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Napoleon Bonaparte Greathouse & William A. Harris August 21, 1878 letter to James Low III


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August 21, 1878 Letter From

Napoleon Bonaparte Greathouse and

William A. Harris

of Calhoun, Henry County, Missouri

to James8 Low III

of Newburg Township, Pike County, Illinois.

Transcript of two letters (written on one page) from Napoleon Bonaparte Greathouse [widower of Mary Ellen9 Low and son-in-law of James8 Low III] and W.A. Harris to James Low III8 (Apr 27-1816 - Sep 2, 1889).

The letter was found in the trunk of James8 Low III and transcribed Dec 1997 by his great-great grandson, Bingham James Forrest12 Lowe of Phoenix, Arizona. Punctuation and spelling errors have not been corrected.

Genealogical position of James8 Low III:

10th generation: Frank, Forrest, Lenna, Arthur, Edward, Paul, Leland, Charles Doss, Pearl, Henry, James, George

Bingham James9 Low(e)   Aug 27, 1853 - Feb 10, 1923           (wife: Mary D. Culver)                    of Pittsfield, IL

James8 Low III                  Apr 27-1816 - Sep 2, 1889               (wife: Margaret Huston Montgomery) of Clinton & Brighton, ME / Pittsfield, IL

James7 Low Jr                   1796 - Mar 20, 1824                        (wife: Mary Wyman)                       of Clinton, ME (fought in War of 1812)

James6 Low Sr                   Jul 17, 1770 - bef 1830                    (wife: Elizabeth "Betsy" Chase)      of Boxford, MA / Clinton, Maine

Nathan5 Low                     Oct 1, 1742 - Jul 24, 1804                (wife: Lucy Lord)                            of Ipswich & Boxford, Massachusetts

Caleb4 Low                        1707 - Jul 17, 1777                          (wife: Abigail Varney)                     of Ipswich, Massachusetts

David3 Low                       Aug 14, 1667 - Jun 2, 1746              (wife: Mary Lamb)                          of Ipswich, Massachusetts

Thomas2 Low                    May 8, 1631 - Apr 12, 1712             (wife: Martha Boreman)    of Groton & Boxford, Suffolk, England / Ipswich, MA

Thomas1 Low                    1605 - Sep 8, 1677                           (wife: Margaret Todd)       of Groton & Boxford, Suffolk, England / Ipswich, MA

Giles0 Low          unknown (Wife: Syseley Wall, marr 3/5/1601/02)     of Brancepeth, Durham, England; Groton & Boxford, Suffolk, England



Calhoun, Henry County, MO

Mr. James Low, Sen

August 21, 1878

I am at W. A. Harris place strapt living off harris I want you to go to Pittsfield and borrow me fifteen dollars for sixty days and I will pay it if I live July[?] ole1.gif has the chill and my fut is so sor I cant war my boots I am going to put the children out and I am going bring back them to do it the wheather is very hot and dry here and I cant get any thing to do Write as soon as you get this so no more at presant but now.

Yours, N. B. Greathouse ole2.gif

Mr. James Low

Times are very hard hear I never lived so hard in my life But I hav better health then I hav had for 15 years and you would not know my wife She has ? ole3.gif [?] to But her health is good to We don’t want ? ole4.gif [?] yet So write and let us know a bout times in old pittsfield So not more at presant but remain yours, 

W.A. Harris ole5.gif


Mary Ellen9 Low (James8-6, Nathan5, Caleb4, David3, Thomas2-1) was the daughter of James8 and Elizabeth (Huston) Low. She was born in Newburg Township, Pike County, Illinois on June 29, 1842. She died in Pike County on September 18, 1877.

Mary Ellen9 married Napoleon Bonaparte Greathouse on July 17, 1862 in Newburg Township (Pittsfield), Pike County, Illinois. The service was conducted by E.W. Hickerson, Justice of the Peace. “Nap” was the son of Samuel Greathouse and Elizabeth Carrell, who were married April 6, 1826, in Hamilton Co, Illinois by Benjamin Hood, Justice of the Peace.

Nap had at least two siblings: George Washington Greathouse, attorney at law, living in Pittsfield and who appeared in the 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses, and Mary Margaret Greathouse, wife of Christopher Rian. Both Mary Margaret and Christopher are buried in the Low(e) Cemetery at Sunny Hill, Newburg, Pike County, Illinois..

Napoleon fought in the Civil War in the Illinois 12th regiment, U.S. Infantry and, after the war, worked as a farmer.

Mary Ellen9 and Napoleon did not have an easy time of it. Money was scarce and despite having received considerable sums of money from James8 and Margaret, as gifts, and even more money in the form of loans, the Greathouse’s were in a constant state of financial trouble. The fact that they had seven children probably didn’t help matters. 

James William10 Greathouse, was born on February 8, 1864; Robert Henry10 Greathouse was born November 28, 1865; Hester May10 Greathouse was born May 12, 1867; Ida Elizabeth10 Greathouse was born May 6, 1869; Geneva L.10 Greathouse was born January 29, 1871; Phebe Margaret10 Greathouse was born January 13, 1873; and Margaret10 Greathouse was born April 15, 1876.

Napoleon worked for James8 Low III for many years, and these periods are recorded in James8' journals.

1864, March - 1868, June       Journal #5/p.45-56, p.91-92, 111-112            Worked for James8 Low III.

1868, January -September      Journal #7/p.35                                               Borrows money from James8 Low III.

1871, Jun                                Journal #2, p.29-30                                         Worked for James8 Low III.

1872, July-1876, August        Journal #7/p.34-55, #4, p.1-21                        Worked for James8 Low III.

On July 31, 1877, six-year-old Geneva10 Greathouse died of unknown causes. A month and a half later, on September 11, 1877, Mary Ellen9, Napoleon, and the children came to live with James8 and Margaret. Footnote

A week later, James8 recorded in his journal that his daughter, Mary Ellen9 (Low) Greathouse, had died that day, on September 18th, 1877. Footnote She was only 35 years old and had, apparently, ‘come home’ to die.

Mary Ellen10 was buried in the Low(e) Family cemetery at Sunny Hill, Newburg, Pike County, Illinois, not far from her mother’s resting place, but even closer to the grave of her grandfather, Thomas Huston.

The Greathouse Family did not stay long with James8. Five months later, on Tuesday, February 26, 1878, Napoleon and his children left Pike County for Kansas in a covered wagon Footnote . The Family’s oral history has it “Nap” was working for the railroad in Kansas.

Napoleon tried to raise his children on his own, but without land, money, or Mary Ellen9, he simply could not care for them. By August of 1878, Napoleon and his children had left Kansas and were living in Calhoun, Henry County, Missouri with William A. Harris who was also in great financial difficulty and who also owned land in Newburg Township near James8 Low III. Napoleon was destitute and ill. He wrote to James8 on August 21st that he would be returning to Pittsfield so that he could “put the children out.”            

James8 does not tell us what happened to the Greathouse family while they were in Kansas or Missouri, but he does record that they returned at noon on Wednesday, September 4th, 1878, without little Margaret10. She had apparently been left behind to live with the Harris family in Missouri. It is possible that she never again lived in Pike County.

The remaining Greathouse children, except Margaret10, were now at the home of their grandfather.

Napoleon did, indeed, “put the children out.” James8 and Margaret made arrangements for the children to be placed with family friends. James William10 was placed with J. Clark, on September 10th, 1878. Two days later, on September 12th, Hester May10 was sent to live with William and Elizabeth Landess who owned the adjoining farm in Newburg. On September 22nd, 1878, Robert Henry10 was sent to Calhoun County, Illinois to live with James8' good friend, Dr. Kendall.

The two youngest girls remained with James8 and Margaret for a time and then Ida Elizabeth10 was placed in the household of her uncle and aunt, Bingham James10 and Mary Della (Culver) Lowe. James8 does not mention where five-year-old Phoebe Margaret10 was at this time, so it is possible that she may have been the only Greathouse child to remain with her father, but more likely she was sent to live with another friend or family member.

From the end of September of 1878 through June of 1880, we don’t know exactly where Napoleon was, but he may spent part of that period in Missouri or Kansas.

On January 6, 1880 Napoleon Greathouse was in Pike County and took out a license to marry Mrs. Nancy J. Caldwell. However, she changed her mind and the record shows that "She went back on him". Two months later, on March 1, 1880, he was married to Mrs. Martha Elliot by D.H. Bodine, Justice of the Peace. The second Mrs. Greathouse is not mentioned in Nap's obituary and no record has been found of the death of a Mrs. Martha Greathouse.

By the Summer of 1882, however, Napoleon was back in Pittsfield, at least for a time, and was working for James8. In journal #7, page 143, James8 recorded that “Nap” worked for him during the month of June. Oddly, it was the last entry James8 ever made regarding his son-in-law.

From the journals and the census, we do know something of the whereabouts of the Greathouse children during the period between 1880 and the time of James8' death in 1889.

In June of 1880, both Robert Henry10 (age 15) and Hester May10 (age 13) were living with James8 and Margaret, and Ida Elizabeth10 (age 11) was living with Bingham James9 and Mary Della (Culver) Low(e). James William10, who was still living with J. Clark, moved back to the home of his grandfather on July 5th, 1880 and joined his two younger siblings. We still do not know where Phoebe Margaret10 was at the time, although she may have joined her sister, Margaret10, in Missouri.

Between 1880 and 1886, James William10 and Robert Henry10 both worked for their grandfather during the summers. James8 recorded in his journals that the boys did this for a number of years. After 1886, James William10 is not mentioned in his grandfather’s journals again until March 29, 1889 when he apparently purchased goods at his grandfather’s store.

Phebe Margaret10 turned up, at least temporarily from February 6th through February 22nd, 1883 when James8 recorded that his granddaughter came to live with him. Footnote Phebe Margaret10 was 10 years old at the time.

Likewise, Ida Elizabeth10 Greathouse is briefly mentioned again in the journals. James8 recorded that he gave her $30.00 on October 15, 1884 and that his son, Bingham9 Low, also gave her $30 on October 16th. Footnote Ida Elizabeth10 was 15 years old.

Napoleon disappeared from the public records until 1920. He could not be found in the 1900 or 1910 censuses. In the 1920 census, he is shown to be living in Detroit township, Pike County, Illinois, retired, aged 82 years. That census states that both of his parents were born in Kentucky. Also of interest, is that he was living two homes away from his daughter, Ida Elizabeth10 and her husband, John Bollman.

At the time of his death, on Christmas day, 1928, at 90 years old, Napoleon was almost blind, but could see well enough to whittle. He would often sit on a tree stump and make wooden animals, whistles, etc, by feel. He was described by one of his descendants as “a big man of light complexion, neat and clean, but with pretty long whiskers.”

There are conflicting reports as to where Napoleon died. According to one of his descendants, he died in Baylis, Pike County, at the home of his daughter, Hester May10 and her husband, Frank Daniels. Another descendant stated that he died at the Soldiers Home in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois. Oddly, there is no death certificate on file for him in either county. Napoleon Bonaparte Greathouse was buried next to his first wife, Mary Ellen9 (Low) Greathouse, at the Low Family cemetery in Sunny Hill, Newburg, Pike County, Illinois on December 28, 1928.

His obituary appeared in the “Pike County Times,” on Dec 28, 1928 and read:

Napoleon Greathouse Brought here for Burial. Napoleon Greahouse, who for years lived in the vicinity of Newburg and Detroit, passed away at the Soldiers Home in Quincy Christmas day at the age of 90 years. The body was brought to this city Thursday morning and the funeral services held at the Plattner Chapel that afternoon at 2 o'clock. Burial was made in the Low cemetery at Sunny Hill.

Another obituary appeared in the “Pike County Republican,” in Pittsfield, Illinois, on January 9, 1929, which read:

Napoleon B. Greathouse. Napoleon B. Greathouse, son of Samuel and Elizabeth Greathouse, was born near Pleasant Hill, Ill., on July 17, 1838, and departed this life at the Soldiers Home in Quincy on December 25, 1928, aged 90 years, five months and eight days.


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© 1999 by Bingham James Forrest Lowe [g.g.grandson of James Low(e)]

Email: Bingham J F Lowe @ Lowe Family Descendants.com

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November 17th, 2010 marks the 374th anniversary of the Low(e) Family in America.