JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY.COM
"Where we celebrate the child in us all"
site contact: email@example.com
Andrew A. Riley, Irish grandfather of James Whitcomb Riley, was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in a Deutsch speaking community. Andrew's parents were Rebecca Harvey, born July 11, 1769 in England who died in Montgomery County, Ohio on Sept. 7, 1849, and James (or John "William") Riley born 1752 in Torsnagh, Cork, Ireland who died in Bedford, Pennsylvania before 1820. The source of this pedigree is listed in the acknowledgements. James Riley had married Rebecca Harvey about 1775 at Reading Berks, Pennsylvania. Andrew was the second child. The firstborn was Samuel Riley, born 1790. After Andrew came James Anderson Riley, born 1796 who died in Nov. 1840; Isaac Riley, born about 1800; Henry Riley, born about 1803; George Washington Harvey Riley, born Dec. 19, 1807 who died May 22, 1868; Sarah Riley, born about 1810 in Pennsylvania who married George Roudebush; and Mary Ann Riley, born 1813 who died in 1887.
Andrew's wife, Margaret Slick, was the daughter of John Slick born about 1769, the son of Philip Slick born about 1740 in Germany, and Elizabeth Wilson. Andrew A. Riley and Margaret Slick were married in Bedford, Pennsylvania, but the Family Bible gives no date. It must have been around 1820 since they started West soon after that date.
Before becoming Hoosiers, the Rileys stopped first near Cincinnati, Ohio and then went on to Indiana at Richmond and finally located on a farm a short distance southeast of Windsor in the western part of Randolph County, Indiana on what was later known as the Joshua Swingley farm, with Andrew remaining there and running a tavern until the time of his death about November 29, 1840. He was also the local justice of peace for Stoney Creek Township until 1837 according to the bond records of the county. The farm was on a knoll along Stoney Creek.
Coming to frontier Indiana was a daring family trip. During the 400 mile journey from Pennsylvania, Andrew sold all of his belongings for $30 except a horse, a "carry-all" and some clothing. He and his older sons walked while the mother and daughters rode in the wagon. Reuben Riley was one of those sons who walked. He was the fifth in a family of 14 children. During this westward trek, the family lived in the open, building campfires in the woods at night. In the Allegheny foothills, their fare was slight. When they reached Randolph County, Indiana, they were able to find a bounty of food from wild deer, black bear, squirrels, wild turnkey and wild vegetables growing along Stoney Creek.
Andrew and Margaret had the following children: Sarah Ann Riley, born about 1815 who married Tom D. Shepherd; Job Harvey Riley, born about 1816; John Sleek Riley (Dr.) born Dec. 12, 1817; Reuben (the poet's father) born June 2, 1819; Andrew Pinckney Riley, born 1820 who married Elizabeth Cline; James Anderson Riley born about 1821; George Washington Harvey Riley born about 1823 who married Emma C. Nex; Joseph Sleek Riley, born about 1824; Benjamin Frank Riley born about 1826 who married Elizabeth Patterson; and Martin Whitten Riley born about 1828 who married Elizabeth Dodson.
Andrew's agricultural labor produced large crops and one winter it is said he helped save a tribe of starving Miami Indians by loading their ponies with corn. In another time of scarcity, a stockman offered him 75 cents a bushel for his corn, but he chose to sell it to needy neighbors for 25 cents a bushel. Shortly before his death, Andrew said, "I have never intentionally wronged any man. I have not been vulgar or profane. I have tried to do right. I do not fear to die."
Not all Hoosiers could say the same. Reuben Riley reached Hancock County, Indiana, within a few scant years of the departure of the last native Americans from Indiana. Many were wrenched away in a horrible episode in Indiana history. The last of the Potawatomi, those who had not accepted "white folks ways" or left before were rounded up and removed by the county militiamen of Indiana called up to state service for that purpose by the Governor in 1838.These native Americans were forced to take the infamous "Trail of Death" out of Indiana during September of that year. A militia officer, General Tipton, was placed in charge of the roundup of the Hoosier Indians. Many tried to escape into the woods but were arrested and made prisoners. Indian children were left in the woods by parents in the hope that they, at least, might be able to stay in the native lands if they could survive. Many stories exist of such children being adopted by "white European" families when they were discovered. No sad story stopped General Tipton. He was not cruel but he knew what the Hoosier Governor's orders were and that was to round up the remaining Indians and get them out of the state. Here is an excerpt of one of his written accounts, "Many of the Indian men were assembled near the chapel when we arrived, and were not permitted to leave camp or separate until matters were amicably settled and they had agreed to give peaceable possession of the land sold by them." If Indians had weapons, these were taken away. Squads of militia fanned out to collect the remnants of the tribes who had refused to move out of Indiana by that time. By September, Tipton had gathered the last 859 which contained many old people and young. One of the Catholic missionaries, Father Petit, who had lived with the tribes describes his final Christian worship service since he was not permitted to go on the Trail of Death. "At the moment of my departure I assembled all my children to speak to them for the last time. I wept, and my auditors sobbed aloud. It was indeed a heartrending sight, and over our dying mission we prayed for the success of those on their way to the new hunting grounds. We then with one accord say, `O Virgin, we place our confidence in thee.' It was often interrupted and but few could finish it. After the Indians were sequestered, the soldiers were under orders to burn and destroy the huts and cabins of the Indians to erase temptation to return to Indiana. When the Indian march order was given on the early morning of September 4th. The weather was very hot and dry. The ordinary sources of water were dried up by then and malaria started infecting the Indians because water supplies were stagnant. The native Americans were marched single file on foot to cross Indiana, Illinois and the Mississippi. Few made it. Even by the time they reached the pioneer settlement at Logansport many died. Their camp there was described as "a scene of desolation; on all sides were the sick and dying." The militiamen too were getting sick and many were permitted to return to their homes. The few Indians with Indian ponies were compelled to give them up for these departing militiamen to return to their families. On the way through the Wabash Valley, the suffering increased so much that General Tipton relented and allowed the Indians to call for Father Petit to come to them. Despite his own delicate health the good father went and says, "On Sunday, September 16, I came in sight of my poor Christians, marching in a line, and guarded on both sides by soldiers who hastened their steps. A burning sun poured its beams upon them, and they were enveloped in a thick cloud of dust. After them came the baggage wagons into which were crowded the many sick, the women and children who were too feeble to walk... Almost all the babies, exhausted by the heat, were dead or dying. I baptized several newly-born happy little ones, whose first step was from the land of exile to heaven." Soon the militiamen tired of walking and chose to ride in the baggage wagons forcing the Indian women and children out to walk and die all the quicker. Many stories remain. There is one of a hundred year old Indian woman, the mother of a Chieftain, who pleaded with her tribe to put her to death in Indiana. She knew she had no hopes of surviving a long trek and wished to be buried in the land of her ancestry. The tribe refused the old woman's wish to kill her. She was buried along the trail four days later. Not a single baby made the trip. The Hoosier people live with the memories of their history.
These memories mix with those of the settlers like Andrew Riley who came to Hoosier forests. There are no records of Andrew's death in the Family Bible and his date of death in 1840 is derived from the records in the Randolph County probate court records of that date. A Dr. Dynes was the attending physician during Andrew Riley's last illness. Dr. Dynes made daily calls for some days prior to November 20, 1840. His itemized claim filed against the estate shows a charge each day up to and including November 19th for a call and medicine left. On the 20th day a charge is made for just the call - no medicine. This was the doctor's last call so Andrew probably didn't need the doctor anymore.
Andrew Riley was buried on the farm where he lived. In the probate court order book of Randolph County, vol. 2, page 139 is this entry:
"Be it remembered that on the fifteenth day of December in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty; letters of administration of all and singular the goods and chattels, rights, credits, monies and effects which were of Andrew Riley late of Randolph County in the State of Indiana, deceased, was granted by George W. Monks, clerk of the probate court in and for said county to Reuben A. Riley, he, the said Reuben A. Riley, having first filed bond in the sum of fifteen hundred dollars with Lewis Remmel and Smoot securities and he was duly affirmed as such administrator." Reuben Riley's authority to handle his father's estate was later revoked by this entry: "In the matter of Reuben A, Riley, administrator of the estate of Andrew Riley, deceased. It appearing to the satisfaction of the court, from the affidavit of Margaret Way, late Margaret Riley, widow and relict of said Andrew Riley, that the said Reuben A. Riley has emigrated to and is now a citizen of Iowa Territory. It is ordered and adjudged by the court that the letters of administration heretofore granted by the clerk of this court to the said Reuben A. Riley, on the estate of said deceased, be and the same are hereby revoked and nulled and made void. Whereon on application of the said Margaret, it is further ordered by the court that administration de bonis non of said estate is hereby committed to Thomas W. Reece, and thereupon said Thomas W. Reece appears in open court and accepts said appointment and files bond in the sum of twelve hundred dollars, with William Dickson and George W. Smithson as his securities."
What became of Margaret? Margaret (Slick) Riley remained Andrew's widow for only about a year and a half and then in March 1842 she married Thomas Way. Little is known about this arrangement. Eventually Margaret moved from the Windsor neighborhood to Greenfield, Indiana, as a single woman, and lived near her son Reuben Riley until 1868. She died October 3, 1884 at the home of her son Dr. A.J. Riley in Muncie. The funeral notices were sent out under the name of Margaret Riley. The notice read: "Mrs. Margaret Riley was born in Bedford County, Pa. October 23rd, 1793, died at the home of her son, Dr. A.J. Riley in Muncie, Indiana, Monday evening, Oct. 3rd, 1884, aged 87 years, 11 months, and 10 days. Her funeral will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5th at the grave yard near Windsor, Randolph County, at 2 o'clock P.M. The funeral cortege leaving Muncie at 8 o'clock A.M. The funeral services will be conducted by Rev. F.D. Simpson. The friends of the family are invited." The dates have to be wrong because if correct she died at 90. The burial places of Andrew and Margaret Riley are in the Clevenger Cemetery about a mile south of Windsor. The exact spots are no longer locatable. The lettering of the stones is mostly erased in this cemetery, vegetation has overgrown it and most tombstones are broken or at least half- buried.
Windsor might well have become the birth home of James Whitcomb Riley. Reuben Riley owned a lot there and was licensed to practice law there in 1842 but Riley's stay was short and he sold his lot in Windsor to Andrew West on August 18, 1842. After his father's death, Reuben had gone to a prairie village in Iowa, been admitted to the bar there, but had only achieved a very limited practice.
He subsequently returned to Randolph County. He was tall, black eyed and considered to be an eloquent debater.
Reuben Riley became re-acquainted with Elizabeth Marine at a Fourth of July gathering in Neeley's Woods, near Windsor, in 1843 after his return from Iowa. The occasion was a grand barbecue of pigs, an ox and five lambs. Reuben danced with Elizabeth and the two were said to have decided to get married instantly. Reuben Alexander Riley and Elizabeth (Marine) Riley, parents of the poet, were married March 15, 1844 at Union Port, Randolph county, by Rev. Thomas Leonard, minister of the Methodist church. Elizabeth's brother Jonathan and Emily Hunt stood up for the two. Elizabeth wore a pale pink silk wedding dress with a long white veil and white kid gloves and shoes. Her "in- air" dress was of gray poplin, and she wore a leghorn bonnet when she rode away with Reuben the next day.
They went immediately to Greenfield and occupied a log cabin. The marriage license of Reuben A. Riley and Elizabeth Marine was issued by the Clerk of the Randolph Circuit Court on the 18th of Feb. but they were not married until about a month later, March 15, 1844.
Elizabeth Marine Riley's father was John Marine. In the Riley family Bible she spells his last name M-E-R-I-N-E. John Marine's father was Jonathan Marine and his mother was Mary Charles who lived in the Carolinas. Mary Charles Marine died in Wayne County, Indiana, and was buried in Randolph County. Jonathan Marine was buried in the New Garden churchyard about nine miles from Richmond. Mary Charles Marine lived to be ninety-six years old. Elizabeth was the tenth in a family of 11 children anda descendent of persecuted French Huguenots and English Quakers. She claimed birth in Rockingham, North Carolina in 1823.
Probably Reuben Riley's first work was on his father's farm and in his tavern. Reuben Riley became the school teacher in the little one-room schoolhouse at the east end of Union Port on the south side of the road.
Soon after marriage the Rileys went to Greenfield to Hancock county to make their future home. Greenfield was at that time a little village of a few scattered log houses with puncheon floors and oil paper windows. Reuben Riley was said to have built the log cabin and equipped it with furniture which he had made. The main advantage of the site was that it was located on the National Road that stretched from Cumberland, Maryland across country to the trails to the Pacific Coast.
It was here in their original log cabin that their six children were born. The Riley children were John Andrew Riley, born Dec. 11, 1844 who married Julia Wilson and died Dec. 11, 1911; Martha Celestia Riley, born Feb. 21, 1847; James Whitcomb Riley, born Oct. 7, 1849 and died July 22, 1916 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Elva May Riley born Jan. 1856 and died in 1909 in Indianapolis, Indiana; Humboldt Alexander Riley born Oct. 15, 1858 and died Nov., 1887; and Mary Elizabeth Riley born Oct. 27, 1864 who married and divorced Frank C. Payne and died in 1936. There is speculation that James Whitcomb Riley's genius came from John Marine, the probable father of Elizabeth and an outstanding character in the early history of Randolph and Delaware counties.
John Marine loved poetry and, like his famous grandson, was said to have written his autobiography in rhyme. He also was said to write and write. He wrote a book, now lost, on religion urging all Christians to unite. He also wrote sermons in verse and delivered them to Methodist camp meetings. None of these works survive. John had lost his modest fortune speculating in weaver-sleighs two years after Elizabeth's birth and came to Indiana.
James Whitcomb Riley was one of those many great men who have been unusually fond of their mothers. There was the artist Whistler whose most famous work was a portrait of his mother. Then there was George Washington. No matter how far his surveying took him from Virginia, he kept in touch with Mary Washington. To this list, we must add James Whitcomb Riley whose primary love was Elizabeth Marine Riley, his lovely mother. His first poem was a valentine written to his mother. As a child, she had come in a one-horse buggy with her parents the 700 miles from North Carolina to Indiana. They came over the Cumberland Gap, the usual route through the Allegheny Mountains. Then on through the endless forests where all sorts of wild animals lurked. There were about 400 in their party which finally found its way to Randolph County Indiana. The party found only wilderness without any inhabitants or built up places or village. After brief stops at New Garden and one or two points in Wayne County, he settled with his family in Randolph County and built a cabin on a high bank of the Mississinewa River a few miles below Ridgeville and a mill nearby. James Whitcomb Riley thought that his mother had led an ideal life as a young person.
The Marine cabin was on the banks of a beautiful stream, called by an Indian name, the Mississiniwa River. James Whitcomb Riley's mother Elizabeth had grown to become a beautiful young woman. One of Elizabeth's interests was discovering new things. The Marines were flat boat builders, millers and poets. John laid out the defunct town of Rockingham on the Mississinewa and advertised lots in verse. It did no good. The town failed to attract settlers. John also was a preacher and teacher. He advocated the union of all churches, a dangerous thing to do in those days. He and the poet's grandmother, Margaret Riley, were leaders in the camp meetings of Randolph and Delaware Counties. William A. Thornburg, an elderly neighbor who remembered the Marines living nearby, told Marcus Dickey, an early Riley biographer, that "Elizabeth Marine was remarkably pure- minded. I never saw anyone so beautiful in a calico dress. She loved to wander along streams and wander in the green woods. She was always seeing things among the leaves." Elizabeth met Johnny Appleseed who planted apple cores among the settlements and liked to listen to listen to his accounts of his wanderings and his views on Christianity one of which was that folk do not die but "go right on living." Every boy has an early determination - a first one - to follow some exciting profession, once he grows up to man's estate, such as being a policemen or a performer on the high trapeze. Riley was not interested in these nor in being the "People's Laureate," but the Greenfield baker, had his fairy godmother granted his "boy-wish." Here is how Riley remembered his "wish" in his later life.
"AN IMPETUOUS RESOLVE" (1890)
When little Dickie Swope's a man, He's going to be a sailor;
To Riley, running a bakery "seemed the acme of delight,"using again his own expression. Happiness was "to manufacture those snowy loaves of bread, those delicious tarts, those toothsome bon-bons. And then to own them all, to keep them in store, to watch over and guardedly exhibit. The thought of getting money for them was to me a sacrilege. Sell them? No indeed. Eat `em - eat `em, by tray loads and dray loads! It was a great wonder to me why the pale-faced baker in our town did not eat all his good things. This I determined to do when I became owner of such a grand establishment. Yes, sir. I would have a glorious feast. Maybe I'd have Tom and Harry and perhaps little Kate and Florry in to help us once in a while. The thought of these playmates as `grown up folks' didn't appeal to me. I was but a child, with wide-open eyes, a healthy appetite and a wondering mind. That was all. But I have the same sweet tooth to-day, and every time I pass a confectioner's shop, I think of the big baker of our town, and Tom and Harry and the youngsters all."
Instead of his childhood wish to be a baker, James Whitcomb Riley became one of the great American poets.