circa 1800 - 1919
The origins of our Mills family is unknown but the name itself is an English, Scottish or Irish topographic name for someone who lived near a mill. And indeed, our Mills family begins with James R. Mills who in 1850 was a mill owner. He was born about 1800 in New York and married Ann E. Cadmus, who was born about 1801 in New Jersey. They had five known children together in New Jersey before moving west:
Sometime after Jane’s birth but before 1850, the family moved to Ruggles, Ashland County, Ohio where James R. was a mill owner and son James E. was an engineer. By 1860, they had moved to Chagrin Falls, Cuyahoga County, Ohio where James was a patent dealer.
Mary E. Mills was a teacher before she married John N. Morton, moved to Missouri, and had two daughters there. Jane Blendena married Royal Church and they had four children together before moving out to California.
James R. probably died sometime in between 1860 and 1870. After his death, Ann lived with her daughter Mary in Hamilton, Caldwell County, Missouri until her death in 1881. She is buried there in Highland Cemetery.
An oil painting exists from the Mills family, it is allegedly of the father of William Henry Mills but his name was believed to be Nathaniel. Since William’s father was actually named James, it’s unknown whether this is a painting of James and his name simply was remembered wrong, or whether this is a painting of some other member of the Mills family, possibly named Nathaniel.
William Henry Mills, was born in New Jersey on October 29, 1832. He married Emma Elizabeth Sherwood on July 7, 1855 in Wyandot County, Ohio when he was 22 and she was only 17. They had five children, all girls:
Unfortunately, Maggie died when she was 3 from poison, possibly arsenic since it was not unheard of in accidental poisonings. Wilhelmina, nicknamed “Minnie,” married a man named Henry Homer Houser in 1880, they had five children and moved to Indiana. Edith first married Nathan Bastian and had two children and after her husband’s death, married Henry Chapman and had another two children. Eugenia married Daniel Cordier and had eight children.
William worked as a Railroad Agent or Operator most of his life until he became a Past Master when he was older. A Past Master was someone considered to be highly experienced or skilled or an expert in their field or industry (the railroad industry, in William's case).
The Mills family moved around a lot. After marrying in and having their first child in Ohio, William and Emma moved to Sangamon County, Illinois between 1858 and 1860. Knowing that William worked as a Railroad Agent, the family probably lived near to one of the train stations within the county, which in 1859 were: Illiopolis, Lanesville, Mechanicsburg, Jamestown, Springfield, Ketcham, Berlin, Williamsville, Sangamon, Chatham, and Auburn, though they did not live in Springfield or Chatham since these are listed on the 1860 census and the Mills family were living in “District 16”. Only a few years later by 1863, they were living several counties over in Campbell, Coles County. Campbell is a difficult location to pin since it’s no longer on the map but it had been located along a main road (which may now be Lincoln Highway Road a.k.a. 1520 E) just west of what is now the Fox Ridge State Park. The nearest train station to Campbell would have been Charleston, which was 6.5 miles north. Assuming William reported for work in Charleston, his commute would have taken him about an hour and a half on horseback at a walk but at a consistent trot, it would have taken him less than an hour. Within about seven years in 1870, they had moved back to Ohio, this time in Coshocton before moving yet again to Coldwater, Mercer County of the same state around 1880. Coldwater was host to a principle through connection by 1881. The Mills finally landed in Olmstead, Logan County, Kentucky by 1900, which was not far from where Matie’s husband was from in Pembroke, Christian County.
William was apparently an ideal husband and father apart from the occasional drinking binges when he would disappear and not be heard from until he finally sobered up and returned home. He would be gone long enough that his wife Emma had to sew for money in order to put food on the table and William’s own job would be in jeopardy. When he returned, he would manage to get his job back and everything would return to normal until the next binge. Perhaps sometimes he was not always able to get his job back and this is why the family moved around a lot.
Matie Gertrude Mills was born March 5, 1862 in Illinois and was a Seventh Day Adventist. At some point in her life, she wrote a short story which she submitted to a magazine produced by McFaden Publications but received a rejection letter. On June 15, 1879, when she was 17, Matie married a Kentuckian man ten years her senior, Robert Louis Smith. It’s unclear how and where they met since the Mills were living in Ohio during 1879 and Robert was in Kentucky. It may have had something to do with William working as a railroad agent; perhaps the rail route he worked on took him to Kentucky where he met Robert first and later introduced the two. The fact that the Mills uprooted themselves to Kentucky later on, after Matie’s marriage and settlement there, certainly suggests the family were very close. For more on their life after marriage, see the Smith Family Chapter.
By 1910, William had moved in with his daughter Matie's family, the Smiths, in Tennessee. His wife, Emma Elizabeth, had died in 1901 when she was 63. William died on January 7, 1919 at the age of 86 in Huntsville, Alabama where the Smiths had moved to by that point. Probably less than a week before his death, Matie had written in her journal dated January 1919:
“Answered prayer: That Pa would revive and not die from the apparent neglect that would depress my spirits already under remorseful condition.”
Obviously, William had been ill and Matie was feeling guilty, perhaps because she felt like she wasn’t doing enough to help him. It seems just before he died, it may have looked like he was getting better, since Matie says her prayer was answered, and it must have been quite a shock to Matie when he quickly died soon after her journal entry. William’s cause of death was senility which may mean he could have been suffering from a mental deterioration. This may have made him difficult to look after, and therefore why Matie felt guilty for neglecting him.
Family legend has it that William was told by a lawyer that he was descended from Anneke Jans Bogardus, who had owned an estate in New York City (New Amsterdam at the time), on which now sat Trinity Church, and that William could claim an inheritance share of it. It is true that descendants of Anneke tried to obtain their inheritance by taking the church to court but the court ruled in the church’s favor. William supposedly had his genealogy drawn up to prove he was a descendant of Anneke but apparently never got any farther than that and never filed suit.
Legend also has it that Anneke herself was a descendant of Dutch royalty, as a daughter of the Webber family. While it’s true the Webbers have Dutch royalty links, Anneke’s relation to them is contested and it’s been suggested that she was instead Norwegian.
It’s possible that William was descended from Anneke but it’s also possible this lawyer created a fraudulent tree in hopes of making money off the inheritance. Unfortunately, since the tree William had drawn up is obviously lost to history and his branch dead ends with his father, this has yet to be confirmed one way or another.
© Robin Bauer 2010-2013
Mills Photos and Documents
Oil painting possibly of James R. Mills or other Mills family member (originally stated to be Nathaniel Mills but there’s no indication of a family member named such)
William Henry Mills
William Henry Mills’ wife, Emma Elizabeth Sherwood
A slightly younger Emma Elizabeth Sherwood
A tintype of Matie Gertrude Mills as a child
Matie Gertrude Mills
Matie Gertrude Mills, possibly as a teenager
A tintype of Matie Gertrude Mills and her sister Edith Louise, the two girls remained close their whole lives.
A tintype of Edith Louise Mills as a child.