Monday, September 5, 2016

Isaiah Walton, an Indiana Fellow Buried Nearby - Updated

This article invokes a measure of personal privilege, though there is a definite Sutton/Clay County connection. I found the Walton House during a visit to Jefferson County, Indiana in July. The house was built by my 3rd great, grandfather, Abraham Walton in 1820. The house was occupied just a couple of decades ago but its age is catching up quickly here in 2016.

The Walton House is currently known in the neighborhood as the Cain House as the Cain family lived here for about a full
century. Our Walton family also had about a full century in the home. My great grandmother Rhoda was born in this house
in 1843 and lived here until her marriage in 1865 before she and James D. Rowlison began their 18-year, multi-step migration
including stops at four different farms around Edgar. 

The Marshal Union Cemetery is southeast of Sutton on Road "S" between 310 and 311. Near the center of that cemetery is a small flat gravestone for two men, a son on the left, his father on the right. We're interested in the father, Isaiah Walton.

No, it's not anything remarkable, just a small rural cemetery, just a grave.

History is mostly just the collection of things that people have done. It’s our responsibility to remember those people and those things.

Certain primitive societies believed that we die twice, once, as we understand, when the body stops working but they say we die a second time upon the death of the last person who remembers us.

That’s an interesting thought that places a value on our memory of the ones who’ve gone before.

When we visit a cemetery where we keep our inventory of past people, and as we walk past a grave we seldom have an appreciation for what that person did or what contributions they may have made during their lifetime. Our loss.

There are about 30 cemeteries in Clay County with from a few dozen graves to over 3,000 in each cemetery. There is a story that can be associated with each grave. Some may be surprising.

I have an interesting illustration.

There are 104 graves in Marshall Union Cemetery. Could any of those represent an interesting story? I have a candidate: my great, great grandfather.

Near the middle of that cemetery is a flat stone with two names: J. P. H. Walton and Isaiah Walton. We will talk about Isaiah.

Isaiah Walton (1812-1894), born in Oxford Co. Maine,
lived most of his life in Jefferson Co. Indiana, settled
late in life in Clay Co. Nebraska and is buried in
Marshall Union Cemetery east of Clay Center.
Isaiah Walton was born on February 18, 1812 in the town of Woodstock in Oxford County, Maine to Abraham and Mary “Polly” Hutchinson. Isaiah’s ancestors, nearly all of them, were British colonials from the earliest days including his 4th great, grandfather, William Walton who arrived in Massachusetts in 1636 and became the first preacher in port of Marblehead near Boston.

Other of Isaiah’s ancestors included the Putman family of Salem Village who were in the midst of the Unpleasantries of 1692 but that’s another story. And other branches have stories worth remembering.

Some of William Walton’s descendants moved to the northern frontier of New Hampshire after a father-in-law qualified for land in payment for his service in King Philip’s War in 1675-1676. King Philip was a Pokunotek chief named Metacomet (the Philip name is a long story) who led a bloody rebellion by Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansetts and other tribes we don’t hear much about. Metacomet was captured and beheaded and many of his troops sold into slavery. No, we don’t teach our kids much about that war.

Many militiamen did not take that New Hampshire land offer – it was the wild frontier. The Walton’s helped tame that frontier and another generation pushed to the eastern frontier in Maine. Abraham Walton became friends and a partner there with Ebenezer Hutchinson in a grist mill and married Ebenezer’s daughter Mary. Isaiah was one of ten children from that marriage, eight of whom made it to adulthood.

Several years ago we visited Oxford County and located the site and the remnants of the Walton-Hutchinson grist mill on the outlet to Moose Pond.

In 1815 when Isaiah was three years old, the Hutchinson and Walton families along with a Jordan family and others learned of land in the new frontier, this time to the west. They traveled by team and wagon to Pittsburgh where Abraham bought a flat boat and they floated down the Ohio River.

One account has them pausing near Cincinnati briefly before continuing to Madison, Indiana, then the largest town in the new state.

Abraham Walton took a quarter of land in Graham Township, Jefferson County in 1815 where he raised that family. The Hutchinson family was nearby.
This photo from the Jefferson County (Indiana) Historical Society is of the Walton House not many years ago when it
was still occupied. Isaiah Walton purchased the house and farm in 1841 from his father Abraham Walton.

The Ohio River separated Jefferson County from slave-state Kentucky. The Walton and Hutchinson families shared abolitionist sentiments with their neighbors and in 1839, 22 years before the Civil War, a group of 72 formed the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society. About 20 of those charter members were members of Abraham Walton’s family including sons, daughters and in-laws, among them Isaiah and his new bride, Eliza Jane Hall. The Halls were another colonial family, mostly English but some Dutch dating back to the days of New Amsterdam.

The anti-slavery society was not just a discussion group. Isaiah bought his father’s farm in 1841 and later moved to a farm just northeast of the village of Lancaster, Indiana. There he soon became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad using the house on that farm, since lost, to hide runaway slaves. Two brothers in a free black family near Madison were ferrying runaways across the Ohio. The Walton house and the Hoyt House, today a museum, were two early stations on the Underground Railroad route to Detroit and on to Canada. The story of the Underground Railroad is a large part of the proud history of Jefferson County. 

The Jefferson County sheriff was a zealot about enforcing the Runaway Slave Act placing the anti-slave society folks in danger as law-breakers. Runaway slave laws dated from the earliest days of our republic – George Washington signed an early version. States had their own laws protecting the “property” of plantation owners. Armed militias patrolled searching for escaped slaves and periodically did shake-downs of slave quarters searching for evidence of “misbehavior.”

Merritt Walton (1841-1913) as a nine-year old
boy was helping runaway slaves escaping from
Kentucky to Canada.
Merritt Walton, Isaiah’s son and a later a Clay County farmer told his children about taking runaways on his horse at night to the next stop to the north of the Walton House when he was nine years old in 1850. We do not know how long the Walton’s and their colleagues continued their “outlaw” activity. Law enforcement became aggressive and some neighbors were sympathetic to southern plantation owners so it became increasingly risky. There’s no way of knowing how many slaves were helped but accounts tell of escaped slaves hiding in the house for weeks at a time before it was safe to move on.

Merritt Walton purchased the farm near Lancaster from his father in 1870 for $2000. Both Isaiah and Merritt later migrated to Clay County.

The Neil’s Creek group had another project that the Walton family was involved with. Their Abolitionist Baptist Church founded Eleutherian College in 1848 in the nearby village of Lancaster. The intent was to provide advanced education for all and in 1856 there were 18 African-American students including ten ex-slaves enrolled. By 1860 the college had 200 students, 50 of them African-Americans at a time when it was prohibited by the Indiana Constitution. (BTW, “Eleutherian” is a Greek word for “free” offering some evidence of the educational level of mid-19th Century frontier farmers.)

Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Indiana was built by members
of the Neil's Creek Anti-Slavery Society including members of the
Walton family as a "college for all" including African-Americans.
Ex-slaves were enrolled in the college as early as 1856.
Isaiah and Eliza Jane were successful on their farm in addition to their abolitionist law-breaking until 1864 when Eliza died at age 47 while trying to have her tenth baby. The baby was also lost. Their oldest daughter Rhoda, my great, grandmother, was 21 at the time and in the third year of her four-year long-range correspondence with Pvt. James Rowlison of the 82nd Indiana Infantry. The Rowlison farm was in the just north of the Walton farm near Lancaster.

The war was over in 1865, James came home, he and Rhoda were married and in late 1866 they took a boat from Madison down the Ohio and then to Missouri to a new farm. I have the ticket stub from that trip indicating a fare of $6.00 for two adults, one child, a trunk and a horse.

The Rowlison’s western migration included farming near Kirksville, Missouri; Moulton, Iowa; Peru, Nebraska; four farms near Edgar, Nebraska and finally near Hoxie, Kansas. Those of us who descended from James Rowlison wonder what he was searching for, or what he was running from.

One of those Edgar area farms was about a mile south of the Marshall Union Cemetery belonging to Rhoda’s brother Merritt, the nine-year old mentioned above. This was about 1880 when the Rowlison’s followed Merritt to Clay County. The widower Isaiah Walton also followed these two and others of his children to Nebraska and Kansas.

The Merritt Walton family made another contribution to history when a grandson, also named Merritt Walton became Sutton’s first World War II fatality when he was killed on Gavutu Island in the Solomon Islands on August 7th, 1942. The grandfather Merritt is buried in the Ong Cemetery, the younger Merritt in San Jose, California.

It is not an elaborate gravestone that marks Isaiah Walton’s grave in Marshall Union Cemetery (Merritt’s is a less modest). There are thousands much like it in Clay County. I’m not saying that every grave you walk past in the cemetery contains the remains of a person with as full a life as Isaiah Walton’s but I’m just as sure there are many with even better stories that are fading or worse, have already faded.

I like the thought mentioned above: we die twice, once when the body quits and again when no one remembers us. It doesn’t have to be so. Someone just has to take time and effort to re-establish the memory of a life and pass it on to keep their memory alive.

After all, history isn’t much more than the collection of things people did.

The Walton House is at the loop at the end of the fishhook shaped driveway
off of Road W500N just east of W410N in the NW 1/4 of Section 12 in Graham
Township, Jefferson County, Indiana, midway between Deputy and Lancaster.
Full disclosure: much of what I know about Isaiah Walton’s time in Jefferson County, Indiana came as a result of a recent visit when I spent parts of three days in the Jefferson County Courthouse and at the county historical society visiting with some wonderful people. The staff at the museum welcomed me as a 2nd great grandson of Isaiah Walton, a fellow they were very familiar with.

The earlier Walton House in Graham Township has been known for the past many decades as the Cain House for the family that owned the farm during most of the 20th Century. The house sits off the road down a lane almost a half mile deep in the section and behind a “NO TRESPASSING” sign. The house sits back about 100 yards from the north bank of Walton Creek where Abraham Walton operated his second mill. A 1922 account indicated that signs of the mill remained at that time. I waded and slogged along the banks of the creek in dense growth but found no trace of the mill. The tobacco looks good and someone is keeping the grass down around the 200-year old house. Walking on the grounds of an ancestral home is not done at a fast pace; the imagination runs wild and you draw on every known detail about the family who lived there while wishing there were more.

The sad story at the Jefferson County Historical Society was about the historical preservation about the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society and its college. I’d visited the Eleutherian College and its museum several years ago. I found the place closed on this trip. The woman who was most knowledgeable about the society developed Alzheimer’s disease before she had transferred all she knew from her memory to paper. A staff member showed me the 20 or so boxes of material her family had given them. It is not well organized and an intern was 15 hours into sorting the material when I visited.

A group is diligently raising funds and laboring to re-open the college museum and to document the accomplishments of Isaiah Walton and his colleagues.

And that’s the story behind just one local grave. Do you know another? Please start typing now.

(This article has been updated as subsequent research and yet another trip to southern Indiana in August, 2017 revealed that the Walton house associated with the Underground Railroad was not the Graham Township house pictured above but another house in Lancaster Township, on the NE 1/4 of Section 34 Township 5N range 9E. Unfortunately, that house has not survived. I did contact the current owner of that quarter and learned there are ruins of that house on the farm. The historians of the Neil's Creek Society had completed their examination of society information and it was on file at the Jefferson County Historical Society in August, 2017.)

The original version of this article appeared in the August, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at for more information about the publication.

Marine Platoon Sergeant Merritt Cecil Walton, born Dec. 18, 1916, died August 7, 1942 on Gavutu in the Solomon
Islands. Sgt. Walton was awarded the Navy Cross; the destroyer USS Walton was named for him. Merritt Walton
was Sutton's first fatality of World War II. He was a great grandson of Isaiah Walton.