Martha Southard Jolly – 100+ Years of Age

When Ritchey and I visited Oakland Cemetery in Johnson County, Iowa, about fifteen years ago, we were mainly interested in his Hertz and Leuenberger families.  But there was one stone that caught my eye – that of Martha Jolly who died at the age of 100 years, almost 101!  It was first the name that drew my attention, since Ritchey’s grandfather was a Jolly.  In fact, his grandmother, Esther Hertz Jolly, is buried in Oakland Cemetery.  Since we knew very little about the Jolly family at that time I thought perhaps this may be useful in our research at a later time.  Then when I saw the dates I knew this woman would have an interesting story to tell – whether it was part of Ritchey’s family, or not.  She is not related.

Martha Southard, the daughter of Benjamin and Temperance Platt Southard, of Long Island, New York, was born in Dearborn County, Indiana, March 1, 1813.  Benjamin and Temperance had at least three other children, Rebecca, Isaac and Jane.

Martha Southard married Charles Jolly 2 May 1833, having their license issued 26 April 1833, in the County of Dearborn, State of Indiana.  John Godbey, Justice of the Peace, performed the ceremony.  The family lived together in the same county and state until Charles’ death in 1873, a total of one son and seven daughters.  In 1870, Martha’s sister, Jane Southard, 56, lived with them.

William Henry Jolly, only son, was wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg, and died August 31, 1863.  A copy of a letter sent to his family just before his death will appear in another blog.

The daughters were Mary Temperance, Susan J., Rebecca, Sarah, Lydia, Charlesetta and Annabella.

Charles died in 1873 at the age of 70.  By this time daughter Rebecca had married William Martin.  They moved to Johnson County, Iowa, and her mother, Martha, came to live with them.  In the 1880 census for Johnson County is William Miller, 39; wife, Rebecca, 39; their son Harley, 6, born in Iowa; Martha Jolly, 67, listed as mother-in-law; and Charlesetta, 26, sister-in-law, who was a dressmaker.

The following article was published in 1909, when Martha Jolly was 96 years of age.  She lived another 4+ years!

The Iowa City Press, Johnson County, Iowa

Wednesday, April 28, 1909

Old Settlers of Johnson County

Martha Southard Jolly

Living in quiet retirement at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Rebecca Miller, two miles north of Solon, Mrs. Martha Jolly is spending the declining years of her life in peace and content.  This aged lady is remarkable – for her years, and for the experiences through which she has lived.  Grandma Jolly, as she is familiarly called, can lay claim to being the oldest woman in Johnson County.  On March 1, 1909, she rounded her ninety-sixth milestone and her health is such as to warrant the hope that she may live to round out her century.  Except for a slight dimming of the eye and ear and a certain lameness in her joints, she is as well as ever.  Moderation has been her practice for many years, in work, in eating, in all things.  To that and to the good care that is always hers from her daughters’ hands can be attributed her preservation and any longevity.

It is indeed a pleasure and a rare privilege to one of the second or third generation removed, to talk to her and listen to the story of a remarkable life.  Her mind is still keen and bright, so that her story sounds like a revelation to us so far removed in years.  Few people there are who are pioneers of two commonwealths, living for a number of years in each.  Mrs. Jolly is such a person.  From 1875 Iowa has been her home and previously she lived in Indiana, arriving there from Long Island, while it was yet a territory in 1816.

March 1, 1813, Martha Southard was born at Hempstead, Long Island.  James Madison was then president and the War of 1812 was raging.  Her father, Benjamin Southard, was a farmer and wagon maker and had a large family.  Immediately after the war, eastern people began moving ‘out west’ to Ohio and Indiana, and in 1816, Benjamin Southard sold his farm, loaded his family into a wagon and started for the west.  The rough, slow journey over the ‘mountains’ took three weeks – now a matter of a few hours.  A thief robbed him of his money, one of the horses died, the roads were rough and the settlements few and far between, yet he kept on.  Cincinnati was their goal, was then a struggling village of a few hundred people, strung out along the Ohio River.

Hearing of the rich lands in the Whitewater River bottoms of Indiana Territory, the family yet pushed on, finally settling on Farmers Creek, Dearborn County, Indiana.  In reaching this spot, they passed North Bend, Ohio, the home of General William Henry Harrison, long afterward elected president.  But settlers were few on Farmers Creek.  The tired, homesick family found temporary refuge with a settler in his one room log cabin, while Mr. Southard secured his land and erected a rude cabin.  For ten months sixteen children and four grown people lived in that one-room cabin!

The story of those pioneer days of early Indiana are even more the story of a wild frontier life than that which our early Iowans experienced.  This part of Indiana was ‘big woods,’ covered by a heavy growth of mammoth trees.  Bear, wolves, deer and the dreaded panther were its inhabitants, sharing the wilds with these few hardy white settlers and the native red man.  The Indians had not yet forsaken their old haunts.  Indeed, it was just five years before that General Harrison beat Tecumseh so badly at Tippecanoe.  It was over a mile through big woods, over a rough trail, to the Southard’s nearest neighbors.  As time wore on, however, more settlers came in.

Was money common?  Whenever a piece was secured it was carefully hoarded to be used when the very occasional trip to Cincinnati, 30 miles east, was made and the few necessities they could not produce were purchased there.  Such conditions forced the settlers to be practically self-sufficient.  Mr. Southard made rude plows, wagons, spinning wheels, rope machines and kitchen utensils, not only for himself, but for neighbors for miles around.  He and his family spun and wove their own cloth and made it into clothing, tanned leather and made shoes, made them hats and caps, indeed, almost everything they needed.  The forest and the small clearing furnished meat and grain.  As cradles had not yet come into use, wheat was cut with a sickle.  Such was pioneer life in Indiana.

Nor were schools common.  Mrs. Jolly states that she was twenty and married before a three-months’ subscription school was started.  What little education the Southard children could get was at home and at the short occasional private schools.  Martha learned to read from the New Testament – her only reader.  A crude speller and an arithmetic were the only text books for the family.  Books were indeed precious.  No newspapers came into those parts for many long years.

But the Southard children did not grow up ignorant and idle.  What they lacked in schools the parents furnished out of their own minds and experiences.  They were all trained to useful occupations.

The mother trained her daughters to be skilled house-folk – especially with the needle.  ‘Don’t e ashamed to meet anything you have made,’ was her advice often given and much practiced.  It is a pleasure to see Grandma Jolly’s face light up and her eyes sparkle as she talks of her sewing – her specialty – her hobby all her long life.  By twelve, because of the thoroughness of her mother’s methods, she could sew as regularly as a machine of today.  ‘If I saw a piece of work anywhere, I could go home and make it myself,’ she says.  That she has not lost her skill with the needle is shown by her recent achievements – seven quilts, two of them silk ones, which she has cut and pieced since she turned ninety, besides doilies and other things she had made.  One quilt which she made when 95, was exhibited and took first prize in open competition at the Johnson County Fair last fall.  ‘The young people of now-a-days can’t use the needle as we used to,’ is her comment on affairs of today.  Before her eyesight became dim she could knit the finest of lace, one specimen being made of No. 7000 linen thread after she was eighty years old.

Mary 2, 1833, Martha Southard was married to Charles Jolly, a native of ‘Jersey’ as these old people called New Jersey, born in 1803.  His grandfather was one of the martyrs of the famous ‘Sugar House,’ the British prison at New York City during the Revolution.  Soon after their marriage they removed to Logan, Dearborn County, where they lived until Mr. Jolly’s death.  Eight children were born to them:  William, the only son, died at Memphis, Tennessee, during the Civil War, a sacrifice to patriotism; Mary, married R. A. Keen, came to Iowa in 1861, lives in Iowa City; Mrs. Rebecca Miller, Solon, Iowa; Mrs. Susan Martin, Iowa City; Mrs. Sally Hays, died at Topeka, Kansas; Mrs. Lydia Matthews, Olathe, Kansas; Etta [Charlesetta], of Chicago; and Mrs. Annabelle Pratt, Summit, South Dakota.  This aged lady has now 22 grandchildren and about 12 great-grandchildren.

In 1873 Charles Jolly died and the old, happy Hoosier home was finally broken up.  The widow came to Iowa, whence most of her daughters had preceded her, and has since made her home with Rebecca.  Although the experiences of pioneer life, such as she knew in Indiana were gone, many changes have occurred in Iowa since she came here in ’75.  It is marvelous to think that such old people are able to grasp new things when they come up.  The modern school books, newspapers, free delivery, the railroad, telegraph, and many, many other things are all newer than Grandma Jolly, yet she is happy and glad to be alive in the 20th century.  May her remaining years be calm, happy ones.

After this article was published in 1909, each year, on the date of her birth, March 1, an article appears mentioning her long life.  In 1910 it was said she ‘celebrated her birthday quietly at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Rebecca Miller.’  In 1911 is mentions she is very active ‘for one of such advanced age and takes a keen interest in current events, being a great reader.’  In 1912, when she was 99 it was mentioned that she ‘was born at Hempstead, Long Island.  She resided in Cincinnati when it was a log village.’

The Daily Times, Tuesday, March 11, 1913

The Des Moines Register, Tuesday, January 13, 1914.

Martha Jolly, born March 1, 1813, died January 12, 1914.  Oakland Cemetery, Johnson County, Iowa.

What a wonderful, long life!



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