True Tales from the Family Tree (Two) Minerva Anderson Wheeler

A distant cousin, Minerva Dollie Wheeler (daughter of William C. Anderson and Nancy Ann Wheeler) was born in 1823, in Flynn’s Lick, Jackson County, Tennessee. Sometime before 1843 she married Hopkins Wheeler (another distant cousin, son of James E. Wheeler and Agnes McCormack.) In 1843 Minerva gave birth to their first child, a daughter, named Jane.

When Jane was three years old she “got burned up” in a fire. Minerva watched it happen and could not save her child. During the days of open flames; hearths, cauldrons, etc., this was a fairly common occurrence. The Jackson County Chancery Court Records didn’t elaborate the details of this horrible event, except it was clear all agreed had been a tragic accident, and Minerva was not to blame.

Minerva, twenty at the time, was consumed with grief. She blamed herself, trying to dig up Jane’s grave so she could be with her dead child. At Anderson’s Mill in Flynn’s Lick, she they said, frantic, she exposed herself to a large crowd. On another occasion she shaved her head, claiming she was going to “burn in hell.” Clearly she had lost her mind. 

Hopkins (Hop’s) answer to this was to whip his wife, kick her (which he denied,) and chain Minerva to a stake in the yard.

William C. Anderson, one of Minevera’s brothers, got wind of the chaining and rescued Minerva, bringing her back to the Anderson family home to recuperate. Instead of beating Hop himself, it is prosperity’s good fortune that William decided to bring Hop to court, on charges of whipping Minerva. Hop claimed his innocence, proclaiming, “I had to treat her rough to keep her from running back to her mother’s.”

This is an extreme, but not uncommon, example of how husbands treated their wives in those days. And a good example of abuses toward the mentally ill. Thankfully, Minerva found the protection of her brother and her family, and eventually recovered.

Postscript: According to public records, Minerva never secured a divorce from Hop Wheeler. In 1856 she had another child by him, a son, named Leroy Peyton Wheeler.

Source: Jackson Co., TN Loose District/Chancery Court Papers Reel #124