1774 - 1853
Wood is not surprisingly a name that was given to someone who lived near or in a wooded area. It also derived from the occupations of a woodcutter or forester. It was mainly English but also Scottish.
We begin with Leonard L. Wood who was born in 1774 in either North Carolina or Maryland. His parents names may have been either Benjamin Wood and Ann Thomas or John “Goodwill” Wood and Sarah (maiden name unknown), but neither are confirmed. Additionally, it’s been suggested that if Leonard’s father was John “Goodwill” Wood, then John’s father was Benjamin, who was married twice, first to Ann (maiden name unknown) and then to Elizabeth Thomas. Obviously, there is some truth to all of this, given the consistency of the names Benjamin, Ann, and Thomas in either case, but it is unknown what generation they belonged to or whose maiden name was Thomas. In any case, Leonard’s ancestry was said to be from old Maryland stock.
Leonard married a Sarah Davis in Tennessee around 1803. Sarah was born in Sampson County, North Carolina and had moved, presumably with her parents David and Sarah Davis, to Tennessee sometime before her marriage. Her ancestry was also said to be from old Maryland.
From what we know, Leonard and Sarah had at least eight children together:
However, ‘Octavia’ is typically a name given to the eighth born child of a family and given the large ten year gap between their first two children, it's possible the couple had three other unknown children. That would mean Leonard and Sarah actually had eleven children in total. Other family trees suggest the names of these other children were Paulina, Emily and Benjamin Franklin and while these are unconfirmed, William H.P. Wood named two of his children Paulina and Benjamin Franklin, possibly after these unconfirmed siblings.
The Woods moved around a lot, living first in Williamson County, Tennessee where Octavia and several other of the children were born, until moving to Alabama in 1826 and finally settling in Christian County, Kentucky in 1830 where Leonard was a farmer. The nearest town or city to their farm was Hopkinsville but it’s likely that they lived just outside the city. Hopkinsville was originally settled by Bartholomew and Martha Ann Wood in 1796 but it’s unknown if they are of any relation to our Wood family. Bartholomew and his wife originally came from Jonesborough, Tennessee, which is the county seat of Washington County. It sounds tantalizingly similar to our Wood origins in Williamson County, Tennessee but the two counties do not even border each other and there is no known relation between the two Wood families. It is a common enough family name that we can not jump to conclusions.
Leonard owned five slaves in 1820 while they were in Tennessee; three were children under the age of 14 (two boys, one girl), one male over the age of 45 and one female between 14 and 25 years old. In 1830, Leonard now had eight slaves, two were under the age of 10 (one boy, one girl), three were between 10 and 23 (two male, one female), and another three were between 24 and 35 years old (one male, two female). 1840 saw a jump to fourteen slaves, nine were under the age of 10 (four boys, five girls) and three were between 10 and 23 (two male, one female). The remaining two were a male between 36 and 54 years old and a woman between 24 and 35. By 1850, the number had increased to a total of eighteen slaves, seven of them female and eleven male. Eight of them were black but ten were "mulatto" which means the individual was part black and part white. The obvious conclusion is usually that the slave owner had children with his female slaves but we don't know whether the father was Leonard or a previous slave owner.
During this time period, it was not unusual for an average farmer’s wealth to be tied up in his land, leaving him little money to man the farm with slaves. Because of this, renting slaves was not an uncommon practise. With Leonard, the opposite appears to be the case; he owned only $810 worth of land in 1850, which today would be worth about only $24,100, or in “prestige value”, $357,000. Compared to many of his farming neighbors, the value of Leonard’s real estate was about average. However, he owned 18 slaves by this point, a relatively high number, though not plantation worthy but significant for a small farm. This makes some sense knowing that by 1850, Leonard was in his 70s and would not have been able to do much, if any, work on the farm himself and his wife may have needed more help around the house too. He may have even sold off some of his land, using the money to buy more slaves.
William H.P. married Jane D. Bradley in 1839 and had several children in Christian County. In 1851, Parelee married William Allegree and had eight children in the Hopkinsville and Pembroke area of Christian County, Kentucky.
1853 was a tragic year for the Wood family. Sarah died of the highly contagious smallpox in Christian County on February 15, 1853 and then William H.P. died six months later from "congestive chill" on August 23rd. Before the family would even have had much time to recover from this blow, Elbert died in Logan County in September of a hemorrhage of the lungs. He was 37 years old but had not married or had children. Though it’s unknown what impact it may have had on the family, the death of one of Leonard's slaves, known only as "Mat" (33), was probably a tragedy among the other slaves of the household. He also died of smallpox one day after Sarah, suggesting she may have infected him or vice versa. By this point in history, smallpox vaccines were available and effective but in Kentucky they were not yet compulsory, and probably less available in rural areas.
Leonard then died sometime after September 1856, which was the last amendment of his will. In his last will, first dated January 30, 1854, he leaves his land, the house upon it, and the kitchen furniture to his youngest and unmarried daughter Artemissa. He also gave his son Gilbert $500 but then Gilbert died in 1855 and Leonard’s will was amended on September 26, 1856, stating that the $500 be divided evenly among his living children and grandchildren. That $500 would have been worth about $13,900 today, or $185,000 in “prestige value”. All remaining assets were to be sold and liquidated, including his slaves, and the profits and remainder of his wealth were to be divided equally among his heirs, with each living child, excluding Artemissa, getting one share. The children of his deceased children would get one share among them. Leonard named his son Milton as trustee for the shares of his daughters, but also instructed that his daughters be the sole beneficiaries, excluding their husbands or any future husbands from accessing it. During this time period, a woman’s property became her husband’s property by default unless specifically prohibited, such as we see here. Leonard obviously wanted to make sure his daughters had provisions of their own after his death, but they perhaps didn’t have bank accounts of their own and so Milton was named trustee. Milton was also named as one of the executors of Leonard’s will, along with John W. Campbell, so obviously Milton was adept at handling money and assets.
In the spring of 1837, the nearly sixteen year old Octavia fell in love with nineteen year old Robert Hawkins Smith. Robert was residing in the small rural town of Elkton in Todd County, about 20 miles away from Hopkinsville, near where the Woods were living at the time. On foot, this would have been about a 6 to 7 hour trip and on horseback, about 2 to 4 hours, depending on pace. It is unknown how they met, perhaps through a church revival meeting or through mutual associates, but their “long distance relationship” carried on in the first year by way of love letters which still survive today.
What is known is that by the spring and summer 1837, they were sending letters to each other expressing their feelings for one another. The ones sent to Octavia were addressed to Hopkinsville but since there was no postal service outside the city, those who lived in rural areas had to travel into the city to pick up their mail. Octavia's letters to Robert were addressed to "Elkton" or "Near Elkton".
It is noteworthy that the punctuation, grammar and spelling in all the letters is not superb and so the transcriptions have been altered to correct them. But the lack of punctuation and misspellings like “amediately” instead of “immediately” and grammar such as “you was well” indicate only a rudimentary education.
In the first surviving letter, from Robert to Octavia, he seems to be revealing his feelings for her for the first time. There is no date to be found on the letter but given Robert says in this one that he has concealed his feelings for as long as he could and the rest of the letters openly discuss their feelings for one another, this one must come before them in chronological order. The aged and worn paper and handwriting is difficult to read and the letter also appears to be missing a portion off the top but the following is the best transcription manageable:
"Sitting alone it is then that I think of thee. It is on thee that all my future happiness depends as to my sincerity or that you may depend for I would not deceive you for the world. Believe me for I am truly your lover. Dear Octavia would it [illegible] with my [hole in document] feelings or in other words could you consent to become my companion through life. If I am your choice it will shortly render me happy through life. If not, My Dear, I have more regard for your feelings than to persuade you contrary to your tender feelings. I have concealed my feelings from you as long as I can so you must not think me bold in this address to you for my love to you is so great that I could not [for bane?]. So excuse my Boldness. It is my desire that you answer me as soon as you can. Remember me your affectionate lover until death,
Robert H Smith"
The letter was then folded up several times and the address was written on the back; apparently envelopes weren't used.
Octavia's response to Robert's profession of love are lost to history, her responding letter has not survived. There are five surviving letters in total, each in varying degree of legibility. The second surviving letter is also from Robert to Octavia and dated May 24, 1837. How many letters there had been between the first and second (or prior to the first) is unknown. Since the first letter is not dated, there is no way to guess how many letters could have been sent before May 24th.
In the second letter, Robert tells Octavia that she is "as dear to me as life itself" and tells her "doubt not what I say for every word comes directly from the heart." He then promises to see her in a short time and will have "the most exquisite pleasure of embracing one who I am ever anxious to see." He finishes the letter by saying he "remains your affectionate and dear beloved until death." Obviously eager to hear back from her, he adds a rather demanding P.S. of "Answer this letter immediately".
The third letter, dated the second of June, 1837, is the most interesting of all as Octavia tells Robert,
"You must give me a generous reward for transacting this generous act but alas I fear the consequence. Round is the ring that has no end."
A theory has been put forth that Octavia's "generous act" was one of a sexual nature and that she fears the consequence of either getting pregnant or someone finding out and her reputation being ruined, and therefore as her "generous reward", she is expecting Robert to marry her. "Round is the ring that has no end" certainly sounds like an obvious reference to a wedding ring.
But this is mere speculation. One wouldn't have thought that Octavia would want to write or save letters which could prove she engaged in premarital sex and tarnish her reputation. But if the theory is accurate, Octavia need not have feared for not only did Robert marry her, she did not give birth for the first time until well after their marriage, which occurred in the year following the letters.
The fourth letter, dated June 24th, is obviously Robert's response to Octavia's fears. Covering a page and a half and written in what appears to be larger and sloppier handwriting than his other letters, it shows how anxious Robert must have been to reassure Octavia:
"Dear Miss I hasten to answer you letter but alas how can I express my feelings to one who I consider if I should use the expression as dear to me as life itself and the letter that I received from you was a dear consolation to me. Dear Miss, doubt not what I say for every word comes directly from the heart of one who is and shall prove to be your friend and as to the regards of the love I have for you, is beyond expressible. Dear Miss, I hope you will for this time I beg to excuse me of not answering your letter sooner for I was so engaged in my affairs that I could not. But I am in hopes that I will see you in person and that will be the most enjoyment to us both. My Dear, you speak of a generous reward from me for transacting so generous an act. I say by all that is sacred and by all that is dear to man and men that I pledge myself again and again that I will prove to you what I ought to do on that subject. Oh my dear, give me your heart and hand and that is all I ask and if you do not, I am ruined forever. Dear Miss, you will permit me to subscribe myself your most obedient friend. But I would write something more on that, but I thought as you would be convinced in this letter the love that I had for you."
It is noticeable that Robert is beginning to reiterate some romantic sentiments that he used in the second letter, such as “as dear to me as life itself”. But Octavia too uses some of the same phrases as Robert so these were probably common phrases of affection at the time.
Robert's postscript in his final surviving letter is the most romantic of all because it is not found elsewhere in any of the letters by Robert or Octavia and is therefore a unique sentiment rather than a recycled or commonly used term of endearment:
"My dear it is you and you alone that I love and no other can win my affection from you."
The fifth and final surviving letter of all of them is from Octavia and dated November 15 so there is another gap in the timeline here in which some letters are probably missing. In it, Octavia reflects on the many transactions between them but it is the most difficult letter to read and transcribe and therefore her thoughts come across very brokenly. She talks of Robert's "respectful attention", which perhaps suggests there was never any sexual intimacies between them after all, and his "sincere friendship". She calls him "my darling", "my beloved", and "dear lover", all terms that Robert used for her as well. She ends the letter with the final insight we have into their world and hearts:
"May god bless and preserve you and believe me that I remain forever your affectionate lover until death."
We hear so much about arranged and political marriages from the past that it is refreshing and heartwarming to see a genuine love like this develop. Robert and Octavia married on February 20, 1838, three months after the final surviving letter, and settled in Pembroke, a small rural town just outside of Hopkinsville, where they had 12 children and became members of the Christadelphian Church. The rest of their married life is detailed in the Smith Family Chapter.
© Robin Bauer 2010-2013
Wood Photos and Documents
The first of the love letters between Octavia and Robert when he reveals his feelings for her.
The back of the first letter, unknown date.
The second love letter from Robert to Octavia with the postscript “Answer this letter immediately,” the misspelling of “immediately” among others indicated a rudimentary education.
The back of the second letter dated May 25, 1837.
The third love letter, from Octavia to Robert, dated June 2, 1837.
The back of the third love letter.
The first page of the fourth letter, from Robert to Octavia, dated June 24 1837.
The second page of the fourth love letter, in which Robert assures Octavia regarding her concerns on an unknown matter, possibly relating to marriage.
The fifth and final letter, from Octavia to Robert, dated November 15, 1837. Given the time gap between the fourth and fifth letters, it’s likely there were other letters in between.
The back of the fifth and final letter.