James and Benjamin Slavens.

When I started working on my family tree around 15 years ago, it was “common knowledge” that my great-great-grandfather James Slavens was a twin of Phillip Slavens, born 18 August 1818 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. The source for this “knowledge” was likely the F.L. Slaven family history, or the earlier work by Thomas Slavens. Their information is unsourced, although one of the versions of F.L.’s booklet tells of the “Isaiah Slavens Bible.”

It didn’t take long for me to determine that this information couldn’t be right. I found documentation of James’s marriage to Mary Davis in May 1829. Records in Hendricks County, Indiana, such as a deed and Mary’s father Enoch Davis’s will, confirmed that this Indiana couple was the 1829 Kentucky James and Mary. So… if James was Phillip’s twin, then James would have been getting married before his 11th birthday. Times were different back then, but they didn’t even marry off girls that young. The 1818 birth date for James Slavens must be incorrect.

James was likely ten or more years older than the 1818 birth date. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that James if was a twin– and that’s a mighty big “if”– his twin brother was Benjamin Luther Slavens, not Phillip.

All the evidence I’ll present is circumstantial. As a whole, it makes for a compelling case that James and Benjamin were brothers and very close. The case for them being twins involves speculation about birth dates– the data is somewhat nebulous, but the possibility is well within the realm of possibility.

First, we need to establish a birth date for Benjamin. Luckily, he died in Missouri at a time they were recording deaths. There are two transcriptions of a death record at the Missouri Secretary of State’s Missouri Digital Heritage website: one on page 23 and again on page 37. His date of death was 15 May 1885, aged 78 years, 4 months, and 29 days. From this, a birth date of December 16 or 17, 1806 can be calculated.

Another source is a statement in the Civil War pension file for Benjamin’s son, John W. Slavens. John was unmarried when he died, and his mother Elisabeth/Elizabeth (Farrow) Slavens filed for a pension from a now-defunct community in Polk County, Iowa (coincidentally, just a couple miles from I where I work) in March 1878. After Elisabeth’s death, Benjamin filed for a pension from Jackson County, Missouri. Benjamin’s application is dated June 20, 1883, and states that he is 77 years old. This would put his birth between July 21, 1805 and July 20, 1806. This does not agree with the date calculated from the death record, but is in the neighborhood.

Census records aren’t much help in settling the issue. In the 1850 census, the first where the names and ages of individuals are specified rather than the groupings by age range and gender as in the earlier censuses, James Slavens is listed as 45 (Hendicks County, Indiana, p. 57/113) and Benjamin as 43 (although the image is quite poor; Boone County, Indiana, page 235). In 1860 Benjamin is 64 (Montgomery County, Indiana, p. 38/360), in 1870 he can’t be found, and in 1880 he’s 73.

In an earlier blog post, I detailed how the probate file for James Slavens establishes his death as August 15, 1851. A county history “brag book” entry for James’s son Willis correctly states that his father died in 1851, and states his age as 44 years. This would give James a birth date of approximately August 16, 1806, to August 15, 1807.

One thing we have to consider if we’re going to weigh the possibility that James and Benjamin were twins is the spacing of births. Theoretically a 19th century woman could give birth just nine months after giving birth to another child, but that would be quite uncommon. (It’s still pretty rare today.) Because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, the next pregnancy often did not occur until the previous baby was weaned, making eighteen months to two years between babies a common spacing.

If we pick an early date for Benjamin’s birth (circa July 21, 1805) and a late date for James’s birth (August 15, 1807), we have the 18- to 24-month gap. Using a late date for Benjamin’s birth (December 16, 1806) and an early one for James’s (August 16, 1806), the gap is nearly nonexistent.

**BUT** we have to keep in mind that while Benjamin Slavens was the first child born after the marriage of Isaiah and Barbara (Perks) Slavens, he was not Barbara’s first child. According to family stories, Barbara was married to a ________ Leaton, who drowned before their first child was born. That son was John Leaton, who grew up with his mother, step-father, and Slavens half-siblings in Kentucky. Like them, he moved to Putnam County, Indiana. According to John’s headstone at Union Chapel Cemetery (see the database at the Putnam County Public Library site), he was born 14 March 1805. John’s age is perfectly consistent in the 1850-1880 censuses with a March 1805 birth date.

Since Barbara Perks Leaton Slavens is the mother of both John Leaton and Benjamin Slavens, and John Leaton was born March 1805, then Benjamin likely would not have been born until late 1806 at the earliest. This corresponds nicely with Benjamin’s death record birth calculation. So let’s keep that December 1806 date in mind.

Going back to James– besides the assertion in Willis’s bio that James was 44 at the time of his death in 1851, I know of only one other record showing his age– the 1850 census. Yet it clouds the issue– it states that James is 45, which would mean he was born in 1804 or 1805!

However, I very much doubt the accuracy of this census. The handwriting is very clear, and James’s age is plainly 45. However, a couple lines down, oldest son Harvey is enumerated as “Henry.” I suspect that transcription errors were made when the data was transferred to the enumeration book– Harvey became Henry, and James’s age went from 43 to 45. Nineteenth century handwriting often had 3’s that looked like 5’s and vice-versa.

If such a transcription error occurred, a couple things fall into place. The age would agree with the assertion that James was 44 when he died in 1851. It also means that he was born in late 1806 or early 1807– just like Benjamin Slavens. And there’s only one way for the both of them to be born in the same time frame, and that is if they were twins.

(We will break out Occam’s razor and discount other possibilities– that James and/or Benjamin weren’t sons of Isaiah and Barbara, that James Leaton wasn’t Barbara’s son or that the birth date on his headstone is incorrect, etc. The simplest explanation that accommodates the majority of the various pieces of evidence is that James and Benjamin were twins.)

There is plenty of evidence that James and Benjamin were closer to each other than to their many other siblings. Isaiah Slavens and many of his children lived in Putnam County, Indiana, while James and Mary (Davis) Slavens lived in Hendricks County on land that had been owned by Mary’s father. Where did Benjamin live? Sometimes in Putnam County (1840 census), but much closer to James in Hendricks and neighboring Boone County at various times:

In my opinion, the most compelling piece of evidence that James and Benjamin were very close is that Benjamin named his first son born after James’s death “James Harvey Slavens.” To be fair, there is the possibility that the baby was named after James’s son Harvey, as according to Harvey’s marriage record in Montgomery County, Indiana, his legal name was likely James Harvey Slavens. (We know that this record wasn’t Harvey’s father getting married, as the marriage was 28 March 1854, several years after James’s death. And we know it’s “our” Harvey, as we have tracked Harvey, his bride Nancy (Tiberghien), Harvey’s brothers Willis and Milton, some of their Davis kin, and relatives of Nancy’s, to Sac County, Iowa in the mid to late 1850’s.) Anyway, it’s much more likely that Benjamin was naming his son after his recently deceased brother, rather than his very much alive nephew.

While it’s always possible that some old forgotten family Bible, a letter from an elderly grandparent reminiscing and enumerating family members, or some other document definitively spelling out James’s and Benjamin’s connection will turn up, it’s much more likely that the connection will remain speculative.

Copyright © 2015 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.