Tuesday, July 22, 2008

John D. Covell, Constable & Shoemaker

As part of our larger effort of developing biographies for the myriad individuals who lived in and near Port Tobacco...not just the big shots, but the regular folks...I've been working with Carol and Elsie to wed land title and census data to newspapers items. (Okay, maybe 'wed' isn't quite the right word...I don't want to spawn another constitutional amendment movement.) John D. Covell came up in our title search of the Burch House, both he and Washington Burch buying town lots from Frederick Stone, lots which they already occupied at the time of purchase and that had previously been owned by Charles W. Barnes.

John D. Covell first appears in the local newspapers as a constable and bailiff (sounds like he had the job of jailer before Washington Burch) in 1855. He would have been about 28 years old. He probably didn't live in Port Tobacco at the time. We know that Covell purchased a three-quarter acre lot to the south in St. Thomas Manor in 1857 (Land Records JS 2/152). He doesn't appear in the Port Tobacco census database until 1870, by which time he had a wife, Mary R. Covell, age 35 years. She died on February 14, 1874, after having giving birth to four children (Sarah Rebecca, the youngest, died in her seventh month in 1872). Daughter Mary A. Covell (9 years old in 1870) married George Brasser in 1879. We haven't yet followed her career or those of her brothers John D. Covell, Jr., (14) and G. W. Covell (1).

John, Sr., was listed in the 1870 census as a shoemaker. He was listed as such in 1880 as well, but by then he was living alone. Presumably his youngest son, who would have been 11 years old, was living with one of his adult siblings or another relative. John, Sr., died the following year, aged 54 years. We haven't learned who his property went to, but a search of the Orphan's Court records should resolve that issue.

John Covell's life seems quite ordinary, perhaps even dull, when viewed through the few surviving records. Perhaps the unearthing of additional archival references will reveal other dimensions of the man. Perhaps not. But what if we find the house site in which he lived, recover and study the things that he and Mary and their children used? Well, we will end up with more of a three-dimensional character; but like Washington Burch and their neighbors, he is one of the ordinary people of Port Tobacco, the life behind the buildings, the movement on the unpaved roads.


1 comment:

kaicevy said...

Covell (9 years old in 1870) married George Brasser in 1879