Ancestry of James Whitcomb Riley-my ancestor
Andrew A. Riley, Irish grandfather of James Whitcomb
Riley, was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in a Deutsch
speaking community. Andrew's parents were Rebecca Harvey,
born July 11, 1769 in England who died in Montgomery County,
Ohio on Sept. 7, 1849, and James (or John "William") Riley
born 1752 in Torsnagh, Cork, Ireland who died in Bedford,
Pennsylvania before 1820. The source of this pedigree is
listed in the acknowledgements. James Riley had married
Rebecca Harvey about 1775 at Reading Berks, Pennsylvania.
Andrew was the second child. The firstborn was Samuel
Riley, born 1790. After Andrew came James Anderson Riley,
born 1796 who died in Nov. 1840; Isaac Riley, born about
1800; Henry Riley, born about 1803; George Washington Harvey
Riley, born Dec. 19, 1807 who died May 22, 1868; Sarah Riley,
born about 1810 in Pennsylvania who married George Roudebush;
and Mary Ann Riley, born 1813 who died in 1887.
Andrew's wife, Margaret Slick, was the daughter of John
Slick born about 1769, the son of Philip Slick born about
1740 in Germany, and Elizabeth Wilson. Andrew A. Riley and
Margaret Slick were married in Bedford, Pennsylvania, but the
Family Bible gives no date. It must have been around 1820
since they started West soon after that date. They stopped
first near Cincinnati, Ohio and then at Richmond and finally
located on a farm a short distance southeast of Windsor in
the western part of Randolph county on what was later known
as the Joshua Swingley farm, with Andrew remaining there and
running a tavern until the time of his death about November
29, 1840. He was also the local justice of peace for Stoney
Creek Township until 1837 according to the bond records of
the county. The farm was on a knoll along Stoney Creek.
Coming to frontier Indiana was a daring family trip. During
the 400 mile journey from Pennsylvania, Andrew sold all of
his belongings for $30 except a horse, a "carry-all" and some
clothing. He and his older sons walked while the mother and
daughters rode in the wagon. Reuben Riley was one of those
sons who walked. He was the fifth in a family of 14 children.
During this westward trek, the family lived in the open,
building campfires in the woods at night. In the Allegheny
foothills, their fare was slight. When they reached Randolph
County, Indiana, they were able to find a bounty of food from
wild deer, black bear, squirrels, wild turnkey and wild
vegetables growing along Stoney Creek.
Andrew and Margaret had the following children: Sarah
Ann Riley, born about 1815 who married Tom D. Shepherd; Job
Harvey Riley, born about 1816; John Sleek Riley (Dr.) born
Dec. 12, 1817; Reuben (the poet's father) born June 2, 1819;
Andrew Pinckney Riley, born 1820 who married Elizabeth Cline;
James Anderson Riley born about 1821; George Washington
Harvey Riley born about 1823 who married Emma C. Nex; Joseph
Sleek Riley, born about 1824; Benjamin Frank Riley born about
1826 who married Elizabeth Patterson; and Martin Whitten
Riley born about 1828 who married Elizabeth Dodson.
Andrew's agricultural labor produced large crops and one
winter it is said he helped save a tribe of starving Miami
Indians by loading their ponies with corn. In another time of
scarcity, a stockman offered him 75 cents a bushel for his
corn, but he chose to sell it to needy neighbors for 25 cents
a bushel. Shortly before his death, Andrew said, "I have
never intentionally wronged any man. I have not been vulgar
or profane. I have tried to do right. I do not fear to die."
Not all Hoosiers could say the same.
Reuben Riley reached Hancock County, Indiana, within
a few scant years of the departure of the last native
Americans from Indiana. Many were wrenched away in a horrible
episode in Indiana history. The last of the Potawatomi, those
who had not accepted "white folks ways" or left before were
rounded up and removed by the county militiamen of Indiana
called up to state service for that purpose by the Governor
These native Americans were forced to take the infamous
"Trail of Death" out of Indiana during September of that
A militia officer, General Tipton, was placed in
charge of the roundup of the Hoosier Indians. Many tried
to escape into the woods but were arrested and made
prisoners. Indian children were left in the woods by parents
in the hope that they, at least, might be able to stay in the
native lands if they could survive. Many stories exist of
such children being adopted by "white European" families when
they were discovered.
No sad story stopped General Tipton. He was not cruel
but he knew what the Hoosier Governor's orders were and that
was to round up the remaining Indians and get them out of the
state. Here is an excerpt of one of his written accounts,
"Many of the Indian men were assembled near the chapel when
we arrived, and were not permitted to leave camp or separate
until matters were amicably settled and they had agreed to
give peaceable possession of the land sold by them." If
Indians had weapons, these were taken away.
Squads of militia fanned out to collect the remnants of
the tribes who had refused to move out of Indiana by that
By September, Tipton had gathered the last 859 which
contained many old people and young. One of the Catholic
missionaries, Father Petit, who had lived with the tribes
describes his final Christian worship service since he was
not permitted to go on the Trail of Death. "At the moment of
my departure I assembled all my children to speak to them for
the last time. I wept, and my auditors sobbed aloud. It was
indeed a heartrending sight, and over our dying mission we
prayed for the success of those on their way to the new
hunting grounds. We then with one accord say, `O Virgin, we
place our confidence in thee.' It was often interrupted and
but few could finish it. After the Indians were sequestered,
the soldiers were under orders to burn and destroy the huts
and cabins of the Indians to erase temptation to return to
When the Indian march order was given on the early
morning of September 4th. The weather was very hot and dry.
The ordinary sources of water were dried up by then and
malaria started infecting the Indians because water supplies
were stagnant. The native Americans were marched single file
on foot to cross Indiana, Illinois and the Mississippi. Few
made it. Even by the time they reached the pioneer
settlement at Logansport many died. Their camp there was
described as "a scene of desolation; on all sides were the
sick and dying." The militiamen too were getting sick and
many were permitted to return to their homes. The few Indians
with Indian ponies were compelled to give them up for these
departing militiamen to return to their families.
On the way through the Wabash Valley, the suffering
increased so much that General Tipton relented and allowed
the Indians to call for Father Petit to come to them. Despite
his own delicate health the good father went and says, "On
Sunday, September 16, I came in sight of my poor Christians,
marching in a line, and guarded on both sides by soldiers who
hastened their steps. A burning sun poured its beams upon
them, and they were enveloped in a thick cloud of dust.
After them came the baggage wagons into which were crowded
the many sick, the women and children who were too feeble to
walk... Almost all the babies, exhausted by the heat, were
dead or dying. I baptized several newly-born happy little
ones, whose first step was from the land of exile to heaven."
Soon the militiamen tired of walking and chose to ride in the
baggage wagons forcing the Indian women and children out to
walk and die all the quicker.
Many stories remain. There is one of a hundred year old
Indian woman, the mother of a Chieftain, who pleaded with her
tribe to put her to death in Indiana. She knew she had no
hopes of surviving a long trek and wished to be buried in the
land of her ancestry. The tribe refused the old woman's wish
to kill her. She was buried along the trail four days later.
Not a single baby made the trip.
The Hoosier people live with the memories of their
history. These memories mix with those of the settlers
like Andrew Riley who came to Hoosier forests.
There are no records of Andrew's death in the Family
Bible and his date of death in 1840 is derived from the
records in the Randolph County probate court records of that
date. A Dr. Dynes was the attending physician during Andrew
Riley's last illness. Dr. Dynes made daily calls for some
days prior to November 20, 1840. His itemized claim filed
against the estate shows a charge each day up to and
including November 19th for a call and medicine left. On the
20th day a charge is made for just the call - no medicine.
This was the doctor's last call so Andrew probably didn't
need the doctor anymore. Andrew Riley was buried on the farm
where he lived.
In the probate court order book of Randolph County, vol.
2, page 139 is this entry:
"Be it remembered that on the fifteenth day of December
in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and
forty; letters of administration of all and singular the
goods and chattels, rights, credits, monies and effects which
were of Andrew Riley late of Randolph County in the State of
Indiana, deceased, was granted by George W. Monks, clerk of
the probate court in and for said county to Reuben A. Riley,
he, the said Reuben A. Riley, having first filed bond in the
sum of fifteen hundred dollars with Lewis Remmel and Smoot
securities and he was duly affirmed as such administrator."
Reuben Riley's authority to handle his father's estate
was later revoked by this entry:
"In the matter of Reuben A, Riley, administrator of the
estate of Andrew Riley, deceased. It appearing to the
satisfaction of the court, from the affidavit of Margaret
Way, late Margaret Riley, widow and relict of said Andrew
Riley, that the said Reuben A. Riley has emigrated to and is
now a citizen of Iowa Territory. It is ordered and adjudged
by the court that the letters of administration heretofore
granted by the clerk of this court to the said Reuben A.
Riley, on the estate of said deceased, be and the same are
hereby revoked and nulled and made void. Whereon on
application of the said Margaret, it is further ordered by
the court that administration de bonis non of said estate is
hereby committed to Thomas W. Reece, and thereupon said
Thomas W. Reece appears in open court and accepts said
appointment and files bond in the sum of twelve hundred
dollars, with William Dickson and George W. Smithson as his
What became of Margaret?
Margaret (Slick) Riley remained Andrew's widow for only
about a year and a half and then in March 1842 she married
Thomas Way. Little is known about this arrangement.
Eventually Margaret moved from the Windsor neighborhood to
Greenfield, Indiana, as a single woman, and lived near her
son Reuben Riley until 1868. She died October 3, 1884 at the
home of her son Dr. A.J. Riley in Muncie. The funeral notices
were sent out under the name of Margaret Riley. The notice
read: "Mrs. Margaret Riley was born in Bedford County, Pa.
October 23rd, 1793, died at the home of her son, Dr. A.J.
Riley in Muncie, Indiana, Monday evening, Oct. 3rd, 1884,
aged 87 years, 11 months, and 10 days. Her funeral will take
place tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5th at the grave yard near
Windsor, Randolph County, at 2 o'clock P.M. The funeral
cortege leaving Muncie at 8 o'clock A.M. The funeral
services will be conducted by Rev. F.D. Simpson. The friends
of the family are invited." The dates have to be wrong
because if correct she died at 90.
The burial places of Andrew and Margaret Riley are in
the Clevenger Cemetery about a mile south of Windsor. The
exact spots are no longer locatable. The lettering of the
stones is mostly erased in this cemetery, vegetation has
overgrown it and most tombstones are broken or at least half-
buried. Windsor might well have become the birth home of
James Whitcomb Riley. Reuben Riley owned a lot there and was
licensed to practice law there in 1842 but Riley's stay was
short and he sold his lot in Windsor to Andrew West on August
After his father's death, Reuben had gone to a prairie
village in Iowa, been admitted to the bar there, but had only
achieved a very limited practice. He subsequently returned
to Randolph County. He was tall, black eyed and considered to
be an eloquent debater.
Reuben Riley became re-acquainted with Elizabeth Marine
at a Fourth of July gathering in Neeley's Woods, near
Windsor, in 1843 after his return from Iowa. The occasion
was a grand barbecue of pigs, an ox and five lambs. Reuben
danced with Elizabeth and the two were said to have decided
to get married instantly.
Reuben Alexander Riley and Elizabeth (Marine) Riley,
parents of the poet, were married March 15, 1844 at Union
Port, Randolph county, by Rev. Thomas Leonard, minister of
the Methodist church. Elizabeth's brother Jonathan and Emily
Hunt stood up for the two. Elizabeth wore a pale pink silk
wedding dress with a long white veil and white kid gloves and
shoes. Her "in-fair" dress was of gray poplin, and she wore a
leghorn bonnet when she rode away with Reuben the next day.
They went immediately to Greenfield and occupied a log cabin.
The marriage license of Reuben A. Riley and Elizabeth Marine
was issued by the Clerk of the Randolph Circuit Court on the
18th of Feb. but they were not married until about a month
later, March 15, 1844.
Elizabeth Marine Riley's father was John Marine. In the
Riley family Bible she spells his last name M-E-R-I-N-E. John
Marine's father was Jonathan Marine and his mother was Mary
Charles who lived in the Carolinas. Mary Charles Marine died
in Wayne County, Indiana, and was buried in Randolph County.
Jonathan Marine was buried in the New Garden churchyard about
nine miles from Richmond. Mary Charles Marine lived to be
ninety-six years old.
Elizabeth was the tenth in a family of 11 children and
a descendent of persecuted French Huguenots and English
Quakers. She claimed birth in Rockingham, North Carolina in
Probably Reuben's first work was on his father's farm
and in his tavern. Reuben Riley became the school teacher in
the little one-room schoolhouse at the east end of Union Port
on the south side of the road. Soon after marriage the Rileys
went to Greenfield to Hancock county to make their future
Greenfield was at that time a little village of a few
scattered log houses with puncheon floors and oil paper
windows. Reuben Riley was said to have built the log cabin
and equipped it with furniture which he had made. The main
advantage of the site was that it was located on the
National Road that stretched from Cumberland, Maryland
across country to the trails to the Pacific Coast.
It was here in their original log cabin that their six
children were born. The Riley children were John Andrew
Riley, born Dec. 11, 1844 who married Julia Wilson and died
Dec. 11, 1911; Martha Celestia Riley, born Feb. 21, 1847;
James Whitcomb Riley, born Oct. 7, 1849 and died July 22,
1916 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Elva May Riley born Jan. 1856
and died in 1909 in Indianapolis, Indiana; Humboldt Alexander
Riley born Oct. 15, 1858 and died Nov., 1887; and Mary
Elizabeth Riley born Oct. 27, 1864 who married and divorced
Frank C. Payne and died in 1936.
There is speculation that James Whitcomb Riley's genius
came from John Marine, the probable father of Elizabeth and
an outstanding character in the early history of Randolph and
Delaware counties. John Marine loved poetry and, like his
famous grandson, was said to have written his autobiography
in rhyme. He also was said to write and write. He wrote a
book, now lost, on religion urging all Christians to unite.
He also wrote sermons in verse and delivered them to
Methodist camp meetings. None of these works survive. John
had lost his modest fortune speculating in weaver-sleighs two
years after Elizabeth's birth and came to Indiana.
James Whitcomb Riley was one of those many great men who
have been unusually fond of their mothers. There was the
artist Whistler whose most famous work was a portrait of his
mother. Then there was George Washington. No matter how far
his surveying took him from Virginia, he kept in touch with
Mary Washington. To this list, we must add James Whitcomb
Riley whose primary love was Elizabeth Marine Riley, his
lovely mother. His first poem was a valentine written to his
As a child, she had come in a one-horse buggy with her
parents the 700 miles from North Carolina to Indiana. They
came over the Cumberland Gap, the usual route through the
Allegheny Mountains. Then on through the endless forests
where all sorts of wild animals lurked. There were about 400
in their party which finally found its way to Randolph County
Indiana. The party found only wilderness without any
inhabitants or built up places or village.
After brief stops at New Garden and one or two points in
Wayne County, he settled with his family in Randolph County
and built a cabin on a high bank of the Mississinewa River a
few miles below Ridgeville and a mill nearby.
James Whitcomb Riley thought that his mother had led an
ideal life as a young person. The Marine cabin was on the
banks of a beautiful stream, called by an Indian name, the
Mississiniwa River. She had grown to become a beautiful
young woman. One of Elizabeth's interests was discovering
The Marines were flat boat builders, millers and poets.
John laid out the defunct town of Rockingham on the
Mississinewa and advertised lots in verse. It did no good.
The town failed to attract settlers.
John also was a preacher and teacher. He advocated the
union of all churches, a dangerous thing to do in those days.
He and the poet's grandmother, Margaret Riley, were leaders
in the camp meetings of Randolph and Delaware Counties.
William A. Thornburg, an elderly neighbor who remembered
the Marines living nearby, told Marcus Dickey, an early Riley
biographer, that "Elizabeth Marine was remarkably pure-
minded. I never saw anyone so beautiful in a calico dress.
She loved to wander along streams and wander in the green
woods. She was always seeing things among the leaves."
Elizabeth met Johnny Appleseed who planted apple cores among
the settlements and liked to listen to listen to his accounts
of his wanderings and his views on Christianity one of which
was that folk do not die but "go right on living."
Every boy has an early determination - a first one - to
follow some exciting profession, once he grows up to man's
estate, such as being a policemen or a performer on the high
trapeze. Riley was not interested in these nor in being
the "People's Laureate," but the Greenfield baker, had his
fairy godmother granted his "boy-wish."
Here is how Riley remembered his "wish" in his later
"AN IMPETUOUS RESOLVE" (1890)
When little Dickie Swope's a man,
He's going to be a sailor;
And little Hamey Tincher, he's
A'going to be a Tailor;
Bud Mitchell, he's a'going to be
A stylish Carriage-Maker;
And when I grow a great big man
I'm going to be a Baker.
And Dick will buy his sailor-suit
Of Hame; and Hame will take it
And buy as fine a double rig
As ever Bud can make it;
And then all three'll drive round for me,
And we'll drive off together
Slinging pie-crust along the road
Forever and forever.
To Riley, running a bakery "seemed the acme of delight,"
using again his own expression. Happiness was "to manufacture
those snowy loaves of bread, those delicious tarts, those
toothsome bon-bons. And then to own them all, to keep them
in store, to watch over and guardedly exhibit. The thought of
getting money for them was to me a sacrilege. Sell them? No
indeed. Eat `em - eat `em, by tray loads and dray loads! It
was a great wonder to me why the pale-faced baker in our town
did not eat all his good things. This I determined to do
when I became owner of such a grand establishment. Yes, sir.
I would have a glorious feast. Maybe I'd have Tom and Harry
and perhaps little Kate and Florry in to help us once in a
while. The thought of these playmates as `grown up folks'
didn't appeal to me. I was but a child, with wide-open eyes,
a healthy appetite and a wondering mind. That was all. But
I have the same sweet tooth to-day, and every time I pass a
confectioner's shop, I think of the big baker of our town,
and Tom and Harry and the youngsters all."