Mary E. McGraw, the “Indian” Woman

Mary E. McGraw is the family legend. The one that says she’s Native American. I’ve seen claims that she was “full-blooded” and heard she was “half-blooded” but not a soul that repeats it can prove it. Not even DNA reveals it. Chalk it up to too many generations between her and the rest of us, I guess. I used to think that perhaps the Native American ancestry came from her mother’s side, Sarah Johnson. It is no secret that many of the folks whose heritage begins in southern and western Virginia have Native American roots. It just doesn’t show up in my genes. I do have a description of Mary’s father Martin McGraw II from his Widow’s Pension application that states he had “black hair, black eyes, a dark complexion, and stood about 5′ 9 or 10″ tall.” Take that however you wish.

Mary E’s life, in my opinion, was one of sadness. About 1850 or later, her father and mother, Martin Jr (or 2nd) and Sarah Johnson McGraw left Putnam County and returned to Fayette County, residing somewhere in the vicinity of Bell Creek (near another of my ancestors, Moses Hill and one John McGraw). Bell Creek is in an area where the Kanawha, Fayette, and Nicholas County boundaries meet. It was in this area that Mary E. met her soon-to-be groom, William R. Jacobs. The two got pregnant shortly before Mary’s father, Martin, died. Not married, just pregnant.

I don’t know if William R. Jacobs had to be poked with the business end of a shotgun to the altar of matrimony or if he happily met his pregnant wife-to-be there of his own joyful accord. I simply know it was a short marriage.

I already knew the date that Martin McGraw Jr. died: 25 October 1858. Mary E. and William Jacobs married 21 February 1859*. Their first child, a daughter named Virginia, was born three months later on 3 May 1859, in Kanawha County. Which part of Kanawha County, I am unsure but likely near the area where Kanawha County and Fayette County meet.

I don’t know whether William Jacobs joined the Army (Confederate or Union) and went off to fight the war before his son was born or shortly after. I simply know that my ancestor John William Jacobs was born on 5 March 1862 in Kanawha County. Two years later, on 21 November 1864, Mary E. McGraw Jacobs married William J. Duncan in Putnam County, WV. Somehow she knew that their marriage was over. He was not, to anyone’s knowledge, seen again.

*As for the marriage record of Mary E. McGraw and William Jacobs in Fayette County, I should report that this was not found anywhere in the State of West Virginia at the time (nor is it currently listed on the WV Culture VRR website). I purchased a spiral-bound book of “lost” records transcribed by Pauline Haga of Crab Orchard. Many of us knew that there were several years of records missing from Fayette County and it so happens, that Pauline Haga found them on microfilm at a library in Virginia. I found several records that pertained to my family but more importantly, I found within this book the marriage record of Mary and William. Pauline had transcribed Mary’s parents’ names as “T. M and Isabella McGraw.” This is a definite transcription error because I’ve since seen the actual record at Williams R. Jacob’s parents were given as Harrison and Jane Jacobs, his birthplace as Kanawha County. Both were 19 years of age.


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