Friday, December 29, 2017

Sapps and Kin of Salem, Taylor County, Florida

Believed to be Mathew Sapp, Ida Strickland Sapp, and Nancy Lorena Sapp
(about 1904)

A Friendly Stranger

I was contacted a while back by someone, and after a few confirmations regarding my kin, she stated that her aunt had quite a few pictures of my kin. She is related by the marriage of my 2nd great uncle, Matthew Sapp. These pictures have been kept in her family for nearly a century. Naturally, I was excited, but what made it even better is the fact that I have never seen pictures of anyone on that side of my family aside from my grandfather and his children.

To make this surprise encounter even better, I found out she lived about a 20 minute drive from where I currently live. We ended up meeting at a Civil War reenactment and discussed our families. I discovered that she grew up basically next door to kin on another branch of my family. I even mentioned one of her ancestors in one of my blog posts. Apparently branches of her family have been associated with mine for over 150 years. 

It's now four days after Christmas and I feel like I have received the greatest Christmas present I could ask for this year. Yesterday, she visited her aunt and scanned all of the pictures that she had told me about. Between yesterday evening and this morning, I received numerous e-mails containing many pictures. It was Christmas all over again for me!

The pictures are all from the 1920's in Salem, Taylor County, Florida. 

I have decided to share these wonderful pictures here for everyone to see. Enjoy!

Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Leon Green and Annie Russell

Lucy Sapp and Annie Russell

Lucy Sapp, Ida Strickland Sapp, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Annie Russell, Ellen Strickland, Lucy Sapp, Leon Green, Joe Stephens,
James Lynn, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp
Annie Russell, Ellen Strickland, Lucy Sapp, Joe Stephens, James Lynn, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Ida Strickland Sapp, Lucy Sapp, Annie Russell, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Ida Strickland Sapp, Jack Drawdy, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp

Ida Strickland Sapp

Ida Strickland Sapp

Lucy Sapp and Leon Green

Lucy Sapp and Leon Green

Lucy Sapp

Lucy Sapp

Lucy Sapp, Leon Green, and Matthew Fletcher Sapp (in window)

Special thanks to Beth for contacting me that day and for sharing your families collection with me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

America Smith (1845-1902)

Levy County Florida History Murder
America Smith Lewis (1845-1902)
4th Great-Aunt
America Smith was born to James Hampton Smith and Mary Ann Flowers Smith in September of 1845 in Liberty County Georgia. She was the 10th of twelve children born to the couple, but the last child to be born in Georgia. Not long after America was born, her family decided to take a leap of faith and settle in Florida. At this time, Florida was sparsely populated by Americans. It had been disputed over by Spain, France, and the natives for centuries, and now it was owned by the United States. 

Florida became the 27th state of the United States in March of 1845, a few months before America Smith was born. In order to settle the state and spur growth, the federal government passed out land patents. This was an agreement between the settler and the government with certain stipulations including homesteading and land improvement. After a set period of time, the settler would be able to earn the land free and clear as long as the stipulations were proven. Needless to say, this enticed many people to set out on their own with their families and attempt to better themselves.

Originally, James and Mary Ann settled in Alachua County near the county seat of Newnansville, a few miles north of present day Alachua. He and his brother, William, who had made the excursion to Florida, were able to earn their patents in 1855 and 1856. They were not to stay in Newnansville long, as by 1859 James and William had earned patents in Levy County east of Cedar Key. Two years later everything would change for the Smith family.

In April of 1861, the war between the states started. Tensions had become so high between the southern states and the federal government that the states began to secede from the United States to form the Confederate States of America. Florida was one of the original 6 states to leave the Union in January of 1861.

Four of James and Mary Ann's children enlisted in the Confederate Army, including: William Fletcher, Bryant, Hampton Porter, and Milton. All of the Smith brother's enlisted in the 9th Florida Infantry. They fought at the largest Florida battle during the war at Olustee. Afterwards they moved northward and fought in small battles and skirmishes in Virginia. They were also involved in the Petersburg siege. The 9th Florida Infantry was at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia to witness the surrender of General Lee to General Grant, ending the war. Three of the four brothers survived. Milton perished in 1864.

The Surrender of General Lee

While the men were away defending their beloved Southland, the women were faced with all of the farm work, household chores, and the raising of their children. It was no small task to accomplish this while not knowing if their family members would ever return home. Without the help of the men, children were made to work at a younger age to take on the slack that was left by the soldiers. Life was no different for America Smith.

Two years after the war, in 1867, America Smith married Lazarus Britt "L.B." Lewis. L.B. was in the 9th infantry with America's brothers and no doubt became acquainted through this connection. L.B. was a farmer and builder by trade. He would be integral in the growth of the county seat of Bronson. As a well known citizen in Levy County, he would be commissioned to build parts of the courthouse in Bronson, and would also be a part of the road planning in the area.

All of the ventures that L.B. was involved in amassed considerable wealth for the area and the time. By the turn of the 20th century, L.B. and America Lewis was arguably the wealthiest family in Levy County. Rumor had it that Mr. Lewis kept $20,000 in gold in a safe in his house.

This rumor had caught the ears of Tom Faircloth and his best friend, Theodore Smith. Tired of doing small odds and ends jobs to get by, Tom fantasized about the supposed gold in the Lewis safe. Tom and Theodore formulated a plan to buy a few drill bits and some ammo, borrow 2 guns, and drill through the safe while the Lewis's were away.

On the 29th of August, 1902, Tom and Theodore arrived at the Lewis house; a few miles South of Bronson in Levy County, Florida. America and L.B. were away at their son's house for supper. The robbers donned fake mustaches in case they were seen, so they wouldn't be recognized. They proceeded to enter the Lewis house Tom would take first crack at the safe while Theo remained on watch. After a few minutes of hand cranking a drill on the Lewis safe, Tom's drill bit broke. Theo decided he would give it a try and the two switched places. Even with the new drill bit, Theo was getting nowhere on the safe.

With their hair drenched in sweat and their muscles aching from trying to drill through the safe, they toiled harder knowing the Lewis's would eventually come home. There was no way they were leaving without the money in that safe.

Tom heard talking in the distance and realized the Lewis's were coming home. They picked up their tools and ran out of the house to the saddle barn. They tried to come up with a plan on how to get to the safe with the Lewis's in the house. They knew they couldn't leave without the money that they came for, but they were tired and hot in the muggy Florida autumn night. They had to get that money and they were willing to die for it.

America Lewis walked to her kitchen while her husband, L.B., stayed on the porch to wash his feet. Tom and Theo made their move. Theo ran to the kitchen window and pointed his .22 rifle in. He took aim, and as America noticed movement out the window and began to scream, Theo shot her in the cheek. 

L.B. Lewis
Lazarus Britt Lewis
L.B. rose to his feet at the sound of the gunshot and his wife's scream, but his efforts were in vain as Tom rounded the porch and shot him in the chest with his shotgun. L.B. fell to the porch dying as his wife continued to scream. America, even though was shot in the face, was not mortally wounded and heard the shotgun blast. She ran to the porch and saw her husbands bloody body lying on the wooden planks that formed their porch. She, unfortunately, had no time to act as she began to scream out, she took a shotgun blast to the face and fell lifeless on top of her husband.

The robbers - now murderers - knew that the Lewis's son, James, lived down the road and probably heard the gunshots and the sound of his mother's screams. There was no time to try to break into the safe now. They had to go.

James and Zennie Lewis
James Henry Lewis was the one who discovered his parents. He had spent the last few weeks taking care of his pregnant wife, Zennie, who had been very ill. Now he had to take care of the funeral and burial of his beloved parents. He and his brother Orville posted a reward for anyone that could provide information and capture anyone involved in the brutal slaying of their parents.

The initial suspect was a black man that had recently committed a murder in nearby Newberry. Those suspicions were proved false, however, when the man was discovered in Georgia. It would have been impossible to have committed the Lewis murders and gotten to Georgia in that short amount of time.

Tom and Theo had tried to escape separately to Georgia. Tom had traveled north to Fort Fanning on the Suwannee River. He was going to take a boat up the Suwannee but it was too late in the day to purchase a ticket. News had reached the sheriff that Tom Faircloth had been seen purchasing fake mustaches and gun ammo around the time of the murders.  Naturally, this made the sheriff suspicious of Tom and went to apprehend him for questioning. Tom was captured at Fort Fanning waiting to make his getaway on the Suwannee.

Theo, on the other hand, had caught a train. He was able to stow away in a rail car as the train headed east. He wouldn't go far, though. As the train passed through Bronson, Theo stuck his head out of the car to view his hometown that he may never see again. It was here that he was seen by Joseph Milton Prevatt, nephew of the deceased, America Smith Lewis. Joseph knew Theo and also knew that Theo was close friends with Tom Faircloth who had already been apprehended. It couldn't have been a coincidence that Theo was a stow away on a train heading out of town.

By the time the train got to nearby Archer, Joseph Prevatt had caught up and apprehended Theodore Smith. The men eventually confessed to the murders and were tried, convicted, and sentences to death by hanging at the Bronson Courthouse.  
Tom Faircloth's written confession




Mr W B Faircloth, Der cosin and friend. I will write a full Statement of our crim.  Bart when we first  thought of giting the money, we was in Gulf Hammock cutting cedar for Roland Hay good flying in he growth of june and the thought came to us if we fin a where thay was lots of monny we would go and get it and we thought of Brit Lewis having a safe in his house. And we decided he had a bout tunty thousand dallars and we decided that we would order 2  drills and falce mustashes and so we did and I staid in Ellzy a bout a month and Bronson and went out to Thedors one Monday eving and shod home the mus touhes Friday morning came by Theodors and I bought 25 cents worth of fodder, and 25 cents worth of 38 winchester cartrges. Theodor was to borg Elak 38 Rifal but he was gone a hunting and Theodor failed to git the rifal. So we meet back of Joe Frenatts paster. Saturday morning and he told me he failed to git the gun and to hunt a gun and come out with a 22 rifal and sid while I watch you gow and gow to drilling and I did so and brok one drill and he sed you watch and I  will drill and he went in and tried in drilling and I saw the old folks coming and I sad to him: I see them coming and he come out of the house and we went to the sadle house and he started to shoot them and he ded less not shoot them and I sad all write and we started to leave and I did I come here to dye far, this money and he sed all rite less git it and we went back to the house and the old man went one the poarch to wash his feet and the old lady went in the kitchen to eat I suppose. And I sed to Theodor did you cause her to dye for this money and he sed I did you Gonna round thir and shoot the old man and I will gow to the window and shoot the old lady and I went at theme words and shot him with both barrels of my gun and Theodor shot the old lady 3 times with the 22 and I ruse a round to him and the old lady was to the old man and he ded run back and shoot her we both run a round ther and I shot her and kill her at once, I suppose. and then we left thire at once and went to Smith Still and by evingston and drove funs and one dove in Otter Creek Swamp and there one down in Gulf Hammock and one to Maccasa and wadedafe the creek a bout a mild and these come out to my fathers old place. And went to the bac lilice rody and Ike lighford over taken us at the mile Wiled Frost and rode with him. Theodor rode with him to my Grandfathers house and Thedor come to town that night. And staid all night at Jim Hills and come home Sunday morning and I went to Sawanie River as I had promist to do. And I was a rested at Swannee River and the 1 day of September and Thedor was a rested on 3 day and Mr Willman com to see Thedor a thinking he was a trying to do him good. And he was a killing him just as fast as he could But may God Bless him. I hope it will do him lots of good Bart this is the true story of the crime. May God bless you Bart your cousin Thomas Faircloth and Thedor Smith.

Theodore Smith and Tom Faircloth (white shirts) on the gallows
(30 September 1902)

On the 30th of September, 1902, Tom Faircloth and Theodore Smith were hung on the gallows outside the Levy County Courthouse in Bronson for the murders of Lazarus Britt Lewis and America Smith Lewis.

Death of Zennie Willis Lewis
(Palatka News 25 Sep 1902)
Two weeks after the hanging of Faircloth and Smith, tradgedy would strike the Lewis family again. Zennie Lewis, the pregnant wife of James Henry Lewis, passed away. She had been sick for some time, but she couldn't recover from the shock of the brutal murder of her in-laws.

Ocala Evening Star
(19 September 1902)

Lazarus Britt Lewis and America Smith Lewis are buried in Bronson Cemetery in Levy County Florida.

L.B. and America Lewis's Grave
Bronson Cemetery, Bronson, Levy County Florida

Tom Faircloth and Theodore Smith are buried in unmarked graves at Hamp Smith Cemetery south of Bronson.

For further reading about the Smith family of Levy County, check out previous blog entries about Christianna Howard Smith, sister-in-law of America Smith Lewis. Transcriptions of letters that Christianna Smith wrote can be found here.

Special thanks to Ty Starkey, who has also written about the Lewis murders. 

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Researching on the Bureau of Land Management Website

Did you know that you can find land records from certain states on the Bureau of Land Management website? You can even view scans of the original patent record and even pinpoint the area on a map where you ancestor owned land.

I will explain how to go about doing this. For some, however, this will not work as certain states did not have land patents, or military warrants. For the sake of this post, I am going to be using my ancestor's patent from the state of Florida.

To begin with, visit the Bureau's website at

You can look over the home page to see what they have to offer. Then, to begin searching your ancestor, click on the "Search Documents" tab.

You will see the screen pictured above. Under the location section, choose the state of your ancestor. Next choose the county. *the county is not necessary if you would like to search records from the whole state*

Next enter the last name of the ancestor (this is required.)
 The first name is not required if you want to search everyone with a particular surname. This tactic can be used to see others that may have been related acquiring land in the same area. For this illustration, I searched for the surname Studstill in Levy County, Florida. The following page shows the results.

This page lists the names, date, document number, State, Land description, and county of the person receiving the land patent. Notice most were for Emanuel Studstill, my 3rd great grandfather. The last one was for William J Studstill, who was Emanuel's son. On the left is a column described as "Image." By clicking that link, you will be taken to the scanned image of the original patent document. Here is an example of one of Emanuel Studstill's land patents.

From this page, you are able to download or print a copy of the patent image. Notice the tabs above the image: Patent Details, Patent Image, and Related Documents. The current view is the image, but by going to the Patent Details tab, you can get more information about the patent itself. This is beneficial for those that do not know how to decipher land descriptions.

On this page you will find the names listed on the document, the document number, and other information including the acreage and land descriptions. By clicking on the check boxes in the "Map" column, you can view approximately where the land was. It will narrow the land description down to the township - range. You will need to remember the section, as that will narrow it down more. The aliquots is the specific area in that section.

Here you will see an orange square on the map. This is the township. This narrows the location down to a general vicinity. But if you are like me, this is not good enough. Remember I said that you will need to know the "section?" This is where that fits in. In this example the section is 33.

Left: Sections - Right : Aliquots

In the above image, the left side shows a square with 36 smaller squares. This is how you find the section in the orange square on the map. Notice where section 33 is? Lets go back to the map and pinpoint that down. I have enlarged the orange square for easier viewing. 

I have drawn a red square around section 33. That red square represents 1 section which is equivalent to 640 acres. Now we are getting close. From here we can use the aliquots to determine exactly where in the section the land was located. If you refer back to the previous image showing sections and aliquots, it explains how aliquots are used in a decription. As an example, the Northeast quarter has 160 acres. the Northwest corner is split up in to quarters of 40 acres. For the top left square you see NW 1/4 NW 1/4. This means the northwest corner of the northwest quarter of the section. The bottom part of the section shows 80 acre aliquots. On the bottom left you see S 1/2 SW 1/4. This would read the south 1/2 of the southwest quarter.

So by using this, we can determine exactly where Emanuel Studstill's land was located. We are looking for the East 1/2 of the northeast quarter. I have zoomed in a bit more on the map to show exactly where that is by drawing a blue line around it.

The blue represents the east 1/2 of the northeast quarter of Section 33
 And there you have it! Now you know how to find ancestors land (if it was patented) by using the BLM GLO website. Now it should be a piece of cake, right? Don't worry, it takes a little practice and getting used to. If you get a little discouraged or confused, you can always refer back to this blog post.

Please let me know if you found this useful and tracked down where your ancestors land was located. I would love to hear it!

If you would like to read Emanuel Studstill's story that includes a tale of murder, Indians, wars, prison, and even finding iron ore on his land that was used to make artillery for the Confederacy; click here.

For further information on reading land descriptions

Georgia Land Plats (1779-1785)

Map of Florida Land Plats (1850's)

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