Being John Roller, 1809-1812

John Roller did nothing extraordinary, but he happened to be nearby when mildly interesting things happened. His status as a white male head of household meant that he often represented several people at once, as such, the brief descriptions we have of his life emerge not from his own tribulations but from the actions of his family, friends, and enemies.

Roller migrated to Madison county sometime prior to 1809. The same year that the county conducted a rather informal census. It tells us that he brought five other family members with him; two men over the age of 21, one under, and a young woman below the legal age of majority. An 1811 court case listed his occupation as laborer and the 1809 census tells us he owned no slaves. John Roller performed odd jobs to survive and presumably support his younger relatives.

We do know that he befriended, or worked for, a man named Dillon Blevins. Blevins proved to be a man of some means, the 1809 census indicates that he owned at least ten slaves, so it’s entirely a toss up as to whether Roller’s criminal relationship with Blevins emerged from fraternal love or economic necessity. We do know that John Roller participated, along with his relative Jacob Roller, in an 1811 assault that Dillon Blevins launched against a man named Stephen Smith.

Blevins, the Rollers, and recent immigrants William Dorton and James Moore crept onto Smith’s property and found several hewed trees. Smith intended to build a cabin upon his newly purchased land, but the posse had other ideas. They talked it over for a moment and then “did move forward and burn the logs of said Stephen Smith, intended for a house.” Smith remembered their faces and later lodged a complaint with the Sheriff, who only managed to arrest Dillon Blevins and John Roller.

We know Blevins to be the primary instigator due to further indictments against him. Although the original document that accused John Roller fails to mention the date; two later court cases prosecuted entirely against Blevins claimed that on January 21, 1811, he threatened Smith “by pointing and cocking his gun… in an angry manner”* and apparently on February, 24, 1811, Blevins burned down “a number of logs hewed and intended to be made into a house, by said Smith.” There’s no evidence to indicate whether Smith decided to sue Blevins twice for the same assault or if Blevins just periodically burned down all his shit. So I’m choosing to believe the latter.

Obadiah Jones eventually vindicated John Roller and freed him from the county jail in October 1811. Roller returned to the daily grind of laboring all over Madison county and generally being inoffensive. Eventually he met a woman named Nancy Bealor and the two married in the early April of 1812. It looked to be a good year.

He filed for divorce in November of 1812. Nancy Roller left his home and disappeared to some unmentioned corner of America. Indeed, John Roller quickly faded from the public record after his divorce, so it only seems fitting to allow the man to briefly speak about his estranged wife, if only through his pleas to Obadiah Jones:

The object of your orator in marrying the said Nancy, was to live in the bonds of connubial enjoyment, with a partner who would be kind and tender in the hour of afflictions and difficulties, and chast and virtuous in her demeanour as a wife… But to the disappointment and mortification of your orator, but a short time had elapsed before she committed innumerous breaches of that contract… his said wife Nancy has committed many acts of adultery and incontinency with different individuals, for such has been her unchaste and vicious disposition and habits, that she has not confined her acts of illicit intercourse to any one individual alone, but she has indulged with, and been common to, all who thought proper to solicit.

John Roller officially divorced Nancy Roller on May 12, 1813. We’ve heard very little from him since.

*although I’ve never experienced someone pointing their gun at me in a friendly manner


“1809 Census of Madison County” Valley Leaves 1 (1966): 44.**

The Territory v. Dillon Blevins, William Dorton, John Roller, and Jacob Roller, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 10/9-10/10 (1811).

The Territory v. Dillon Blevins, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 24/22 (1811).

The Territory v. Dillon Blevins, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 24/23-25/23 (1811).

John Roller v. Nancy Roller, Book A, 8-10, (1812).

** Valley Leaves is a publication of the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.

4 thoughts on “Being John Roller, 1809-1812

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