Wiley Farmer of Clarksville, Tennessee

Wiley Farmer, my fourth great-grandfather, is one of my current genealogy mysteries that I am researching.

Wiley first shows up on the 1850 census in present-day Sycamore Mills in Cheatham County, Tennessee. Wiley and his wife, Nancy, are living with the David Mosier family, with whom are presumably his in-laws. His occupation is laborer. He gives his age as 25, which makes his birth year about 1825. His given age doesn’t have any consistency in future census records. When this occurs, I typically go with ages listed on older census records, because I’ve found that those are closer to being accurate. Some people simply didn’t keep up with their age back then. On a census record during someone’s early life, it was much easier to tell the difference between a five year old and a ten year old, but of course, twenty years later it was harder to tell the difference.

Wiley doesn’t give us any clues for his move to Clarksville in Montgomery County, Tennessee by the time the 1860 census is taken. His daughter, Harriett, who was three months old on the 1850 census, is now likely deceased. Wiley and Nancy are listed with four-year-old son, Thomas. Wiley gives his age as 37, with a birth year of about 1823. He is listed as an overseer. An overseer refers to work on a plantation overseeing slaves and the crops. He would have been the middle man. His occupation was a disheartening find, to say the least.

Wiley’s personal estate was worth 100 dollars in 1860. His neighbors had personal estates totaling 13,500 and 18,500. Wiley was likely poor and a worker on a nearby plantation. I am not sure how to find out which one or any other details about this period of his life.

In 1870, Wiley was now listed as a farmer. He gave his age as 52 with an 1818 birth year. His wife, Nancy, was listed as 40 and their son, Thomas, as 14. Wiley was still living in Clarksville, and seemed to be doing well. He had 600 in real estate and 200 in his personal estate. Wiley and Nancy didn’t have any (known) children after Thomas, so he basically was an only child. (I don’t know what happened to his older sister Harriett.) There was one new addition to the family, Celia Edwards, age 50, who is listed as “cook”.

I am interested to know more about Celia, and whether she was previously a slave on the plantation of a family with the last name Edwards. I don’t have much experience in researching these types of records, but this is something I’d love to learn more about in the future.

The family lived next door to a lot of black families in 1870 and 1880, which I wonder if that provides some clues I’m missing.

We find the last trace of Wiley on the 1880 Montgomery County census. He’s 56 with an approximate birth year of 1824, which is probably closer to accurate than the last census. Nancy is 48. Thomas has now left home.

The odd thing about the 1880 census is Wiley is transcribed as being mulatto. This could mean a number of things, but given his previous job as an overseer is confusing. I’ve examined the original census record and it does look like an “m” to me, but other family members say it looks like a “w” and was just transcribed wrong. Here is a copy on the record:


I posted this in a genealogy Facebook group to get other opinions, and the vote was split, with mulatto being slightly ahead. It was suggested in the group that he HAD to be white, because of the stigma at the time for a white lady to marry a mulatto. It’s possible the census taker made an error or judged from appearance only. All we can do is guess.

The only other information from the census is that he’s still working in “farming” and his parents are from Tennessee.

I would like to know more about him and where he came from. It’s easier to find people who had big families, and Wiley only had one son who had four daughters and no sons. Wiley was my grandmother’s great-great-grandfather, so it’s possible an Ancestry DNA test might turn up a clue about Wiley’s family. My grandmother has passed away, but my dad’s cousin is going to help me DNA test one of her siblings. My dad’s cousin previously DNA tested, but I haven’t been able to find any Farmers that I can tie back to the Montgomery or Cheatham County area.

If you know anything about this Farmer family, or Celia Edwards, please email me at downhomegenealogy@gmail.com.



2 thoughts on “Wiley Farmer of Clarksville, Tennessee

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