Friday, March 10, 2023

2023 Prompt - Legend - William Henry Leeton


William Henry Leeton – 1841-1923 my great-great-grandfather

 Nancy Simmons to Paul Simmons to Walter Simmons to Elspeth Leeton to William Henry Leeton


Family legend tells us that Henry W. Leeton was a stowaway aboard a ship that brought him to New York City from France. The legend states he migrated to Ritchie County working on the railroad and that he was in the Union Army serving as a guard for the bridges and tunnels near Cairo, West Virginia.  Most families have some sort of family legend that has been passed down through the years.  Family historians try to prove or disprove legends with documentation.

New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew List, 1820-1957
Henry Luten, 22 years, male, Confectioner, Belgium


To support the New York story there is a document for a Henry Luten listed on an 1859 New York Passenger list. It states he is 22 years old, a confectioner, and born in Belgium sailing on a ship named Robert Center.[1] Is this our Henry Leeton? The problem is if he was a stowaway would he be on a ship manifest. Also, the name Leeton has many variations and can be difficult to research. As I explore, I find a Henry Leaton in the 1860 census in Simpson County, Kentucky living with the W.E. Wainscott family. He is 18 years old, a laborer and was born in Kentucky.[2] Is this my William Henry Leeton? This is the only Henry Leaton, Leton, Leeton I find anywhere in the 1860 United States Federal Census.


1860 Federal Census Simpson County, Kentucky
William Leaton, 18, male, laborer, Kentucky

In the 1870 federal census I find Henry Leaton living in Grant, Ritchie County, West Virginia, living with Mary Hall and her three children. Henry is 30 years old working on the railroad.[3] On October 1, 1872, Henry Leeton married Maggie Newland in Parkersburg, Wood County, West Virginia. He is 33 years old, and Maggie is 26 years old, and the marriage record states Henry was born in France and is working on the railroad.[4]  The census and marriage record confirm his birthdate about 1837, his birthplace as France, and his occupation as a railroad worker.

 Wood County, West Virginia Marriage Records
Henry Leeton and Maggie Newland

Looking further, in the 1880 federal census Henry Leeton is listed as living in Wood County as 41 years old born in France, and a farmer.[5] Unfortunately, the 1890 census was burned but there is an 1890 Union Veterans schedule that escaped the fire. Henry is not listed in that schedule, and he should be since he is living in Wood or Ritchie County in 1880 and 1900. Humm…..maybe he never fought for the Union forces? 


In the 1900 Ritchie County, West Virginia federal census, Henry Leeton is 63 years old born June 1836 in Belgium. The census also states that he immigrated in 1859 and has been in the United States for 41 years and was naturalized.[6] In the 1910 federal census, Henry is 73 years old born in Belgium, immigrated in 1859, and was naturalized.[7]  


1900 Federal Census Grant, Ritchie County, West Virginia
Leeten, Henry, white, male, June 1836, 63 years, married 27 years

Both census records state that Henry was born about 1836 in Belgium and is a farmer. Why Belgium and not France? One needs to understand the formation of the country of Belgium. After the French Revolution, Belgium was part of France. Then Belgium became a separate country after the Belgium Revolution that ended in 1839. So, I would assume Henry was born in that part of France that became the country of Belgium. Both censuses state he immigrated in 1859 and was naturalized. These two documents support the New York passenger list.


Corporal William H Leeton
Company K 20th Regiment Tennessee Infantry

According to Robert Simmons, past family genealogist, and the website Find A Grave, Henry is buried in the Egypt Cemetery, Cairo, West Virginia.[8] His grave marker indicates his name to be William H. Leeton, his year of birth as 1841, and his year of death to be 1923, and that he served in the 20th Regiment, Company K of the Tennessee Infantry as a Corporal. Robert spoke to Bud Raiguel, long-time funeral director in Cairo, and he stated Henry was buried in Egypt Cemetery in a plot that his son, John Leeton, purchased. John, his wife, May, and his father William Henry Leeton are buried in the plot. When Robert visited the cemetery, William H. Leeton had a Confederate Civil War gravestone with his unit inscribed on it. According to Henry's West Virginia death record, he died September 3, 1923.

W Leton
Company K, 20th Regiment Tennessee Infantry

Further research on Fold3, a military website, I find several Confederate records for William Leton / Leaton enlisted in Co K, the 20th Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers.  He enlisted on June 9, 1861, in Trousdale, Tennessee for one year. On July 24, 1862, Corporal William Leaton is discharged. On November 3, 1862, William is captured by Union forces in Simpson County, Kentucky, and sent to Louisville, Kentucky where he is transported to Vicksburg, Mississippi on Nov 12, 1862.[9] William is held by Union forces until June,1863, when he and three other Confederate soldiers are exchanged for four Union soldiers.[10]

Wm Leaton
20th Regiment Tennessee
Prisoner of War

Lots of questions still remain, concerning William Henry Leeton. What happened to William after the prisoner exchange in June 1863? Since he was captured after his formal discharge and then released by Union forces, did he sign an oath of allegiance to the Union? This was often done with prisoners. Did he travel up the Ohio River to Parkersburg, West Virginia, and guard bridges and tunnels for the north? If he did it wasn't as an enlisted Union soldier, or he would be listed in the 1890 Union Veterans Schedule. This schedule was part of the 1890 federal census that asked Union veterans, that were living, questions pertaining to the Civil War.  William Henry Leeton is not listed. In fact, he is not listed on any Veteran Schedule in West Virginia or Ohio, and he would have been if had enlisted. And remember he is buried with a Confederate gravestone that probably his son, John Leeton, purchased. 


After looking at the evidence of William Henry Leeton's tombstone, military records, and the fact he enlisted in Tennessee, is it possible that he arrived in New Orleans, which was a strong French community, instead of New York.? If he arrived in 1859, as the 1900 census record states, where is he in the 1860 federal census? The only William Leeton I could find in 1860 was one 18-year-old male in Simpson County, Kentucky. Could this be our William (Henry) Leeton? Simpson is the county where he was captured by Union forces in 1862.  Also, could the legend of his Civil War allegiance to the Union forces be because his grandson, Mr. John H. Sandy, became the president of a prominent bank in Parkersburg, West Virginia in 1941 and didn't want to admit his grandfather, William Henry Leeton, had Confederate connections? Will we ever know the true story?







[1] Ancestry, New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, 1858, New York, New York, Line 9, List Number 1124.

[2] Ancestry, 1860 United States Federal Census, Simpson, Kentucky, page 86, line 25.

[4] Wood County, West Virginia Courthouse, Wood County, West Virginia, Marriage Records, Book 2, page 57.

[6] Ancestry, 1900 United States Federal Census, Grant, Ritchie, West Virginia, ED 88, page 10, line 12.

[7] Ancestry, 1910 United States Federal Census, Grant, Ritchie, West Virginia, ED 70, page 12A, line 44.

[8] Find A Grave, Memorial # 38588278, William Henry Leeton.

[9] Ancestry, U.S., Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865, William Leton.

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