Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Did You Know #40

Did you know that we had a relative that not only dreamed of becoming the President of the United States, but had a very legitimate chance of realizing that dream?

In the early years of our country James Israel Standifer moved among the legendary leaders of history. He was born in 1779 Virginia, the son of Israel Standifer and Susannah Heard and the grandson of James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins. The "Standifer" line can be traced back at least to John Standiford (1679-1720), the first in our line to have been born in America. According to an article written by Steven D. Byas (
Tennessee Historical Quarterly; Summer, 1991), the Standifer line is described as "an enterprising family with an avid interest in public affairs." *

A farming family, James Israel Standifer moved westward with his family to North Carolina and then on to Tennessee where they settled around Knoxville (frontier country in his day). In 1801 James married a young woman by the name of Martha, who just happened not only to be the daughter of William Standifer and Jemima Jones, and the granddaughter of James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins, but James' cousin. James and Martha (and indeed most families in those days) were not alone when it came to marriages between first cousins. Martha's siblings, Naomi and Isaac, were married to Israel M. Standifer (James Isreal's brother) and Elizabeth B. Standifer (the daughter of Luke, Martha's uncle). Although legal in that day, these marriages have led to much confusion as our generation seeks to unravel these families. This confusion is reflected in the inconsistent claims of various sources. With that in mind we will try to trace this family according to the best evidence I could find.


James Israel Standifer took up farming in Mount Airy, Tennessee, until he answered the call of his nation and marched  off to the War of 1812. Serving in the military James attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and participated in the famous Battle of New Orleans. Upon his return to eastern Tennessee, he turned his attention to politics. First he was elected state senator (1815-1821), and then he was sent to Washington D.C. where he represented Tennessee as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives (1823-1837). Standifer served alongside such notables as Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson; Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and David Crockett (he didn't really like to be called by the name "Davey").


One of the most interesting national issues of his day was the removal of the
Cherokee Indians from North Carolina/Tennessee area. Standifer first voted "yes" to President Jackson's proposal to relocate these Indians west of the Mississippi (just a little north of Cape Girardeau, where I live). However, the moment he realized that the Cherokee Indians would be removed by force, Standifer became a vocal opponent of the plan. Sadly, not even Standifer could prevent the infamous "Trail of Tears," the forced removal of these tribes.

Congressman Standifer was also intimately involved with the presidential election of 1836 as an opponent of Martin Van Buren. After this election
Standifer returned home to Mount Airy for a visit with his large family. When it came time for him to return to Washington, Congressman Standifer reportedly told his wife that "he might just run for president himself in 1840."  Then he set off on his horse and he never saw his family again. Stopping off at the home of a friend near Kingston, Tennessee, a man by the name of Colonel Joseph Byrd, Standifer "died, suddenly, on August 20, 1837." It was reported that Standifer died of pneumonia. That claim, however, did not seem to fit the official claim that his death was "sudden and unexpected" (most people who die of pneumonia do not die "unexpectedly"). Others insisted that Standifer was assassinated.

News of
Standifer's death shocked Washington. It was not just the surprising fact that Standifer had died, but they were troubled by the persisting mystery concerning his cause of death. Amid the flourishing rumors both Houses passed resolutions calling for thirty days of mourning in Standifer's memory. In the House of Representatives John Bell, who would later run for president against Abraham Lincoln, announced the news of Standifer's "sudden" passing. Bell said that Standifer was a man "remarkable for an equanimity of temper," and a man with a "reputation for honesty which he nobly earned, and continued to maintain by the most scrupulous regard for truth and justice in all his transactions, public and private." In the Senate future President James K. Polk commented about Standifer's "truthfulness, even in the midst of their deep political division."

So how is Congressman James Israel Standifer related to our family? He was Mom's fourth great-grand uncle (the brother of her fourth great-grandfather). Here are the details:


Israel Standifer and Susannah Heard
Cong. James Israel Standifer b.1779 Skelton Daniel Standifer b.1752

Archibald Standerfer Sr. b.1775

Franklin H. Standerfer b.1820

William Standerfer b.1841

Zacharious I. Standerfer b.1871

Mercedes Ruth Standerfer b.1872

Mary Jean Ethington Bragg b.1928

Since James married his first cousin, Mom was also related to Martha Standifer. She was Mom's first cousin 6 times removed:

James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins
William Standifer b.1757 Israel Standifer b.1740
Martha Standifer b. 1783 Skelton Daniel Standifer b.1752

Archibald Standerfer Sr. b.1775

Franklin H. Standerfer b.1820

William Standerfer b.1841

Zacharious I. Standerfer b.1871

Mercedes Ruth Standerfer b.1872

Mary Jean Ethington Bragg b.1928

* Note: like so many family names, the Standerfer family name takes on a wide variety of spellings. It would not be until James and Susannah's grandson, Archibald, that the spelling "Standerfer" enter our direct family lineage. But that is not so say that Archibald, or any of his ancestors would not occasionally be referred to by the name "Standerfer."

Sources:

James Standifer, Sequatchie Valley Congressman
, Tennessee Historical Quarterly; Summer, 1991.
Rootsweb forums, Family of James M. Standerfer II 

Carol's Commentary - Adeline's Letter

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