If you have read my earlier posts on my 4th great grandfather, Stephen Jernigan, you will know that his suspected origins are in the areas of Columbus County, NC and Horry County, SC, one of the large areas of Jernigan settlement by the early part of the nineteenth century.
We can be fairly certain that he was still living in North Carolina in 1830, since it is known that his first two known children were born there, including his oldest daughter, Eliza. Her exact date of birth is not known, but census records tell us that she was likely born sometime between 1829 and 1832 (her age varies on later census records). If this is the case, we can assume that Stephen and his family would be listed in North Carolina for the 1830 U.S. Federal Census. With this in mind, I went searching.
Lo and behold, I did find a Stephen Jernigan and family living in Columbus County, NC in 1830. In fact, this was the only Stephen Jernigan to be found in any census records for North or South Carolina in 1830.
Stephen and his wife, both listed in the household, are about the ages we would expect for our Stephen and his wife Keziah at this time. Both are listed between the ages of 20 and 30. Since later records in Smith County, MS show his widow, Keziah, to have been born shortly before 1810, this would provide some evidence that we are looking at the right couple. Stephen’s year of birth is not known, since he died prior to 1850, the first year actual ages were used in the census. Still, it has been assumed that he too was born sometime between 1800 and 1810.
The children listed in Stephen’s household are more than we would expect to find, based on later census records of his known children in Smith County, MS. While we see two possible known children, Harris and Eliza (both have been listed on various census records with an approximate birth date of 1829), we see an additional girl between the ages of five and ten, and two more boys under the age of five. In the early-nineteenth century, when many children died in childhood, this can certainly be accounted for.
To recap, we have what appears to be Stephen Jernigan, his wife Keziah, children Harris and Eliza (or another daughter born before Eliza), and three more children who are later unaccounted for. It seems like a pretty open and shut case, right? Well, not so fast.
We know for certain that our Stephen Jernigan and family had left North Carolina, settled in Georgia, and moved onto Smith County, MS by 1839. Stephen is listed in the tax records there in 1839, and he and his family show up in the 1840 U.S. Federal Census in Smith County. We would expect not to see Stephen Jernigan in Columbus County, NC in 1840, right? Well, not so fast.
A Stephen Jernigan, along with his family, is living in Columbus County, NC in 1840. There is no doubt that this is not our Stephen. It does, however, call into question whether or not the Stephen Jernigan listed in Columbus County in 1830 is, in fact, our Stephen. The fact that there are similarities and differences between the Stephen Jernigan family of 1830 and 1840 makes this more of a mystery.
First, let’s discuss the similarities. The main similarity is the presence of similar neighbors listed in both census years. In 1830, we find Abraham Joyner living nine houses away from Stephen. We find Abraham still listed among the neighbors of the 1840 Stephen Jernigan, but this time, he is living only two houses away. In 1830, we find Henry Strickland (between the ages of 30 and 40) listed three houses away from Stephen. In 1840, we find Henry Strickland living next door to both Stephen Jernigan and Abraham Joyner, but oddly, he is listed in the same 30 – 40 age group. Is this the same Henry Strickland?
Let’s now compare the Stephen Jernigan of 1830 vs. the Stephen of 1840. The number and ages of children listed in 1840 is not consistent with those found in 1830. However, the fact that there are fewer children in those groupings in 1840 than there were in 1830 could mean that some have died. There are additional children, under the age of ten, who would not have been listed in 1830.
The biggest difference, however, can be found in the ages of both Stephen and his wife. While in 1830, they were both listed between the ages of 20 to 30, in 1840, Stephen is listed in the 40 – 50 age group (10 years older than he would have been if this were the same Stephen) and his wife is listed in the 50 – 60 age group, an even bigger gap between this woman listed here and the wife listed in 1830.
So, the question remains, is this the same Stephen Jernigan and family listed in both the 1830 and 1840 censuses? If so, why the big differences in ages? If not, did another Stephen Jernigan move into Columbus County after the other one headed to Georgia and Mississippi?
Without further evidence, this mystery will continue to puzzle.