Our Family Forest
The Covington Family

Rhea and Meigs Counties, 1840

Our Covington family is descended from Richard Covington, born in about 1775. It's likely he himself was born further east, probably Virginia or one of the Carolinas, but census records indicate that all of his children were born in Tennessee, beginning before 1810. The earliest record I have found so far is the 1840 US census, showing Richard, his wife, and twelve children living in Rhea County, Tennessee, in the southeast corner of the state. Rhea County is located in the Tennessee River Valley, in the Appalachian Mountains. Two of their sons were married and lived nearby: John, also in Rhea County and William, across the Tennessee River in the newly formed Meigs County.

Cherokee Connection?

Trail of Tears graphic from Wikipedia
Indian Removal (graphic from Wikipedia)

The Covingtons were in this location probably as part of a natural westward expansion into fertile farmland along the Tennessee River. But perhaps there is a Cherokee connection. In the late 1830s, the US government forced the Cherokee Nation to move from their territory to the Oklahoma Territory, their very difficult journey known as the Trail of Tears. (This was part of a broader displacement of the largest eastern tribes during the 1830s.) The Covington properties were just outside of the Cherokee territory in 1840. The Cherokee followed two routes, both beginning at the Tennessee River between Meigs and Rhea Counties. (Click on the graphic for a larger image.) By 1850, most of the family had moved to the Fort Smith, Arkansas area, which was near the other end of the Cherokee route and just across the border from the new Cherokee territory. Family history claims there was "Native American blood" in the Covington family. I have not found any records showing Native Americans in the family, but records are sparse. A recent dna analysis on a descendant in our branch of descendants did not show any native american ancestry. I wonder if the Covingtons were just a family in a westward expansion, or whether they had family (not in my family's line of descent)in the Indian Territories.

Crawford County region, from 1850

Richard and his wife passed away in the early 1840s; incomplete probate records found so far begin in 1843. In 1841, three of the kids were married in Rhea co.: Sarah and Anna married Silas and Thomas Conley (brothers?) on August 17th, and Jackson married Rebecca Smith in December. I wonder if these marriages were precipitated by the death or impending death of Richard and his wife. By 1850, William, John, James "Mat", Lorenzo, Rebecca, Gregsby and Richard, i.e., half of Richard's kids, were all in Richland township, in Crawford county, Arkansas. Crawford county was on the western edge of Arkansas, bordering the (Oklahoma) Indian Territory. Jackson and Anna (Conley) were back in Rhea co. I haven't found the other five. By 1860, Jackson, Rufus and Louis join Mat in Crawford county, in Mountain township, bringing to 10 of 14 kids that came through Crawford co.. The remaining four are Sarah and Anna Conley and Richard's oldest son and daughter, that I have not been able to identify. As the 12 known families continued to spread out, I lost track of most of them. From census and marriage records I assembled the following Covington family tree:

There should be a Covington family tree text file displayed here.

To see a full page version of the tree, click here. (If you don't know how you're related to these folks, visit our family tree, type in the name of your nearest deceased family member [father, grandfather, etc.] [last name, first name], click on the "list" button, click on your relative, then select the pedigree tab. One of the branches of your tree should be a Covington. If this doesn't work for you, contact me.) The names in bold are my families direct ancestors.

Accuracy of the Covington Family Tree

Census records contain all sorts of errors, including ages, places of birth, and name spellings, the 1840 enumeration does not include names of those counted, and relationships are not shown prior to 1880. There are very few vital records (at least available through FamilySearch.org) to support (or refute) the guesses I've made. So there is plenty of opportunity for errors in this family tree. However, given the proximity of these Covingtons to each other in the towns where they were located in 1840, 1850 and 1860, making reasonable assumptions based on their ages, and matching ages with the 1840 data, the Richard Covington family tree I've assembled is a very reasonable estimate. As more evidence becomes available, I will modify the tree as appropriate. (If you have any data that either supports or refutes some part of the family tree, please contact me or leave a comment.)

Family Names

It was common in the South to name children after prominent people. The Covingtons include an Andrew Jackson, Lorenzo Dow, James Madison, and Martin Van Buren. Presumably, these namesakes represented values important to the Covington family. At the time of Andrew Jackson Covington's birth in about 1820, Andrew Jackson was a war hero for his victories against the Creek Indians and the British in the War of 1812 and victories over the Seminole and Creek Indians in The First Seminole War in 1818, subsequently was responsible for taking Florida from the Spanish, was a very successful planter and merchant, had been Tennessee's first US Representative in 1796, and owned about 40 slaves. He was a Tennessee hero long before his election to two terms as US President in 1828 and 1832. (Note that Jackson's battles with the Creek and Seminole Indians does not mean he was "anti-Indian". In other battles he was allied with Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee Indians, and two of his three adopted children were Native Americans.) Lorenzo Dow Covington was born in about 1827, near the end of a 30 year tenure of the very popular traveling preacher after whom he was named, Lorenzo Dow. Dow was eccentric but eloquent, often shouting, insulting, and telling jokes. Very unconventional in the conservative religious services of the time. He travelled throughout the United States, on foot, "did not practice personal hygiene", carried only the clothes on his back and a box of Bibles to give away. He was a fierce abolitionist, often making him unpopular in the South. There are several Lorenzo Dow Covingtons, probably indicating their profound admiration, and may indicate the Covingtons were anti-slavery. James Madison served two terms as President, from 1809-1817. He, too, was a slave owner. Not being an historian, it is not clear to me why Madison would be a popular choice for naming children, other than that he was President at the time. He tried to use the US Army to protect Indian lands against encroachment by settlers. If the Covingtons had ties to the Cherokee near whom they lived in the 1830s, this may have endeared Madison to them. Martin Van Buren Covington was one of Richard Covington's grandchildren, and was born near Van Buren, Arkansas in 1839, right in the middle of Martin Van Buren's single term as President of the United States, so his name probably has more to do with circumstance than admiration. Van Buren was anti-slavery, though opposing abolition. I believe it was common in the South for people to be anti-slavery as immoral, but against Federal abolition of slavery as an encroachment on States' rights, so Van Buren's position may have resonated with many in the South.

1860 Murder in Van Buren

On Saturday, October 13 1860, the town of Van Buren had been "called out to muster". I'm not sure whether this was a regular town militia training, or whether is was a recruitment day for the US Army. For a little historical context, Abraham Lincoln was elected with only 40% of the popular vote the following month, and in December southern states began seceding from the United States, including Arkansas in May of the following year. There was heated debate over the issues of slavery and States' rights and many European-Americans in Arkansas were probably upset that there was apparently so much open land just across the river in the Oklahoma Indian Territories, but that they could not settle on it. In the early evening of October 13, 1860, two local troublemakers, brothers Ben and Silas Edwards, shot and stabbed to death Andrew Jackson Covington, then his 17 year old son, Richard, who tried to intervene, and then his brother, Rufus. The reason was allegedly some combination of troublemakers and a family feud. The Edwards brothers were caught and jailed, no small feat with an angry mob assembled to lynch them. Following a court hearing, two Covington brothers confronted the large police escort and the Edwards brothers were shot. Benjamin Edwards died several days later from his wound. Silas Edwards' wounds were not considered life threatening and he appeared in court a month later, but I do not yet know what become of him. A history of Crawford county says he "burned his way out of jail with a candle and escaped." (If you have access to the compilation of newspaper articles published in Van Buren Press: 1859-62 Volume 1, I"m very interested in learning the rest of this story.)

The families of Jackson and Rufus may have been split up following their deaths. I can't find Jackson's family in 1870. His wife, Rebecca, was left with seven children between the ages of one and sixteen. Rufus had been a single parent of four children under the age of 10 in 1860. I don't know whether his wife had died or they were divorced. In 1870, the two younger boys, Lorenzo Dow and Lewis, now 12 and 13 years old, were living with a young Kirkendall couple. Given the Kirkendalls were only 23 and 24 years old, they could not have been raising the boys since their father's death 10 years earlier. I did not find Rufus' older kids, William and Margaret. Covington was such a common name and there were so many Covingtons descended from Richard's 14 kids, that it is very hard to track them. Benjamin Edwards also left a widow and child.

Fort Smith

Fort Smith, just a few miles from Van Buren, was on the Arkansas-Indian Territories border, was/is the second largest town in the state, and had a reputation for a very tough, "wild west" town. Often death certificates of Covingtons who had moved away will show Fort Smith as a birthplace, because when asked while living they undoubtedly said they were from near Fort Smith, an easily recognizable place.

My Covingtons: On to Texas and Indian Territories

My own Covington family descended from James "Mat" Covington. (I've seen the names "Mat" and "James Mattis" in records, but believe his name was actually "James Madison Covington".) Mat was the sixth of Richard's kids, born in the 1820s in Tennessee. In the mid-1840s he married Martha, also a Tennessee native, and they had six children in Crawford county, Arkansas, before Martha passed away in the 1860s: Betsy, Sarah, Nancy, John (my family), Mary, and James. In the late '60s Mat married Winnie Watson. (I've recently seen a claim that Winnie's last name was not Watson, so consider this tentative.) Richard and William were born in Arkansas before the family moved to Texas in the early 1870s. Youngest son, Thomas, was born in Texas in 1876. At some point before 1880, Bell Lona joined the family. She was part native american. I don't know her legal status with the family - adopted? foster? daughter of a Covington? There have been present-day rumors of some native american heritage in the family. Perhaps Bell Lona's adoption was the source of this rumor. A recent DNA analysis did not show any native american ancestry, at least in the Covington/McClintock branch of descendants/ancestors.

John Covington
John Covington

I haven't been able to track most of the family - only four of Mat's ten kids. There are so many Covingtons, with common names, and records are sparse. They scattered in the 20 years between the 1880 and 1900 censuses. I have picked up the oldest son's, Johns's, trail, since he was my family's ancestor. John married Mary McLaughlin in 1873 in Franklin co., Arkansas. Family stories say she was the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, but I have not been able to find her family. Their first child, Kate, my family ancestor, was born in Arkansas in 1874 before the young family followed John's father to Denton co., Texas, where James Robert and Minnie were born. Since I couldn't find the family in the 1900 census, there is a 30 year gap in family census records (1880 to 1910). According to a family bible, there were four more children: John Edward, Addie May, Gertrude, and Myrtle. All were born in the Indian Territory or Oklahoma between 1887 and 1894. The nine year gap between the births of Minnie in 1878 and John Edward in 1887 usually flags a second marriage, which is not shown in the family bible. I have not yet found any record showing them together as a family, so I'm not sure what was going on with the family when they moved to Oklahoma. During this time, the Indian Territory was "opened up" for white settlement. 50,000 settlers swarmed into the Territory on April 22, 1889, the first Oklahoma land run. Historical accounts are not clear about a land run in the Choctaw Nation, where the Covingtons were located. Had they moved there in anticipation of the forced confiscation (theft?) of Indian land leading to Oklahoma statehood? At the very least, this must have been a time of high racial tension and conflict in the area. John (father) died in 1900 and was buried in the Pushmataha District of the Choctaw Nation in the Indian Territory, now Lehigh, Coal county, Oklahoma. (A booming town in the early 1900s and later as a coal mining town, but since the Depression has become nearly a ghost town.) According to the family bible, Mary McLaughlin Covington died in 1926 in McAlester, Oklahoma.

Traces of the Others

I know little about Mat and Winnie Covington's family back in Texas. John's younger brother, James M., jr., (son of James and Martha) was living with him in Denton in 1880. I'm still piecing together information about his life. So far I know that he married in the early 1880s and had five children, all born in Texas between 1886 and 1894: Della, Lavada, Ester, Ethel and Otis. I assume his first wife passed away within a few years of Otis' birth, and James married Nancy Neeley in 1897. They had five children, all boys: Roy, James, Paul, Erby, and William, the last born in 1908 in New Mexico. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 (according to information posted on Find-a-Grave, in Texas in 1916) Nancy probably also passed away. By 1920 James had moved the family to Tillman county, Oklahoma. By 1930, he was back in Texas, now married to Kate. I haven't yet traced any of his kids. He passed away in 1937, and was sent back to Hollister, Oklahoma for burial.

Mat and Winnie's oldest son, Richard, married Fannie Prince in 1890. They had nine children before she passed away in 1913: Claud, Fred, Ben, Leona, Wilmer, Floyd, George, Raymond, and Buck. Richard next married Clarice Lock in 1925. Sometime before 1930 they adopted Agnes (b. 1915). Their own daughter was born in 1931. Richard died in 1946; Clarice in 1975. Mat and Winnie's adopted daughter, Bell Lona, married Alonzo Davis, a christian minister, in 1893. A memoir from a grandchild says Lonnie was part Indian, so I'm not sure of her birth origins. Some records place her birth in Texas, some in Oklahoma. Was she adopted? Was Winnie Covington part native american? Their children were born in Texas and in Oklahoma. In the 1940s, they moved to Madera, California. She passed away there in 1959, he in 1961.

Back to my ancestors: John Covington & Mary McLaughlin's kids

John and Mary's oldest daughter, Kate, married Robert Lee McClintock in Lehigh, in the Choctaw Nation. The McClintocks were a Kentucky family that had also found it's way into the Indian Territory, which later became the state of Oklahoma. Between 1894 and 1911, they had five children: Albert (1894), Robert (1899), Rita (1903), Zelma (1906), and Mary Ann (1911). I think it unusual that the children were born this far apart, and wonder if there weren't more children who died as infants. Robert was a coal miner, the major industry in the area. According to the cenus, in 1910 he had been without work for twelve months and in 1920 he had been unemployed for eight months. I suspect that not only was coal mining dirty and low paying, but miners were often out of work. Though I haven't found other children, a high infant mortality would have been consistent with poverty. The most of the kids eventually moved away. Albert recalled wanting desperately to get out of Lehigh. In his youth, he jumped on railroad cars and travelled about. He eventually joined the army, alledgedly to escape his home town. While stationed in San Francisco, Albert met and married Adeline Magnani. Albert's younger brother, Robert, wanted to leave Oklahoma, but he had become a pharmacist and didn't think he could find this work in California. (My memory is that he claimed the qualifications for a licenced pharmacist were higher in other states at the time, and that his Oklahoma license would not be accepted.) He married Delores Herndon. Rita moved to San Francisco when she became an adult, and married Vincent Demaris. Zelma passed away when 21, while still living in Oklahoma. I'm told that Rita had diabetes, never married and worked at the post office, and that her sister, Rita, took care of her. I think she lived in the San Francisco area for a while. I don't yet know why she is buried in Utah.

My family is descended from Kate Covington and Robert McClintock. Their story continues on the McClintock family page.

Copyright © by Michael Cushing.

covington.shtm last updated 23 January 2018