128 – William Jarvis (5G) 1760-1823

William Jarvis died in January 1823. He was 62.

William’s wife Margaret (5G) survived him and was living on their farm on Fork Lick Creek. Harvey (4G), age 20, had just married in 1822. Most of the other children were married and living elsewhere.

We’ll catch up with the rest of the family in the next post. For now, let’s look at William Jarvis’ interesting life.

William’s grandparents

William’s great-grandmother Elizabeth Jervis (8G) had come to Chester County, Pennsylvania from England with the first Quakers.

His grandfather Joseph Jervis (7G) had come from England as a child with his mother Elizabeth, Joseph later moved to Lancaster County and raised a family with his wife Esther (7G).

William’s father and mother

William’s father James Jervis (6G) was born in Lancaster County in 1740. James moved from Lancaster to Uwchlan Township in Chester County and married in 1759

Born in Uwchlan Township

William was born in 1760 in Uwchlan Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

William’s mother died, probably when he was born. Grandmother Esther (7G) lived with James’ family and helped raise William. Esther lived with James’ family the remainder of her life.

To Maryland

In the 1760’s, James Jervis moved his family to Harford County, Maryland. Most of his brothers and cousins had moved there too. James married Elizabeth, and had three more children – Joseph, Thomas, and Mary.

William grew up living in Scott’s Old Fields, a plot of land that would later become the town of Bel Air, the county seat of Harford County, Maryland. His father James operated an inn.

Marriage to Margaret Thompson

William married Margaret Thompson (5G) in August 1780. Margaret was the daughter of John Thompson and Elizabeth Gilbert Thompson.

William and Margaret had two children during their time in Harford County.

Move to Kentucky

The post-Revolutionary War period brought economic hardship to Maryland and the other states. William’s father and several of his uncles lost everything because they couldn’t pay their debts.

In the early 1790s, William, 32, and Margaret, 30, made the decision to move west. Most of Margaret’s siblings were moving too. Some of William’s cousins were moving. Most were heading to the new state of Kentucky.

Each preceding Jarvis generation had migrated west, and William and Margaret would do the same.

Life in Kentucky

William and Margaret settled on a farm in Pendleton County. Like their forebears, William and Margaret were pioneers, among the earliest settlers in their new land.

They built a log house from trees on their farm. They cleared an area for a subsistence garden. They raised pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows to supply food and clothing.

They were a five hour walk from the nearest town of Falmouth, so they didn’t often visit to buy manufactured goods.

There were no roads near their farm. Early settlers were appointed to lay out and clear roads, many of which are today’s farm-to-market roads. William and his neighbors created these roads.


In addition to their two daughters born in Maryland, William and Margaret had seven more children in Kentucky. Our grandfather Harvey (4G) was the youngest, born in 1803.

William died

William died in January 1823. He was 62. William and Margaret had lived in Kentucky since about 1792. When William died in 1823, they had been in Kentucky for 31 years.

In Pendleton County court February 1823, William’s sons James, 29, and Gilbert, 25, were granted administration of his estate. William’s inventory of goods was very modest.

James and Gilbert Jarvis granted administration for William Jarvis, deceased – February 1823

Goodbye William. Your legacy will live on through your children and grandchildren.

Nibbles Extra Credit

We don’t know William’s cause of death. It could have been natural causes or accident. But it’s more likely that he died of disease, the leading cause of death.

Diseases and mortality

Beginning in the autumn of 1792, Cincinnati citizens and Northern Kentucky settlers were battling a smallpox epidemic that would prove more deadly than any other hardship that came with living in the area. 

Our Rich History: Epidemics in 19th Century Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky

Besides smallpox, there was influenza and typhoid. Any of these diseases could be fatal; but at minimum were frightful and a setback for the family.

This spring I was attacked with a fever, and was very bad; after I had got some better, but not yet able to work, I heard of one of my horses at Harrison’s station. I went after him, and upon my return home, it rained almost the whole day. I got very wet, and took a relapse, and was worse than I was at first. This put me back so much with my work, that I got but four acres planted.

Spencer Records’ Memoir of the Ohio Valley Frontier

William’s neighbor Dennis Conyers had died just eight months earlier. Both men had been assigned road work just a few years earlier, so it’s reasonable to think they didn’t have debilitating chronic ailments.

Perhaps William Jarvis and Dennis Conyers died of Milk Sickness. Abe Lincoln’s mother did.

Milk Sickness

Widow Clarke’s, twenty-eight miles; she informed us, many of the people in the neighbourhood were sick, from drinking milk. The cows eat some poisonous herb, in their uncontrolled ranges, which not only affects their milk, but gives them tremblings and the staggers; calves that suck are affected the same way, and often die. This account was confirmed by several farmers.  

Journal of Travels in the United States – 1818 – John Palmer
White Snakeroot

“Milk Sickness”, by definition, is poisoning by milk from cows that have eaten the White Snakeroot plant. “Milk Sickness” usually develops when a person drinks milk from an affected cow.

Often the disease is fatal.

In the fall of 1818, nearly two years after Thomas Lincoln had moved his family to the Little Pigeon Creek settlement in Southern Indiana, Abraham’s mother became desperately ill after caring for some neighbors who were sick. Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of “Milk Sickness” about two weeks later on October 5, 1818.

White Snakeroot – The Plant that Killed Abraham Lincoln’s Mother

The week before, Nancy’s aunt and uncle, Thomas and Elizabeth Sparrow, who had
migrated to Indiana and lived near the Lincolns, also died of the disease.

Hoosiers and the American Story – https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/Hoosiers-and-the-American-Story-ch-03.pdf

Doctors and treatment

There was a doctor in Falmouth – Dr. Monroe.

There had been a Dr. Monroe here many years before this date. He came here in 1792, and was the first practicing physician in Pendleton County, to my knowledge. At that time he had two brothers who resided here – one a surveyor and the other a Baptist preacher.

When Falmouth Was a Babe in Swaddling Clothes – Dr. H. C. Clark

We’ve met Dr. Monroe’s brother Rev. Alexander Monroe – the Baptist preacher who married three of the Jarvises. Recall that Falmouth was four or five hours from the Jarvis farm, so Dr. Monroe was probably only called for serious maladies.

And there were folk cures, perhaps administered from an “Indian doctor.”

25th July, Friday – Indian Doctor. We conversed with a farmer on the road, who told us “his son was sick, and he was going to the Indian doctor, who he had heard was very skilful.” He had to perform a journey of above sixty miles. From his conversation we learnt that the country people placed great confidence in these generally ignorant fellows, who compose medicines of herbs; and prey upon the credulity of the natives, draining their pockets and no doubt “killing at least as many as they cure.” Though termed Indian doctors they are whites; it is because they practise after the Indians manner, that they are so called.

Journal of Travels in the United States – 1818 – John Palmer


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