Saturday, September 27, 2014

52 Ancestors - #2: James Meriweather Lankford

James Meriweather Lankford, the son of Charles L. Lankford and Miss Moore, was born in 1820 (exact date unknown to me) in Jackson County, Georgia according to a “Questions for Applicant” form submitted by Caroline B. Lankford when filing for a Widow’s Indigent Pension in 1901. The same record lists James’ full name, the only record I have found listing his middle name vs. the letter “M.” James was the 2nd child of 5—William A., James, Elizabeth Ann, .Curtis Caldwell, and Robert Chester. James is my 3rd great-grandfather.

James married Caroline B. Hobbs, daughter of Nathan Augustus Hobbs, Sr. and Mary Elizabeth Lankford, on December 1, 1844 in Greene County, Georgia. The ceremony was performed by Jeremiah Lindsey.

James, Caroline, daughter Mary, and son James lived in District 145 of Greene County in 1850. Their home was three houses from Caroline’s parents. James was a farmer.

In 1860, James and Caroline lived in Woodville, Greene County, Georgia. They have added five more children to the family since 1850—Emma S., Emerette R., Nathan, Laura J., and Marion. James was a stock trader. He had real estate valued at $1500 and personal property valued at $4000. The book How Curious a Land: Conflict and Change in Greene County, Georgia, 1850–1885* by Jonathan M. Bryant states “… James Lankford made a good living trading livestock and by 1860 had accumulated more than $5,000 worth of property …”

An 1860 slave schedule shows that James owned three slaves—a 65 year old male, a 50 year old male, and a 26 year old female. The word “Murder” is written beside the female’s name. A Southern Watchman article dated April 5, 1860 speaks of a female slave—most likely the 26 year old female listed in the 1860 slave schedule: “Three Children Drowned! We learn from the Washington Independent that a negro woman belonging to Mr. James M. Lankford, of Penfield, threw her three children into his well on Tuesday night of last week, and to make sure of their destruction she descended herself by means of the rope. She was drawn out next morning, and turned over to the authorities.” Bryant’s book How Curious a Land devotes two and a half pages to the story of slave Becky, age 26. As the mother of three children, Becky was considered valuable to the Lankford’s. When Caroline caught Becky stealing dough, she threatened to severely punish her. The next day, Mary Lankford, daughter of James and Caroline, discovered Becky and her three children in the bottom of their well. Becky was still alive but her children had died. Local officials ruled the deaths murder and Becky was taken to jail in Greensboro. There were rumors of different versions of the event—did Becky murder her children to get back at the Lankford’s for threats made by Caroline? Or was Becky despondent over the threats, attempt suicide, and decide to take her children with her in death? James was known to drink and lie. Did he make up the story in a drunken stupor? Becky was valuable property to a slave owner so George Dawson, the lawyer hired by James, took the suicide angle. She was only tried for one death and it was never mentioned that it was her child. Becky was eventually found not guilty and returned to the Lankford household. If Becky thought her life was hard before, what must she have thought after all this!

Claiming residence in Greene County, Georgia, James joined the Confederate cause and enlisted in Penfield, Greene County, Georgia on April 24, 1861 as a private in Company C of the Third Regiment Georgia Infantry, or the Dawson Grays, C.S.A. He was enlisted by Capt. R. L. McWhorter. The McWhorter name was (and still is) well known in Greene County. James mustered into service at Augusta, Georgia on May 3, 1861, by Capt. R. G. Cole. On the company roll covering the period May 3 to June 30, 1861 (only roll on which borne), he was reported present. Having been transferred, James was discharged on July 15, 1862 in Portsmouth, Virginia, leaving a substitute in his place. James then served in Company C of the Georgia Troops from November 1862 until May 1865. He was with his company in Augusta when the command surrendered. George N. Boswell stated that James made a good and faithful solder and was honorably discharged with his command at the surrender.

On July 5, 1867 James swore his allegiance to the United States and registered to vote in the state of Georgia. The record shows that he lived in Greene County.

In 1869, Caroline filed for and received a plot of land in Penfield under the Homestead Act, a federal law enacted to help with Reconstruction after the Civil War ended. The petition stated that Caroline was the head of household. The plot contained four acres and was bounded by lands of Robinson and Mercer University, belonging to her husband James M. Lankford. I personally don’t understand how the Homestead Act worked. Why was Caroline filing as head of household when James was still alive? Why was she given property bounded by land owned by her husband? If anyone can shed some light on this for me, please leave a comment to this blog.

In June 1870, they lived in Penfield, assumed to be the land received from the Homestead Act. Mary, James, and Emma have left the home and James is farming. They lived at the corner of Watson Spring Road.

1880 Soundex Cards
By June 1880, James and his family have moved to Falling Creek, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The enumerator listed him as J. L. Lankford. James is still farming. Only three children are in the home now—Emerette, Laura, and Marion. Grandsons Walter Wilson, age 8, and Julien Wilson, age 6, are living with the family. Walter and Julien (or possibly Julius) were the sons of daughter Emma, who had apparently died. James and Caroline’s son, James C., lived next door with his family. 

On several Indigent Widow’s Pension records, Caroline stated that James died in Lithonia, DeKalb County, Georgia on October 29, 1887. J. Boswell and E.S. Powell, who fought with James during the war, signed affidavits stating that James died in 1888. In 1901, his widow Caroline filed for and was approved, a Widow’s Indigent Pension. She continued to file and receive a yearly pension until her death in Baldwin County on January 8, 1906. I have found no other record showing when James died nor have I found where James or Caroline are buried.

*Bryant, Jonathan M., How Curious a Land: Conflict and Change in Greene County, Georgia, 1850–1885, published by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1996.


  1. Hi, your post caught my eye in the mention of Greene County as my lines of McKinley, Askew, Bryan, Hillsman, Sharp are from there. Enjoyed the read but was sad to think a mother could throw her three children down a well to get back at someone.

  2. My grandfather was married to an Askew before he married my grandmother but I've never found out her first name!