Learning the Story of Old Joseph Pryor in White County, TN (With a Little Help from Abraham Lincoln)

abraham-lincolnFor years I’ve pondered over an 1813 entry in the court minutes of White County, TN. Joseph Pryor, described as “aged and infirm”, was in the care of Robert Armstrong. Who was Robert Armstrong? A relative? The owner of the Poor House? Well, I now know more about Robert Armstrong and his connection to Old Joseph.

On a spring day in May 1846 Nancy Armstrong, the widow of Robert Armstrong, made her application for a widow’s pension for her husband’s Revolutionary War service.  She returned for a hearing before a Judge on December 4th. Afterwards, something transpired (maybe she was told to get a character witness?) that caused Mrs. Armstrong on the following day, December 5th –a Saturday, to give an additional statement. She sat down with Congressman-elect Abraham Lincoln who duly took her statement and attested to it.

I’ll get to the points about Robert Armstrong in a bit, however this moment with Abraham Lincoln is to be savored. Imagine Mr. Lincoln who was 37 years old, his second son was a baby, and at the time Lincoln had not yet grown his famous beard. I can see the lanky, younger Lincoln sitting with Mrs. Armstrong who was in her 80’s, a contrast in age and appearance. He wrote in his own handwriting the story Mrs. Armstrong told of her husband in his youth serving in the Revolution in the stead of his father– losing his  horse and coat in battle. The story of a soldier who fought to form the United States and and then there’s the future story of the Civil War that we all know would unfold for Mr. Lincoln in the next decades.  http://revwarapps.org/r259.pdf

There’s an interesting article about Nancy Green Armstrong (Robert’s widow) on Find A Grave. It states her first child was Bowling Green and that he was a Lincoln’s friend and consoled Lincoln after the death of Anne Rutledge in 1835. The pension application states: “Mr. Lincoln knew her and her husband Robert — that they lived together as man & wife in Menard County” (formerly Sangamon County). It sounds like they knew each other.

Ahhhh…. I love it when history collides with genealogy.

In November 1786 Robert Armstrong received a North Carolina land grant in Greene County, TN.  Joseph Pryor also received a NC land grant in Greene County in 1791. Joseph’s  land bordered Aquilla Sherrill.

Through the work of Katherine Russell and others who are from the line of John Pryor, we know that he was married to Ruth, the daughter of Aquilla Sherrill (she was “Ruth Pryer” in Aquilla’s will). John Pryor is on the 1830 Census in Sangamon County, IL and on the same page is Royal Armstrong (the widow’s application confirms Royal is Robert Armstrong’s son). There is even an older male and an older female in Royal’s household who are likely Robert and Nancy.

Both John Pryor and the Armstrongs have a history in White County, TN. John is on the 1816 Tax List and the 1820 Census. John Pryor was on the 1812 Tax List in a district which included Jesse Armstrong (another son of Robert Armstrong).

I also suspect that the William Pryor in White County is also connected to John Pryor and Robert Armstrong.  Robert Armstrong and William Pryor were joint defendants of a suit filed in White County in 1812.

There is still no explanation as to why Joseph Pryor was in the care of Armstrong and not a relative. Widow Armstrong stated that “he (Robert Armstrong) was one of the County Court in Tennessee State and was a Magistrate in this County” which indicates he was a person of high regard in both White County and Sangamon County.

This kind of new information drives me crazy. I had pretty much resolved to go with the flow– the tide of Richard and Mourning Pryor researchers who feel that William of White County was the “heir” named William in the 1811 settlement of Richard’s estate in Logan County, KY. Old Joseph was in White County, William of White County named his first son Joseph– what’s the relationship? The Armstrongs took care of Old Joseph and went to Illinois with John Pryor’s family– I’ve got to wonder if there was kinship between the Pryors and Armstrongs.

We are hot on the trail of Old Joseph Pryor. More in my next post.