934. It mentions the widow Jennie, the three daughters, stepson Oscar S. Dover, and five unnamed grandchildren. [↩]
- This date from the Bible of her son Oscar S. Dover. [↩]
- Certificate No. It gives his parents as William Witt and Elizabeth Hayes, both born in NC. The informant was his eldest son Charles Hudson Witt. [↩]
- Certificate No.21009. It gives his parents as William P. (sic) Witt, born in SC, and Polley Beasley, born in Alabama. The informant was his eldest daughter. [↩]
- The stone, which identifies him as “Doc” Witt, merely indicates that he was 62 years old. [↩]