Frances Mariah Reeves, First Wife of James F. Taylor

James F. Taylor and his first wife Frances M. Reeves were either never divorced or were divorced subsequent to James F Taylor’s second marriage to Almarine (Southerland) Callahan.   Either way the marriage to Almarine was not legal, which cost her a widow’s pension and her children their legitimacy — though they were evidently completely unaware of it.

Frances M. Reeves was the child of Redden Reeves and his wife Cynthia Reeves (apparently not a close relative).  The 1850 census of Marshall County, Alabama enumerated Redden Reeves (c1802-1870s) with a second wife named Elizabeth, who was the widow of Cynthia’s brother Wiley Reeves.   Among their respective children was “Fanny Maria” Reeves, age 10.

Marshall County guardianship records tell us that both sets of children inherited from the estate of their grandfather George W. Reeves, who died in DeKalb County in 1850.1  Frances Mariah Reeves and her sister Netty (or “Nutty”) Louisa Reeves, the minor heirs of Cynthia Reeves, each inherited several hundred dollars.   Elijah Garrett was appointed guardian of their inherited estates in 1853 and in 1857 was replaced when Frances chose Richmond Nickles as guardian.   Their annual accountings of her estate refer to her variously as Frances Mariah, Frances Maria, Fanny Maria, Fanny M. and Frances M.   The accounting records also show that she used a good deal of her inheritance to purchase quantities of cloth, ribbons and lace as well as disturbingly regular purchases of snuff and plugs of tobacco. 2

As Frances M. Reeves she married James F. Taylor in Marshall County on 6 June 1860.3  Neither was located in the 1860 census, but we infer from James F. Taylor’s pension file that they must have lived in DeKalb County.  The couple evidently separated after producing two children sometime prior to or just after his Civil War enlistment in 1863.

By the 1870 census Frances, age 26, was living in Winston County, Alabama with a new husband, 78-year old  Samuel Wiley.   Two Taylor sons were in the household:  Frances M. Taylor, age 10, and Albert H. Taylor, age 9, in addition to a one-year old named David S. Wiley.  Samuel Wiley, who was a War of 1812 pensioner, died about 1878, and on 28 February 1880 Frances remarried to a widower named James H. Cantrell. 4 The Winston County 1880 census enumerated Frances, age 34, and James H. Cantrell, age 37, with four Wiley children:  Samuel (11), Candace (8), Washington (5), and Martha E. (3).  Unfortunately, essentially all Winston County records were destroyed in an 1891 courthouse fire, so we are denied further details of her life there.

By 1886 the Cantrells had moved to Potts Camp in Marshall County, Mississippi where James H. Cantrell died on 22 December 1890 just  two months after initiating a pension application for his one year’s service in the U.S. Army’s 1st Alabama Cavalry in 1863.5

After his death Frances M. Cantrell applied for a widow’s pension.  Her application listed two dependent children: James D. Cantrell, born 26 January 1883, and Josephine Cantrell, born 8 September 1884.   Her pension was approved retroactive to 23 December 1890 at the rate of $12/month plus $2/month for each of the two children.6

In her application she had indicated that she and Cantrell married on 28 February 1880, two years prior to the death of James F. Taylor.   When later examined about this discrepancy, she stated that Taylor had obtained a divorce from her in Winston County, but that the court records had been destroyed in the 1891 courthouse fire.   In 1901, having been unable to produce proof of the divorce, she stated before an examiner that it was she who “obtained or sued for” a divorce in DeKalb County.  The Pension Bureau’s examiner was not convinced and in 1901 recommended rejecting her pension on the grounds that she had not been divorced from Taylor and therefore her marriage to Cantrell was illegal. 7   Examiners found no record of a divorce, but in early 1903 Frances M. Cantrell changed her statement, declaring that “to the best of her belief” she was divorced from James F. Taylor “in the month of April 1867 by a decree of the Chancery Court of DeKalb County, Alabama.”

The Pension Bureau’s examiner didn’t believe her, but the legal department overruled him and declared her marriage to Cantrell legal, thus saving her widow’s pension.  The Board of Review examiner wrote that “I have no doubt that Frances M. knew Taylor was alive when she married both Wiley and Cantrell [and that] he was her lawful husband all the time” but because the Law Division had declared her Cantrell’s legal widow “we will have to reject the claim of Frances M. upon some other ground.”8

Unfortunately, once the Pension Bureau accepted the fact of an April 1867 divorce, it had to declare Almarine Taylor’s 1866 marriage illegal.   Almarine was disadvantaged by the fact that she had not met James F. Taylor until after the war, so apparently had no first-hand knowledge of his first marriage.  She obtained affidavits from two relatives or close friends that Frances M. Taylor had died in 1864 in an attempt to preserve her pension, but they probably had the effect of reducing her credibility. 9  In August 1903 the Bureau of Pensions notified her of its decision that at the time of her own marriage to James F. Taylor “his former wife, one Frances M. Taylor, now Cantrell, was living and undivorced.”  She did not contest the issue and her pension was rejected.

Frances M. Cantrell was enumerated in the 1900 census of Marshal County (her birth given as July 1842) with her two Cantrell minor children.  Living in adjoining households were three of her children by the first two marriages:  Frances (Frank) Taylor and his wife Lena, Samuel Wiley and his wife Arminta, and Martha E. Wiley and her husband James A. Piplin.   She indicated that she had borne 9 children, 6 of whom were still living.  I do not know who the sixth living child was.



  1. He is buried in the part of DeKalb that later became Etowah County, in the Bristow Cemetery. []
  2. Marshall County Probate Records, Vol. 4, page 297-9; Vol. 5 pages 135, 301-2, 545 et al; Vol. 6, page 611 et al; Vol. 7, pages 391-395. []
  3. His name is mis-transcribed as “John” in an online listing of Marshal County marriages. []
  4. She declared in her pension application that she was married on that date as Frances Wiley. []
  5. He enlisted on 4 February 1863 and was discharged on 4 February 1864, having served in Company D of the 1st Alabama Cavalry.  Though the name is similar, that was a different regiment than the 1st Alabama & Tennessee Vidette Cavalry. []
  6. Certificate No. 364861. []
  7. Notes by “D. Roth”,   and “J.B.S.” of the Pension Bureau in the pension file. []
  8. Two documents dated in May 1903 by F. B. Curtis, included in the Taylor pension file. []
  9. James Southerland, probably a cousin of Almarine Southerland, and Willis Carpenter, with whose family she lived after the death of her first husband, both testified that Frances M. Taylor had died on 30 November 1864. []