A Lush Life

Week 25: #52 Ancestors – Earliest

By Eilene Lyon

James Ransom and Elizabeth Anderson were among the earliest settlers in what would become Blackford County, Indiana, settling at what came to be called Trenton. They arrived in 1836 from Belmont County, Ohio, towing the first five of their twelve children, including a newborn.1 Blackford County was formed from Jay County to the east in 1839.2

380px-Map_of_Blackford_County,_Indiana_svg
Source: Wikimedia commons

This part of Indiana was slow to be populated by Euro-Americans, because it was swamp land. Even today, you can find inundated areas. But James Ransom was a man of energy and set himself to the task of making farmland and selling it to newcomers. Buying and selling land and livestock became his livelihood.

IMG_3910
An idea of Indiana swamp. (E. Lyon 2017)

Blackford is the second smallest of Indiana’s counties, containing just four townships. In 1840, there were only 1,226 residents.3 Not surprisingly, James had civic duties.

He served on the first grand jury, and was a justice of the peace for Jackson Township.4 Like all male citizens, he had to help with road-building and inspection. James also spent several years as a school teacher.5

Not only a justice and juror, he sometimes found himself subject to a lawsuit. Once a court had been established, the citizens didn’t hesitate taking their neighbors to task for every slight infraction.

As one wag put it,“When a boy is possessed of a hatchet or a jackknife, the temptation to use them becomes irresistable. So it seemed to be with these few social neighbors. By the election of a Justice of the Peace, they obtained the facilities for going to law, and litigation commenced.”6

In 1845, a fellow farmer from the Trenton area, Robert Lanning, took James to court for slander, obtaining a judgment against James for $229.17.7 Not having the particulars, I can’t relate just what sort of slanderous thing James said about Robert. But perhaps James’s drinking habit had something to do with it.

Blackford Civil order book 1 - FS img 283 p 291 11-6-18
Robert Lanning obtains judgment against James Ransom for Slander. (Family Search)

According to many family tales, James was a heavy drinker. His grandson and namesake, Jim Ransom, said,

“I remember grandfather Ransom pretty well. He was rather slender and walked from father’s store pretty often to his home about ½ mile distant with his hands folded behind his back and rather slowly. He was not very rugged when I knew him although he had been when younger, so Uncle Will R. told me. He drank liquor to a considerable extent although I never saw him stagger. Most people at that time were liquor drinkers. I refer to the men of course.”8

RansomJamesHenry - age 7 - A - Jeri661
Jim Ransom, age 7 – full name: James Henry Ransom after his two grandfathers, James Ransom and Henry Z. Jenkins. (Courtesy jeri661 on Ancestry.com)

This habit changed my family’s trajectory. When Robert Ransom, my 2nd great-grandfather, returned from California in 1855 to marry his sweetheart, Emma Jenkins, he planned on moving back west. However, James’s “inability to govern his appetite” led to illness and Elizabeth really needed Robert to stay home in Indiana to help manage family affairs.9 Robert and Emma would undoubtedly have had a very different life if they’d moved to California, probably much less tragic.

James Ransom was born February 15, 1806 in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.10 He married Elizabeth Anderson (b. 1807) in Belmont County on August 16, 1827.11 Of their twelve children, only one died as an infant, which is remarkable, given how unhealthy the environment in Blackford County was at the time.12

ED_Pierce
Elias D. Pierce

Despite his later failings, James appears to have been devoted to his family and community. He and Elizabeth also played a role in history, as they and their children became a surrogate family to a young man from Virginia, Elias D. Pierce.13 He will be the subject of my next 52-Ancestors post: Legend.

James Ransom did not have a particularly long life, dying just five days after his 59th birthday, on February 20, 1865.14 He is buried beside Elizabeth and two of their children in the Trenton South Cemetery. Elizabeth lived another eight years, part of that time consumed with the unenviable task of settling James’s estate in probate court.15

2019-07-05_205005
(Courtesy of Annie Hoffmeier)

As I did for my ancestors in nearby Pennville, I had James’s and Elizabeth’s headstones professionally cleaned last year. They really stand out now in this semi-neglected cemetery. They are not forgotten.

Feature image: Elizabeth (Anderson) and James Ransom (Courtesy B. Wickward)

James Ransom on Ancestry.com


  1. Shinn, Benjamin G. 1900. Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. The Bowen Publishing Company, Chicago, p. 273. 
  2. Though the split was approved earlier, a county government wasn’t formed until 1839. The Biographical and Historical Record of Jay and Blackford Counties, Indiana. 1887. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, p. 724. 
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackford_County,_Indiana 
  4. Shinn, p. 241, 245. 
  5. Ibid. p. 260. 
  6. Montgomery, M. W. 1864. History of Jay County, Indiana. Church, Goodman and Cushing, Chicago, p. 110. 
  7. Blackford County Civil Order Book 1, p. 291. Family Search image 283, downloaded November 6, 2018. 
  8. Letter from Jim Ransom to his sister, Clara (Ransom) Davis, February 10, 1921. 
  9. Letter from Henry Z. Jenkins to his son, William Z. Jenkins, October 15 [19?], 1855. 
  10. Calculated from death date and age on headstone, Trenton South Cemetery. 
  11. Ancestry.com. Ohio, County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. 
  12. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/72552298 
  13. Williams, J. Gary and Ronald W. Stark, eds. 1975. The Pierce Chronicle: Personal Reminiscenses [sic] of E. D. Pierce as Transcribed by Lou A. Larrick. Idaho Research Foundation, Moscow, ID, p. 11. Also, William C. Ransom gave a affidavit in Pierce’s pension file indicating that Pierce had lived with the family for over two years prior to his Mexican War service. 
  14. Date from headstone. 
  15. Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999; Blackford – Complete Record, Vol 1, 1852-1857; Vol 1, 1839-1848; Vol C and 2a, 1853-1876 – via Ancestry.com. 

22 thoughts on “A Lush Life

Add yours

  1. I’m thinking $229 wasn’t exactly pocket change back in that time. To think, James might have saved himself and his family a lot of heartache, not to mention moolah, if he’d been a teetotaler.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Usually from 100 to 300 years old. The newer ones here are done with polished granite and metal letters. I work strictly with older stones that are cut from marble. I am currently completing a project in Revo with a stone that was of poor quality to start with so it has been very slow going.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoyed reading your well-researched and well-documented post. I was immediately struck by James’s photo. His eyes look very light, and he’s actually smiling! (I can’t recall any other photo from that time period in which the subject is actually smiling.)

    Liked by 2 people

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