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1835: Love and Law in Ohio County Part 4

In Community, Community Contributors by OC Monitor Staff

**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor series.

By Gavin Richardson / OC Monitor Community Contributor

The following is the last of a four-part series about an 1835 trial taking place in Ohio County. The first part can be found here, the second part here and the third part here. According to Richardson, “the deposition list for the case reads as a kind of “who’s who” of founding Ohio County families.”

OHIO COUNTY, Ky. — Cynthia Ford, perhaps fearing the court would not accept her engagement narrative explaining John B. Ford’s “absolute, unconditional gift” of $160 to her daughter, decided to file a “cross bill,” or what we would call a countersuit.

Cynthia Ford claimed John B. Ford actually owed her $138.25 for the “washing, making, and mending of clothes” and the “cooking for and lodging hands,” with hands being employees in the Fords’ lumber and shipping business. Cynthia Ford supplied the court with an itemized bill reconstructing charges from 1829 to 1834, the time she claims John B. Ford lived in her household and benefitted from her labors.

Samuel J. Ford and Henry Stevens reject this claim outright, saying they “cannot admit of the justice or equity of the amount set up and filed by the said Cynthia, as they know nothing about it and do not believe it to be just; they require of her full proof of its justice and also require of her to prove that there was a contract made with her by John B. Ford to pay her for the accommodations which he received in her house.

These respondents would further say that they believe that John B. Ford more than paid her for all the services rendered by her for him, and they would further state that John W. Ford, the husband of said Cynthia Ford, departed this life sometime in the spring of the year 1834, and that under no circumstances would she be entitled to recover on an account previous to the death of her husband from these respondents.”

This final claim is articulated as if it were a simple point of law, perhaps a sexist principle that a husband would have settled such an account in his living years, leaving no legal remedy to a widow if he did not.

Richard P. Wall may have joined Cynthia’s countersuit or filed one of his own; the documents are not entirely clear. Ultimately, however, this question proved irrelevant, as the verdict notes all countersuits were dismissed.

Nestled among some forty nearly illegible, out-of-order, photocopied pages (some copied two to a page) is the verdict for case #490, dated Apr. 2, 1838, two years after the formal answers were filed in the suit.

Romance and sympathy lost; strict law won:

“The parties having dismissed their cross bills on both sides, this day this cause came on to be heard upon the bill and answer, depositions, and argument of counsel, and the court being … sufficiently advised of and concerning the premises, do order, adjudge, and decree that the defendant Richard P. Wall pay to the complainants the sum of one hundred and sixty dollars, and that they have executors [therefore].”

Thus the court did not accept Cynthia’s claim a dying John B. Ford gave Permelia an “absolute, unconditional” gift of $160 and ruled the sum rightfully belonged to the deceased’s administrators, Samuel J. Ford and Henry Stevens. The documents record Richard P. Wall’s intent to appeal, though it is unknown to this author whether he followed through with this intention or not.

Samuel J. Ford presumably returned to Henderson after the suit, while Henry Stevens remained in Ohio County and raised his large family. It is not certain who this Henry Stevens is, but he is likely the Henry Stevens (1784-1874) who came to western Kentucky from Montgomery County, Maryland, along with many other pioneer families.

Stevens worked as a stone cutter, and apparently his character was as tough as his occupational medium. According to Ohio Co. Kentucky in the Olden Days by Harrison D. Taylor, “Uncle Henry Stevens and his sister Mrs. Belt are still fresh in the memory of the writer. His strong sense and his stronger will made him as firm as a rock and as obstinate as a mule. He always sought the right and when he thought he had found it, he went ahead, like Davy Crockett. Honesty, frugality, benevolence, and industry were the rules of his life, which was prolonged in unusual mental and physical vigor to an extremely old age” (65).

According to Harry Tinsley, only a falling horse could kill this vigorous old man. It is unclear what Henry Stevens’s standing was in the Ford suit, unless John B. Ford simply had named him an executor of his estate. We do know that Henry Stevens witnessed John W. Ford’s will and thus knew the family.

Lest we feel too sorry for widow Cynthia and her grieving daughter, federal census records show both survived for many years after this case. The 1850 Census shows Cynthia Ford as head of her household, with six persons living with her: four daughters (Permelia, Lavina, Teresa, Louisa), and two sons, Minor and John, the latter being fated to die in 1864 fighting for the Union. Two older children, Joseph Milton and Mary Amanda, have left the household by this time, and another brother, James, died in 1843 at the age of 13.

Ohio County deed books show Cynthia Ford buying and selling land well into the 1860s, and census records show Cynthia spending her later years living in the household of her daughter Louisa and son-in-law George Black Hocker.

Cynthia would die in 1870 and now rests in the Alexander Cemetery. The grave of her husband John W. Ford has never been found; he may have been buried near Natchez, Mississippi, where he died, or he may lie in an unmarked grave near Cynthia.

John B. Ford lies in the Carson Cemetery.

As for the star-crossed teenager Permelia, her final resting place is unknown to this author, and even her death is a bit of a mystery. The 1870 Census shows Permelia living in the Hocker household along with her aged mother. She is not listed in this household in the 1880 Census, raising the likelihood that Permelia Ford died between 1870 and 1880, not long after her mother. She never married.

The author wishes to thank David Ford, of McHenry, for providing copies of the court documents upon which this article is based.

Gavin Richardson is a native of Hancock County, Kentucky, with family roots in Ohio County as the son of Beverly (Ford) Richardson and grandson of Grace (Moore) Ford and Charles E. Ford. Gavin earned a B.A. in English and Classics from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois. He is Professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is married with three sons, and is the great-great-great-great grandson of John W. and Cynthia Ford profiled in this essay.

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