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.

One Dollar Worth of Razor

Eli Newman waited for most of November fifth. He began that Saturday in jail and ended it in dirt. He probably stared at the gallows that awaited him and silently cursed the fact that he’d never see 1813, or Sunday, or one in the afternoon. Though he certainly saw nine o’clock. One can only wonder if his last definite hour of life moved like a slug or a hummingbird. The previous Monday Judge Obadiah Jones left him a broad window of execution, but sometime between “ten in the forenoon and two in the afternoon,” he hanged.

152 days earlier Eli Newman killed Joseph Tetrick. He never denied his crime, only the ability of Madison county to prosecute it. For Eli Newman assaulted the man on the eastern lands of the Chickasaw Nation, a place that someday became Lawrence County. He sliced a two-inch ditch in Tetrick’s neck for an unstated reason, but did so with “a certain instrument called a razor, of the value of one dollar.” He referred to himself in court documents as a “traverser,” indicating that he passed through the Chickasaw Nation, and indeed Alabama, on his way to somewhere else. Documents are unclear on whether or not the Sheriff recovered the certain instrument.

Lewis Edwards appeared in court the same day as Eli Newman. Edwards actually spoke to Obadiah Jones immediately prior to Newman receiving his death sentence. He stood accused, on that first Monday in November, of robbing Archilaus Craft barely a month earlier. On October first of 1812 he carried away “a certain spotted handle razor, of the value of one dollar,” from the home of Craft* and back into Madison county.

It was a razor kind of day.

*more research is required but a quick perusal of some genealogical sites indicate that an Archilaus Craft may have lived in or near the contemporary boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation. while I am not impugning upon the reputation of Archilaus Craft by suggesting that he murdered Tetrick, I do think it’d be cool if it was the same razor and he found it in the woods after Newman tossed it aside. Eli Newman was an outsider and his plea makes quite clear that Madison county already tried him for this crime two previous times – it seems that the Sheriff finally stacked a jury that would deliver a death sentence.


The Territory vs. Lewis Edwards, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 51/45-52/45 (1812).

The Territory vs. Eli Newman, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 53/46-58/49 (1812).

John B. Haynes Angry

We will never know why John B. Haynes hated houses. From his brief description as a “yeoman” in various court documents it appears that he owned one. Nor will we ever know what Cary Bibb did to anger him, like William Badger, it appears that she* and her property simply existed at a point in time when John B. Haynes wished for its discontinuation. What we do know is this:

Sometime during the day of January 10, 1814, John B. Haynes “did riotously and unlawfully assemble at the dwelling house of Cary Bibb.” At this point in the narration I feel it necessary to highlight that someone underlined riotously. Haynes forced his way inside her home and brought his friend, George Hays, with him. Cary Bibb testified that eight men in total entered her home, though she only recognized Haynes and Hays. They brought guns to emphasize their point. Once the men finished assembling all hell broke loose.

John B. Haynes looked around the house of a probable widow, “and did then and there destroy and injure the household furniture of the said Bibb…to the great terror of all other good citizens and against the peace and dignity of the Mississippi Territory,”

This man hated furniture more than you will ever hate anything else in your life.

*after the case was dismissed in favor of John B. Haynes (I have a feeling that the Grand Jury simply feared him visiting their homes), judge Obadiah Jones ordered a certain Samuel Donahoo to pay the court costs. Although Cary is a unisex name the presence of Samuel Donahoo indicates that he was ‘her next friend’ – an old legal term to describe the male representing a grown-ass woman in a court case. Although solicitors/lawyers often served as next friends, the lack of his mention prior to discussing court costs leaves me to believe that Samuel Donahoo is a male relative and that Cary Bibb might be a widow. Although this is a very tenuous line of reasoning.


The Territory v. John B. Haynes, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 184/148-185/149 (1814).

Retailing Spirits Contrary to Law

Just a quick list of everyone who got arrested for moonshining during the month of May, 1814:

Benjamin Brown

George Sharp

Ephraim C. Davidson

William Cox

Benjamin Wofford

Thomas J. Martin

Kenchin Massengale

Henry Stokes

Thomas Miller (got arrested twice)

James Mahan

Thomas Austin

David Balloo

Anderson Ashburn

William Haughton

Isaac Prewett

Jeremiah H. Cloud

Littleberry Adams (actually arrested in 1813 but I thought his name was hilarious)

That knife is clearly worth two shillings

On September 24, 1811, William Winston and Solomon Malone got into an argument. Extant records list both men as labourers. In short, they cut logs and hauled rocks for a living. One can only assume that it was an argument about rocks, possibly logs.

It escalated.

It escalated to the point that William Winston punched the poor Solomon Malone and pulled out a weapon. They tangled for a moment and then William turned quickly and “did then and there did stab him, the said Solomon, with a large knife of the value of two shillings in the arm just below the elbow with intent to kill him.”

We learned a lot about Solomon Malone with this sentence. He was the kind of man to be nearly stabbed in the ribs, to be almost murdered, and to pause to say to himself “that is a knife of median value. I should note this for later.”

Solomon Malone had strange priorities.


The Territory v. William Winston, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 34/36-37 (1811).

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

The Roof

On August 3, 1811, John B. Haynes lost his damn mind.

Sometime in the middle of the night he trespassed upon the property of William Badger – a local silversmith, and proceeded to utterly wreck his shit. The short court document tells us that John B. Haynes smashed windows, tore up stones and threw them at Badger’s cabin, and uprooted fence posts – if for no other reason then they happened to be nearby.

via Erica Lane

However, this was not the totality of his white-hot cabin-hating fury. For although a badly beaten William Badger lay nearby, his wife and children huddled in prayer, as the madman known only to the world as John B. Haynes tore apart their home and property; it occurred to Haynes that he had not sufficiently destroyed the cabin of Twickenham’s only silver smith. So with the hulk-like strength so often found among colonial settlers of the southeast, John B. Haynes “did violently and maliciously… tear off the roof”

How angry do you have to be at someone to tear apart the roof of their cabin, log by log, in the middle of the night?

John B. Haynes angry. That’s what.

ADDENDUM: Apparently Haynes came back a week later to “then and there beat, wound, and illtreat to the great damage of the said Badger, and against the peace and dignity of the Mississippi Territory.”

John B. Haynes angry.


The Territory v. John B. Haynes, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 20-18 (1811).