Escambia County, Florida
circa 1790 - circa 1835
urrell spent his early life in Burke County, Georgia. He may have been born there or in South Carolina. He participated in a number of land lotteries in the early 1800s and won several. By 1818 he had migrated down into Laurens County, Georgia. He left records all over the place in Laurens County. In Aug of 1836 he even sued Solomon Jones, the father of his son John’s wife, for $10.40 and won. Murrell shows up in the 1830 census at the age of 40-50 with a wife and two sons and two daughters. He is missing from the 1840 census and the last mention I find of him refers to land sold in 1845 that formerly belonged to Murrell Finney. Since his son, John, was still in Laurens County in 1840 with a member of the household who is probably his sister, it seems likely that Murrell died there between 1830 and 1840. I have never discovered who his wife, our great-great-great-great-grandmother, was.
Mrs. Murrell Finney
(1780 to 1790) - after 1830
bout all we know about this woman is that she married Murrell between 1796 and 1804 probably in Burke County, Georgia. She had at least six children - three boys and three girls between 1804 and 1820 that show up in the census data of 1820 and 1830.
1790 - 1837
olomon enlisted in Jones County, Georgia as a soldier in the company commanded by Captain Newnon in the regiment commanded by General Floyd in the War with the Indian Hostiles and Great Britain. He entered the service in the year 1812. Later he enlisted in the Cavalry under Captain Steele. Having had enough military duty, Solomon married a 16 year old girl named Elizabeth Woodson on 16 Sep 1816. She bore him at least one child (in 1818) before she died. After the death of Elizabeth, Solomon remarried to Sarah Davis on 29 Nov 1821. He became Constable of Laurens County for a period of time. Solomon remained married to Sarah until his death in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia. Sarah never married again but on 20 Oct 1860, undoubtedly at the urging of her son, William, whom she was living with at the time and her step-daughter, Harriet B. Finney who lived nearby, she began pursuing her entitlements to bounty land granted to certain widows and orphans under the 3 Mar 1855 Federal Act on land grants. Harriet and her brother, William Bowie Jones continued to pursue this bounty land long after Sarah’s death in Washington County, Florida in Aug of 1868 (Sarah, by the way, is buried in the Moss Hill Cemetery just outside of Vernon, Florida). I don’t know what the final outcome was. As for Solomon, he is buried somewhere in Laurens County, Georgia - most likely in Dublin.
Elizabeth Woodson Jones
1800 - 1821
lizabeth died young after giving birth to a child that would become a remarkable woman. She named this child Harriet. Other than that I know nothing else about Elizabeth other than that she died in Georgia and had a brother named Jonathan C. Woodson who married Margaret Barfield 3 Mar 1816 in Jones County, GA
1815 - 1854
ohn was born in Laurens County, Georgia near Dublin. He grew up enduring Indian raids on his family’s farm and saw his father ride against the raiders in the Georgia Militia. About 1840 he married Harriet Jones - undoubtedly one of the most stalwart women of that time. By 1850 John and Harriet had followed Harriet’s brother to Washington County, Florida near the present town of Vernon. They had four daughters and a son, all of whom had been born in Georgia. John paid taxes there until 1854 and owned a lot in town. He disappeared from the records by 1855 and apparently left no will - at least I have never found record of one. Nor have I found evidence of his burial site in the Washington County area.
Harriet B. Jones Finney
1818 - 20 Jan 1892
arriet was born in Georgia the same year John Jacob Astor opened the American Fur Company on Lake Michigan at a point that would later become Milwaukee. She married and began her family in Georgia but her brother, William B. Jones, followed the family of his fiancée down to Washington County, Florida in 1847 and Harriet and John soon relocated there as well. By 1850 she and John had five children: Irena, Sarah, Elizabeth, William and Rebecca (who was born in Florida the previous year). They were also taking care of Harriet’s stepmother, Sarah Jones, and another 15 year old girl also named Sarah Jones - perhaps a half-sister.
When John died about 1854 Harriet, at 37, left with a bunch of kids to raise, remarried to Ira Shine Williams in December 1855. This marriage gave Harriet one more child, George Washington Williams. The marriage was a rocky one. Harriet left Ira for a time then went back for a while before leaving him for good about 1858. Ira moved to Texas, leaving George with Harriet, and filed for divorce in 1860. He died in 1862.
By the 1860 census Harriet was again using the name Finney and had two additional kids listed - Virginia Finney and George Williams. Her stepmother had moved in with Harriet’s brother William by this time. At this point they began a lengthy effort to claim land lawfully granted to Harriet’s and William’s father, Solomon, for his service in the War of 1812. Harriet signed several papers with William in an application to the bureaucrats for the land. 1870 finds her in Walton County under the name of Harriet B. Williams with four of her now grown daughters and four children, two of whom were sisters - one of which was our great-grandmother, Katie Merritt. Life continued to slide downhill.
By 1880 Harriet is living in Milton, Florida with Katie and Hattie. The census that year lists these two girls as granddaughters. At 15, Katie had already finished school and Hattie, at 9, was attending school. To keep the family together, Harriet was working as a laundress. She was 62 and widowed for the second time. Kate married early the following year and Hattie married several years later. Harriet died a few years after that and is buried in the Hart Cemetery in Okaloosa County about three miles from the little town of Dorcas. Her tombstone is broken into three pieces but is still readable. Without this woman’s heroic efforts our great-grandmother may never have lived to meet Orrin Merritt and we would not be reading this today.
Rebecca J. Finney
Feb 1850 - after 1870
his woman has been the mystery woman among several ancestors who were exceedingly hard to trace. She was not even mentioned on her children's death certificates, except for her youngest daughter’s and then only as Josephine. Evidently few in the families of her offspring knew her name. Little is known of her other than that she bore at least two daughters, Catherine Florence and Hattie J. Finney. We wouldn’t know even this if it weren’t for a most remarkable event that occurred in Pensacola.
I had set up a meeting with Paul Merritt and Cynthia Dean who were helping me research this elusive connection for Thursday night of 29 Oct 1996. I arrived in Pensacola about noon and went out to the Pace Library at UWF to look up some source documents on Ward information I had discovered in the South East Native American publication.
The librarian remarked that it had been years since anyone had asked to see those files. It took him a while to locate them but he finally brought out about ten pounds of Ward documents. While I read over the documents, a woman and a younger man entered the area and milled around until the librarian asked them if he could help them. They said they were looking for the Ward records. I looked up and the librarian was staring at me in disbelief. I said it was a busy day for the Wards and that I had the records they were looking for. I asked them what Ward line they came from. They didn’t understand the question for a moment then said, “Oh, Asa Ward and Cornelius Ward.”
Several weeks earlier I would have said that I wasn’t familiar with that line but Cynthia Dean had recently researched the Ward lineage that married one of Hattie Finney Brown’s daughters. I then asked if they were descendants of Hattie Brown. The women said that Hattie was her great-grandmother. I talked with them for about an hour and arranged to call the son that night from Cynthia’s where Paul and I were to meet at 7:30.
I arrived at Cynthia’s at 7:30. At eight we called James Hubbell. He arrived about thirty minutes later and, after introductions, revealed that prior to meeting me at the Pace Library he and his mother had stopped at Jerry’s Restaurant for lunch and as they got out of the car heard a woman screaming on the other side of the parking lot. He ran over there to find a man lying on the pavement bleeding and losing consciousness. James had worked in an ER for several years and gave the man CPR after determining he had stopped breathing and had lost his pulse. The man regained consciousness and shortly thereafter fire trucks arrived in response to the 911 call that had gone out a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately he later died en route to the hospital.
Cynthia remarked that she had been driving by at the time and had seen all the fire trucks and the ambulance that arrived a few minutes later. She had been dictating a message to Paul in her tape recorder as she drove past and had wondered what was going on. I remarked at the strangeness of the sequence of these events and Paul added that on top of all of that the waitress working in Jerry’s Restaurant was a descendant of Harriet and John Finney. This was a discovery Cynthia had made about a month before.
After all the recounting of what had actually happened that day James brought out his paperwork on the Wards. In there was a letter written by his grandfather, Thomas Brenton Ward. In part, it said, “There were (2) Finney sisters who lived in Geneva Ala with mother. Kattie Finney who married Oran Merritt. Harriet Josephine Finney who married Henry W. Brown.”
“Harriet and Katties mothers sister Virginia married George Wright who was Bob Wrights Daddy. Bobs mother was Lucy Browns second cousin.”
In fact, Bob, was Lucy’s second cousin once removed but this relationship is often incorrectly interpreted as second cousin. Apparently Thomas got the relations among Bob, his mother Virginia and Lucy Brown somewhat confused – an easy thing to do.
The significance of this discovery is that we now know that their mother was a daughter of Harriet and John Finney because the Virginia who married George Wright was their daughter. So we had narrowed the field for Kate’s mother from 50 million women to three - Sarah, Elizabeth or Rebecca Finney.
Unfortunately, James’ paperwork did not contain the actual names of Kate’s and Hattie’s parents but this was, nonetheless, the biggest find so far relating to those mysterious parents. The strangeness of the events leading to this finding add to the mystery of this whole Finney affair.
Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to figure out which of the Finney daughters was Kate’s mother. Since the 1880 census lists both Kate’s and her sister’s parents as being born in Florida, Rebecca Finney must be her mother. Only two of Harriet’s daughters were born in Florida, Rebecca and Virginia. Because Virginia is mentioned as a sister of Kate’s mother, only Rebecca remains as a candidate for the direct ancestor on our Finney side.
Some time later I found some of Rebecca’s descendants and got a record of her children written by her last child, Curtis Lafayette Blair. Kate and Hattie were not on that list so Rebecca appears not to be Kate’s mother. That leaves only Sarah Finney about whom we know even less.
26 Nov 1863 - 21 Sep 1922
Digitally Colorized Photo
Kate Finney Merritt
f there is such a thing as a guardian angel this woman must be mine. From the moment I found her name it seemed to mean something special to me though I knew nothing else about her. Then I discovered that she died 21 years before I was born - to the day. Weeks later I discovered her birthday. It was the same as my wife Jennie's. The probability of this is 1 in 325.25 squared or one chance in 105,788. Of course there are numerous coincidences when one goes through hundreds of dates and the probability of finding dates with various meanings is high but this particular coincidence strikes me because I had already become so interested in her once I discovered she existed. And there are only two really significant dates that define a person's life - the date they were born and the date they died. Her two significant dates match the only two significant dates that Jennie and I currently have - our birth dates. And one other detail. Kate had a daughter named Jennie Merritt. My wife's name is Jennie Merritt. The unusual spelling is the same in both cases, though Jennie was short for Virginia in the case of Kate’s daughter. Both Jennies had the same birthday – the same as Kate’s.
Katie has been, throughout this search, the most difficult to trace. After five months I had found absolutely no trace or hint of her parents with the sole exception of the entry on her death certificate of Geo. Finey (sic) as her father. I have never located a shred of evidence on this man to associate him with her paternal grandmother's family nor have I ever found a trace of her mother. This, in spite of having good records on Katie herself since she was six years old and on Kate’s sister, Hattie, since she was five months old.
Kate seems to have been born in either Santa Rosa or Walton County, Florida during the time Abraham Lincoln was President. From at least age six on she lived with her grandmother, Harriet B. Finney, who later remarried to a Williams. Katie attended school in the Euchee Anna Valley area of Washington County. She and her little sister, Hattie, six years younger, stayed together until Kate's marriage to Orrin. In 1880 they lived on Conecuh Street in Milton, Florida while their grandmother, an educated woman for her time, earned a living as a laundress to keep the small family together. I have driven down this quiet side street. A small creek runs across it about midway along its several-blocks length. Kate and Hattie must have played in this creek on hot summer days.
Kate and Orrin were married on the 11th of May 1881 at “Aunt” Edna Mashburn's house in Bay Minette, Alabama. Dennis Mashburn put up the $200.00 marriage bond. By 1885 she and Orrin were settled into Muscogee, Florida and had two daughters, Minnie and Myrtle Katie. Arthur would be born the following year. Hattie, her little sister, had married a cooper named Henry Brown shortly after Kate married Orrin and Hattie and Henry moved to Muscogee as well.
By 1900 Kate had given birth to eight children but had lost one, her second child, Myrtle Katie. On a fresh Spring day that year Myrtle Katie drowned in the local creek. Myrtle Katie was just 16. Orrin and Katie buried her up on the hill across the creek from their house in what is now the old Muscogee Cemetery.
Left to right are Charles Brooks, Virginia Clair,
Minnie Harriet, Arthur Oran and Paul Benjamin Merritt
circa 1899 Muscogee, Florida
Kate was raised by her grandmother when times were tough and therefore knew the value of getting things done by whatever means were at hand. Orrin was often away when planting time came and, as they had no mule, Kate would hitch Arthur to the plow and till up the garden plot to get the planting done on time. Ola was upset when she learned of this years later but it seems not to have harmed Arthur any - he lived to be 92.
By 1910 Mable and Arthur had left home but were replaced by Bill Ostman, a friend of Orrin's from Sweden (see Herman’s story Fences) and by Eddie Petty whose mother was a Mashburn. Eddie's parents had died so Orrin and Kate took Eddie in to raise. Katie and Orrin must have been doing well. They had numerous photos made of their children during a time when a photo was a not so insignificant expense. She also had nice furnishings in her home though the house itself belonged to the sawmill.
Edie Bowman Avant remembers visiting and sitting at the supper table in the Merritt house. Kate presided at the head of the table with Bill Ostman at the opposite end. Orrin sat next to Kate and the children and other assorted visitors and guests sat along the length of the table.
Bill Ostman is a puzzle. He apparently lived with Kate and Orrin from 1901 until his death in 1916. I have never been able to find what his connection to the family was even though he was referred to as “Uncle” Bill. He served as a handy man, repairing fences and such until his death. He was a seaman, some say a sea captain, earlier in life. On one trip back to Sweden he brought all of Kate’s girls and granddaughters brooch watches. Edie Bowman Avant still had hers 90 years later.
William “Uncle Bill” Ostman
16 Nov 1839 Stockholm, Sweden
3 Aug 1916 Muscogee, FL
In 1922 she took a trip with Orrin and her grandson, Herman, up to Alabama to visit her daughter Minnie. Sixty years later Herman would write a short story called Two Way Trip about this journey. Before the year was out Kate began experiencing stomach problems. In August she was diagnosed with stomach cancer by Dr. V.R. Nobles in Pensacola. Her daughter, Jennie, cared for her through her illness. She stayed in Pensacola with her sister Hattie Brown at 405 North 6th Ave during the final days, however. There was no attempt to operate. Kate just grew weaker until she finally died at 11 AM on the 21st of September. All of the children and grandchildren gathered and kept a watch throughout the night.
Kate in her Summer White
Circa 1920 Muscogee, FL
Since there were no funeral homes in the Muscogee area, her funeral service was held entirely at the grave side. Fuzzy and Edie remember how her daughter, Jennie, was overcome with grief. Jennie cried so hard and hugged her mother’s body for so long that when the coffin lid was finally closed Kate was buried with her daughter’s tears covering her face as though she had been out in the rain. That incident as much as anything attests to the feelings her children had for her. She was much loved and much missed by them after her death. She was buried up on the hill in Muscogee next to her daughter Myrtle Katie who had been interred there 22 years earlier. Another 22 years would pass before Orrin joined them. Jennie died several years later while changing her newborn daughter’s clothes and was buried in St. Johns Cemetery in Pensacola.
Virginia “Jennie” Merritt
Kate’s sister, Hattie Brown, would live until the evening of the 9th of December, 1931. On that cold, dark night the dogs began barking out in the back yard and Henry Brown, then in his seventies, grabbed his 12 gauge automatic shotgun to go out and see what the ruckus was all about. As he passed Hattie in the kitchen, the shotgun barrel brushed across her chest and discharged. The blast slammed her against the wall. Her heart blown out through her left shoulder, Hattie stumbled across the kitchen and out into the parlor where her son Hoyt stood watching in horror as she sank to the floor and died.
Harriet “Hattie” Josephine Finney Brown
When the sheriff arrived they discovered a 300 gallon still in the back yard and large quantities of moonshine nearby. Henry must have thought someone was messing with his whiskey that night. A jury was formed within the hour to observe the body and begin drawing conclusions about what had happened. The next day Henry was found free of blame in Hattie's death. And so the lives of these two sisters who were orphaned, raised by their grandmother in the pine barrens of the West Florida panhandle and who endured to become mothers and wives and grandmothers came to a close. Hattie was buried in St. Johns Cemetery. Henry was held over on charges of booze possession. Henry was charged with possession of liquor and served 60 days hard labor for it. Several years later he was lighting a gas stove. It blew up burning Henry so badly that he died a few days later, following Hattie on the 25th of April 1933. They are buried together in lot 35 section 44 of St. Johns Cemetery. Hoyt lived until 1992 in Marianna, Florida. I'm sure he never forgot the cold winter night of December 9th, 1931.