William and Mary Graham are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter Damey Catherine Graham to James Thomas Ross, son of James Meredith and Nancy Shepherd. James and Damey were married 9 August 1887 in Hiwassie, Pulaski, Virginia.
I am stepping into a bit of a minefield in writing this biography because there is such a wide variety of opinions on the history of this family. The stories I have were handed down and cannot be verified. Some claim to have documents but I have been unable to obtain copies of these documents for various reasons. These purported documents are family records and the public records I cannot find. Therefore, hopefully documentation will come forward and this post will be altered as that information presents itself. Poor Damey, not much conversation is available about her because there is so little controversy.
The picture above is of James Ross Meredith, or I assume he was called that at that time. James Thomas Meredith was born to Nancy Adeline Shepherd 22 September 1869 in Snowville, Virginia.
In 1951, a few months before his death, James was interviewed by his granddaughter, Donna Beachell. She indicated his mind was very clear. He indicated to Donna that he was born out of wedlock and that his real father was James Meredith. He said he was born in Snowville, Virginia. He also said this James Meredith adopted him when he was about 4 years old and raised him. He said the courts gave him the name James Thomas Ross Meredith.
The records of Pulaski County indicate this:
“Order Book 5, page 25
September 2, 1873
On the motion of Anderson Linkous, Overseer of the Poor for High Wassie Township for an order to bind James Ross aged 3 years son of Nancy Ross who has become a county charge and it appearing to the Court that said James Ross is now a county charge. It is ordered that said Overseer of the Poor bind out according to Law to James Meredith the said James Ross son of Nancy Ross aged 3 years until he attains the age of 21 years and besides teaching him reading, writing and arithmetic said Meredith shall be required to pay the said James Ross upon his attaining the age of 21 years the sum of 100 dollars.”
The courts recognized him as James Ross, probably after his mother’s married name. I have been unable to locate a birth record for him under either name.
He was almost 5 years old when Nancy Ross went into the poorhouse, or at least when the county gave little James to old James Meredith. I am not sure why they thought he was 3. Although some records have him born in 1869, and if this was correct, he was just shy of his 4th birthday. But I will stick with the birthday that he gave during his life.
The county placed James Ross into the charge of James Meredith until he was 21 years of age. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to ask when this James Meredith was born. We also do not know when this old James Meredith died, or if he raised him until he was 21 (and paid the $100). After James and Damey married, John Phibbs (brother-in-law to Fanny Ross) remembered visiting the family in West Virginia and that James’ mother, Nancy lived with her son and daughter-in-law, James and Damey, for much of the time the family lived in West Virginia. Apparently Nancy was strong enough to carry in heavy sacks of coal and potatoes by herself. This probably would have been the turn of the 20th century since they were in West Virginia. No mention is made of old James Meredith who was the father and supposedly raised him. Nancy must have kept contact through the years, lived close enough, or even got little James back. We have so many holes to fill with information that we will likely never have.
Clarita Morgan, a researcher in Pulaski County in the 1970’s wrote to Donna and told her it was not uncommon for ladies to be placed in the poorhouse for having a child out of wedlock. These women were considered a menace and a burden to the community. At any rate, Nancy Shepherd Ross lived an especially hard life. It is hard to put ourselves into their scene or time without many more facts.
When James married Damey, the marriage certificate has J. R. Mearideth. Yet, when all the children were born, James and Damey gave them each the Ross name (or so it seems). Damey died under the Ross name and no records indicate she ever went by the Meredith name. James is listed as a farmer.
When James went to the LDS temple on 20 June 1935, he gave his name as James Thomas Ross born 22 September at Snowville, Pulaski, Virginia. He gave his father as James Thomas Ross and mother as Nancy Shepard. He also gave his baptismal date as 17 April 1898. Nothing in any of the records provide any evidence of a James Thomas Ross to be his father, and either the recorder at the Temple put the wrong last name, or James made a mistake because he seems to have clearly known his father was James Meredith (was his father’s middle name really Thomas?). When Fanny went to the LDS temple on 20 June 1923 she said her parents were James F Ross (misread?) and Damy C Graham.
Now, having said all that, one of the difficulties is that there are tons of James Merediths who lived in Pulaski County, Virginia. In the 1880 Census, little James Meredith is living with elder James Meredith who was born in 1804 and the family lived in Hiwassie. It is not uncommon for a 65 year old man to have a child. However, elder James Meredith has a family of 10 children with his wife. In that census, only elder and little James are shown as living together. Elder James’ wife, Sarah (Sallie) Jane Bell Meredith, is “ill” and living with their daughter Sarah Jane Meredith Elkins. I want to speculate but will not.
For years it was thought that James and Sarah Meredith’s son, James Anderson Meredith, was the father of our James Thomas Meredith. But this was easily resolved in that James Anderson Meredith died in 1864 in a battle at Lexington, Lexington, Virginia, four or five years before little James Meredith was born. Others thought that James Meredith, the son of Hugh Meredith Jr elder James Meredith’s brother, was the father. He is four years older than Nancy and their ages seem more conducive to a relationship. But, we are unable to track him down and prove anything for certain. But one thing is sure, elder James Meredith told the census taker in 1880 that little James Meredith was his son. I guess we have to move forward with that record as the basis for our assumptions. Would the Uncle (elder James Meredith) of James Meredith (Hugh Jr’s son) ruin his good name by claiming little James Meredith as his own to save the name of his nephew? I just do not know, but the census gives documentation of a relationship (we all know how terrible the census records are for accuracy other than names of family members and location of living). (Some of my original research and ruminating on these issues can be found here.)
This begs the question of why 27 year old Nancy would have intimate relations with 65 year old and married to another elder James. Ms. Morgan above said it was not uncommon for servants living in the home to be taken advantage of by the homeowner. But we have no evidence that Nancy was a servant in their home. If he did this and kicked her out, it could account for her being in the poorhouse and his reclaiming the child in court. But we have nothing to support the notion Ms. Morgan suggests.
Well, if this is not enough to confuse the matter, lets jump back in time before James was born to where Nancy married Harvy D Ross 7 June 1860 in Pulaski, Pulaski, Virginia. She married Harvy at 19 years old. On 9 September 1861, Harvy enlisted in Company F, 54th Infantry Regiment Virginia for the Confederacy. He left for military service and we have few details of when he returned. She bore James Meredith in 1868 and as far as we know, Harvy had not yet returned from the war. By 1870 Harvy was back living in Alum Ridge, Floyd, Virginia after the Civil War. We do not know when he left Virginia for the “west”. William Andrew Ross was born on 10 October 1873 in Snowville. The birth index for Pulaski County lists William as a bastard, but his death certificate lists Harvy Ross as the father! (Death certificates are highly unreliable for parental information.) But why they were not back living together in 1870, we do not know. He was back in the area and could very well be the father of William. I just wish we had more information. He supposedly moved to Tennessee or Kentucky and passed away there, never having anything to do with his son William, if he really is the father. William was raised by Nancy and was told by her that Harvy was his father. William never had a memory of meeting his father.
Now that I have given more history of Nancy Adeline Shepherd in this biography of her son and daughter-in-law, we can move on. Our documentation is weak of who little James Meredith’s father is and where he was until he married Damey. Although, I should mention that a cousin, Jim Ross, who claims he is in possession of the journals of James Meredith (or Ross) indicates that he was raised by elder James Meredith to believe that elder James was actually his father. Well, rephrased, he never had any doubt elder James Meredith was his father. Therefore, we move forward on that assumption even though I have only hearsay from a cousin (as I cannot get a copy of the book) and an 1880 census record.
Damey Catherine Graham was born 25 November 1874 in Pulaski, Pulaski, Virginia to William and Mary Graham. William, her father, was a laborer on farms who moved to the mines. As a miner he moved where the best paying jobs for mining were located. In Virginia, the family worked in the iron mines. Damey met James and probably knew him and his family growing up. Hiwassie appears to be a very small town, even today. I cannot imagine that James and Damey did not know each other growing up. The two married in 1887 and began to raise their family. All four children were born in Virginia.
Robert Leonard Ross was born 25 April 1888 in Draper, Pulaski, Virginia.
John “Jack” William Ross was born 2 September 1890 in Pulaski, Pulaski, Virginia. Read more about John at this link: Ross-Sharp Wedding
Fanny Elizabeth Ross was born 18 November 1893 in Reed Island, Pulaski, Virginia. Read more about Fanny at this link: Calvin and Fanny Phibbs
James Thomas Ross was born 19 October 1895 in Radford, Montgomery, Virginia.
Damey chose to be baptized into the LDS faith 27 February 1898 (a few months before James). Family tradition holds it was in West Virginia but does not seem to hold up with the rest of the story. James and Damey were supposed to have followed her family to West Virginia to the mines. James and Damey do not seem to appear on the 1900 Census but Damey’s family were still in Hiwassie on the 15 June 1900. Damey’s family moved shortly after 1900 to West Virginia to work in the coal mines of McDowell County. James and Damey (and James’ brother, William) followed and were living in McDowell County, West Virginia for sure in 1906 when Fanny married Calvin Dickerson Phibbs in Welch, McDowell, West Virginia. The first three children all married in McDowell County. James Jr returned to Mayberry, Carroll, Virginia in 1913 to marry his wife. On 10 May 1910, James and Damey were living in Big Creek, McDowell, West Virginia.
James and Damey Ross left Pulaski County about 1913 or 1914 and headed to settle in Rupert, Minidoka, Idaho. James confirmed his brother a member of the LDS church 26 October 1913, so it had to be after that date. As mentioned above, Fanny had married Calvin Phibbs and most of the Phibbs family of Virginia had moved out to Rupert in 1912. The opening of the new farm land in Minidoka and Cassia Counties, a new sugar factory at Burley, Cassia, Idaho, and an economic downturn in McDowell County propelled the move for both families. Robert, John, and James Jr followed later as it does not appear any of the children went with James and Damey when they left.
James & Damey Ross
James and Damey set up house in Rupert for a time probably living with Calvin and Fanny until they could find and afford a suitable place to live. We do not know exactly where James and Damey lived for much of their time in Idaho because they appear to have rented. Robert listed his parents as living in Idahome, Cassia, Idaho when he registered for the World War I draft in 1918. That fall, James and Damey apparently moved to Paul, Minidoka, Idaho to work on the first sugar beet campaign of the newly built sugar factory in Paul. They remained there until about 1926. Robert married Rose Sanders (nee Clawson?) in Burley, Cassia, Idaho in 1919. John met Ethel Sharp Streeter in Paul while visiting his parents in 1919 and married her in early 1920. James and Damey somehow fail to appear on the 1920 Census, or their names are transcribed incorrectly. James settled in Vernal, Uintah, Utah and attempted a short move to Rupert in 1922-23 to be closer to family before moving back to Vernal. Milo Ross, James and Damey’s grandson, remembers his grandparents living on the north side of the tracks in Paul when he lived there 1925-1926.
In 1925, James and Damey’s daughter-in-law, Ethel Sharp Ross passed away. John, their son, sought work and James and Damey took in all four of the children of Ethel. The baby, Earnest Jackson Ross, died in September in Rupert, where he was being tended by the Phibbs. By the spring of 1926, James and Damey were impoverished enough that they asked Ethel’s family to come get the children from Paul. Apparently shortly after, the family moved again.
By 2 April 1930, James and Damey had moved to Bend, Deschutes, Oregon. Robert apparently lived in the area and Robert’s son, Orson Lee Ross, was also living with James and Damey. Robert is in Portland but appears to not live there, so this home in Bend may have been Robert’s or James and Damey were tending Orson, who was 9. Robert later died in Bend in 1944.
Beulah and Damey Ross
James’ journals indicate they lived in Merced, Merced, California for most of the 1930’s. Damey passed away in Marysville, Yuba, California 3 February 1933 of colon cancer. Her death notice in Rupert indicates she died after an operation for cancer of the stomach. She had been in the hospital for five months previous to that. The obituary also mentions that John lived in Manteca, San Joaquin, California, James in Lapoint, Uintah, Utah, and Robert in Marysville. Fanny was still living in Rupert.
James returned to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah and on 20 June 1935 he was endowed, saw Damey’s proxy ordinance work was completed, and was sealed to her.
By about 1936, James was back visiting family in the east. He spoke at a Conference of the LDS church that had met in Grundy County, Tennessee. James spoke that morning to the assembled crowd. That same day, James’ nephew, Howard Ross was baptized. These conferences were a big deal because it was an all day event for James’ brother’s family to travel all the way from Gary, West Virginia to Tennessee, spend the day in meetings, and then go home. Howard remembers meeting “Uncle Jim” for the first time that day. Many people enjoyed the sermon he gave and came up to give their commendation to William and Sarah on his fine speech. William’s wife, Sarah, had to set them right, that it was William’s brother, James who delivered the sermon. Howard did not hear the sermon because in those days unbaptized children were not allowed into the meetings and even though he was to be baptized that day, he was not baptized yet.
“Uncle Jim” returned with the family to West Virginia and stayed for a couple of weeks. James was so disappointed that the family did not have a cow for milk that he went out and purchased one for the family while he was there. When James left, he took and sold the cow too. The family recalled how rare it was for them to have milk, and it was many years before they would have it again. James was also noted by the family for his girth and the sheer capacity to each large amounts of food. Howard thought he must have pushed to near 300 pounds. Howard also remembers that Uncle Jim was missing a finger and upon asking, James indicated that he had been bit by a spider and that the Dr. took off the finger to save his life because the finger had started to rot.
The story goes that James married while he was visiting the family in West Virginia. Family history records have James marrying Etta on 6 June 1936 in Snowville, Virginia. However, later information indicates this was Henrietta Fountain who was born in Sacramento, Sacramento, California and died in Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona. How she met James and why they would have married in Virginia does not add up, especially where she was from the west. A cousin has the marriage in Sacramento which seems much more accurate. A death certificate at some point will rest the case. Her full maiden name was Henrietta Fountain and she was a widow of Charles Henry Lowell in 1925. She died in 1946 according to the memories of Milo Ross and he is accurate.
James and Etta relocated to Lakeport, Lake, California after their marriage. Lakeport was a town for the wealthy and Ms. Etta must have brought the money into the marriage. It was here that James applied for Social Security 4 November 1937. Due to the requirements he use his legal name, James went by James Ross Meredith the remainder of his life. He began receiving his benefits 6 January 1938. On 21 April 1938 he received a letter indicating he would have to have been a resident of California 15 years to receive the payments and no further payments were made.
James then married a widow by the name of Nora Brewer. Her full maiden name was Martha Elnora Cackler and her late husband, Daniel Gordon Brewer, had passed away in 1943. James and Martha were married in Fresno, Fresno, California 14 July 1947. She had been born in 1877 in Iowa and died in Fresno in 1974, just short of 100 years old.
James lived until 13 April 1951 when he passed away in Fresno. He was buried in Belmont Memorial in Fresno. The last few years of his life, he took back the Meredith name. Milo Ross, his grandson, indicates this was for Social Security benefits which had to be claimed under the birth name. Either way, his tombstone reads James R Meredith. His last letter to Donna Beachell was signed James Ross Meredith.
When he passed away in 1951, he was living at 344 Theta Street in Fresno the home of his widow. One last thing, apparently while living in Fresno, he served as a Bishop of the LDS church. We do not know when or where, but several lines of the family were all aware of this. More information will be needed to share more. The fact he was called upon to speak at a conference of the church in Tennessee seems to show he held some position but we don’t know anything more.
Update, we visited James’ grave in 2019.
Paul, Aliza, and Hiram Ross at the grave of James Thomas Ross, aka James R Meredith