The Reverend Thomas Martin was an early Methodist minister in Robertson County, Tennessee. Born May 24, 1778, in Washington County, Virginia, he moved to Tennessee as a young man.. After his first wife, Nancy Carter, died in 1834, he knelt by a tree stump and prayed for God's guidance in finding another wife. Finishing his prayer, he stood up and opened his eyes. Seeing the thirty-nine-year old spinster Elizabeth Childress riding by in a carriage, he interpreted her presence as the answer to his prayer. They were married on September 17, 1837, and lived together, presumably happily, until his death on August 21, 1855. Elizabeth died on October 20, 1869.
[Thanks to Everett Padgett, Jr., who shared this story with me. Thomas Martin was the son of George Martin and Mary Elizabeth McFerrin. Elizabeth Childress, born 24 May 1798 in North Carolina, was the daughter of Joseph Childress and Elizabeth Binkley.]
In 1850 twelve-year-old Martha Shackleford and her eight-year-old sister Lucy were living in the Shaker community at South Union, Logan County, Kentucky. They appear to be the daughters of Milton Shackleford and his first wife Almarine Bettersworth, and it may be their father's second marriage that led to their being at South Union along with several of their siblings. (In 1850 they appear with their father as well as at South Union.) They were apparently not the most devout Shakers as the records kept by the community diarist show Martha and Lucy leaving and returning several times. On August 9, 1865, Lucy is described as "Backsliding," leaving for her brother's home in Gallatin, Tennessee. On August 31, she was readmitted. On March 27, 1868, Lucy and Vashti Johns are described as "apostatizing," going by train to the home of Daniel Johns, presumably a relative of Vashti. And on June 12, 1872, Lucy is recorded as leaving a third time although on January 1, 1873, she was readmitted. Finally on Octaober 17, 1874, the recorder writes, "Absconding - Lucy Shackelford is now at the Office, that far on her way to the World the 3rd time I think for Lucy." With that, Lucy disappears from the Shaker records and from any other records that I have been able to find.
Her sister Martha was also given to leaving and returning. On May 26, 1868, the diarist wrote, "Apostatizing - Martha Shackelford at the Office to go by the train this evening. Her sister Lucy came yesterday to accompany her off. Martha is 27 years old--weakly at that." Although she returned, she left again on November 15, 1870:
"Backsliding - Martha Shackelford left the East family at the invitation of Sam Fisher of Gallatin who is 65 years old. But Martha accepted. Bad for both."
Samuel Fisher was a teamster, born about 1804 in either Kentucky or Tennessee. Married at least once, he may have had children. By 1870 he was apparently a widower. On December 7, 1870, Martha married Samuel in Sumner County, Tennessee. Later, Martha would say that she was persuaded by Fisher's entreaties to become his wife and that she had "endeavored to make him a kind, loving, devoted, and obedient wife." What actually motivated the penniless Martha, who had spent her life in a celibate commune, to marry Samuel we will never know. But Martha developed a strong opinion as to why Samuel had married her.
Although Samuel was living alone at the time of their marriage, he had not been alone only a few months earlier. When the census was taken in June, Samuel's household had included forty-year-old Michael Considine, his wife Harriet, 35, and their children, Mary 19, and Rolly, 14. Within days of his marriage to Martha, Samuel went North to Louisville, Kentucky, not informing his new wife of the reason for his trip. He returned with Harriet Considine.
According to Martha, Samuel installed Harriet in a bedroom adjacent to his and Martha's and with a connecting door, which he insisted be kept open. Upon arising in the morning, he would go into Harriet's room, embrace her, kiss her, and "call her by all sorts of affectionate names." He would sit on Harriet's lap and she on his.
Harriet told Martha that shortly after their wedding Samuel telegraphed her that he had done something that he regretted. She added that when he arrived in Louisville to bring her back to Tennessee he had put "his head in her lap and wept bitterly reiterating that he so much regretted that he had married" Martha. Samuel's behavior led Martha to abandon their bedroom; but as there was only one other bedroom in the house, she slept on the floor next to Harriet's bed.
On Christmas Eve, having declined Martha's invitation to attend church with her, Samuel remained at home with Harriet and entertained a friend who stopped by. The friend would later tell Martha that Samuel had told him that he did not love her, that he regretted the marriage, and that he intended to get rid of her. Samuel had told Martha that he had never loved her but had thought that he could learn to love her. Realizing that this was not possible, he asked her to leave. He said that he could not leave his home because "his former wife was buried there and he loved her." Although Martha urged him to to change his conduct so that she could stay, Samuel refused. He gave Martha fifty dollars so that she could go to relatives in Kentucky.
Martha spent three weeks in Kentucky. However, her relatives urged her to return to Gallatin and to attempt to make her marriage work. She returned in early February 1871. Again Samuel told her "that he did not love her, that he would not live with her." He refused to eat at the same table with her and offered her money to leave and say nothing about the circumstances of their marriage. Finally, he told her that he had rented out his entire house, except for his bedroom, which he had locked. He cautioned Martha not to seek her legal rights, saying that if she did so, he would put all his property beyond her reach.
Martha believed that Samuel had married her as a cover for his adulterous relationship with Harriet Considine, whose husband actually lived nearby. On February 7, she filed for divorce in Sumner County, Chancery Court. Samuel did not deny most of Martha's allegations, although he described them as exaggerated and "highly colored." He did deny that he had committed adultery with Harriet Considine. He stated that he had wanted to get rid of Martha from the day after their marriage and that his reasons, while they "may not be sufficient in law they are and were however of such a character as fully satisfied" Samuel "as to the correctness of his course." On May 3 the court granted Martha a divorce, the resumption of her maiden name, and alimony to be determined. On the following day the court decreed that she receive alimony in the amount of $750.
Who was Martha Shackleford, and what happened to her after her divorce? I have been unable to find out. She and her sister Lucy may have been the daughters of Milton Shackleford and his first wife, Almarine Bettersworth of Edmonson County, Kentucky. In 1850 this family shows a daughter M. W., age 12, and Lucy, age 8. And Milton appears to have been the grandson of my third great-grandfather Roger Shackleford, who died in the Shaker community at South Union in 1825. However, I was unable to find Milton or any members of his household in census records after 1850. As for Martha, I have not found her in the 1880 or subsequent censuses. It is possible that she remarried. Mention in court records of family members in Gallatin and in Kentucky have not led to their identification.
Samuel Fisher evidently died before 1880. By 1880 Michael Considine had also died, and Harriet was living in Muskegon County, Michigan. In1900 her daughter Mary was a matron at the Los Angeles Orphans Home in California, and in 1910 both were unemployed and living in Pasadena, California, where Harriet was still living in 1920. Both apparently were dead by 1930. Rolly Considine died between 1870 and 1880.
THOMAS MARTIN AND ELIZABETH CHILDRESS
SAMUEL FISHER AND MARTHA SHACKLEFORD
© 2005-2006 SARA BINKLEY TARPLEY.