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James G. Morehead
Birth: 1818
Hancock County
West Virginia, USA
Death: 1875

From "Morehead Family History" by Evelyn Potter Park

James Morehead, son of Alexander Morehead and Nancy Agnes Gibson, was born sometime between 1818 and 1820 in Hancock County, (West) Virginia and died after 1874, probably in Defiance County, Ohio. He married about 1841, Drusilla Edgington Witherspoon, daughter of John Witherspoon and Margaret Kennedy of Frankfort Spring, Pennsylvania. They lived for about five years in Hancock County, West Virginia where their two eldest daughters were born and then moved to Steubenville, Ohio where the other two children were born. While they lived in Steubenville James worked on the bridge being constructed across the Ohio River.

In February, 1849 James and his brother, Alexander "Alec", joined a wagon train headed west to the hectic scene of the Gold Rush of 1849. James became Captain of the wagon train. Drusilla took the four children and returned to Frankfort Springs, Pennsylvania. James was successful in his search for gold and sent gold dust home, which Drusilla had minted into coins in Philadelphia. James wanted his family to come to California to join him, but Drusilla refused to make the long wagon train journey with four small children and James never returned to Pennsylvania.

Drusilla's brother, John Hamilton Witherspoon, went to California in 1860 and wrote his father and sister saying he had been to Knight's Landing on the Feather River and found James had sold his ferryboat and trading post to a man named Snowball in 1856. Snowball said James made lots of money, that he was a very successful and respectable man, that he was not dissipated in any way when there, but that he fretted e great deal about his family and was not contented without them. He intended to return home when he sold out, but got concerned in politics at the time of Gov. Johnson's election [1856]. He was a big man among them, but spent all he was worth in a short time.

After losing his money in politics, he went back to mining to try to regain his fortune, but was injured in a mine explosion. He lost one eye, and had an arm injured. After he recovered from his injuries he started a Trading Post, but got to drinking and lost the Post. He never drank (according to Snowball) until after the accident and was a most respectable and influential man. Hamilton went on to say that it was very beautiful country around Knight's Landing and if James had had his family there he would have been independent. Snowball said about a year before Hamilton was there that James was at San Jose Mission and probably was still near there. No one now knows whether Hamilton and James ever met in California.

Alec made two or more trips back to West Virginia and his brother, George, returned with him to California. Snowball heard Alec died on the isthmus . ... the last trip out, but this was probably not true as a letter to Margaret Ann Morehead in 1862 mentions that Alec was living below Wheeling, West Virginia. He said George and Alec had about $2000.00 they made in the wood business when they went home.

The next we know of James Morehead he is in Wise County, Texas in 1874. His granddaughter, Lissie Gross Gerardy, remembered him, and also remembered that he met them in Ft. Worth and took them home in a wagon to his farm in Wise County. No doubt he had kept in touch at least to some extent with his family, and must have been responsible for his daughter and family going to Texas. Lissie also remembered that her grandfather's Uncle Jimmy from Defiance, Ohio was visiting there at the time.

James Morehead left his farm in Wise County, Texas to his daughter, Margaret Ann. He is said to have gone by Clay County, Kansas to see Drusilla and his son, Washington Morehead, however they were not reconciled. Drusilla was hurt and embittered toward him because he had never returned home after leaving for California. Probably he was accompanied by his Uncle Jimmy Morehead, because he is said to have gone to Defiance, Ohio and died there. However no record has been found there of his death, so it is not known for sure when or where he died. This same Uncle Jimmy Morehead had offered to take care of Drusilla and her children if she would come to Defiance, but she chose to stay with her parents in Pennsylvania as they were getting old and needed her care.

Additional notes from Darrell Brown:

A record in the International Genealogical Database states that James was born to Alexander Morehead and Nancy Agnes Gibson in Hancock, Virginia, in 1818. Census records for his father, and the obituary for his sister, indicate that the family moved to Frankfort Springs, PA, 8 miles away, sometime before summer 1820. There they belonged to the Kings Creek Seceder Presbyterian Church. His father helped sponsor the building of a schoolhouse, which James probably attended. Sometime before 1830 the family moved to the town of Allegheny, evidently to get further education. In 1833 they moved back to Hancock county, (West) Virginia. In 1841 James married Drusilla Witherspoon of Frankfort Springs. Her family belonged to the Kings Creek church as well, so they may have met there.

The 1860 census shows a James Morehead engaged in mining in San Bernardino county, CA. He is 40 years old and born in Virginia.

James' granddaughter Lissie Gerardy, who was raised by his wife Drusilla, typed up this note to accompany a small sample of gold dust:

"Mrs. Edward Gerardy --
This gold dust was taken from the American River of California by my grandfather James Moorhead who was a captain of a wagon train that went to California in 1849. He sent gold dust to my grandmother who had it made into money at the Philadelphia mint. Her home was in Frankfort Springs Penna."

Years later Lissie's great-granddaughter Marilyn Park Wheat had the gold dust encased in a clear pendant that can be worn on a necklace.

Summarized and excerpted from "Knights Landing: The River, the Land, and the People" by Shipley Walters, with Tom Anderson (Woodland, CA: Yolo County Historical Society, 1992), p. 14-16, 19:

In 1843, William Knight and his family settled on the west bank of the Sacramento River. They built the first log house in the region on Yodoy Mound, which rose above the flood zone. "Knight operated a rope ferry across the river, raised a few cattle and orses and cultivated an acre or two." "On May 4, 1846, he received a certificate from Sutter, signed by Pio Pico [the Mexican governor], entitling him to ten leagues of land along the Sacramento River. Knight called his property 'Rancho Carmel.'" The location itself received the name "Knights Landing" because of the ferry. In 1846, while fighting in the war with Mexico he lost his title papers. "Knight returned home in May or June [1947] Then gold was discovered at Sutter's sawmill on the American River in January 1848 Knight went off again, this time to the Stanislaus River [120 miles southeast of Knights Landing]. In the spring of 1849, he established the first ferry across that River. It was an immediate success, for thousands of eager goldseekers used it on their way from Stockton to the southern mines Knight did not live long to enjoy his success, for on November 9, 1849, he was dead."

"James Morehead, who had taken over Knight's ferry on the Sacramento River after Knight's death, turned a profit by ferrying freight, stock and passengers across the river."

"Knight's widow died in 1852." James Morehead was administrator of the Knights' estate. The estate was in dispute, because it had been granted by the Mexican government, which was no longer present, and the title papers had been lost. "A claim to the land was filed on behelf of the Knight family on March 3, 1852, by James G. Morehead, who had taken over Knight's Sacramento River ferry. The claim was rejected by the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners on February 21, 1854, because the genuiness of the grant was not proven. The District Court also rejected the claim on September 29, 1859, and it was finally rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 27, 1862."

For more information on this litigation, see the following publications:

In the District Court of the U.S., for the Northern District of California, James G. Morehead, adm'r etc., of William Knight, deceased v. the United States brief of Edmund Randolph on behalf of the United States, 1853.

James G. Morehead, Administrator of the Estate of Wm. Knight, Deceased, Vs. The United States, 1859. (no preview yet)

U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Knight's Administrator, 66 U.S. 1 Black 227 (1861).

Morehead v. U.S.: The Making of the Modern Law; Trials, 1600-1926.
Family links: 
  Alexander M. Morehead (1793 - 1873)
  Nancy Agnes Gibson Morehead (1793 - 1862)
  Drusilla Edgington Witherspoon Morehead (1821 - 1895)*
  Margaret Ann Morehead Gross (1842 - 1881)*
  Romana Jane Morehead (1844 - 1864)*
  Mary Clementine Morehead Reed (1846 - 1901)*
  Washington Worth Moorehead (1848 - 1916)*
  Mary Jane Morehead Cameron (1816 - 1890)*
  Alexander Morehead (1818 - 1901)*
  James G. Morehead (1818 - 1875)
  Gibson Morehead (1833 - ____)*
  George Washington Morehead (1834 - 1897)*
*Calculated relationship
Created by: Darrell Brown
Record added: Oct 09, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 98582983
James G. Morehead
Added by: Darrell Brown
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