Creatively Recreating Margaret

My Uncle expressed a desire to know more about Margaret Russell, wife of Richard Cobe Jr. So this weekend I am trying my hand at creative non-fictional writing. I had to make some assumptions to tie in some connections. I also had to insert a little of my personality into that of Margaret’s.

Life is unexpected. We all know that. But for many of our maternal ancestors, this uncertainty was a struggle that is hard to reimagine today.


It was so unfair. How could her mother move on to a new husband so quickly? What was to become of her and her siblings?

Margaret was about 14 or 15, maybe she was older. She wasn’t sure what year she was born, but she believed it to be 1852. And what did it matter anyway? She was a girl and she was old enough to keep house and have children of her own. That is all that mattered for girls. 

Life had been good. Her father worked as a laborer on the farms of his brother Rufus and his father, Ebenezer. They were secure and happy, her parents, brother, three sisters, and the new baby waiting to be born. But now her father was gone. Their security shattered and the new baby made it difficult for her mother to find work, what little work there was to be had for a woman on the frontier. Malinda could help if she could find work and wondered how different it would be if it had been her mother they had lost. She shuddered at the thought. It didn’t matter which parent was lost, the effects were simply devastating.

She wished they could go and live with her Grandmother Russell and help her and Uncle Edward around the farm. She still felt the sting of losing Grandpa Russell, though the pain had dulled some since his death just two years ago. They had always lived near her grandparents, but Uncle Edward and Aunt Rachel had inherited the Russell farm and the little farmhouse just couldn’t accommodate two families. 

Uncle Nelson Hand and Aunt Maria lived in Hancock County, two counties east. Because Nelson was her mother’s brother and Maria was her father’s sister, they had been closer than her other Hand relatives. And all the Hand relatives lived further away in Madison and Franklin Counties. Even if they could help, they lived so far away and she couldn’t bare the thought to be separated by such a distance from her sisters and her friends.

With a new baby to nurse and non-existent opportunities, Mother decided to find a new husband. She had set her sights on newly widowed Irish immigrant Abraham Latty of Emerald Township. He was one of the larger landholders in the county who was very involved in public affairs and could afford to take in a woman and newborn. Margaret was sure her father would have disapproved. After all, he hadn’t been gone long. But even she could not ignore the painful fact that the family was in trouble and on the frontier, time was essential for survival, or so her mother kept reminding her. They had no money, no land, nothing. Uncle Rufus had a large family of his own to support. All he could take in was one of her younger sisters, Josephine.

While the fighting of the war of rebellion hadn’t reached their quiet little hamlet in Paulding County, it had still affected their lives. Her Russell uncles, Rufus and Edward, had done a year of service back east. Uncle Rufus had been drafted and Uncle Edward’s National Guard unit had been called up. At least Uncle Edward hadn’t been alone, Uncle Nelson had been in the same regiment as Edward. They didn’t talk much about their year in service, but it seems they may have escaped any hard fighting. When they did talk, they mostly described life in garrison and guard duty, then taking a boat from Virginia to Pennsylvania on their way home. They had only been back for a little over a year now and were just settling into some sort of normalcy.

At least her father had been spared serving in the military, but he had his hands full overseeing the farms for Rufus, Edward, and Nelson while they were all away. Some of her neighbors had seen serious fighting. Richard Cobe’s older brother had been at one of the bloodiest battles at Perryville, Kentucky and it was a miracle that he made it home. He wouldn’t talk about his service hardly at all and he was in for several years. She wondered if all the questions from the neighbors were the reason he wasn’t planning to stay in Ohio. He was looking further West, following the military. He had heard of an outpost in Kansas called Fort Riley and was planning to take his new wife out that way to help build the little town of Junction City.

Richard Cobe. Now there was a handsome boy. And a bit of a character. He was sweet on her too. He lived with his parents near Melrose on their little family farm. His parents were immigrants and had worked hard to scrape enough for their cozy little farm along the Auglaize. Even his family faced the adversity of the hard life in the wilds of Ohio when they lost his father ten years or more ago. He had just come home from the war himself and he looked so dashing in his uniform. If he asked her to marry him, she would probably say yes. At least then she would be less of a burden to her mother.

It wasn’t long before Richard asked for her to marry him, as she had expected. Maybe it was Mother’s marriage this past June that encouraged him to make his move. Mother had succeeded in catching the eye of Abraham Latty, establishing security for her and the baby. With the departure of Richard’s older brother for Kansas, his position moved up in the family and he was expected to take over the Cobe farm which gave him the livelihood needed to start a family. That’s what the neighborhood thought anyway. But she didn’t really care, she loved him and she was eager to have a household of her own to rule over.

They planned to be married in October. It was to be a small affair. They were going to ask the Emerald Township Justice of the Peace, just as her mother and Mr. Latty had done. It was more practical and economical to marry this way. They needed the money for more important things. They couldn’t get married in the Catholic Church as one hadn’t been built yet and she wasn’t Catholic, as Richard was. She wasn’t even sure where Richard went to church without a Catholic parish in the area. As a busy farmer, he didn’t have the time to go all the way to Toledo to attend mass.

Her brother John had found work for a military officer as his batman (valet), and he was currently sweet on little miss Margaret Ankney. Abraham was providing well for her mother and sisters, but Margaret still had much anxiety over leaving them behind. Perhaps they could come to visit her. Richard’s farm in Brown Township was not far from Abaraham’s home in Emerald Township. They could borrow one of Abraham’s horses or walk and stay a few days.


She looked down at her brother’s namesake, her newly-born John Wesley, and smiled. As she cooed to him her fretting and fears slightly diminished. She and Richard had been married for four or five years now. Her brother, John, had married the Ankney girl and they had one beautiful baby girl the spring after they married. But little Emily would never know her father. Consumption took John earlier in the year, Emily was barely one year old. Margaret felt the sting of loss all over again. It seemed their luck, or lack of it, was holding its course. She worried and wondered who would death take next? She looked out the window up to the heavens and prayed for little John Wesley to make it out of infancy. Life was so uncertain out here on the farm and children were too easily taken from their mothers. Despite it all, she was grateful to Richard for agreeing to name their second son after her brother.  

Motherhood was everything she expected it would be. Her two older children, Hortense who was four, and little toddler Emmett, keep her busy, especially with all the snow on the ground. The children must stay inside most days due to the weather and there are days when they are tripping over each other.

Christmas is coming and there is so much to do! Sister Josephine has accepted the marriage proposal from William Smith, and they plan to be married on Christmas Day. Margaret hoped the weather would hold well enough for the Justice of the Peace to make it. Josephine is only 16 so Richard went to town and signed a bond stating she was of age. Their mother has been too preoccupied to do it herself. Mr. Latty is not home much and he is gone for days at a time, leaving her mother to handle all of the chores. Momma has both Martha and a new daughter by Mr. Latty to look after on top of it all. Mother is not happy. But what is she to do?

Sister Phoebe, married Adam Kemler last October and they had their first baby soon after, naming him Wesley, for John’s middle name. Margaret wondered if they would have named him John if they had known he was destined to die that year. Adam is a harness maker and he plans to move the family up to Michigan. There are plenty of harness makers in the county and he’s hoping to find less competition out there. He’s heard from several men that the lumber business is booming and the business is hard on the gear which must be routinely repaired or replaced.


It took four years for her brother’s probate to be resolved! Margaret thought it was terrible how her sister-in-law had to continue to be reminded of his death for so long. Thankfully, she was young enough to find a new life as she was married again. They moved to Toledo.

Mother had also married again – twice. Before ending things with Mr. Latty, Mother bore one more child to him, a son. She named him Lester Claud. Mother and Mr. Latty just couldn’t make it work together. They were both so unhappy.  

Mother’s third husband was Andrew Roush. Though, poor Mr. Roush didn’t live long. He died the following year. Margaret had a sneaking suspicion that Lester wasn’t Mr. Latty’s son though. She suspected he was Mr. Roush’s, but Mother named him “Latty” on the records because she was still legally married to Mr. Latty. She couldn’t blame her mother. Tongues wagged in the community and it wasn’t really anyone else’s business.

The year after Mr. Roush’s death, Mr. Latty died and Mother married her fourth husband, Isaac Stevenson. She seems happier and he’s good to her.

Death didn’t just visit the Latty family, Margaret was dealing with the loss of another sibling. Phoebe died that summer in Michigan. Too far for the family to make it to a funeral. She would never see her Phoebe again. 

Even if death didn’t rob her of her siblings, the miles did. Josephine had moved soon after her wedding to Van Wert County where she had two boys to keep up with. Martha had been working as a housekeeper for their widowed step-brother, Henry Roush, and his brood of children. They finally tied the knot this year and promptly moved away too. At least Josephine was close enough to visit for the holidays.

Margaret reminded herself: as life brings us death, it also brings us life. She had born two more sons and was thankful to have so many healthy children. She named her fourth child Joseph for Josephine and her fifth child Frederick for Richard’s brother out in Kansas.  Her older children were growing like sprouts and dearest Hortie was such a help around the house.  She enjoyed being the little mother to her younger brothers.


Richard sat alone in the house. He had sent the children away for the rest of the day. Margaret was just getting past the loss of Martha two years earlier. Her last and youngest living sibling. Who knew that at 35 she would be the last living Russell child? She had taken a cold soon after, and he thought it was just exhaustion combined with melancholy. He tried to get her to rest and take care of herself. But it had been consumption and it worked its curse fast. Margaret had been laid to rest that afternoon. He didn’t know what to do next. She had taken care of everything around the home. Hortie was newly married and starting off on her own. Emmett and John were big enough to help out around the farm, but what of the younger boys? He took another swig from the whiskey bottle to further numb his sorrows and sighed. He would have to find them another mother to help raise and mold them. Boys needed a mother and he needed a wife. That was life on the frontier.


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