The Blooming Grave of Michael Pfouts | Conotton Cemetery
With two weeks of outrageously unseasonable weather sweeping through Chicago and much of the Midwest, I find my thoughts turning back to home and Ohio, and a story of our first Foutz ancestor in America.
I find myself wondering, Is Michael Pfouts’s grave blooming?
The outlines of our Foutz ancestry have been pretty well established in this space. Eight Foutz generations of my family have been centered in Ohio the last two hundred years, but Michael got the whole family moving from Germany back in the late 18th century.
He was born June 21, 1769, probably in the German province of Wuerttemberg, where Foutzes — and the original Pfouts/Pfauts name — are thought to have originated along the lower Neckar River valley.
According to census records, he emigrated from Germany in 1787, settling in Washington County, Maryland. In 1799, he married a girl named Catharine (born 1773 in Maryland) in Washington County, Maryland.
There are a few possibilities for tracing the family’s movements over the next decade. Census records of 1790 (the very first census), 1800 and 1810 show at least two or three Michael Pfoutses living in the Greenwood/Cumberland, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland area. Probably the family began in northern Maryland and gradually moved to the northwest.
It’s difficult to discern which Michael is our Michael — or even if another Michael is his father — due to censuses not carrying names of anyone besides the head of the household until after 1840. But of Michael and Catharine’s eight known children, the eldest four — Michael Jr. (1800), Mary, (1801) Jonathan (1805) and John (1807) — are listed as being born in Maryland or Pennsylvania, according to later census records. Jacob, in 1811, is the first to be born in Ohio — probably Harrison County — and is followed by siblings Catherine (1813), Gideon (1822) and Elizabeth (1826).
In 1820, Michael applies for a patent to 80 acres of farmland in North Township. He on or near this plat for the next 31 years. He dies on April 21, 1851 at age 81.
The Last Will & Testament of Michael Pfouts
At the time of his death, Michael was living in the care of a neighboring family, the Sniders. His daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Nathan Watters, have taken over his farm and are raising three young sons — John, Elijah and William. Son Jacob and his wife, Anna (maiden name Watters), and their six children (Arsenath, Amy, Jonathan, Anna, Martha and John B.) secured neighboring farmland as well.
Though several of his children will leave the county in the following decades — Jacob will pack up his large family (9 or so kids) move to Tuscarawas County by 1870; Michael Jr.’s descendants will move to Wood County and retain the Pfouts spelling — Michael’s 1851 will is a good snapshot of the family halfway through the 1800s.
Transcribed by our ever-faithful cousin Dawn James (fifth great-granddaughter to Michael), this document features underlined words that to us, seem merely to point out misspellings:
The last Will and testament of Michael Pfouts deceasedI Michael Pfouts of the County of Harrison and State of Ohio, do make and publish this my last will and testament in manner and form following that is to say.First it is my will that my funeral expense and all my just Debts be fully paid.2nd I do give and bequeath to my Daughter Mary Hurless, the sum of five Dollars in money.3rd I do give and bequeath to my son Michael Pfouts the sum of fifty Dollars in money.4th I do give and bequeath to my son Johnathan Pfouts the sum of seventy five dollars in money.5th I do give and bequeath to my son John Pfouts the sum of seventy five Dollars in money.6th I do give and bequeath to my Daugther Elizabeth Pfouts the sum of one hundred Dollars in money.7th I do give and bequeath to my Daughter Catharine Waters the sum of one Dollar in money.8th I do give and bequeath to my son Jacob Pfouts the sum of fifteen Dollars in money.9th I do give and bequeath to my son Gidon Pfouts the sum of fifty Dollars in money.My funeral expens is to be paid by Gidone Pfouts, and the above sums is to be paid by Nathan Waters which the Artickel will shoe by him taken the old place and the balens of the four hundred dollars is to be divided equil sheares amongst my children. I constitute and appoint Johnison Pfouts and John Pfouts to be my executors of this my last Will and Testament. In testimony where of I have here unto set my hand and seal this 20 day of November 1849.Michael (his X mark) Pfoutshas signed in presants of us Jacob Bower David BowersThe State of Ohio Harrison County
Dawn was on hand during a March 2011 visit to Conotton Cemetery to discover what I had not been able to the previous year — Michael’s final resting place.
When I had first visited Conotton Cemetery — located just south of the village of Conotton — it was late March 2010, and the valley was enjoying temperatures north of 80 and plenty of sunshine to go with it.
I spent more than an hour really shooting in the dark for the burial places of ancestors I had only just come to know, and confirm were my own — Gideon, Delilah, great-great grandparents Jonathan and Rebecca. I managed to find Gideon’s brother Nathaniel right off the bat (incidentally, married to a Eliza Fouts, a daughter of Gideon’s nephew Joseph, a son of Michael Pfouts Jr.), but tromped through the damp grass and dodged the gleeful bees only to come up empty and wonder — did all the weathered and broken and missing stones belong to Foutzes?
As it turned out, there was one reason I probably walked right past the burial site of our family patriarch. Though the world was all a-flower during my 2010 visit, the following February brought plenty of snow and cold — and the mystical genealogy methods of Dawn. ;-D Happily, she located Michael’s grave, along with Catharine and Gideon’s daughter Tabitha, all beside one another. Other children of Michael — John, Jonathan, Elizabeth and Catherine — are buried nearby.
Michael’s grave stood, very well preserved, in the middle of dried and decaying boughs. It wasn’t until later that year, during a June visit, that I could confirm — in warm months, a great green shrub topped with orange blossoms swallows whole Michael’s gravestone; in winter months, the plant withers, revealing the stone again.
Now, it will take a reader far more horticulturally versed than I to identify the mystery plant. And it’s probably impossible to say how for long this annual cycle has played out — or if it was ever intended. But I think it’s pleasing, and profound, that the final resting place of our oldest identified Foutz ancestor (to date) can still bring forth such colorful blooms, and retain such mystery.