Poisoned Son


In rural Chester County, Tennessee, in the town of Mifflin, lies the New Friendship Cemetery. It is the final resting place for those who lived as long ago as the early 1800s. I have always found cemeteries interesting, but there are five graves there that hold a mystery. Five young siblings are buried there, all with tombstones with a one-word, ominous message, poisoned

In 1840, before Chester County was created, Silas Vestal and his son, Enos, made a round trip, on foot, to a settlement called Mifflin. At that time, it was a part of Henderson County. Plans were made for the family to resettle in this area, and gradually, over the next several years, members of the Vestal family began relocating. Silas moved before Enos and his family and, unfortunately, died in the Spring of 1846, just before their arrival. Enos had sold his farm in Chatham County, North Carolina, and he and his family started their journey to their new home on Christmas Day 1845. They had one wagon, pulled by three horses, Dowdy, Nell, and Mack. Enos was less than enthusiastic about the journey and wanted to turn back. One can understand why he might have wanted to do so. It was an arduous journey that included crossing the Appalachian Mountains during the winter’s cold and snow. His wife, Milly, encouraged him to proceed and reminded him that they had family expecting them. They arrived in Mifflin in late April 1846, and Enos purchased a 400-acre farm about three miles south of Mifflin.

According to the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Enos and his family lived in District 3, Henderson County, Tennessee.

According to family folklore, in 1857, Enos had a dispute over a land purchase with a Widow Brower. Soon after, the children became sick. Solomon died at the age of 20, Jesse at 19, and John succumbed at the age of 16. Their sister, Catherine, was only 15 at the time of her death. Brother Daniel also became sick, but lingered on for some time, joining them in death in 1858. Allegedly, a local doctor diagnosed the problem as arsenic poisoning. Widow Brower was accused of poisoning their water source.

Who was Widow Brower? Why did the family think that she poisoned the children? Did she ever pay for her crimes?

I recently began doing some research and discovered that there was only one Brower family in this area during that time. Leander Brower and wife, Barbary Ward, originally came from North Carolina and settled in Henderson County in the early 1820s. Leander Brower, born in 1808 in Randolph County, North Carolina, and married to Barbary Ward, who was born in 1810 in Randolph County.

They moved from North Carolina to the unsettled area of West Tennessee very early in their young marriage. By the time of the U.S. Federal Census of 1830, we find them in Henderson County, Tennessee. The Leander household consists of two males, ages 15-20, one male, age 20-30, one female, age 15-20, and one female, age 50-60. So, we can deduce that other family members settled with them.

According to the 1837 Henderson County, Tennessee tax list, three Browers are listed in District 4, Leander, Jacob, and John.

By the time of the 1840 U.S. Federal Census, Leander’s family consists of two males, ages 0-5, one male, age 5-10, one male, age 30-40, one female, age 0-5, one female, age 5-10 and one female, age 20-30. So it appears that the Browers have three sons and two daughters.

By 1850, Leander and Barbary had ten children and, according to the U.S. Federal Census, were residing adjacent to a couple, Enos and Milly Vestal, and their ten children.

According to family records, Leander died in 1855, at the age of 47. (The alleged poisoning occurred in 1857). Perhaps the dispute was over property left to the widow?

As if we did not have enough questions, in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, five years after her husband’s death, we find Barbary has married Francis A. Hite (born in Indiana and seventeen years her junior). They are residing on the property that presumably passed to her upon her husband’s death. Also in the household live Wesley, age 15, Mary Ellen, age 13, James; age 11, Leander Columbus, age 6, John Hite, age 5, and Franklin .J. Hite, age 3.

Enos Vestal and his family are still living on the adjacent property, although his wife, Milly, may be deceased.

The next ten years bring many changes, though we can only hypothesize about all of the details. By the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, we find Barbary (age 59) living with her daughter, Elizabeth, son-in-law, Hayden Bailey, and eighth-month-old grandson, Prentice, in Dublin, Graves County, Kentucky. Her husband, presumably, her ex-husband, Francis, is residing in District 13, Gibson County, Tennessee, with his two sons, John and Franklin.

In 1877, Francis Hite married Sallie C. Reeves. He did not pass until 1915. Barbary died on December 4, 1882, at the age of 72, in Dent County, Missouri.

In 1870 and 1880, Enos was still residing with his family in Henderson County. He did not pass until 1885.

So, we have a partly solved mystery, with many questions left unanswered. What happened to Enos’ wife, Milly? What was the cause of death for Mr. Brower? What was the dispute between Widow Brower and Enos? Why would she kill the children? Why was she never brought to justice? Who is this Mr. Hite from Indiana? Where is the mother of his children? Why did they divorce? (Were they ever actually legally married?) Most interestingly, why can we find no recorded information about these deaths?

There will be information to come if my research reveals any new details.

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