Married to the Migrant

March, 1837, saw a simple wedding in Jackson County, Alabama. Although the details are sparse we can make a few assumptions:

  1. It certainly happened in a church.
  2. They probably wedded in the same place they registered their marriage, the town of Bellefonte, a previous county seat and current uninhabited waste.
  3. The groom had other plans.

On the morning of April 20, 1837, James Monroe Elliott left Alabama for Arkansas. The previous years saw punishing winters and slow springs. Tree sap hardened and bent the bark until it exploded. Amber colored ice snapped outwards and people across north Alabama reported the sounds of pistol fire all through the night. Pack horses trotted over frozen creeks. Things didn’t warm up until a drought in 1840.

James Elliott faced a difficult journey. When he left, it was not to find mules and bring them back to the frontier by force of his own stubbornness. He did not leave to purchase seed nor cattle nor medicine. He just left.

Elizabeth Elliott stood in the Madison county courthouse on February 17, 1840. She held a son born on the last day of 1837. She named him James. He never met his father. Her solicitor, Jonathan Thompson, explained her situation to the chancery judge.

Elizabeth wrote letters to her husband’s family inquiring about his whereabouts. The replies revealed the life of a restless man. His father said James wrote him from his new home. He’d made it to Arkansas and saw fit to take another wife. By 1839, James Monroe Elliott grew tired of rice fields and razorback hogs and emigrated to the newly formed Coffee county, Tennessee. Far enough to avoid the Arkansas wife but too close to keep his mind off Elizabeth. He wrote her a letter and stated simply that he’d met and married a third woman.

Coffee county did not suit the man. He soon left his third wife, and only history knows how many children, and traveled to western Tennessee. From the banks of the Mississippi he looked out and saw a new republic carved from the Mexican hinterland. Like so many Anglo men before him, James Monroe Elliott went to Texas.

Of course, he did not go alone. Elizabeth Elliott sums up the last known destination of her husband, “he has abandoned his third wife, and after inveigling the affection of a female relative of his in the western part of Tennessee, he finally persuaded her to leave her home, and go with him to the Republic of Texas, in the capacity of wife or concubine.”

Elizabeth Elliott struggled on to raise a son in Madison county. She earned the money to pursue her divorce by doing odd jobs and through force of will, but ultimately found little satisfaction with the courts. Without a response from James Elliott or some other witnesses the chancery court couldn’t fully prosecute. She dropped her suit against James on May 29, 1843. She’d been married for six years.


Elizabeth Elliot v. James Monroe Elliot, Book M, 304-306 (1840)

Information about 19th century weather conditions available from

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