Pleasant Taylor and the Fentress County Witchcraft Trial

A Halloween Tale From Old Tennessee

I was looking for information on Spicy Taylor Pryor of Overton County and thought I had stumbled upon her brother Pleasant Taylor. This isn’t really Pryor information, but I thought it was kind of interesting and am passing it along.

There was a Pleasant Taylor in Fentress County who wasn’t Spicy’s brother but a son Isaac Taylor and a grandson of George Taylor. George was a Revolutionary War veteran from VA and there is information on his family in the pension application filed by his wife. His wife was Catherine (last name unknown) and they married in Greene County, TN in 1782 and that George died in about 1797—he died of what sounds like a heart attack at about 37 to 40 years of age.

Revolutionary War service is interesting but maybe not as interesting as old-time, hill-folk medicine and spells? I found an article in August 8th, 1831 New York Evening Post.  It’s titled Witchcraft and was originally published in the Nashville Herald on 22nd July, 1831. It speaks of young women in Fentress County who experienced possessions (similar to the days of the Salem witch trials).  A Miss Rebecca French was the only woman who didn’t recover from the reported tremors, so the local witch doctors were called. And who were these witch doctors? Isaac Taylor and his son Pleasant Taylor! 

I have to stop for a moment to ponder. — What the heck was going on in Fentress County that made this a large enough story for the Nashville papers and then brought  the story into a big New York City newspaper! Good grief, what the east coast folks must have thought of the people out in Tennessee!

It talks about a Mr. Stout who brought a buckeye rope to Miss French’s house and her symptoms resumed. I’m presuming folks thought there was a magical power in buckeye rope or that Mr. Stout had put a hex on it. Rebecca French “procured a warrant” against Stout for witchcraft—that sounds like criminal proceedings to me.  Stout took out a warrant against the Taylors. Rebecca didn’t show up to court so court costs were levied on her. Isaac Taylor was found guilty in the suit brought by Stout and his case at the time of the newspaper account had gone to the circuit court.

I tried to ID the parties. The Taylors were easy through George Taylor’s pension file and the 1830 Census.  Isaac Taylor is on page 8. There was a William Stout counted on page 8.  The newspaper article states Charles Staunton originally filed charges against Stout—Charles Stanton is on page 8 with Stout and Isaac Taylor.

Two French families were counted on page 9: Joseph and Martin L. were heads of households. The newspaper article describes Rebecca French as 40 years old—Joseph French has a woman in his house age 60 to 70 and another age 30 to 40, who may be Rebecca. There’s a Revolutionary War pension application filed by Joseph French in 1832 which states he was the father of Rebecca French.

I wondered what became of everyone after the trial—did they pick up stakes and move away? I found Charles Staunton (back to spelling in the news article) on page 15 of the 1840 Census of Fentress County.  Martin French was counted in Overton County.  Isaac Taylor was still in Fentress county in 1840, living near Spicy Taylor Pryor’s brother Hezekiah Taylor (Isaac and Hezekiah were counted on the same page among many of Spicy’s Garrett relatives).  I found no signs of Rebecca French; neither on the 1840 nor on the 1850 Census. William Stout was in Overton County in 1840, no longer near Isaac Taylor or Charles Staunton. I wonder if the county lines changed or if people moved.

I’m still wondering if there was a connection between the two Taylor families. They were both from VA. They both had sons named Pleasant. They both lived in close proximity of each other on the 1840 Census.

Vanessa Wood © 2005 - 2014
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1930 Pryor Murder in Morgan County, IN

26 September 1930 a report in The Indianapolis News reported the investigation of the suspicious death of Carrie Thelma Pryor of Martinsville. Her husband, who had taken out a $3000 life insurance policy on her life was being questioned after arsenic was discovered in her system.

The Pryors appear on the 1930 Census in Martinsville
Ernest T. Pryor 31 born in IN, both parents born in IN, Thelma 21 born in IL, son Francis 2 10/12, and cousin Elsie Hamm age 25. The news account reported that Elsie was Thelma’s first cousin.

What happened to Earnest? What happened to young Francis?  I didn’t find them on the 1940 Census. The same newspaper reported on October 2nd that Earnest Pryor made a full confession and plead guilty.

Perhaps this will help someone find some Pryors missing from their family tree.

Vanessa Wood © 2005 - 2014
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Elizabeth Prior, Death At The Hands of A Serial Killer (1919)

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James P Watson, serial bigamist and serial killer. Mug shot courtesy of Ancestry.com

It looks like we may have some information on another Pryor who disappeared from records. I’m not sure if she was a Prior by marriage or birth, however there’s an Elizabeth Prior who is reported to have been murdered.  She was murdered by J. P. Watson who The Oregon Daily Journal described as an “arch-murderer” and “super-bigamist”. The article published on 11 May 1920 states he was known by many aliases and was accused of killing 9 wives and many more.  His real name was reported to be Joseph Gillman, yet his record from San Quentin (see image above) stated his surname as Gillian. Included in the long list of multiple wives and murders was Elizabeth Prior who was killed with a hammer near Plum Station, WA.

This nasty convict died almost 20 years later at San Quentin, CA and is buried in the “Boot Hill” cemetery on the premises. There’s a post on Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=112945633). Which quotes the Idaho Post from 1919:

Elizabeth Prior of Wallace, Idaho, married March 15, 1919, at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, skull crushed with a sledge hammer and body buried near Plum station, Wash., where it was found.

There’s a marriage for an Elizabeth Prior on 25 March 1919 in Kootenai, ID to a Milton Lewis.  There were no ages on the marriage record, however the record states that both the bride and groom were from Sacarmento, CA. Did we just find another alias for J.P. Watson? Appears so. Crimezzz.net has an article on J. P. Watson (yes, under the section “Serial Killers”). It also gives this same marriage date. 

Got any ideas of who this Elizabeth Pryor might be?

Vanessa Wood © 2005 - 2014
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