A simple life: the Hilliards of North Township

The unusual double headstone for the Hilliard family is located near the center gate of Fairmount Cemetery, just a few rows in from the Michigan Road in North Township, Marshall County.

Taking pointers from the sermon series our pastor preached during December, I thought I would write about an ancestor that typically would be left out of the "who's who" in my family tree.  A few individuals in the genealogy of Christ presented at the beginning of Matthew were unlikely candidates to be included by Matthew to present Christ's "Jewishness".  Individuals that most would have skipped over, like Rahab, present a picture of Christ as the Son of God of second chances, of the not-so-famous or desirable.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the oldest cemetery in Marshall County and one of its residents, Silas Higbee, a notable person in North Township.  But also buried there are a few of my ancestors that are part of a line that produced 10 generations who have lived in this area.  But they're anything but famous, and they certainly knew hard times.

John Hilliard and his wife, Maria, were born in Ohio.  John was born in about 1800, probably in Miami County, Ohio where an exceptionally large and early Hilliard family was present.  An older John Hilliard and his wife Elizabeth were one of the first families in the county during the 1780s.  By 1850 the younger John was married and lived in Centre Township, LaPorte County, Indiana were he had a small farm and two sons, Bronell and Fielding, and a daughter, Elizabeth.  The family had purchased land and were residing in North Township, Marshall County by 1853, the same year Bronell married Lavina Fites in nearby St. Joseph County.  Lavina was born near Bremen in 1834.  John's land holdings grew fairly substantially, but he suffered two losses during the 1860s.  First his daughter, Elizabeth, died in 1867, then his wife died in 1869.  Both are buried at Fairmount Cemetery.  Financially he must have suffered as well.  He was living with his son, Bronell, in 1870, and his land was gone.

The township trustees were charged with care for the indigent.  I came across a North Township trustee's ledger from the 1870s and in it found that John Hilliard was judged a pauper and was ordered to be detained at the county asylum (poor farm) which would have been located near Tyner at this time.  His stay must not have been long because he was living with his son again by 1880.  The census records indicate John was an invalid.  John died in about 1885 and is thought to be buried next to his wife and daughter in Fairmount Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  A rather inglorious life likely shaped by toil and hardship.

Several years ago my great aunt, who was township trustee at the time, gave me a few items from this side of my family.  One item is an exceptionally old rocking chair that had belonged to John Hilliard and dates to c. 1850.  I think about its story from time to time, how it likely made the journey from Ohio to LaPorte County, and then on to North Township in Marshall County where the family has since resided for 160 years.  I think about the hope that they must have had in purchasing their farm, and the sadness in losing his daughter, wife, and farm in a short period of just a few years.  Something about that loss makes the rocking chair that much more important to me.  It isn't priceless jewelry, rare glassware, or highly-refined furniture.  It's just a simple chair from a simple life laid to rest in an unmarked grave.


vanilla said…
Most of us have descended from unremarkable hard-working people. And probably most of us will be seen as unremarkable a century hence. But I appreciate this story from your family heritage. Rock on!
hoosier reborn said…
Thanks Vanilla and Keith. I think what I'll be known for, is the crazy old guy with way too many stories to share.

Anonymous said…
I think you're probably right! :)
Aunt P.
woo hoo, we have the same idea of where john and maiah hailed form I see, I love all the extra details you have added to this very quiet side of the family. I would love to see a photo of the ol' rockin chair. DO you know if the Hilliards were Amish/Friends? That is the direction I was looking at in Miami County, my home stompin grounds- I think some records are actually in my home town and it is on my bucket list to get into the Historical Soc. and verify this info for us. smiles, v

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