Greetings Stewardson relatives! It has been a terribly long time since I posted on this blog! My intentions were to post more on this blog than the other (http://grandmaspicturebox.wordpress.com), but you know what they say about good intentions ….
The story I’m presenting today, though, was too fascinating to keep to myself, so I’m putting it out here in hopes that someone, somewhere, knows more about this branch of our family. Here are the highlights of the story … and the questions they raise. (This is kind of long, so get a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, or your favorite adult beverage, and settle in ….)
William Stewardson, our initial immigrant ancestor (from Little Asby, Westmoreland County, England to Albemarle County, Virginia, and then to Nelson County) was married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Gibson, and our branch of the family is descended from James, the oldest child of this marriage. However, the people who have captured my imagination lately descend from William’s second marriage, to Sarah Wingfield.
Following William’s death in 1851, Sarah eventually moved to Missouri, and lived with two of their sons. One of those sons, John Walker Stewardson, married Martha Hawkins, and they had a daughter, Nettie, who was born in 1871 in Missouri. Nettie married Richard B. Maughs in Callaway County, Missouri in 1896 (I found a marriage record online to confirm the names, date and place). They had three children: Jesse, born 1897; Mattie, born 1899; and Wilmer, born in 1902. At some point between 1902 and 1910, either Nettie and Richard divorced, or he just left. I can’t find any of them in the 1900 census at all, but in the 1910 census, Mattie and the three children are living in Charlottesville near her parents (John and Martha), who had moved back to Virginia at some point between 1880 and 1900.
When I searched for “Richard B. Maughs” on Google, the results were not what I expected. I came across a TON of links to a California Supreme Court case stemming from a murder in Merced County. It appears Richard (“Dick”) Maughs was working on a ranch and had a dispute with his boss over something that should have been done with a fence and wasn’t. Things got heated, and Dick killed the boss, either in self-defense or in the heat of the moment or just to shut him up – there was a lot of testimony about motivation. I was also able to find a lot of newspaper articles telling about the case, the conviction, and the appeal (which Richard lost). The 1910 and 1920 census records show him as an inmate at San Quentin, and I believe he died there in 1927. I even found these two photos of him on Ancestry.com in their records from San Quentin:
All of the information I can find on this Richard B. Maughs says he was born in Missouri and articles reference a wife and children in Missouri, so he seems to be Nettie’s husband … but I’m still not certain … more on that below.
Meanwhile, back in Charlottesville, Nettie and her kids aren’t having such a great time, either. To hit the highlights, Jesse and Wilmer are teenagers when they are accused of accidently killing a neighbor by throwing a rock and hitting him in the head (the neighbor was accusing them of stealing from another neighbor); Mattie dies in 1915 (only 15 years old) when she tries to light a fire in the stove using kerosene; and in 1923, Jesse kills his brother, Wilmer, by shooting him because Wilmer was wearing Jesse’s overcoat as he was leaving the house to go and join the Navy. Jesse is arrested, tried, and convicted of killing his brother, and goes to jail.
Jesse served time for killing his brother, but it wasn’t a long time, since I believe he actually was free by 1926 or 1927, and may even have gotten married for a brief time. There are City Directory references to him in Charlottesville for several years before and after that, identifying him as an electrician. Several of those listings show his spouse as “Willie (or Billie) B. Maughs.”
At some point – and I’m guessing it was probably after Jesse killed Wilmer, but I’m not certain – Nettie attended law school at the University of Virginia. Her name is in the 1924 volume of “The Corks & Curls,” a yearbook for the law school. I’m hoping to find information about her time at UVA – in 1924, Nettie was 50 years old. In 1924, not a lot of women attended law school, much less 50-year-old women.
Based on newspaper articles I found online, it appears Jesse was in trouble fairly regularly over the years. He was caught stealing at least twice, but Jesse was a creative kind of guy … he sued one of the witnesses against him for testifying falsely. The Judge was apparently irritated enough to have Jesse committed to the state mental hospital, but he was eventually released and sent back to jail. There are several newspaper articles from the 1920s that reference Nettie appearing in court with Jesse (“his gray-haired mother”) and filing a couple of things on his behalf, but none saying that she actually represented him.
Through a couple of newspaper websites (GenealogyBank.com and Newspapers.com), I found several long letters Jess wrote to the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the years. When I say “long letters,” I mean looooonnnggg letters – he tended to rant. Jesse wrote in November 1939 to state his opinion that the US should not go to war with Germany, because England owed the US money from “the last war,” and England was only interested in taking over Europe, and the US should immediately annex Canada (you can’t make this stuff up). In 1966, Jesse wrote to argue the point that, contrary to another reader’s contention, seminaries do receive public assistance, in the form of tax breaks – “Probably you overlooked the taxes, but how you could, I don’t know, as taxes are now reaching from the earth to the moon.” In 1967, he wrote at length about the debt English literature owes to Egypt. One letter from 1972 asks the Charlottesville police force to stop using brute force on college-age war protesters and instead use those cops to keep “young hoodlums” from “policing the streets at midnight, damaging property, molesting mourners in cemeteries, [and] knocking over tombstones . . . .” Yep … it seems Jesse was quite a character – however, the newspaper must have enjoyed hearing from him, because they published several of his letters.
There are also links online to a Virginia Supreme Court case involving Nettie: Maughs v. Porter – apparently, Nettie (“Mrs. N. S. Maughs”) entered a drawing for a car, and her ticket was chosen, but she never got the car, and sued. This case is quoted fairly regularly in online articles about lottery case law up through the 1970s … I wonder if this situation was the reason she went to law school? I also wonder if Nettie actually practiced law in Charlottesville. I haven’t found any evidence that she did, but there is a lot more research to be done.
Nettie died in 1963, just short of her 93rd birthday … there was a short obituary listing her as the “widow of Dr. Richard B. Maughs” … wait, “Doctor” ??? This was news, and makes me doubt the other information about the California murder, but I cannot find ANYthing about a doctor names Richard Maughs, either in Virginia or in Missouri … or anywhere else, for that matter. I’m hoping Nettie’s college records may have some reference to either her husband or some other tidbit of information. Also, the obituary had to be written by Jesse, so maybe he just lied?
Jesse died in 1983. I found one last newspaper notice about an estate sale in Charlottesville following his death, but no obituary for him.
So … the saga ends here. Nettie’s daughter, Mattie, died before she could marry and have children; Wilmer was killed by his brother before he ever had children; and there is no evidence that Jesse ever fathered a child. So … no descendants, no one to confirm ask about whether there was actually a Dr. Richard Maughs or whether the man in San Quentin was Nettie’s husband.
I’ll keep searching, but I would love to hear from anyone who might know more.