George William Reeves

(1780 — 1827)

Elizabeth Wilkinson Reeves

(1780 — After 1831)

Parents: William Reeves, Jr. and Fortune Rhodes
Wyatt Wilkinson and Mary Britt
Son: Peter M. Reeves

George William Reeves was born in 1780[1] in Halifax County[2], Colony of Virginia. Halifax County is in southern Virginia, adjacent to Mecklenberg County, Virginia and just across the border from Granville County, North Carolina.

One researcher says the Reeves family, including George, moved from Wake County, North Carolina, to Madison County, Kentucky, in about 1801. With George moved his father, William Reeves[3], and his brothers William, Jr.[4] (and his wife and children) and Jeremiah[5].[6] The exact year of the move has not been confirmed, but 1801 seems likely since George took out a marriage license with Elizabeth Wilkinson in Madison County on January 1, 1802.[7]

Census records showed he and his family lived there in 1810.[8] They list him as a resident, along with his wife, three sons and one daughter. These were his daughter Susan and his sons Walter Avis, Curtis F. and Jesse Britt Reeves.[9] Later that year, Peter M. Reeves would be added to the family.[10] In addition, there was a white female over 46 years of age living with them. Two slaves rounded out the household.

According to a Kentucky history, Elizabeth was of English descent.[11]

The next few years were busy ones for George. He served under General—later President—William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812.[12] His dates and places of service are not known, but history records that in 1813 Harrison’s forces, including a bunch of Kentucky militiamen,[13] pursued British troops and an army led by the famous Shawnee Indian chief Tecumseh into Upper Canada.

On October 5, 1813, in a battle near Moraviantown, the British turned to fight, but were dispersed and Tecumseh was killed. It is likely that George William Reeves was one of the militiamen involved in this battle. His regard for his general was shown by his later naming his fourth son “William Harrison Reeves” in honor of him.[14]

He moved to Warren County, Kentucky, in about 1815.[15] At that time, Warren County was strictly a rural area. Not quite wilderness, but almost. There were fewer than 12,000 people in the entire county, a density of only about 17 people a square mile.[16] The largest town, Bowling Green, had only a few stores, a brick tavern, and several modest homes facing the square. The federal census taker listed 23 households in the small town, with a total of 98 white and 56 slave residents.[17] There were fewer than half a million people in the entire state, most of them along the Ohio River and in the eastern parts of the state.

The 1820 census for Warren County showed that the George Reeves family had grown.[18] There was one male and one female between the ages of 26 and 44 (George and Elizabeth), one female and three males between 10 and 15 (these are the same children shown in the 1810 Madison County census) and three males under age 10 (Peter M. Reeves, William Harrison Reeves and Sidney Preston Reeves).[19] In addition, the number of his slaves had also grown to six, four of them children under the age of fourteen.[20]

George was not wealthy, but was a man of some minor substance since, in 1824, he was one of two people signing as surety on a $2,400 bond posted by Noel Sweeney as administrator for the estate of his wife, Polly Sweeney.[21]

George William and Elizabeth Reeves were involved in a couple of real estate transactions in the next few years. First, in 1824, George[22] bought 666 2/3rds acres of land in northern Warren County along the Big Barren River. The cost was $430.[23] George and Elizabeth sold this property eighteen months later to John Heard for $800, a $370 profit.[24] The next transaction was seven months later of the same land back from John Heard to George for the original $430 price.[25]

We can only speculate the reason for these back and forth transfers. They may have been what are known as "straw man" transactions. Such transfers were common in the 1800s to correct problems in the ownership of real estate. However, such transfers usually were done the same day rather than months apart.

Another possibility is that George really sold the property to John, and financed all or a part of the transaction but John found himself unable to pay and gave the property back. However, since there is no evidence that George and Elizabeth moved their family and slaves off the land and then back on, that seems unlikely.

A third possibility was that the land was transferred from George and Elizabeth to John to collateralize a loan from John to them and, once the loan was paid, the title was transferred back to them.

Whether any of these possibilities is the actual reason we cannot know, but we do have reason to believe George and Elizabeth were friends of John, and possibly were related to him for earlier that year their daughter Susan was married to James Heard.[26]

Interestingly, on October 20, 1826—the day the last deed was signed from John back to George—George had other legal work done, too. He signed what would be his last will, a handwritten copy of which is recorded in the Warren County Clerk’s office. That will names John Heard as one of George’s executors. The will is reproduced below with the misspellings in the transcribed copy preserved.

Be it known to all whom it may concern, that I, George Reves, of Warren County, Kentucky, being in my proper mind and memory, do hereby constitute and ordain this my last will and testament, to wit:

First of all I direct my executor to sell my negro man "Lusty," gray mare, still and aparatus, together with all the stock that my Executor think proper, that may be spared from the family to pay all my just debts, and, should the above named property not be sufficient, my Executor may select such property as may seem best to satisfy my debts.

2nd. I give to my loving wife, Elizabeth Reves, my negro man Jacob, boy Dudly Isaac, my negro woman Silivia Eliza and girl Agnes, together with all the land, household and kitchen furniture, and farming utensils, together with all the stock not otherwise appropriated, to have and to hold during her natural life or widowhood, but if Elizabeth Reves should marry, any one of the legatees shall compell her to take her third of my estate.

3rd. I give my daughter, Susan Heard, one negro girl named Maria.

4th. I give to my daughter, Polly M. Reeves, one negro girl by the name of Mary and one bed and furniture.

5th. I give to my daughter, Nancy Reves, one negro girl, Rachel, and one bed and furniture.

Each of the daughters above named shall receive the above negroes and bed when married or becomes of lawful age, but if the value of said negroes and beds be more than their proportionate or equal part, they shall refund back to the other legatees so as to make them equal.

Be it further understood that all my estate at my wife's death shall be equally divided between my sons, to wit: Walter A. Reves, Curtis F. Reves, Jesse B. Reves, Peter M. Reves, William H. Reves, Sidney Preston Reves and George H. Reves, and be it further understood that my son Walter A. Reves shall have a young rone horse, exclusively of his proportion of my estate.

Be it further understood that last of all, I do hereby constitute and ordain John Heard and John Thompson my sole executors of this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof, I hereby set my hand and seal this twentieth day of October in the year of my Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-Six.

George Reves

Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of

James Otey

Allen Taylor[27]

George died soon thereafter and his will was ordered probated by Warren County Court in July 1827. The two witnesses proved the will by their oaths. The executors were appointed by the court and they posted a $6,000 bond. Clement Mobley, Jr., James Otey, Thomas G. Martin, William R. Adams and Ezra C. Martin were appointed to appraise the personal property. A year later, the appraisal was reported to the court.[28] Among other estate assets was an award the court made to the estate of $71.64 for work George had done in administering "the estate of Saml Cherry, dec'd."[29]

George was about 47 at the time of his death; his widow would have been the same age, or perhaps a little younger. Following George’s death, Elizabeth remained in Warren County. She was left to raise five minor children, the youngest being about three. Fortunately, she was also left with 666 acres upon which to raise them and three nearby adult children and, after Lusty was sold, six slaves to help her.[30]

The 1830 census[31] shows Elizabeth Reaves (there we go with the spelling again) as the head of a household with the following members:

One male between the ages of 5 and 10

One male between the ages of 10 and 15

Two males between the ages of 15 and 20

One female between the ages of 15 and 20

One male between the ages of 20 and 30

Two females between the ages of 40 and 50

Elizabeth’s date of death is not known, but, due to her being mentioned in the 1830 census and in other records, it must have occurred sometime after 1831.