Volume 1, Number 3 - Spring 1962

I Bequeath One Slave
By Gene Geer

In the vast Westward movement prior to the Civil War many Southern slave - owning families migrated by steamboat up the Missouri River and took up the fertile lands stretching away from its banks. In post Civil War days these settlers formed a political-geographical entity known as "Little Dixie."

A fewer number of slave owners took the more difficult passage up White River or traveled overland from the settlements along the Mississippi. Some of of these founded plantations and families in the territory that later would be included in Christian County at its legislative formation March 8, 1859. Among these slave-owning families were the Marleys, Leightons, Weavers, Horns, Brays, Lawings, McDaniels, Vaughans, and Heradons.

Sometime in the 1840's it is believed, Benjamin Morley left the State of North Carolina with his family and possessions, including slaves, and ended his journey in what then was Taney County, Missouri. He took up 860 acres of mostly timbered land about five miles south by east from Ozark in what came to be called the Elk Valley community. In due course the community acquired a grist mill, blacksmith shop, store, church, and school.

In 1854 Benjamin Marley drew up his will. At this time he and his wife Lyda had eight living children, four sons and four daughters, three of whom were minors. They were:

Jesse A., who at the County's birth became one of the first judges of the county court; Rachel, wife of Benjamin Walker; Sarah Jane, wife of James Walker; Eli, who founded the family whose descendents live in Christian County today; Mary E., wife of Joseph Chestnut; and the minors Aaron, John, and Eliza.

Benjamin followed custom in devising his lands solely to his sons. Then after providing a life estate for his widow he bequeathed his personal property including slaves, to various members of his family, unless the property had been given them 'in advancement,' that is, when they set up their own married households.

Benjamin Marley died in 1864 without having changed his will to conform with the new facts of national life and President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The will occupied Page One, Book A, Probate Court Records of Christian County, Missouri, because, having been filed originally in Taney County, it escaped the courthouse fire which consumed all Christian County records in August, 1865, and could be transferred to the new set of records set up after the disaster.

In the light of later catastrophies, some of the items of Benjamin Marley's Last Will and Testament have a grimly ironic tone. Thus paragraph three:

"I give demise and bequeath to my eldest son Jesse A. Marley all the property I have given him in advancement, both in real and personal, to- wit as follows of real estate the North Half of the Southeast Quarter of Section Twelve and the West Half of the Northwest Quarter of Section Thirteen, all in Township 26 and Range


21 situate in the County of Taney and the State of Missouri containing 160 acres. Also one Negro Boy by the name of George together with other personal property advanced to him at and since his marriage to have and to hold the property aforesaid to him the said Jesse A. Marley his heirs and assigns forever."

Paragraph Six provided: "I give and bequeath to my eldest daughter Rachel L. Walker during her natural life and then to her children the heirs of her body all the property I have given her in advancement consisting of one Negro woman (slave) by the name of Chanor and her three children (slaves) Emily, Joe, and Allen." The testator then provided that Benjamin Walker, husband of daughter Rachel, was to pay over to the executor for further payment to daughter Sarah Jane the sum of $150.00 in cash to equalize his gift, since he had given Sarah Jane only one slave. The will goes on to say that if Benjamin Walker fails to pay said sum, then the child slave Emily bequeathed to Rachel is to be sold at public auction to the highest bidder amongst the Marley heirs and the proceeds turned over to Sarah Jane Walker.

The hates and fears, justices and injustices known as the Civil War took particularly violent forms in border country, of which Southwest Missouri was a part. The population was divided between Northern and Southern sympathizers; and many families were split in their allegiances. There were known cases in which sons of a family served in the fighting forces of both sides. This was true even in slave-owning families. Social renegades became 'bushwhackers,' preying indiscriminately on both sides to their own profit and sadistic enjoyment. There existed in the countryside a constant Feeling of anxiety and tension; and no one could safely trust another, even a blood brother, for fear of possible consequences.

As a result, shortly after the conflict started Jesse A. Marley gave up his post as Christian County Judge and taking what property he could salvage, including his slaves, moved with his family to Texas, where his descendants live today. He was followed soon by John Chestnut and his family and later by other members of the Marley household.

Eli Marley joined the Confederate forces but left his family in Christian County. He was able to pay an occasional surreptitious visit home by moving only at night. Wounded in the battle of Helena, Arkansas, he was invalided home and started out for Missouri. He did no arrive home, and his family never learned what happened to him. Some of his living descendants in Christian County include Charles R. Vaughan, whose farm is a part of the old Marley plantation and whose mother, Cordelia, was Eli's daughter. Eli's daughter Jane married Taylor Bray and mothered Ernest Bray of McCracken and Della Herston of Ozark. Eli's son William Benjamin was the father of Mrs. Roy Shipman of Sparta.

Some of the Marley slaves, taking the family name, lived on in Christian County and left descendents who figured in the history of the region. Many now alive recall "Aunt Easter," whose little home stood where the Ozark Dairy Queen now stands. For many years, also, Bill and Mary Ellen Marley, colored, lived in a home north of Ozark School and worked as a team for the family of Tom Robertson, Ozark merchant, at their big house on the hill. After her husband's death, Mary Ellen became a treasured cook at Riverside Inn on Finley River.

After emancipation, colored families from other slave-owning plantations settled in or near the county seat, and at one time there were enough of them so that a school was provided for their children. Until it was discontinued this school was taught by one of their own race named Blanche Kelly, sister of "Bye" Kelly, the only surviving member of his race now living in Ozark.


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