Changes in the Life of Isaac Sturgell

Sometimes an ancestor is hard to track because of changes in his or her life. That is the case with my husband’s 2x great grandfather, Isaac Sturgell. Old Isaac was something of a black sheep, not what I would call a fine, upstanding citizen, but it took me many years of piecing details together to come to this conclusion.

I am not a great proponent of timelines unless I come across a difficult challenge. Isaac definitely fit the bill because of variations of his surname and the number of times he moved from place to place. He is the epitome of the old adage, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

My search for Isaac’s story began with very, very few clues. I found him in the 1870 census as the father of Abijah Houston Sturgell, Dave’s great grandfather. The family was living in Barry County, Missouri at the time; Isaac’s wife was Susannah Alberty, which I knew from family information. I also found him in the 1860 census with an apparent wife, Mary, and their children. There are still Sturgell descendants living in Barry County today so I thought that an expanded search would be fairly easy. I was WRONG!

I have to repeat myself here – it took me years, no – decades, to piece together the Sturgell story to see all the changes in Isaac’s life.

A timeline is the easiest way to highlight all these changes:

1823 – Isaac “Sturgill” was born about 1823 in Virginia, probably Grayson County

1830-1837 – Sometime in this time frame, Isaac’s family moved from Virginia to Lawrence County, Ohio. His father, William, patented land there in August 1837.

27 June 1844 – Isaac “Sturgeon”, aged about 21, married Mary Bandy, aged about 15, in Lawrence County, Ohio

24 June 1844 – 1850 – Isaac’s father, William, died. He sold land in Ohio on 24 June 1844 and was dead before the 1850 census. Family lore says he was killed in a sawmill accident either in Missouri or Arkansas.

About 1848 – Isaac’s first daughter, M.J. was born, probably in Lawrence County, Ohio.

1850 – Isaac “Sturgion,” Mary and baby M.J. appear in the Barry County, Missouri census. Barry County is on the southern border of Missouri, just over the state line from Arkansas. It is possible that Isaac migrated to the area with his father.

1853 – Isaac’s son, Andrew Jackson Sturgell, was born somewhere in Texas about 1853.

1855 – Isaac’s son, Abijah Houston Sturgell, was born in Barry County, MO on 14 March 1855.

1857 – Isaac’s daughter, Margaret, was born 17 March 1857 somewhere in Arkansas.

1859-1861 – Isaac “Stirgel” appears on the Benton County, Arkansas tax lists.

1860 – Isaac, Mary and children Amanda, Andrew Jackson, Abijah Houston, Margaret and George Washington “Stigall” are living in Benton County, Arkansas and enumerated in the census. Daughter M.J. apparently died during this decade. Son George was born in April of this census year, so he likely was born in Benton County.

1861 – Isaac’s daughter, Mary, was born 19 May 1861 in Arkansas.

1861 – 30 September 1867 – Sometime between daughter Mary’s birth and 30 September 1867, when Isaac married second wife, Susannah Douthit Alberty, Isaac and Mary went their separate ways. Mary took the girls and moved to Peoria, Illinois, near where other of her family members settled. Isaac kept the boys with him. Isaac and Mary might have divorced or they may have just walked away from each other. With the chaos of the Civil War and its end and the fact that Mary went to Illinois and Isaac continued wandering around Missouri and Arkansas, they might not have divorced.

20 February 1868 – Isaac and Susannah Sturgell of Newton County, Missouri sold land in Carroll County, Arkansas.

7 January 1870 – Issac made application for Homestead Act land, signing with his mark “X.”

16 October 1874 – Isaac and Susannah settled their contentious divorce in which she accused him of squandering money left to her by her first husband, failing to provide food and clothing for her and minor children and bringing lewd women to stay in their home!

27 April 1876 – Isaac Sturgell married Nancy R. Fields in Boone County, Arkansas.

30 November 1876 – Issac Sturgell made the final payment due on land he received under the Homestead Act. He swore that he had improved the land and lived on it continuously. Sons Andrew J. and George W. attested to the truth of this statement!

29 August 1877 – Isaac Sturgell married Nancy P. Cooper in Pope County, Arkansas

1878 – 1879 – Isaac and son, Jack, “Stergill” appear on the tax rolls of Van Buren County, Arkansas.

1880 census – Nancy Tredwell Cooper is living with her son in Pope County, Arkansas. She and Isaac had apparently parted ways.

Isaac apparently continued his wandering ways as no mention of him is found in either the 1880 or 1900 censuses.

Before 17 June 1880 – Isaac’s son Andrew Jackson Sturgell died, probably in Boone County, Arkansas.

6 June 1883 – Mrs. Mary Sturgell, also known as Mrs. Mary Cookman, quit claimed land owned by Isaac in Carroll County, Arkansas. Mary filed the deed in Peoria, Illinois, signing with her mark “X.”

1886 – 1900 – Isaac’s son, George Washington Sturgell, died in this time period.

12 November 1903 – Isaac Sturgell is listed as a resident of the county farm (the poor house.)

12 May 1904 – A newspaper notice mentioned that the court paid $10 towards the care of Isaac Sturgell at the county farm.

2 June 1905 – Son Abijah Houston Sturgell died from burns sustained in a gas lamp accident.

4 August 1906 – A news item in the Cassville Democrat newspaper noted that Isaac Sturgell, an old man living in the county farm, was very ill.

26 February 1909 – There was not one, but two, obituaries  for Isaac Sturgell that appeared in the Monett Times of Lawrence County, Missouri and the Cassville Democrat in Barry County:


Obituaries for Isaac
Top: printed from microfilm of the newspaper
Bottom: Source is Chronicling America

These notices are the only death records that exist for Isaac, but I learned several things about him. He died of consumption (tuberculosis), from which he suffered for “a number of years.” He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. I’ve been to that cemetery, but Isaac has no gravestone, having been buried in a pauper’s grave.

I’m not sure who reported that he was “Reverend,” but I doubt that was true. He was illiterate and certainly had no formal training in any ministry. Perhaps he was the poorhouse “minister,” having seen the errors or his ways in his old age. However, he was affiliated with the Baptist Church.

The second obituary states that he lived at the county farm on and off. At one point, he lived with son Abijah’s family. Isaac’s last surviving granddaughter remembered him as a mean old guy. I was fortunate to meet her before she passed away. Her most vivid memory was of the children doing something that annoyed Isaac. They ran away from him and hid under a bed, but he came after them with a broom and used the handle to jab and poke them.

The obituary also states that all his children were dead. That was true for his sons – Andrew Jackson “Jack,” George and Abijah. However, his daughters were living in the Peoria, Illinois area, where their mother took them in the 1860’s. It seems likely that the girls never saw or heard from their father again, even though he apparently knew where Mary had gone, given the 1883 quit claim.

A timeline certainly presented a fairly clear picture of Isaac Sturgell’s life. Overall, I’d say he lived a long, mostly unhappy life. Although he lived until 1909 and first wife Mary lived at least until 1889 and daughters Mary and Margaret survived until 1920 and 1929 respectively, I’ve never found a single photo of Isaac, Mary or any of their seven children.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.