Mahala Sharp McNabb

This copy of the original photograph was given to me by Bill Sorenson of Filley, Nebraska.  His mother was a granddaughter of Mahala.  He noted that the original photo had turned a yellow brown.  Many people have remarked that the woman looks too old to be 36 or fewer years old.  Perhaps, however, Mahala had a hard life.
This copy of the original photograph was given to me by Bill Sorenson of Filley, Nebraska. His mother was a granddaughter of Mahala’s. He noted that the original photo had turned a yellow brown color. Many people have remarked that the woman looks too old to be 36 or fewer years old.  However, Mahala had a hard life.

 

Mahala Sharp’s birth has been accepted as June 25, 1830 in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  This date was obtained from her grave marker as she was born and died before vital records were kept in Tennessee and Kansas.  Mahala’s parents, Anthony and Elizabeth Robinson Sharp, were married in Claiborne County on August 25, 1830, two months after her accepted birth date.  The 1840 census gives her age as between 5 and 9 years.  On the 1850 Census her age is listed as 19, and on the 1860 as 30.  On the 1865 Kansas State census her age is given as 34.   So when was Mahala born?  The census date in each of these years is June 1st, meaning ages as of that date were to be reported. Three of the four agree with the age on her gravestone.  In 1860 the census taker arrived at Mahala’s home in Missouri on July 7th.  Perhaps she gave her current age, not the June 1st age.    After analyzing the information available, it would appear Mahala was born two months before her parent’s marriage.

Claiborne County, formed in 1801, lies in the northern portion of East Tennessee, and borders both the States of Kentucky and Virginia.  Life in the hills of Tennessee was very primitive during Mahala’s years there.  The labors of hardscrabble farmers served mainly to feed their families.  Cotton and tobacco were the main cash crops.  However, on the 1850 agricultural census Anthony Sharp farmed only 35 acres and raised only 350 bushels of corn, 75 bushels of oats, and 15 bushels of potatoes.  He owned 2 horses, 3 milk cows, 14 swine and 6 sheep.  The sheep provided 10 pounds of wool which the women folk would have cleaned, carded and spun into cloth.  The corn and oats would have fed the livestock.  Corn was made into meal for the family and also into whiskey.  The pork was cured and some may have been sold.   The Anthony Sharp family, which in 1850 included 8 children, would have lived in a log cabin.

Mahala Sharp probably had no schooling.  It was not until 1854 that Tennessee passed legislation requiring taxation for public schools.  On the 1860 census both Mahala and her husband, John McNabb, are listed as illiterate.

In 1854 the Sharp family moved from Tennessee to northeastern Kansas.  What prompted this move is unknown; however, it was probably the desire for more and better land.  Family tradition was that the family traveled part way by flatboat.  They probably traveled overland to the Cumberland River and then built or bought a flatboat.  The distance to Saint Joseph, Missouri is over 900 miles by river—the Cumberland, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers.  They probably floated to Saint Louis where they sold the flatboat and perhaps took a paddlewheeler up the Missouri River to Saint Joseph, Missouri. (It is almost impossible to push a flatboat upriver against the current.)  From Saint Joseph, they traveled overland by wagon to Marshall County, Kansas.

Marshall County borders Nebraska.  It’s county seat, Marysville, is located 35 miles south of Beatrice, Nebraska.  Marysville was a well known stop on the Oregon-California trail and also had a pony express home station.  The Sharp’s farm was located four miles south of the Nebraska state line in what was then Guittard Township.  Guittard Station was a stage station on the Ben Holladay Overland stage line between the Missouri river and Denver, Colorado.  In 1861 a post office was established there.  During the 1850s and 1860s, the Sharp family would have seen the wagon trains of adventurers just starting their westward journeys to Oregon and California.

It seems unlikely that Mahala accompanied her family on their arduous journey from Tennessee.  The following year, on November 20, 1855, in Campbell County, Tennessee she married John McNabb.  They were married by a Justice of the Peace.  It was a disastrous marriage for Mahala.

Volume 1, page 149 of Campbell County, Tennessee marriages.   John McNabb's last name is badly misspelled.  Probably caused by a combination of his illiteracy and the clerk's inability to read the Justice of the Peace's handwriting.
Volume 1, page 149 of Campbell County, Tennessee marriages.
John McNabb’s last name is badly misspelled. Probably caused by a combination of his illiteracy and the clerk’s inability to read the Justice of the Peace’s handwriting.

 

Mahala’s first child, Sarah Elizabeth McNabb, was born about 1856 in Tennessee.  By 1858, when son William McNabb was born, the family was living in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is located in northwestern Missouri, 110 miles east of Marshall County, Kansas.  On the 1860 Census John McNabb’s occupation is farmer. He owned no real estate and the personal estate value is blank, indicating they were very poor.   Amanda Jane McNabb, Mahala’s fourth child, was born June 9, 1861, probably in Andrew County.   She would marry Robert Columbus Wymore and become the grandmother of Maxine Wymore Renschler.

By 1865 when the Kansas State Census was taken, the John McNabb family was living in Guittard Township, Marshall County, Kansas next door to the Anthony Sharp family.  McNabb was a tenant farmer. The value of everything he owned was $200.  In September 1866 Mahala bore her seventh and final child.

Mahala died on May 5, 1867 at the age of 36 years, 10 months and 10 days.  The story I was told many years ago was that John McNabb was an abusive husband.  In the process of beating Mahala he kicked her against a cast iron stove.  Mahala was pregnant; she suffered a miscarriage and died.  She was buried in a hollowed-out walnut log; and was the first person buried in the Shockley Cemetery which is located across the road south from her parent’s farmstead.  Mahala’s parents and brothers were later buried there.

After Mahala’s death John McNabb left Kansas abandoning his children who were raised by their Sharp relatives.

Mahala's stone as I first saw it in 1973.  It was standing upright at that time.
Mahala’s stone as I first saw it in 1973. It was standing upright at that time.
Mahala's grave marker as it looked about 2000, broken and laying on the ground.
Mahala’s grave marker as it looked about 1995, broken and lying on the ground.
The cemetery is well kept.  Mahala and Anthony's stones are the two cemented down flat on the ground.
The cemetery was well kept when I was there in 2013.   Mahala and her father’s  grave markers are the two cemented down flat on the ground.
This is the family grave marker of Mahala's brother, Harvey K. Sharp.
This is the family grave marker of Mahala’s brother, Harvey K. Sharp.  His inscription is on the back side.
Looking north from the cemetery entrance.  Cemetery is to the right.  Sharp farm is in the distance to the right.
Looking north from the cemetery entrance. The cemetery is to the right.    Anthony Sharp’s farm is to the right in the distance.   This area is poor quality farm land.  It is hilly, the soil is rocky, and there isn’t enough underground water for irrigation.
Looking north from the cemetery.  The Anthony Sharp farm begins at the tree line.
Looking north from the cemetery. The Anthony Sharp farm begins at the tree line.

2 thoughts on “Mahala Sharp McNabb”

  1. Sure was a horrible life style 200 years ago, by our present standards! Sometimes you read about similar conditions in some 3rd world countries even today. You have to keep things in perspective, I guess. Wonder what people will think of our conditions 200 years from now? Modern medical science really came along in the last 50 years or so …… what will be possible by the year 2100. History is a good study for us all,
    Thanks again, Karl

  2. Hi there,

    I came across your site while doing some early research on my Sharp and Guy families from Claiborne, Union and Campbell Counties in TN. While I’m not sure if we’re connected or not, I just wanted to commend you for your excellent research on Mahala. It was hard to be a woman back then. Imagine living with a mean man and ending your life buried in a hollowed out log. Thank you for working so hard to tell this unsung woman’s story. You’re doing great work here!

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