JAMES T. STAPLES, the steamboat & the man

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JAMES T. STAPLES 

and 

MARY ELLEN BLACK STAPLES

by Tom Taylor

 

         James Thomas Staples and Mary Ellen Black Staples were my great-grandparents. They were the parents of my maternal grandmother, Claude Staples McKee. 

        James T. Staples was born in 1829, one of the sons of Norman Staples and Elizabeth Gordon Staples of Henry County, Va.

        At least three of them, including James, moved to Louisiana. James eventually moved east, to Mobile and finally to Choctaw County, Ala., where he met and married Sarah Black, the daughter of Joseph Black and Mary White Black. 

        Sarah died young, and in 1863 he married her older sister Mary Ellen Black, who had been born Dec. 28, 1830. (My mother, Mary Helen McKee Taylor, was named for Mary Ellen Black though the middle name was changed.)

        James had a colorful career. He made his living in a number of ways; at one time he was a part-owner of the Louisiana Lottery, which in those days was a private corporation. He also became, in his family's words, a "riverboat gambler," presumably making (and losing) his fortunes in what were literally floating card games.

        As noted on a previous page, James' lifestyle was what upset\tab Presbyterian minister George H. McKee when George's son, William, planned to marry James' daughter Claude. James served in the Confederate Army. He and Mary Ellen had four children: Claude (my grandmother), a sister Maude, and brothers Norman and William.

        It was Norman who owned the steamboats mentioned earlier, and it was with Norman and his wife Dora Dahlberg Staples that my mother lived while she attended high school in Mobile. Norman's half-sister Mary -- a daughter of James' first marriage -- had married Col. Frederick Blees, who owned and operated Blees Military Academy in Macon, Missouri. Blees, a wealthy man, financed Norman's boat purchases.

        And it was in Macon while on a visit that James T. Staples died Nov. 17, 1904. Mary Ellen Black Staples had died in Mobile June 21 of that same year. 

        The Staples lineage is documented a long way back. James' father, Norman Staples, was born in Henry County, Va., in 1780, the son of John Staples II and Martha Stovall Staples. John II was born in 1750 in Buckingham County, Va., the son of John Staples I and Keziah Norman Staples. John Staples I was descended from one of three Staples brothers, younger sons of a baronet of Cortland, Ireland, who emigrated to America around 1721.

        Keziah was the daughter of Isaac Norman of Culpepper County, Va. Martha Stovall Staples was born in Henrico County, Va., in 1755, the daughter of George Stovall and Mary (Polly) Cooper Stovall. George Stovall was born in Henrico County, Va., in 1715, the son of Bartholomew Stovall and Ann Burton Stovall. Bartholomew Stovall was born in Surry, Guilford, England, in 1665. We don't know his parents.

        Ann Burton Stovall was born in 1675, the daughter of Thomas Burton and Susanna Ward Burton. Susanna Ward Burton was the daughter of Capt. John Ward, born in 1598 in England. 

        The Stovalls were of French descent, and family records say they came to England with William the Conqueror. Polly Cooper Stovall was the daughter of George Cooper, who was the son of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 17th Century Earl of Shaftesbury. (A side note: South Carolina has both the Ashley and Cooper rivers, which, as they say in Charleston, join to form the Atlantic Ocean. 

        There is a family story that through the Staples line we are related to from William Penn, the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, but I can find no documentation for this. But there are Penn relatives who settled in Virginia.

        According to a printed history of Patrick and Henry Counties, Va., John Staples II, who was my ancestor (see above), had a brother, Col. Samuel Staples, who married Lucinda Penn, a daughter of Col. Abram Penn. The earliest mention of the Penn family in Virginia shows a Robert Penn and a William Penn on the passenger lists of ships which came from England to Virginia in 1621 and 1635, respectively. However, the publication also notes: "William Penn, the Quaker, was twice married and had several children, but from none of these can be traced the Penns of Virginia. The William Penn who is believed to be the American ancestor (of the Virginia Penns) is first on record as a co-patentee of John Walker of a tract of land lying on Corotoman Creek." 

        This doesn't mean the family story is wrong, but it does mean that there is, at this time, no proof at all. 

        The Staples name remains prominent in the Richmond area; there is a Staples Mill Road there. 

        It also is well known in Mobile, where descendants of one of James Staples' brothers were active in business for many years. One of those, the late Alfred L. Staples, was credited with being a moving force behind the modern celebration of Mardi Gras. His daughter, Emily Staples Hearin, has carried on that tradition. 

        The (Norman) Staples home on Old Shell Road at Monterey Street was in the hands of one of the daughters of the late Mary Elizabeth (Mary Buff) Bancroft, a descendant of James T. Staples and my grandmother's brother Norman Staples.

        The Blacks were Irish. Mary Ellen Black was born near St. Stephens Ala., Dec. 8, 1832, the daughter of Joseph and Mary White Black. Joseph's father, Patrick Black, was born in 1754 in County Derry, Ireland, and died in 1824. Joseph's mother, Mary Kyle Black, was born in Ireland in 1757, and died in 1839.

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