Tragedy Buried in Maxwell Family Cemeteries

Everyone in Doddridge County knows the name Maxwell. In the 1800s the Maxwell family was synonymous with land, cattle and wealth. But just like their neighbors of much lesser means, the Maxwells suffered great tragedy in those perilous years when life was hard and epidemics were rife. But the Franklin and Williams Maxwell families, despite the advantages of their great wealth and social positions, seem to have suffered more than most. The trail of their tragedies leads to their respective family cemeteries. But first, the compelling stories of some of those buried within.

Franklin Maxwell (1814-1892)

Franklin Maxwell, son of Abner Maxwell and Susan Davisson, was born June 16, 1814 in Harrison County. He was the nephew of Congressman Lewis Maxwell, who left him a large portion of his estate when he died in 1862. Franklin was a farmer, but most of his wealth came from being a successful cattleman. He and his wife, Frances Jane Reynolds, had eleven children between 1840 and 1861. All were born in present-day Doddridge County.

Taken at Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

Taken at Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

The 1860 Census shows the value of Franklin Maxwell's real estate to be $50,000, and the value of his personal estate to be $8,000. By the time of the 1870 Census, those values had risen to $80,000 and $40,000. We can assume that a portion of that increased wealth came from the estate of his uncle, Lewis Maxwell.

 

Franklin Maxwell Slaveholder

Franklin Maxwell was also the largest slaveholder in Doddridge County. In 1850 he was reported in the U.S. Census Slave Schedule as owning the following slaves:

1 black male, age 46

1 black female, age 23

1 mulatto female, age 3

1 black female, age 1

 

By 1860 the one-year-old slave appears to have died or been sold. Three additional slaves were either purchased or born to the adult slaves, because according to the U.S. Census Slave Schedule the following slaves belonged to Franklin Maxwell in 1860:

1 black male, age 56

1 black female, age 30

1 black female, age 12

1 black male, age 10

1 black female, age 8

1 black female, age 5

 

In Minnie Kendall Lowther's book, History of Ritchie County, she writes that Franklin Maxwell helped many poor laborers to obtain homes of their own by permitting them to live on his lands and giving them time to make payments, provided that they were honest and industrious.

 

Early Deaths of Children

Franklin and Frances Jane endured the pain of burying seven of their children; Rector (37), Dexter (infant), Hattie (37), Mary (5), Franklin P. (22), Frances (19), and Susie (22). No death records can be found for six of the seven children who died young, so their causes of death are unknown. Frances died of consumption in 1878.

 

Perhaps Susie died as a result of an accident that occurred about a year prior to her death. The following article appeared in the February 7, 1882 issue of The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer:

 

“Yesterday Prosecuting Attorney C. H. Scott, of Randolph county, accompanied by Miss Susie Maxwell, the charming daughter of Senator Maxwell, of Doddridge county, decided to take advantage of the sleighing and enjoy a pleasant ride. At the corner of Maret and Twelfth streets several teams were massed together and Mr. Scott found it necessary to turn off sharp, and in doing so he upset the sleigh and Miss Maxwell was thrown out. She fell on her left side and was considerably braised, besides having her left arm dislocated. She was so frightened that she was almost thrown into convulsions, but on being removed to her room at the Stamm House, had her arm set and was made comfortable, although she will be obliged to remain in her room for about a week. Mr. Scott managed to jump so as to alight on his feet."

Taken at Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

Franklin Maxwell’s Obituary

Upon his death in 1892, Franklin Maxwell’s estate was worth about a half million dollars. That’s over twelve million by today’s standards. The following is his obituary which appeared in the July 22, 1892 issue of the Wheeling Register, reprinted from an unspecified Clarksburg newspaper:

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“Franklin Maxwell is no more on earth. He was found dead in his garden on the afternoon of July 4th, by his grief-stricken wife. His domestics had gone off to join in some neighborhood picnic or celebration. Feeling a dizziness that morning, he concluded to remain at home with Mrs. Maxwell, but at their noon lunch he spoke of going out to salt some cattle in the afternoon. Mrs. Maxwell, as was her custom, being in failing health, laid down for a nap, and when she awoke she saw his sack of salt, his horse in the stable, and his ever faithful dog, his constant attendant about the farm, at the house, and immediately instituted search for him, which resulted in finding him as stated, dead in the garden. The agony of her despair can be better imagined than described. She carefully covered his face to protect it from the sun’s rays and as the evening wore on, some passing neighbors went to her relief and received the remains to the house. The indications were that the death came without a struggle and probably from heart failure. His busy hands had been folded in death’s repose, and thus has passed away one of the most prominent and remarkable of West Virginia’s sons.

 

Born on Browns Creek, this county, June 16th, 1814, he had rounded up a well-spent, conspicuous and successful life of more than seventy-eight years, reaching beyond the space usually allotted to man.

 

“Our age to seventy years is set

And if to eighty we survive,

We rather sigh and sob than live”

 

He commenced life’s busy struggle when a boy upon his own responsibility with a very limited education and without a dollar.

 

Early in life he married his estimable wife, Miss Frances, daughter of John Reynolds, Esq., a prominent and worthy father of this county. For more than half a century, except a few years, he lived where he died, on Bluestone in Doddridge county, several miles from West Union. He became by far the largest and most extensive grazier and dealer in the State and the most extensive owner of farming and grazing lands, and it is supposed accumulated a larger fortune from those pursuits than any man in the state. His attention was never diverted from these pursuits beyond the ordinary duty of citizenship except once, and that was in the year 1880 when he was nominated and elected a Democratic Senator in a Republican district. In this new field he developed talent and ability and served his constituency and the State so well and so satisfactorily that he was nominated by his party for reelection without consulting him, but advancing years and a large unsettled business caused him to decline the professed honor. It has been the subject of comment most favorable to him, that he should have closed up as much business of various kinds, much of which was beset with difficulties and complications with so little recourse to law. He did all that an honorable businessman could to avoid law suits. His demands were reasonable, his concessions just, and his dealings always fair and honorable.

 

Those who knew him best doubt not that with proper educational advantages, he would have made one of the distinguished Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States or a great statesman in either branch of Congress. His mental grasp was very broad and hence he was regarded and courted as a safe judicious advisor. He seemed to have followed up his business pursuits almost “with an eye that never slept and a wing that never tired.” Industry, temperance and fair dealing in all the walks of life were the chief characteristics of the man. His four surviving sons, Lewis of Doddridge county, and Porter, Leeman and W. Brent of this county, all highly respectable gentlemen, will inherit his vast estate. Of course it will be their pleasure to consult every comfort and contribute by every means to the happiness of their aged mother.

 

His family and friends can point with comfort and pride to the fact that he lived and died an honest man, “the noblest work of God.”

Two Grandchildren Commit Suicide

Even after Franklin and Frances Jane Maxwell died, tragedy continued to visit their family through the children of their son, Leeman Maxwell. The following accounts appeared in local newspapers concerning two of their grandchildren, Mary and Franklin.

 

Mary Frances Maxwell, July 1909

“SUICIDE WAS DELIBERATED

“Particulars of the death by hanging of Miss Mary Maxwell, 15-year-old daughter of Leeman Maxwell, of Bluestone, Doddridge county, show the act to have been one of deliberate suicide. The girl carried a barrel from the barn to the apple tree from which she hung herself late Monday afternoon. She also got some nails and drove two in a limb of the tree. Her mother asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was preparing lo pick some apples.. That night, after the family had gone to bed, she sat up reading. It is supposed she slipped out of the house about midnight, went to the appIe tree, climbed upon the barrel, placed the rope around her neck and then jumped from the barrel. A note was found pinned to her dress which contained the request that the family not grieve over her and to take a trip to Mount Clare, this county, the following day as they had planned. The coroner decided her death was a case of suicide. No cause is assigned by the family for the act. The girl was in her usual health and appeared to be cheerful and lively.”

 

Franklin H. Maxwell, April 1911

“The entire community was shocked Monday evening over the news that Frank Maxwell, son of Mr. and Mrs. Leeman Maxwell, had ended his life by sending a bullet into his brain. The unfortunate occurrence happened at the old Maxwell homestead on Bluestone about 6:30 Monday evening. From all appearances he had stood before his mirror in his own room and with a repeating rifle had sent a bullet into his brain. The ball entered the forehead and perhaps lodged in the brain. Death was not instantaneous, but he lingered a few hours, all of which time he was unconscious.”

 

While Mary’s reason for taking her own life remains unknown, it is believed that young Franklin killed himself because he had just been diagnosed with diabetes. They are both buried at the Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery.

Taken at Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

The Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery, on Bluestone Creek, lies on private property in one of the most picturesque valleys in Doddridge County. It is not accessible to the general public. Here is a complete list of those buried there, many just children, and some with tragic circumstances surrounding their early deaths:

 

Franklin Maxwell (1814-1892) 

Frances Jane Reynolds Maxwell (1819-1897) - wife of Franklin

Mary Maxwell Flucky - Franklin Maxwell’s sister (1816-1858) - consumption

Leeman Maxwell (1840-1920) - son of Franklin.

Mary Columbia Bassell Maxwell (1856-1930) - wife of Leeman Maxwell

Dexter Maxwell (1850-1850) - infant son of Franklin, cause of death unknown

Mary M. Maxwell (1855-1860) - daughter of Franklin, age 5, cause unknown

Franklin P. Maxwell 1857-1880) -  son of Franklin, age 13, cause unknown

Mary Frances Maxwell (1894-1909) - daughter of Leeman, age 15, suicide

Franklin H. Maxwell (1891-1911) - son of Leeman, age 20, suicide

Thomas Shaw (1831-1887) - teacher living on Maxwell farm at time of death, consumption

Antony Unknown: (Slave) Death date, cause of death, last name and parentage are all unknown

 

Not all of Franklin and Frances Jane Maxwell’s children suffered as much tragedy as these did. Many of their descendants are still living in Doddridge County and continue the tradition of farming and raising and selling cattle. Here is a list of Franklin Maxwell's known descendants on our sister website.

Taken at Franklin Maxwell Family Cemetery

Williams Maxwell (1821-1897)

Franklin Maxwell had a brother named Williams Maxwell. Although the Williams Maxwell Family Cemetery is only a few miles from Franklin’s, it is comparatively unkempt and seemingly abandoned. Williams was wealthy in his own right, but his fortune and holdings were not nearly as vast as his brother’s. The following obituary appeared in the September 10, 1897 issue of The Clarksburg Telegram:

 

“The death of Hon. Williams Maxwell removes one of Doddridge county’s most prominent citizens and ex-Representatives.  He was the father of a large family of children, three of whom have recently fallen a victim to the same fatal disease which carried him away. Two other children, a daughter-in-law and several grandchildren are now afflicted with it. Mr. Maxwell was an honest, upright and well-to-do citizen, and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

 

Before Williams Maxwell’s own death, he had already lost his wife and four children. Williams and Lydia had a stillborn son in 1878, Lydia herself died in 1888 from cerebral apoplexy, and three other children, Martha, Benjamin and Luther, all died from typhoid fever within five months before Williams died. Here is a list of Williams Maxwell's known descendants on our sister website.

 

Williams Maxwell Family Cemetery

With the help of a local resident we were able to locate and photograph the Wiliams Maxwell Family Cemetery. It is located on the lower end of Grouse Run. Known burials there are:

 

Williams Maxwell (1821-1897) -  typhoid fever

Lydia Vannort Maxwell (1835-1888) - wife of Williams, cerebral apoplexy

Fred Fitzwilliams (1894-1906) - Williams’ grandson, age 12, unknown causes

William Edwin Maxwell (1878-1878) son of Williams, stillborn

Martha Maxwell (1866-1897) - daughter of Williams, age 31, typhoid fever

Benjamin F. Maxwell (1856-1897) - son of Williams, age 41, typhoid fever

All three photos are of the Williams Maxwell Family Cemetery

Final Thoughts

As nephews and heirs of attorney, Congressman and wealthy landowner Lewis Maxwell, Franklin and Williams Maxwell enjoyed all the advantages that their positions afforded, more than could be imagined by most of their fellow Doddridge Countians. But that did not insulate them and their families from many of the medical and emotional health problems to which we are all vulnerable.  Visiting the two Maxwell family cemeteries and seeing the graves of their young family members, graves that Franklin and Williams themselves surely stood over and grieved, reinforces the idea that we are all God’s children and subject to the vagaries of His will.

 © 2020 Doddridge County Heritage Guild