yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

Dr. John Robert Keeton

from the research of Don Keeton

Dr. John Robert Keeton was born 1799 in Illinois, and died 08 Jun 1858 in Decatur Co., TN. He married Catharina F. Keeton about 1825 in probably Franklin Co., TN, daughter of John Keeton and unknown. She was born 02 Feb 1806 in Kentucky, and died 09 Jul 1870 in Decatur Co., TN.

Born in Illinois in 1799, John Robert Keeton is the son of Hezekiah (Sr.) and Batsey Keeton. By the time he was two years old, he had moved to Kentucky, where he most likely received his education, and then moved on to that portion of Perry County, TN that later became Decatur County. He stopped off in Franklin County, TN long enough to find the girl who became his wife--his cousin, Catharina Keeton. He is said to have been in (Perry) Decatur County in 1835 and was on the 1837 Perry County Tax Rolls but is believed to have been there by 1826 when his and Catharina's first child, John Lawson Keeton, was born. With the departure of the Indians and less fear of attacks, white settlers quickly began moving to west Tennessee by about 1820. Robert and Catharina, were the very first Keetons to arrive and settle in what became Decatur County. They found plentiful wild game and fish for hunting, cheap, fertile bottom land for farming, and abundant opportunity waiting for adventurous pioneers.

It must not have been very difficult for Robert and Catharina to leave Franklin County and go west. They settled at a place called Shannonville, currently known as Bob's Landing. It is speculated that they could have arrived as newly weds, by river boat, or barge, on the Tennessee River, and got off the boat on the west bank at Shannonville, after having been married at Catharina's home in Franklin County, TN. Even if Robert and Catharina came to Shannonville by boat, they first could have traveled overland by covered wagon or other period vehicle as far as Clifton, for example. Nothing has been found to indicate whether Shannonville was their intended destination when they set out from Franklin County and headed west.

Robert probably received his schooling in Lexington, KY, while living in Franklin County, KY and Scott County, KY. After finishing medical school about the early 1820s, he followed his parents and siblings to Franklin County, TN where they were close neighbors of John and Elizabeth Keeton. John Keeton and and his first wife, whose name is unknown at this time, were the parents of Catharina. Elizabeth Keeton, John's second wife, was a sister of Robert. It is generally believed that John Keeton and his family had lived close to the Hezekiah Keeton family in Kentucky. So it is possible that Robert and Catharina had known each other before their separate moves to Tennessee. At any rate, they did court each other while living in Franklin County, TN. It seems probable--in the absence of any written record--that their marriage was performed by Catharina's father, Justice of the Peace John Keeton.

Historians have written that Robert and Catharina are cousins and genealogists are still trying to trace their blood lines to find where they connect. It is written in Goodspeed's History of Tennessee that they were cousins. Were they first cousins? No one knows for sure. After marrying in Franklin County, TN, they moved on to west Tennessee, settling in what became Decatur County and the new doctor set up a medical practice at Shannonville, near the banks of the Tennessee River. That was the beginning of his highly successful career in family medicine. He was regarded as a rather famous doctor during his time.

In addition to farming and practicing medicine for almost 40 years, there is evidence that he was also appointed as legal representative in a significant court case representing his and Catharina's families in Missouri. Furthermore, court records for Decatur County, TN indicate that Robert Keeton was appointed as guardian of minor children in at least one case, in the April, 1850 term. However, there is no record of him ever being schooled in law.

Dr. Robert received several land grants in Decatur County (see note below). He and Catharina cleared the land and built their home on property he acquired along the banks of Turnbo Creek near Dunbar, Bath Springs, just a few steps from the site that is now Keeton Cemetery.

One of the earliest white settlers in Decatur County--the Chickasaw Indians had occupied the west Tennessee territory until about 1820--he first practiced medicine at Shannonville, then later at Scotts Hill. He and Catharina became the parents of nine children (some genealogists and historians have reported that there were 11 children but they do not give names and this researcher can find only nine names). Robert died June 8, 1858, and is buried at Keeton Cemetery beside his wife, Catharina.

The Missouri court case referred to above involved the settlement of the estate of Robert's brother, William Keeton, deceased, which consisted primarily of about 20 slaves that William had fraudulently purchased in a rigged auction of John Keeton's estate. The court case was filed in St. Francois County, MO. Robert was appointed attorney and legal representative on behalf of himself and his other brother and sisters and their spouses as well as the children of John Keeton, deceased, Robert's father-in-law, all claiming to be heirs. The defendants, the widow and daughter of William Keeton, were represented by several attorneys, William Spradling being one.

The slaves had belonged to John Keeton. John hired his wife's brother, Deputy Sheriff William Keeton, to help him take the slaves from Franklin County, TN, first to Illinois to mine salt--which proved to be not profitable--and then to Missouri to mine lead in the 1820s. John Keeton died in 1826 and William Keeton, who was not an heir, was appointed administrator of John Keeton's estate, brought the slaves back to Tennessee and rigged an estate auction at which he bought most of the slaves at low, low prices. That auction was later found by the court to have been a fraud.

Meanwhile, William, claiming ownership of the slaves, took them back to Missouri to resume the lead mining operation. He got involved romantically with a married woman, Hannah Cole, who had a daughter, Susan, while she was still living with her husband. The woman filed for divorce from her husband, Thomas Cole, in 1844, when the daughter, Susan, was about seven years old, and married William Keeton on October 16, 1845. William claimed the daughter, Susan, as his own and, very soon after William's death, she was legitimated by the St. Francois Co., MO court as William's daughter. Less than three months after William married the woman, he died, before January 6, 1846. The widow and daughter claimed ownership of the slaves, which, the court later ruled, were fraudulently taken from John's estate settlement several years earlier and they should be claimed by their lawful owners, the children of John Keeton.

Robert, and his other brother and sisters and their spouses, and John Keeton's children, filed suits in St. Francois County, MO, all claiming that they were the rightful heirs and that Hannah and Susan Keeton were not entitled to the slaves. In the suit, Robert Keeton was named as attorney and legal representative. The case went to court in the mid- to late-1840s, was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court and dragged on until after Robert Keeton's death but there is ample proof that he traveled to Missouri and actively represented the family until his death, after which another attorney was appointed.

In the appointment of a new attorney in March 1862 to replace Robert Keeton, Catharina names herself and some--but not all--of her children and their spouses as heirs of Robert Keeton, deceased, who was an heir of his brother, William Keeton. For example, her son, John Lawson's, name was not included. Perhaps that was because he had already built a successful medical practice of his own, at Swallow Bluff. In addition to Catharina, those named are Thomas B. Garrard, Julia M. Garrard, William H. Keeton, Sophronia Jobe, Francis Jobe and Albert Keeton.

Had the Robert Keeton heirs prevailed in the case, Catharina might have received up to three slaves in the distribution of the estate. The case was so complicated and dragged on so long-- until after 1862--that President Abraham Lincoln had already signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all persons held as slaves before a ruling was handed down that the slaves had been fraudulently bought from John Keeton's estate and should be awarded to the rightful owners, the heirs of John Keeton. In the end, no one got anything.

The 1850 Decatur County court case referred to above, titled Martin vs. Keeton, at 35 Tenn 536, also involved distribution of slaves. Separately, The Decatur Co., TN, Slave Schedule for 1850 lists Robert Keeton as owner of three slaves. The 1860 Schedule lists C. F. Keeton as owner of eight slaves. C. F. are Robert's widow, Catharina's, initials.

Note: Records show Robert Keeton involved in several land transactions. He received Decatur County land grants as follows:

1851 167.25 acres W dist, book 7oc, page 288 g# 12388 (Exact date 8/26/1851)
1852 219 acres book 16, page 246 g# 13162
1852 90 acres book 16, page 483 g# 13401
1852 55 acres book 16, page 765 g# 13681
1852 40 acres book 16, page 766 g# 13682
1854 158 acres book 19, page 98 g# 14598
1859 9.75 acres book __, page ___, g# 15929 (apparently posthumously)
Total 739.0 acres

More information

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