Thursday, October 8, 2015

Another Sad Chapter of Reuben Ward, Murdered Minister: A Case of an Insolvent Estate

Earlier this year, I wrote about my grandmother's grandfather, Reuben H. Ward. According to my grandmother's story, he was a Methodist circuit rider who had been murdered while going down the river. His body was then thrown overboard. I uncovered more details of the story through newspaper articles.

Index from Ancestry's Insolvent Estates, Perry County, Tennessee
Ward, R. H., page 62; Notice there is one more Ward and 2 more
Whitwells who are also likely my relatives. I haven't looked at these yet.

This week, while looking at Ancestry's new "probate and wills" databases, I discovered more information about Reuben H. Ward. I found that his estate was insolvent.

What is an insolvent estate? It's when an estate is in bankruptcy. So, the estate has more debt than equity. In other words, the person owed more money than they could pay back.

Reuben H. Ward
Image from Elizabeth Ramey, used with permission

In this case, the two administrators of Reuben's estate, Geo. D. Whitwell (Reuben's first cousin) and J. A. Denton, were ordered by the Clerk of the county, J. R. Godwin, to "give notice in the Linden Mail [a newspaper] and also at the Court-house door, in the Town of Linden, Tennessee, for all persons holding claims against the Estate of said deceased, to come forward and file them with me, as Clerk aforesaid, for a pro rata distribution on or before the 7 day of July 1907." [Unfortunately, according to Chronicling America, only three issues of the Linden Mail still exist, so I won't be able to find a copy of this notice.]

The order was apparently signed on January 7th, 1907. The first creditor appeared on January 21st. This was the Stewart Drug Co. saying Reuben (or his estate) owed them $3.95.

Over the next two years, a year and a half beyond the distribution date, a total of 30 creditors would be listed with amounts owed between $1.30 (to John T. Stanford) and $261.11, but with a $19.00 credit (to J. M. Lancaster). Among the many individuals listed, I also noticed the following:
  • Murray & Essary, Attor'y's
  • Paducah Furniture Company
  • Lexington Hardward & Furniture Company
  • L. V. Frazier (who I know from research is the local doctor)
  • J. T. Mossite Co. Judgement & [???]
  • J. P. Dickson (who I know to be his widow's sister)
  • Citizen's Bank, Lexington, Tenn
In all, the amount Reuben's estate owed was $1,559.81. Unfortunately, "G. D. Whitwell Admr. has $125.00 to pay these claims less expenses of Admrs fee and clerk fee." So, these claimants probably only received about 10 cents per dollar of what they were owed.

Of course, I can't help but think of Reuben's widow, Sallie, who was only 45 at the time of Reuben's death. She had 8 of her 9 children still living, though the oldest three were already married. But, still living at home were the youngest five children: Lillie, age 18; Mittie, age 15; Mary, age 13; William, age 10; and Grady, age 7. 

Not only did Sallie have to worry about her missing husband for weeks, find out about his possible murder, and struggle through the murder trial, but now she also had to suffer the probable embarrassment of her husband's insolvent estate. And, how would she survive and provide for her children without his estate?

Sallie Ward, 1910 Census, Perry County, Tennesse
In April of 1910, about 3 years after the date set to pay off all claimants, Sallie was enumerated in District 1 of Perry County, Tennessee. On the same page as her two married sons, she is listed as a 49 year old widow with 5 children at home, now aged between 21 and 11 years old. Under occupation and industry, it has listed "farmer, farming." It says she works on her "own account" rather than as an employer or employee, and that she hasn't been out of work during the past year. Under education, it lists that she can both read and write. And, under "ownership of home," it lists that she owns, via a mortgage, her farm. It appears she's doing quite well for herself and her family!

Ten years later, in the 1920 census, two of Sallie's sons have taken over the farm and she's living with them.

So, Sallie survived. But, it must have been tough! Sallie raised my grandmother, Evelyn, so I feel a special connection with her. My grandmother's own mother died when she was just a baby, so Sallie was the only mom my grandmother ever knew.

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at


  1. Dana,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks, Jana! And, hope you have a great weekend, too.


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