Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At Cambria: Killing time with "Uncle Nat" Kimberlin

There were about a dozen things that seemed important to do Monday afternoon, then Nathaniel Kimberlin intervened --- in the form of a clipping from The Chariton Patriot of Jan. 17, 1877, laid aside some time ago.

Here's how it reads, in a column of Wayne County news: "Nathaniel Kimberlin, for 16 years a resident of Washington township, died Jan. 5th, aged 87 years and 5 months. The (Corydon) Republican says he was a Virginian by birth; served in the War of 1812; used tobacco both chewing and smoking for 70 years; was never married; had his coffin made for four years; buried in the Cambria Cemetery."

Now honestly, who wouldn't want to know more after a send-off like that? And it was another beautiful November day --- so I just jumped in the truck and headed down to Cambria to pay the old guy a visit.

I see by John Snook's 1977 history of Cambria and Washington Township that the Cambria post office was established in 1849 and the town laid out about a mile east of its current site --- nearer where the cemetery still sits --- during 1855. In 1879, when the railroad went through, Cambria was on the move again, relocated near the tracks (long vanished) where it finally came to rest.

Nathaniel's grave is in the oldest part of the big and beautifully maintained cemetery, clear to east, next to the graves of his sister and brother-in-law, Nancy (Kimberlin) and Morris Greenlee. The government-issue tombstone that marks it was ordered up by Effie Garton, the Cambria historian of her day, back in 1933. Effie's husband, Charles W. Garton, was almost --- but not quite --- related to the old veteran, too.


Nathaniel, born Sept. 2, 1789, was a native of Bath County, Virginia --- named for its healing springs --- and came with his family to Mason County, (West) Virginia, ca. 1803. So he was a part of that vast cloud of voluntary Mason County refugees, including members of my Boswell family, that began to settle over Wayne County, Iowa, during the early 1850s.

He seems always to have spelled the name "Kimberlin," but the most common way to spell it these days is with a "g," "Kimberling. I've run across the surname many times in other circumstances, while resarching my Boswell and McDaniel families in Mason County.

When he was 23, Nathaniel enlisted to serve in Capt. Bryan's company of Virginia Militia, then after things settled down, went to work as a boatman on the Kanawha and Ohio rivers. His War of 1812 service, however, was rewarded eventually with two military land warrants, and those may have been a factor in the decision to head west.

Nathaniel came west from Mason County with Allen D. and Caroline (Kimberlin) Garton about 1851 and they were enumerated in the 1856 special Iowa census as residents of Clay Township, Wayne County. His occupation was given as cooper. On June 3, 1856, Nathaniel received title to 40 acres in Clay Township that he had entered earlier by pre-emption claim on the basis of one of those military land warrants (he most likely sold the other one). 

He still was living with the Allen Garton family in Clay Township during 1860, occupation given as "retired," although Caroline had died during May of that year.

One interesting twist here is that family historians have never, to the best of my knowledge, figured out exactly how Nathaniel Kimberlin and Caroline (Kimberlin) Garton were related. The logical explanation would be uncle and niece, but she does not fit in among the known children of his siblings.

Allen Garton remarried after Caroline's death (Charles W. Garton was a son of that second marriage) and moved to Washington Township, probably bringing Nathaniel along. When the 1870 census was taken, however, Nathaniel was living in Washington Township with the family of his grandnephew, Morris Nelson (son of William Arbuckle and Nancy Greenlee Nelson). It's not clear who he was living with when he died.


It's very rare to be able to add the flesh of personality to bones as old as those of Nathaniel, but by poking around online I was able to come up with an article published in the 1983 "Kimberling Kin from East to West, 1750-1983" and apparently published first in The Jackson (Ohio) Standard soon after Nathaniel's death.

The implied author is Davis Mackley, another of Nathaniel's nephews, and editor of The Standard at the time. He incorporated into his article an article from The Corydon Republican that had been republished in the Point Pleasant-based West Virginia Monitor, and that's about as convoluted a way to retrieve information as it gets. 

But the detail is wonderful, and maybe it'll inspire you to stop out at the Cambria Cemetery one of these days and visit, too. 


"A short time ago I spoke of the death of my uncle, Nathaniel Kimberling. My mother always spelled the name Kimberlin, but I notice that my cousins now living in Point Pleasant spell it Kimberling.

"The West Virginia Monitor published at Point Pleasant has the following article, credited to the Wayne County (Iowa) Republican. It appears to have been written before Mr. Kimberling's death.


He was born in Bath Co., Va., September 2, 1789, near the noted warm and hot springs, one of them being so hot that an egg would cook in a short time. Near the hot springs are several springs of very cold water, quite a contrast. His parents emigrated to Mason Co., and settled on the great Kanawha nine miles above the mouth of the river, and was among the first settlers of that country.

At an early age he had a taste for music, learned to play the violin, and was considered the best violinist, in his day, on the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. Often times had the youth of the land tripped the fantastic toe to the sound of his violin. He related an incident while traveling through Indiana, of stopping at a house to stay over night, there being a dance on hand and six well dressed young folks on the floor. He was requested to furnish the music and commenced on one of his best pieces. He played a short time, but the dancers stood still in astonishment and when asked the reason they did not dance, they replied "they could not stand the music."

At the age of 23, he enlisted in the service of the U.S., in Sept., 1813, under Captain Andrew Bryan, at Point Pleasant, Va., in the 2nd infantry. Shortly after enlisting he marched to Camp Delaware, near Sandusky, Ohio, and went into winter quarters. During the winter he, with a number of others, got the privilege of hunting deer and wild turkeys; in their wanderings they got among the British and Indians, who were also out on a hunting trip. There was about 6 inches of snow on the ground and they were in imminent danger of being captured, as their trail could easily be followed. They started for camp on "double quick" and the enemy followed then within a short distance of camp, but did not succeed in capturing any of them.

While in camp the soldiers suffered from exposure to the cold, having but scanty clothing and few blankets, (wages $8 per month) but they made the best of it by having an occasional dance in the snow, on the frozen ground, to warm up their chilly limbs, and he was always honored with the privilege of doing the fiddling on such occasions. When tired of dancing, singing was in order. Kimberling considered himself the best.

While in Camp Delaware his elbow was dislocated by a fall on the ice. He was discharged in March and returned home, but entered the service as a substitute as soon as his arm was well, and remained until the close of the war, which took place soon after his re-enlistment.

He being a cooper by trade, he spent some time in making barrels for holding pine tar, also salt barrels, to be used at Kanawha Salt Works, the only works of its kind in the west at the time, and occasionally teaching school. He spent 14 years boating up and down the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. The boats were then propelled by manpower as the steamboat had not yet disturbed the western water nor was the whistle of the locomotive heard in all the land. 

The boatmen were a jolly set of fellows and often indulged in the flowing bow. He was personally acquainted with most of the boatmen, among which was the notorious Mike Fink, of whom he tells some amusing stories, being an eye witness to some of his daring exploits, such as setting a cup of whiskey on the head of some of his comrades, stepping back thirty or forty paces, and putting a rifle ball through the center of the cup. This would be considered dangerous sport in this day and age of the world.

Kimberling now bears the mark of a cut finger that Mike gave him while preparing a mess of spareribs for supper. Mike in one of his shooting exploits missed the cup and killed the holder, and was afterward killed in a row. 

Kimberling came to Iowa about 20 years ago, with A. D. Garton and made his home there for several years. He is now living in the home of A. D. Garton. He never married and consequently never knew the joys and comforts of a home of his own, has not been able to work for a number of years, is lively and quite talkative, is extremely fond of children, is now quite deaf, has been losing his hearing since 1834, at which time he had a severe attack of cholera, which somewhat impaired his general health.

Rather singular in his notions and has his coffin now made of nice black walnut, and neatly trimmed and ready for use, is now drawing a pension of eight dollars a month for his services in 1812. It surely is a great comfort to the old soldier to feel that the government did not entirely forget him in his declining years. 

He is not a member of any branch of the Christian church, but all through life has been noted for his uprightness in his dealings with his fellow man, and has ever been a favorite among his neighbors and acquaintances; is always made welcome by them; is a great smoker, has used tobacco from his youth, (some seventy five years) is now in his 85th year, has good health as could be expected for one of his years; and has an excellent memory, is quite interesting in conversation; but the only way he can understand what you want is by making signs with the fingers which he can understand easily.

"As my parents came to Ohio before I was born, I never saw my uncle until I was near 14 years of age. This was in the summer of 1832. He was always known in the family as "Uncle Nat", and I had heard so much of his skill as a player of the violin, that I was much elated when he came to pay us a visit. He arrived on Sunday, and several of the neighbors, who had formerly resided in Virginia, and who had known him there, came to father's house, and they had some good singing. As my parents were Baptists, there was no fiddling on the Sabbath.

"I have heard some among the best performers on the violin, but I am certain "Uncle Nat" could surpass any, or all, I ever heard. His music on the violin was so sweet --- so heavenly, that I have ever since loved to hear this instrument, when in the hands of a good performer.

"Many and many a time have I noticed the scar made by the knife of Mike Fink. I used to watch his fingers while he was playing the violin. This scar was on the back of the finger, next to the little finger, about an inch from the end of the finger. Uncle Nat was a very fine looking man in the year 1832. He then was in the prime of life, being about 43 years of age. He was over six feet in height and very straight. He probably weighed 180 pounds. He was very graceful in his movements, and was remarkably polite and gentlemanly in his actions and conduct. He was a universal favorite, and I never heard of him having an enemy."

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