All families have incidents which they would rather not have other people to know. Such was the case with Elijah Asborn Tew. Elijah was born on August 19, 1855, to Keziah Strickland and Phillip Alexander Tew, a sergeant in the Confederate Army and a farmer by trade. Through the 1850 and 1860 census records, Elijah was the oldest child with Owen, Colton, Hardy, John, and Doctor H following. In the census for 1880 Rachel Matilda, Phillip Nathan, Flora Eliza, and Kizzie Jeanette were also shown as children of Phillip A and Keziah Tew.
As a child, I remember my mama talking about Elijah Asborn Tew, her granddaddy that died before she was born. According to mama, Aunt Rettie said that “one day after dinner a cloud came up and they didn’t immediately go back to work. Elijah suggested they go to the front room to sing hymns. Iona, another daughter, played and they sang a few songs when they realized it was raining very hard. Grandpa called William B (Bud) to go with him to the mill to let down the floodgates at the mill. Grandpa got there first and he tried to pull them down but had a heart attack. According to Aunt Rettie, he died instantly. Then his wife, Penny Sinclair Tew, had to raise the family, which consisted of several young children.
That is basically all I knew about him until I was an adult and finally heard the story that Elijah had been divorced. Divorce is a common occurrence in today’s world but not in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Elijah was born August 19, 1855, in the Mingo Township of Sampson County and grew up to be a farmer which was the common occupation of young men in Sampson County. He married Rebecca A. West at the age of 19 in 1874 in Wake County. Rebecca West was born in 1851 and was the daughter of James and Zadey Dudley West. In the 1860 Sampson County Census, they were living in Sampson County but had moved to Wake County in the 1870’s.
Before their first year of marriage was over, Rebecca had moved out of their home and began a relationship with an older, more prominent farmer of that area. Court proceedings began and the court admonished her to move back in with Elijah but she refused. Eventually, a divorce was granted. Rebecca had a son, James before this marriage – born in 1871, and a daughter, Spicey in 1875. She also had other children years after the divorce but in the divorce proceedings, Elijah claimed none of the children as his own. In the census of 1880, Rebecca and her children use the name of Tew but in the following censuses, all of them, including Rebecca use the last name West. Spicey was the only child who gave Tew as her maiden name during her adult life. Rebecca and some of her children were buried in the Huntley area of Sampson County but it is unclear as to whether the cemetery actually exists today.
Elijah in the 1880 census, after his divorce, was living in the house of his aunt and uncle, Jennette Tew Jackson and husband James. He is listed as a turpentine worker. It was during this time that he met and married Penny Sinclair who was the daughter of Irwin Sinclair and Sarah (Sally) Jones in the Cumberland County area. Penny Eliza Sinclair was born on February 12, 1868, in Cumberland County and was living in the Flea Hill area in the 1870 census. In the 1880 census, Penny and her family were listed in the Halls Township of Sampson County. How Penny and Elijah met is unknown but they were married in 1884 with their first child, Maretta (Retta) born to them in 1885.
Elijah and Penny had a large family and lived in the Mingo area of Sampson County. Elijah was farming again according to the 1900 census. They had been married for 16 years and had many children: Maretta, Minnie Alice, William B, Kissie Florence, Iona, Mary, and Owen Dallas. In the 1910 census, the family had grown even larger—adding Dora, Lora, Felton, and Selma to their group. But at that time Elijah had suffered a heart attack and had died on May 9, 1909, the day of a sudden thunderstorm. He was only 54 years old. At his death, his wife, Penny Sinclair Tew had to shoulder the responsibility of raising many young children, of running the farm and the area grist mill. Their farm was located on what is now called the Penny Tew Mill Road.
(As you can tell, I have pieced this story together with many census records but also a trip or two to the Archives building in Raleigh where I obtained the divorce records of Elijah Tew and Rebecca West. There are still more to tell about this family as is the case with all families.)