Stephen Paul was born in Robeson, North Carolina around 1836 to parents John H. and Mary (Wise) Paul. John and Mary had both been born in North Carolina and after they married in 1825 they produced a large family. By 1850 there were thirteen children enumerated, ranging from William (25) down to Catherine (3) – in the middle of the pack was Stephen, age 14.
It’s likely that the Paul family had departed North Carolina sometime between 1848 and 1850, settling in Henry County, Tennessee where they were enumerated in 1850. Around the age of twenty, young Stephen Paul was married to fourteen year-old Narcissa Ann Gresham (spelled Grissum on their marriage record) in Carter County, Missouri, where the Paul family had migrated to following the 1850 census.
The young couple settled into their home near both of their parents – Stephen’s family was “next door” and Narcissa’s parents just a couple of residences away. Their daughter Mary Jane was born in 1858, named after her grandmother. In 1860, sometime after that year’s census was enumerated in Carter County, their son Thomas Benton, named for Stephen’s brother, was born.
Of course, this was a volatile period of American history with the Civil War on the horizon. Essentially, a “pre-Civil War” had already been waged for several years as the issue of whether Kansas would be admitted as a free or slave state raged there and in Washington, D.C. (see my two-part series here and here).
Missouri, while considered a slave or “border” state, did not join the southern slave states in secession. In a sense they were “neutral”, sending troops to both sides – over one hundred thousand to the Union and almost forty thousand to the Confederacy.
Carter County was more sympathetic to the Confederacy, but the Union Army of Southeast Missouri was encamped in the area. The office of Provost Marshal served as military police in the area, rounding up various lawbreakers, both military and civilian. According to the Tennessee State Library and Archives:
The provost marshals were the Union’s military police. They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property. In some instances, provost courts were set up to try cases that fell under the provost marshal’s jurisdiction and those cases where military personnel were accused of civil crimes.
By 1870, Narcissa was married to Charles Crowley and her children were listed as Thomas Crowley and Mary Crowley (although they in fact did maintain their birth surnames – wrong assumption perhaps by census taker). What happened to Stephen?
Missouri’s Union Provost Marshal Papers: 1861-1866 provide at least a partial answer. According to those records, Stephen had been accused of stealing stock in neighboring Wayne County. His alleged accomplices were Mark Gill, Stephen’s older brother Frank and Finas L. Sweeny.
Apparently Carter County Sheriff Gardiner tipped off the Provost Marshal’s office and a hunt for them was led by a man named Solomon Daniel Crites. Found online at Missouri’s Digital Heritage web site, this is the record:
As you can see, unfortunately, the record is undated, but it appears that the accused were all about to be punished by hanging. While the date is unclear, a letter exists which purports to have been written sometime in 1861 by Stephen, just prior to receiving the punishment for a crime he says he didn’t commit (click to enlarge):
I’m not entirely sure the letter was written in 1861 given the inclusion of the Provost Marshal’s record (see the record above). Another event involving Solomon Daniel Crites, with a mention of Captain Leeper had occurred in November 1863 and the record is located on the same microfiche reel as Stephen’s record with an unknown date.
Over the years, family researchers have searched for answers as to what happened to Stephen. Here are a few of their theories and family legends gleaned from Genealogy.com message boards:
- Stephen was believed to have been personally hung by Union Captain William T. Leeper, leader of “corrupt military men.”
- Some family member was in possession at one time of Stephen’s letter, wallet and a family Bible. Who has them now is unclear to me, but at one point the items were purported to be archived or stored somewhere in St. Louis, either in a safe deposit box or housed at a college.
There was, of course, no death certificate and likely no record of any kind. Where he is buried is a mystery, although it appears that perhaps his death may have occurred in Wayne County. Narcissa married Reverend Charles F. Crowley on February 18, 1866 and together they had five children of their own. Narcissa died on January 11, 1927 in St. Francois County, Missouri.
Interestingly, a town in Wayne County was later named for W.T. Leeper. Leeper had come to Wayne County from Kentucky in 1857 and purchased 225 acres of land. Apparently, according to at least one source, Leeper was opposed to Missouri joining the Confederacy. He joined the Missouri Militia, became a captain and led a band of men who hunted down Southern sympathizers.
The source goes on to describe actions such as mass killings of unarmed men, burning homes, even a massacre at Mingo Swamp which perhaps Leeper and his men participated in. If true, then Leeper was ruthless and a “take-no-prisoners” sort of guy.
Since Leeper was a Union man, it’s quite likely Stephen Paul may have been a Confederate sympathizer (I could find no records indicating Stephen had ever joined the military). After the war, W.T. Leeper coerced the Iron Mountain Railroad to lay its tracks across his property, something which he eventually benefited from. Indeed, on his death certificate it is recorded that he, at the age of eighty-nine years old, was a farmer and a capitalist who died of senility.
Given these details about Captain Leeper, perhaps the family researcher theories are correct – Stephen Paul, innocent or not, may have been killed by a man who led a vigilante-type band of Union soldiers, who appears to have essentially gotten away with murder throughout the Civil War.
My cousin, Laura Crowley, posted Stephen’s letter on Facebook a few nights ago which gave me the idea for researching his story. Narcissa Ann Gresham Crowley is her husband’s great-great-great grandmother. Turned out to be quite interesting, don’t you think?
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!