John Bridges: Maniacal, Mischievous, or Misunderstood?

On a rare few occasions, my grandpa told me about John Bridges, my fourth great grandmother’s second husband.  He never spoke in specifics.  He said that his great grandmother, John’s step-daughter, did not like him.  According to family legend, John was a drunk and a layabout who never worked.  He went to prison and was eventually put in the asylum because he was insane.  I never cared to look into it until I happened upon his two marriages to Serilda Gilliland.

I know nothing of John’s life before he married Serilda.  John Bridges is a fairly common name.  In fact, there was another John Bridges living in the same town at the same time.  In addition, multiple birth places are given for him and I have next to no information about his parents.

In previous posts, I revealed that John Bridges married Serilda Gilliland in 1857, and then again in 1871 because the first marriage wasn’t valid.  I also posted at length about the trial for the murder of Charles Baker and the subsequent sentence of life in the state prison in Jeffersonville.  I still had no answers as to how John could go to prison, in Clark County, for life in 1859 and then somehow be in Floyd County in 1871 to marry Serilda again.  So I kept looking.

I found him on the 1860 Census listed with the family, but in the 14th column, he is marked “convict.”  It also gives his birthplace as France.  It is important to note that he is listed as a ship carpenter, which means he did, at one point at least, have a job.  In the 1870 Census, John is listed among other convicts in the Indiana State Prison South supplement.  Here, his birthplace is Kentucky and he is still listed as a ship’s carpenter.  Then, in 1871, John is released from prison.

New Albany Daily Ledger, Friday, 3 February 1871, p.2, column 1, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

New Albany Daily Ledger, Friday, 3 February 1871, p.2, column 1, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

The case of the prosecution seemed shaky.  It relied heavily on the testimonies of people who were known to lie and people who simply overheard something, what is known in court as “hearsay.”  The paper had stated that there would be a move for a new trial.  I suppose that a pardon isn’t hard to believe.  This explains how John was able to get married in Floyd County on the very day that this article was published.  The fact that John was pardoned made me wonder what else in the family legend may have been skewed.  And the search continued.

In the 1880 Census, he was living with his wife and youngest step-daughter.  He is a laborer.  His birthplace is Kentucky, as is the birthplace of both his parents.  He managed to stay out of trouble for about ten years after his release, or at least anything that the newspaper would have found out about.  Until…

New Albany Ledger, Thursday, 20 July 1882, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

New Albany Ledger, Thursday, 20 July 1882, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Somehow, he got out of it with only a fine.  The next item in the timeline for John Bridges is his entry into the Floyd County Asylum (aka. Floyd County Poor Farm) and subsequent death.  He entered the asylum on March 13, 1899 and his condition was “sickly,” not insane or feeble-minded.  He died on May 2, 1899.  His obituary confirms his condition.

New Albany Daily Ledger,  2 May 1899, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

New Albany Daily Ledger, 2 May 1899, p.4, column 2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

I always have to take newspaper articles with a grain of salt.  In fact, never believe what you read in the paper unless you have another document to confirm it.  This one says that John was in the asylum for two years, when asylum records state it was two months.  It does confirm that he was in poor health.  It also suggests that he was able to work until recently.  His death record provides no new information, other than another possible birthplace.

Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, CH-18, p. 7 (transcription)

Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, CH-18, p. 7 (transcription)

Addressing the issues…

Was John Bridges a drunk?  It’s hard to say.  The only mention of alcohol was in the murder trial.  He was at a bar at about four o’clock in the afternoon and “seemed to be in liquor.”  Was this a regular occurrence or was it to do with the upcoming confrontation with Baker?  We’ll probably never know.

Was he a layabout who never worked?  Not from what I can tell.  He is listed on two census as a ship’s carpenter and as a laborer on a third.  His step-son said that he was a watchman on the river.  His obituary said that he had been “unable to work in recent years.”

Did he go to prison?  Yes.  He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Charles Baker.  He was pardoned after he had served twelve years.

Was he sent to the asylum for insanity?  No.  The asylum records indicate that he was “sickly.”  His obituary confirms that he had come out of prison in “broken health.”  There is no indication that he was insane.  That’s not to say he wasn’t, but there are no official records indicating insanity and that is not the reason he ended up in the asylum.  It is strange that he has three different birthplaces.  This could indicate insanity, or maybe he enjoyed tall tales.

I still have very few hard facts about John Bridges, but I feel as though I have a fairly complete story for him (minus his early life).  I also find that I don’t dislike him as much as I did before.  When I stop to think about it, it’s amazing the strong feelings I have for and about people I’ve never met simply because I am related to them.  I know it has to be the same for others, to some degree.  I see it when people talk about how proud they are of their Revolutionary War or Civil War ancestors, or how scared they are that they might find skeletons in the family closet.  To the latter, I say, keep researching, because what you think you know may not be what really happened.  John Bridges is a case in point.

A Marriage Mystery

Last night, while doing research for a collection that I’m processing at work, I saw my great great great great grandmother’s name on a marriage record index page… twice… to the same man… fourteen years apart.  I quickly made a note to look them up later.  I knew that she had been married once to Leason Gillilland, from whom I am descended, and who died young.  I knew that she married John Bridges after Leason died.  Today, on my lunch break, I did look up the records.  The first one was John T.M. Bridges and Sirelda Gilland on October 15, 1857.  The second was John T.M. Bridges and Serrelda Gilliland on February 3, 1871.

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 4, p.485

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 4, p.485, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 6, p.644

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 6, p.644, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

This is weird.  I consulted a co-worker who has been doing genealogy far longer than I have and has taught me most of what I know about researching.  She agreed that it is weird.  At first we thought that maybe the first marriage was invalid.  The name of the minister is smudged out and we thought that possibly he wasn’t really a minister.  A cleaner copy of that marriage record is available on FamilySearch.org and the minister’s name can be read.  He is D. G. Stewart.  Daniel G. Stewart is listed in the back of the index as being a minister from 1835-1837.  In the 1857 New Albany city directory, he’s listed as a homeopathic physician.  While I was looking up the minister, my co-worker searched the newspaper index for me.  She found that John Bridges wasn’t such a great guy.

My grandfather had always told me that John was a drunk and that he was constantly in trouble.  He had heard stories about John from his great grandmother, Serilda’s daughter, who had helped raise him.  Today, I discovered that John murdered a man, was convicted, and went to the Indiana State Prison in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  I didn’t have a lot of time on my lunch, so I only read the brief descriptions of the over a dozen articles on the trial and his other run-ins with the law.  I’ll copy those as soon as I can.  The result of the trial is that he was convicted in 1859.  The 1860 Census lists him with the family, but in the last column, where it asks for a person’s condition, it says “convict.”  In the 1870 Census, he’s listed among other convicts as being in Indiana State Prison.  Yet, somehow, he married or re-married Serilda in 1871.  Maybe the marriage was annulled or they got a divorce when he went to jail?  Maybe the first marriage really wasn’t legal?  I’m not sure.  What I really want to know is did they get married in the jail, or was he released from prison after only twelve years when he was sentenced for murder?  I’m hoping the articles about the trial will shed some light on that.

A Follow-Up on Frank Springer

I spoke with my uncle about Frank.  He had been trying to locate a photo with no success.  He was, however, able to tell me that my grandfather, Sanford Wiseheart, met Frank Springer (his grandfather) when he was about eight years old at their house in Clark County.  Grandpa was born in May of 1923, so that would put the visit circa 1931.  There goes my theory about him having died before the 1930 Census.  That’s alright though.  Maybe I will find him eventually.

Frank Springer: The Wanderer (52 Ancestors #01)

Frank Springer is my great great grandfather on my father’s side.  He was married to Zerilda Eleanora Rakestraw.  Their daughter, my great grandmother, Mildred Gertrude Springer, was my grandpa’s mother.  Frank was born in Orange County, Indiana circa 1869 and Zerilda “Ella” was born in Floyd County, Indiana in 1868.  Presumably, the two met when Ella went to visit relatives in Orange County.  This entire family has been difficult to research, due to various problems such as incorrectly printed information in the newspaper and changing of names without legally changing them.  Frank, however, is the biggest mystery.

Family legend says that Frank was a wanderer by nature and also had some mental issues.  He left his wife after about a year of marriage, and just after the birth of their daughter.  It is said that he went to California and nobody ever heard from him again.  There are no known photos of Frank, which adds to the mystique.  I think a timeline is the best way to approach this one.

1870

On the Census, Frank is one year old and living in Paoli Township, Orange County, Indiana with his parents, John Alexander and Mary (Lindley) Springer.  His siblings are Anna L., born 1863; Edward, born 1865; and Mary Elizabeth, born 1867.¹

1880

On the Census, Frank is ten years old and still living in Paoli Township with his parents.  Siblings are Anna L.; Edward; Charley, born 1873; Stella, born 1875; and Mattie, born 1877.²

1892

On February 28th, Frank marries Ella N. Rakestraw in New Albany, Floyd County, Indiana.³  (My grandfather told me that Ella hated her first name, Zerilda, and broke up her middle name into Ella Nora and started going by that).

By March 9, Frank and Ella had moved to Ed Springer’s farm, which he had recently vacated, near Paoli.4

On November 20th, their daughter, Mildred Gertrude Springer, is born in New Albany.5

1893

On March 23rd, a blurb in the Paoli Republican said that Ella had visited her parents in New Albany and returned home to Paoli.6

On November 22nd, the Paoli News reported that Frank Springer had gone to the World’s Fair in Chicago.7

1894

In May, Francis Marion and Mary Elizabeth Rakestraw petitioned for the adoption of their granddaughter, Mildred, citing that Frank had abandoned her over a year ago and that her mother was an invalid.  The petition was granted.8,9

On June 13th, Ella died of consumption.10

1900

On the Census, Mildred is living with her grandparents in New Albany.11  I could not find any record of Frank.

1910

On the Census, Mildred is living with her grandparents in New Albany.12  I could not find any record of Frank.

In July, the Orleans Progress Examiner reported that Miss Mildred Springer had been visiting Edward Springer and his family.13  (Orleans is just outside Paoli).

1911

In March, the Orleans Progress Examiner reported that Mildred had been visiting her grandparents.14

1920

On the Census, Mildred is living with her grandparents in New Albany.16  Frank is living alone in Paoli Township.15

In May, at the time of Mildred’s marriage to Sanford Wesley Wiseheart, Frank is living “near Paoli.”17

1930

On the Census, Mildred is living with her husband and children in Silver Creek Township, Clark County, Indiana.  Mildred named her second son Frank.18  (I’m wondering if this an indication that she had some sort of relationship with her father, or if it’s more that she wished she had.  My grandpa said that Mildred always had a fear that her family would leave the house and never come back.)  I could not find any record of Frank.

1940

On the Census, Mildred is living with her husband and children in New Albany.19  I could not find any record of Frank.

To summarize, I have Frank Springer pinned down from 1870 to 1893 and he randomly pops back up again in 1920.  My theory is that he went to the World’s Fair in 1893 and got a taste for travel and saw what wondrous things there were in the world and decided to experience it.  By 1920, he would’ve been about fifty and was probably ready to settle down, so he came back home to Paoli.  I’m thinking the reason that I can’t find him in the 1930 Census is because he died sometime between 1920 and 1930.  I have yet to find any obituaries or a tombstone, so that’s my next course of action.


Sources

1.  1870 U.S. Federal Census, Paoli Township, Orange County, Indiana, p.24, Ancestry

2.  1880 U.S. Federal Census, Paoli Township, Orange County, Indiana, p.6, Ancestry

3.  Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 10, p.114, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

4.  Paoli Republican, Wednesday, 9 Mar 1892, p.3, c.5, NewspaperArchive

5.  Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, Book H-12, p.10, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

6.  New Albany Evening Tribune, Thursday, 23 Mar 1893, p.4, c.2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

7.  Paoli News, Wednesday, 22 Nov 1893, p.3, c.2, NewspaperArchive

8.  New Albany Evening Tribune, Friday, 25 May 1894, p.3, c.2, NewspaperArchive

9.  New Albany Daily Ledger, Saturday, 26 May 1894, p.5, c.3, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

10.  New Albany Evening Tribune, Thursday, 14 Jun 1894, p.4, c.2, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

11.  1900 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany Township, Floyd County, Indiana, p.9B, Ancestry

12.  1910 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany Township, Floyd County, Indiana, p.14A, Ancestry

13.  Orleans Progress Examiner, Thursday, 28 Jul 1910, p.2, NewspaperArchive

14.  Orleans Progress Examiner, Thursday, 23 Mar 1911, p.3, NewspaperArchive

15.  1920 U.S. Federal Census, Paoli Township, Orange County, Indiana, p.21A, FamilySearch

16.  1920 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany Township, Floyd County, Indiana, p.11A, Ancestry

17.  Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 20, p.375, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

18.  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Silver Creek Township, Clark County, Indiana, p.14B, Ancestry

19.  1940 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany Township, Floyd County, Indiana, p.10B, FamilySearch