Tombstone Tuesday: Thomas Jefferson Roach and His Sister Wives

TJRoachGraveDon’t let the title fool you.  I don’t mean to imply that “Sister Wives” (as in the TLC reality show of the same name) means that the subject of today’s article, Thomas Jefferson Roach, was a polygamist.  Quite the contrary, since according to family history Thomas was of the Baptist faith.  Rather, he was married multiple times – five to be exact – and of the five wives, four (two sets) were sisters.

Thomas Jefferson Roach was born on August 25, 1825 in Orange County, Virginia to parents William and Jincey (or Tinsey) Roach.  On January 27, 1845 Thomas married Alice Farish in Caroline County, Virginia.  Census records indicate that their first child, Eugenia, was born around 1849.  By 1860 the family had migrated from Virginia to Cherokee County, Texas.  Their oldest son, George W., was nine years old that year and had been born in Virginia.  The next child, John, was six years old and had been born in Texas.  So, presumably the family migrated sometime between 1851 and 1854.  Two more children, Robert (4) and Mary K. (six months old) were also enumerated in 1860.

According to Cherokee County History, published in 1986, Thomas owned and operated a sawmill on Tail’s Creek in Pine Town (now Maydelle).  From November of 1856 to April of 1860 he was the Postmaster of Pine Town, this in addition to farming.  In 1855 he had been named a squire which meant he could perform wedding ceremonies.

There is no official record of Alice’s death, but family historians believe that she died around 1861 en route to Virginia, perhaps to visit her mother, Clementine, who had been widowed in 1845 when her husband George Buckner Farish passed away.  Family historians presume that Alice was buried along the way in an unmarked grave.  One source, The Tracings  (Volume 14, No. 2, July 1995), indicates that Alice appears on the Mortality Schedule with a death date of April 1860.  That is not possible, however, since she was alive and well on July 23 in Cherokee County for the 1860 census.

Although I could find no official records, again family historians estimate that Thomas married his first “sister wife” in 1862, Sallie, who was Alice’s younger sister.  In 1860, Sallie was still single and living with Clementine in Caroline County, Virginia.  Sallie was available and Thomas needed a wife to raise his children.  The couple are said to have returned to Texas at some point, although it isn’t clear when that took place.

According to family history and Cherokee County History, Thomas served during the Civil War.  The Tracings article states that Thomas was serving with the Texas 35th Cavalry, Company F, under the command of Captain John T. Wiggins.  I could not, however, find such a record, not even at Fold3.

It appears that Sallie died during the time Thomas was away and perhaps he discovered her passing upon his return from the war.  Where the children lived and were cared for during this period of time is unknown, although some records indicate that other members of the Farish family had at some point migrated to Texas.

On February 14, 1865, Thomas married his third wife, Mary Josephine Broome in Cherokee County.  The Tracings notes that two children born early in their marriage did not survive.  Around 1869 their son Eugene was born and in 1871 another son, Gus Wallace, was born.

There is no official record of Josephine’s death, but on March 23, 1876 Thomas was married a fourth time to Elizabeth Bobbitt.  Again, family historians report that Elizabeth and her twins died in childbirth, presumably in 1877.

On November 14, 1877 Thomas married his second “sister wife,” Kate Bobbitt, who was Elizabeth’s half-sister.  According to census records, Kate would have been at least twenty-five years younger than Thomas.  By the time they were married, most of Thomas’ children were grown – only Eugene and Wallace, his children from his marriage to Josephine, remained with their father.

To their family, Thomas and Kate added three more children: Nannie (November 1880), Thomas Jefferson (December 1884) and James (December 1886).  Thomas continued to farm in Cherokee County and in 1881 took on the additional duties of Notary Public, which according to Cherokee County History, Texas Governor Oran M. Roberts had appointed him to that office.

Thomas Jefferson Roach died on February 14, 1891 in Maydelle, Cherokee County, Texas.  He was buried in what is today known as the Roach Cemetery in Maydelle.  His sons Eugene and Gus Wallace are buried there as are their wives and two of his grandchildren.  Kate, the only one of Thomas’ wives to outlive him, married John T. Jones on December 17, 1900 and died in Rusk (Cherokee County) Texas in 1919.

Today’s article demonstrates very clearly the dangers faced by pioneers who left the comfort of their settled homes in places like Virginia, the Carolinas, Alabama, and Mississippi and joined hundreds of others who had “gone to Texas” during the great migration that took place in the first half of the nineteenth century.  With very few doctors to tend the sick and mothers in childbirth many deaths occurred, leaving widows and widowers and motherless, fatherless children behind.  Just a fact of life in those days and worthy of our awe and respect today.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.

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