Rufus Littlejohn and Flora Woods were married in Jefferson County, Ohio on December 25, 1899. Yes, Christmas Day! (If you're keeping track, another pair of my 2x Great-Grandparents, Laura Ann Scruggs/Screws/Strugs and James Steven Evans, married on Christmas Eve 1901.)
Here is their marriage record:
If you look towards the middle of the document, you'll see that they received permission to marry on December 9th, suggesting that they specifically waited until Christmas to have the marriage solemnized.
One wonders how Rufus and Flora met, and what drew them towards each other. Approximately 33 years old, Rufus was a relatively recent arrival to the area, having been in Cleveland, OH as recently as 1896 or 1897. There, he'd worked as a top filler and at a furnace, both jobs associated with coal mining. He was mulatto (mixed race), one of the middle children of 13 born to his parents in South Carolina, and was perhaps the first child in his family born into freedom.* He was already the father of 3 children, 2 still living: 7-year-old Geneva (nicknamed "Eva") and 2-year-old Alma, who resided with their mother in Beaver County, PA, about 48 miles northeast along the Ohio River.
At the time of their marriage, Flora was 23**, or about 10 years Rufus' junior. She was the baby of her family, about 6 years younger than her only brother and 8 years below her only sister. Records suggest this was her first marriage, and their children the only children she would have. And unlike her new husband, she had been born and raised in Ohio, spending at least the first 4 years of her life in Bellaire, OH, about 30 miles south of Steubenville along the Ohio River.
The pair did have a few things on common, at least that one can tell from the written record. Like Rufus, it seems likely that Flora's parents were both born into slavery (they were born in the late 1840s / early 1850s in Virginia and do not appear in the Federal Census until 1870). Both Flora and Rufus were literate, and both were familiar with the laboring lifestyle - in addition to his own experience, Rufus was the son of a farmer/laborer, and Flora's father was a laborer. Her brother is a top filler at a blast furnace, hearkening back to Rufus' time in Cleveland.
What did their first years of marriage look like? Lucky for us, the 1900 Census gives us a quick snapshot:
|1900 U.S. Federal Census, Steubenville, OH - First Half of Rows.|
|1900 U.S. Federal Census, Steubenville, OH - Second Half of Rows.|
At the very center of these images, you can see Rufus' listing (look for South Carolina in the second image to get oriented). Rufus and Flora are living in Steubenville, seemingly in the same building as Flora's mother Sarah, step-father Harvey, and siblings Elizabeth and John. Also in the household are two boarders, one from Ohio and the other from Georgia, who are presumably helping the family make ends meet.
Rufus is a day laborer, his (step)father-in-law is a teamster, and his brother-in-law is a top-filler at one of the local furnaces. At the turn of the century, the Ohio River Valley was a powerhouse of coal mining and steel and iron production, and most jobs supported these industries or served the people working in them. Rufus can be found over the next few years in city directories listed as either a laborer or a hod carrier (someone who carries bricks supporting the work of bricklayers in the building industry), and it's likely his work is in some way supporting the mines and mills.
|(An 1880s view of Steubenville. Citation Below.)|
What the census record above does not show is that newlyweds Flora and Rufus are expecting a "package" - their first child, Raymond D. Littlejohn is born later that year, on November 9, 1900. Over the next 14 years, they will have 5 more children: Franklin in 1904, Gladys in 1906, Edward in 1908, Mary in 1910, and Florence in 1914.
In those years, the family sees its share of hardships. In 1905, Rufus is seriously burned in a accident at the iron works where he is employed. In subsequent years, he begins to have run-ins with the law,
to the point where the local newspaper describes him as "a negro who desires a reputation as a 'Bad man.'" (Note: Susan M. Guy, author of Mobsters, Madams & Murder in Steubenville, Ohio: The Story of Little Chicago, notes that "the 1890s through the 1900s saw a rise in Steubenville's murders and other major criminal activities, such as gambling, bootlegging and prostitution.") What went on in the home is unknown to me, but by 1920, Rufus and Flora are no longer living together and Flora is describing herself as a widow (though Rufus is very much alive and possibly still building his reputation).
After another stint in Cleveland, Rufus will move to Beaver County, PA to live with his daughter from his previous relationship, Alma. He is living with her in 1930, but by the time he passes away, in 1934, he is a resident of the county work house. Flora lives until 1964, outliving two of her adult children, and passes away in Weirton, WV, where she had been living with daughter Gladys.
The story of Rufus and Flora is certainly not a happily ever after, but I'm glad to know the small part that I do. Their experiences shaped my great-grandmother, whose experiences did the same for her children right on down the line to me. So each story is a piece of my own puzzle, for better or for worse, and I'm excited to reclaim each one from history.
Do you know anything about Rufus and Flora? Perhaps even have a photo? Please leave a note in the Comments section below!
*It's possible his brother Edward David Littlejohn was the first - he was born about 1864 and Rufus about 1866, but both of these years are "squishy" right now.
**The marriage record and 1900 Census list her age and birth info incorrectly. The 1880 census for Flora's family shows that she is 4-years-old, and her birth information is transcribed in "Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2011. Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled records.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "View of City from Nicholsons[?] Hill, Steubenville, Ohio" New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5b040640-963c-0135-690f-03a8f68ac7e8