Sarah Jane Johnson, Wife of Martin McGraw Jr.

I made the mistake years ago of telling a relative that Sarah Jane Johnson “may have descended from Robert Johnson of Wolf Creek, Greenbrier County.” That speculation was added to her tree and has spread far and wide, with numerous trees presenting those very details. I had not done the necessary research to prove/disprove that speculation when I made the statement but apparently, that doesn’t matter. Do people ever do the math when they do genealogical research or do they just copy from someone else’s tree? Nevermind, I know the answer to that and is the main reason I don’t add names from other people’s trees unless I’m working on a hypothesis.

Sarah Jane Johnson was NOT the daughter of Robert Johnson and Catherine Doran. Here are my reasons for putting forth that statement:

  1. Sarah Jane Johnson was born between 1810 and 1815 if the Censuses in which she is enumerated provide the correct, albeit approximate, ages for her in the years 1850 to 1890:
    1. I know that she and Martin McGraw were in Putnam County in 1850 but having looked at that document, I see there are no ages provided.*
    2. By 1860, she’s back in Fayette County where Martin died in 1858. She is listed (or whom I believe is her) as Sarah McGraw, aged 50, working as a Day Laborer for the James Cole family. It is established that Martin and Sarah returned to Fayette County from Putnam County before 1858 because Fayette is where Martin died followed by the marriage of their daughter Mary E. McGraw to William Jacobs (of Kanawha County) in 1859. You will find that several of Martin McGraw’s children by Nancy Wood married in Putnam County (“at Thomas McGraw’s”) yet there is evidence of Sarah and at least one younger child in Fayette County prior to 1860.
    3. By 1880, Sarah is back in Putnam County, this time living with son Harvey and wife Alsonia. Sarah is listed as 65 years old, a fifteen-year jump rather than a twenty-year jump in her age from 1860. Until I find her in the 1870 Census, this much data will have to suffice in my calculation, thus placing her birth year between 1810 and 1815.
  2. Sarah Jane Johnson would have been living in the vicinity of Gauley Bridge, WV in the 1830s where Martin McGraw’s first wife, Nancy Wood, died (around 1833) and Sarah’s marriage to Martin took place in 1835.
    1. To reiterate, Martin owned property at what we now know as Chimney Corner – that is on U. S. Rt. 60 where Rt. 16 intersects and goes to Fayetteville. If you continue on Rt. 60 West, your next landmark is Hawks Nest State Park.
    2. Gauley Bridge is at an area (but is not the exact location) where three counties border one another: Kanawha, Fayette, and Nicholas counties. It is the location given as the marriage place of Sarah to Martin in 1835.
    3. The minister of this couple’s marriage was W. Legon (numerous spellings for this poor fellow).  Per Ruth Woods Dayton, “History of the Great Kanawha Valley” 1891, W. C. Ligon pastored the Kanawha Baptist Church from 1832-1843 and was founded by Rev. Johnston (see page 230). A little history of the church is provided in this WV Gazette article. From that we learn that church services were held in various people’s homes or on their property before Pratt, WV became the permanent location.
    4. Busy farmers seldom traveled long distances to find a wife. I firmly believe that Martin McGraw chose from the available females in the area surrounding Gauley Bridge for a wife. It is likely that Sarah Jane Johnson and Martin McGraw attended the same church, at least attended the same community functions, and that Sarah’s parents lived and farmed within the same community as Martin McGraw, whether that community was in Kanawha, Fayette, or Nicholas County. It may be important to point out that Rt. 60 back then – the main road from Charleston to Richmond, VA at the time, aka “the Turnpike Road,” was just that: A turnpike on which traveler’s paid to drive. So a trip from Chimney Corner to the Wolf Creek community, a distance of about 71 miles, would have cost money that the average farmer couldn’t afford to part with. Combined with the distance makes it difficult for me to believe that Martin’s second wife came from way over in Wolf Creek.
  3. Robert Johnson and Catherine Doran didn’t leave Greenbrier County. If they had migrated to Nicholas, Fayette, or Kanawha Counties like so many families around them did, I might be tempted to go along with them being Sarah’s parents. Several of the children that were born to Robert and Catherine moved west. Even if they hadn’t, none of the known children lists a Sarah Jane of the proper birth year/age to be “our” Sarah Jane Johnson. Further, none of the children born to Robert and Catherine were of child-bearing age in 1810 and 1815 would be pushing it.

Therefore, I don’t believe – and you would be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise – that Sarah Jane Johnson descended from Robert Johnson and Catherine Doran, either as a daughter or a granddaughter. The math nor the distance work.

*The Upper Vandalia Historical Society published an alphabetized list of the 1850 Putnam Census in 1981. The ages of each of the residents are given although I do not know where these ages came from nor is there any explanation. The more I compare the published document with the actual Census, the more errors I find. I need to say though that the work was invaluable to me and others who were unable to access the census by any other means prior to them being digitized and being made accessible online.