Murder on the York Road

Image by Alicja from Pixabay

The year is 1861. George Lewis, a 47 year old man who is not too old but no longer young, is hauling freight in a wagon on the York Road outside of his home in Greenup, Illinois. Maybe he is hauling supplies like timber staves that are needed for his shop back home where he makes barrels, buckets, and casks. Perhaps he is thinking about his family: his beautiful wife Sarah, with her long red hair, or his new baby girl, Ezube, or maybe his oldest son, Jacob, already 14 and becoming quite the young man.

Watching his horses and the road, he is startled by a shout. He looks around and catches sight of some outlaw band of men, intent of robbing him of his money and his cargo. He shouts at the horses but too late – they are on him. Too quick for him, they seize his property and take his life, leaving George laying there lifeless on the road.

At their house, Sarah waits, along with 7 children, for a man that will never come home. The two youngest girls will never remember their father. Jacob will have to assume the responsibilities of the man of the house. Their 17 year old daughter, Mary, will have to help assume the burden.

This man is my great-great-great grandfather. I was aware for many years that he died relatively young in his forties. Was it an accident, I wondered. Did he succumb to cholera, typhus, diphtheria? Did he have a weak heart? I never knew. I just recorded the facts as I saw them. His last mention on a census was in 1860.

I do not yet know who his parents were. He was born in New York around 1816 and he migrated west to Steubenville, Ohio where he was a cooper, falling in love and marrying a woman named Sarah Neal. After a few children were born, the National Highway was calling out, promising a new life in a new state. This was the road that ran from Cumberland, Pennsylvania to Greenup, Illinois – the first federally funded road, since replaced by I-70 and US-40. The highway was popular in the 1840s and 1850s before the advent of the railroad and George and Sarah knew they could make a good home and prosper farther west in Greenup, Illinois, located in Cumberland County.

Upon looking at some Ancestry trees that included my George Lewis, I discovered that a couple of my cousins had mentioned George was murdered on the York Road. What?? I had never heard this story. My family members are great story tellers and surely they would have related this to me as I was growing up! I had to ask my uncle if this could possibly be true and he was skeptical. He had never heard the story before. He had to ask HIS uncle if this was true and surprise! My great-uncle said that yes, George Lewis was murdered by robbers while he was hauling freight on the York Road. He had never felt the need to tell us, apparently.

I had to soak that in! What a surprise. I had just made a post on social media that I didn’t have any murders in my family that I was aware of. Be careful what you say!

Have any of you been surprised by something you discovered in your family tree? Let me know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Murder on the York Road

  1. Great post! I’m surprised all of the time – that’s part of the fun of family history! I find newspaper research to bring out the best surprises. Of course, taking what’s written in the press has to be taken with a grain of salt, just as social media today, yes?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting story. Shame the robbers had to kill him. Wonder if it was someone he knew, and thus could identify? Or maybe he put up a fight, and things got out of hand. Were they ever caught? Lost in the mists of time.

    Liked by 1 person

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