People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

William Henry Ritenour

William Henry Ritenour was born to Adam and Emily Ritenour on 15 April 1842 in Water- lick, Warren County, Virginia. This was a tiny town on the edge of what is now the George Washington National Forest, and was situated about 7 miles northwest of Front Royal. Like his father, he made his living as a laborer, mostly chopping wood to clear land and poling barges down the river. On the 1850 and 1860 censuses, he is listed as a wood chopper (Bureau of the Census 1850, 1860). He married a woman named Martha Ellen George, and they had 14 children.


Martha Ellen George was born on 31 Dec 1841 in Warren County, Virginia. Her mother’s name was Matilda, and very little is known about her. In fact, very little is known about Martha’s entire family. On the 1850 census, Martha and her mother are living in the Warren countryside, with a group of people identified with the same last name. Most of the older people are female, and the younger ones appear to be their children. There is no income given for the group, which is hardly surprising since the group was mostly unmarried women with their children. The census taker lists them as ’M’ for ’Mulatto,’ which was marked at the discretion of the census-taker, apparently based more on lifestyle than appearance. It likely indicates that they were aboriginal, since, by the U.S. government’s definition, there were no recognized aboriginal groups in Shenandoah (the tribes there having been exterminated before treaties were signed). Without a recognized treaty, and without a reservation, there were simply ”no indians” in Shenandoah. Hence, legally, the Georges would have to be black or mulatto, if they were not to be considered white. According to her great grandson Elmer Lee Ritenour, Henry married an Indian woman, which seems to be corroborated by the available evidence. Likely, the Georges were some remnant of the Shenandoah aboriginal group (thought to be the homeland of the Siouan language family) or one of the neighbouring group (e.g. the Shawnee or Catawba), who had scattered and intermarried with whites since contact, living a more or less indian-style life, as the situation allowed. Genetic testing of a matrilineal descendant of Martha George would help answer this.


In 1860, Matilda, Martha’s mother, was gone from the household, and has never been located elsewhere. The head of household is now Jonathan W. George, who is listed as a farmer, along with two other men Alphanius and Algerius, who work as a farm hand and a cooper, respectively. Combined, they were making $230 a year, which is much higher than the average of $100 that their impoverished neighbours were managing to make. They are still designated as ’mulatto.’ At this point, Martha, now 19 years old, was even listed as attending school. Like Martha, the rest of the Georges become ”White” on the later censuses, which further suggests aboriginal origin; Black people could very rarely become identified as legally ”white” and fully integrated into society, but it was not at all uncommon for aboriginals.


The identity of Martha Ellen’s father has proved extremely difficult. It was not uncom- mon for women in this position and racial class to have children from multiple men, or to be used for recreation by local men. One of her sons (Andrew Jackson) identifies her name as ’Martha Blackwood’ on his marriage certificate, which would suggest that the Blackwoods of Warren county (who live near them in the 1860 census) may have had some relation to her birth. Descendants of her son Isaac Newton identify her father as named Hale.


The Civil War


When the first battle of Bull Run took place on 21 July 1861, 52 miles from Waterlick, William Henry was not quite 19 years old. He was mustered into the Company F of the 4th Regiment, 7th Brigade of the Virginia Militia the day after the battle, on 22 July 1862. His commanding officer was Capt. Abraham Hupp, who served under Colonel W. A. Maupin, commander of the 4th Regiment. This militia was under the ultimate command of General Thomas J. ”Stonewall” Jackson, as the Valley District of the Army of Northern Virginia. William Henry was given thee rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and served in this militia until March 31st, 1862. During that time, his militia was involved in the Shenandoah Valley campaign of General Jackson, which was fought directly through his home area, from Strasbourg to Winchester and Front Royal. He was paid $240 in confederate money for his service.


On 16 Jan 1862 when William Henry was 19, he married Martha Ellen George in Warren County, Virginia. This took place while Henry was in the militia, and Thomas Ashby (a relative of the famous general Turner Ashby) signed the certificate. The marriage is listed as taking place first at the house of William George (possibly the Jonathan W. George on the 1860 census), then this was crossed out (in pencil) and replaced with Jonathan Ritenour. William Henry had a cousin named Jonathon (son of Daniel and Lucinda Rutter) living nearby, who may have been the one identified here. This is the name the minister cites on the return slip for the marriage. According to Elmer Lee Ritenour, this marriage was not approved of by people in the area (family? society?), and it pushed them to leave Warren County. About the time a universal conscription act was passed for the Confederacy, William Henry and the majority of the Ritenour family disappear from Virginia, although two of William Henry’s brothers, Thomas Benton and Isaac, both continued to serve in the Com- pany B of the 17th Virginia Infantry. Both men deserted – Isaac in 1861, and Thomas Benton in 1863. While Thomas Benton went permanently AWOL, Isaac was captured by the Con- federates and pressed back into service. He was wounded at the battle of Williamsburg in 1862, and disappears from military records in 1863.


The Ritenour clan scattered in every direction. While his parents went to Berkeley County, West Virginia, William Henry headed for Pennsylvania, probably Franklin County about 1864. There, Martha gave birth to Thomas Grayson. Confederate troops regularly pushed north into this area from 1862 through 1864, with the battle of Antietam taking place close by. The central towns of this county were sacked and burned by Confederate troops in 1864. By this time, it was clear that the General Sheridan’s scorched-earth campaign in the Shenandoah meant that there was nothing to go back to Virginia for. The family then moved to the Clear Spring, Washington County, Maryland area, where Andrew Jackson was born in 1867.


In Maryland, William Henry worked as a day laborer, for poverty wages of $100 a year.



Isaac and Thomas Benton were also living in the vicinity of Clearspring at that time. To my knowledge, none of the Ritenour extended family stayed in Warren County, which was essentially destroyed by Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 strategy of carrying out collective punishment on the South. First hand accounts of the time indicate that there was wide scale looting, burning, and killing by Union troops, with most livestock and property being confiscated or destroyed. For people like the Ritenours, who had lived in the lowest level of poverty in an impoverished area for 100 years, there was really no good reason to go back.




Wacker, Illinois


In 1874, Henry and Martha moved 760 miles to Illinois, along with the rest of the Ritenours. The Binkley story of how this happened does not say whether Henry and Martha were on the book cart that came into Cherry Grove, Illinois, but whatever way they got out to Illinois was likely similar. Henry and Martha moved out to section 36 Woodland township, to the north of Mt. Carroll township.



They took out a loan to buy a (comparatively) tiny plot of land and built a house by the river, away from the main road. This is a highly rural area even today, consisting of rolling farmland and river hollows with dense foliage.




They joined the Hickory Grove Dunkard Brethren church in the town now called Wacker, in Carroll County. This church had been founded in 1858, and was one of only two churches in the rural area. Henry grew vegetables, which he loaded on his wagon and sold to the businesses in Savanna, which was about 8 miles away. This was called ’Truck farming’ at the time.



By 1900, their land was still mortgaged and most of the children had moved away and/or gotten married, leaving only one daughter and various grandchildren at home with Henry and Martha. Their daughter Nora [a.k.a. Laura] had married a Myers and lived close by.



Henry was in his 60’s by the first decade of the 20th century, and it had been 60 years of back-breaking labor. He could likely not work as hard as he had in the past, and Martha’s health was failing. By 1908, Henry had sold his land to his son-in-law, Jacob Buckwalter who had married Emily Matilda in 1895.




Martha died on 12 February 1909 from an unspecified disease. She was buried in the family plot at Hickory Grove Cemetery, behind her church. A long obituary ran on the front page of the Savanna newspaper the following day. It made no mention of anything particularly useful about her or her life. Her own family background is completely unmentioned.



After Martha died, Henry and a few of the remaining children moved to the Mt. Carroll Township, taking out another mortgage for a small plot of land. He continued truck farming, with the help of his children and grandchildren.



Around this time, Henry’s health began to fail, and he relied more on his children and grandchildren for help. He lost his youngest son, Benjamin, at the age of 30 on 20 July 1911 when he fell from a hay mow and was impaled on a pitchfork. Benjamin had helped out with the farming quite a bit, and left a new wife (Edna Grace Devine) and small child (Donald). Henry thus depended more on the extended family for help. One of the Ritenour descendants, Mary A. Falls, remembers:



Martha was the most religious and never put a meal on the table without a very long grace before eating. Henry was very strict and was sure that all his children and grandchildren headed straight for perdition. He tried, rather unsuccessfully to rule with an iron hand. … Martha was a very quiet woman, hardly ever a word out of her unless to give directions about something or to say a prayer. … When she was dying, she never complained, just got smaller, thinner, and quieter. … Despite his strictness and stern ways, Henry really loved Martha because he was so grieved when she died. … Annie [Smith], who kept house for her father after Martha died, was always hard at work, either cooking, sewing, or cleaning. She and her brother [Benjamin] (and any grandchildren that happened to be around [e.g. Erve]) had to help pick vegetables in the truck garden so that their grandfather could take them by wagon into Savanna and sell them to the hotels and restaurants.



By the time he turned 77, Henry could no longer work, and he gave up his land and moved in with his new son-in-law, Jesse Smith, who had married his daughter Anna in 1918. By 1916, Henry had developed some kind of digestion problems, and had pernicious anemia. He died 25 February 1920 at the home of Jesse Smith. He was buried 29 February 1920 in the Hickory Grove Cemetery next to Martha. A vague obituary ran in the Savanna newspaper two days later:



From the Savanna Daily Times, 27 February 1920: Henry Ritenour, of whose illness we have made frequent mention, died at the home of his son-in-law, Jesse Smith, just

south of Wacker, Wednesday evening at 6 o’clock, at the age of 78 years. He had been a sufferer for a long time from stomach trouble and a complication of diseases. Mr. Ritenour is survived by several children and has a number of relatives in this city. The funeral will be held from the Hickory Grove Brethren Church at Wacker, Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock, burial to be made in the cemetery near the church.

There is no Civil War marker on the grave, and, at the end of his life, people thought he was from Pennsylvania – a family legend that persists to today. At the end of his life, he could neither read or write, having never attended school of any kind. At the end of his life, he had approximately $1,000 of net worth, consisting mainly of an $800 note, likely the total equity he had gained in his property before he sold it.




About Hattifattener

Age: 37 Lives: All over the place. Education: PhD, linguistics, UBC.

22 comments on “William Henry Ritenour

  1. Stacy
    February 8, 2011

    Very fascinating! I was trying to find my grandfather’s obituary, because I needed his date of death, and stumbled upon this. I don’t know this branch of my family very well, so it’s been interesting reading. Based on this, it looks like my antecedents are:William Henry Ritenour – Denton A. Ritenour – Gerald Ritenour (my grandfather)Best of luck with your further research 🙂

  2. verafides
    February 12, 2011

    Hallo! 🙂 Nice to hear from you! Yes, if Gerald Ritenour is your grandfather, then I have quite a bit on the family. I will post a family group data sheet for Adam Denton and Amy Kessler up on here right now.If you have any info on the family – pictures, stories, etc. – I would love to hear about it! Also, any data you want to add, I would be glad to throw up here.

  3. Mary Lou Stoddard
    February 16, 2011

    Helen Mae Ritenour is my grandmother. Her daughter Barbara Gayle Serrurier is my mother. Very interested in your information. Please contact me.Thanks

  4. Amy
    March 1, 2011

    This website is just a god-send. About three months ago I discovered the 1850 Warren County census record listing my ancestor, Enoch Branson George, in the household of Rachael George. It fascinated me and ever since I’ve been trying to learn more about the connections between the older and younger Georges listed there and the meaning of their "mulatto" description. Unfortunately, I’ve hit a brick wall. Even the wonderfully detailed Shenandoah Minutes Books (now online) which are filled with references to illegitimate children and intervention by the "overseer of the poor" provide clear no insight. Any help you could provide would be great. Thank you so much for creating this site. It has been such a treasure trove — for photos, stories, and well-researched data.

  5. verafides
    March 1, 2011

    Mary Lou: You’re the grand-daughter of Helen Mae!? Through Barbara Serrurier? How neat is that! 🙂 I have always wanted to know more about her, because she sounds like such a character. What kind of information do you have and do you want? I have quite a bit, but lack most of the Falls/Serrurier kids.

  6. verafides
    March 1, 2011

    Amy: Nice to hear from you, and to talk to a descendant of the ‘other’ Georges! The Georges are the worst genealogical mess I know of – in my whole family tree. Oh. My. Gosh. I have no real certainty about who Enoch Branson’s parents were. I doubt anyone will ever know, actually. His mother seems likely to be Rachael, and his grandmother is probably Patsy. But that’s as much as will likely ever be sorted out. It seems that the mean who got these women pregnant sort of wandered in and out of the scene. Martha George (Enoch’s niece?) may have had a father named Blackwood, based on what one of her children put on his marriage certificate…It’s pretty clear that the ‘M’ is marked there based on the Indian features and lifestyle. Various branches of the family get ‘white’ gradually, at different rates depending on their gender and marriages. Back in the 19th century, it seems that the guidelines for ‘race’ on the census were pretty flexible, and had as much to do with lifestyle as skin color.Anyway, I’d love to talk to you, etc. What kind of data would you like? I have quite a bit, but not as much as I’d like (the classic genealogist’s dilemma!)

  7. Stacy
    March 1, 2011

    <html> <head> <style><!– .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { font-size: 10pt; font-family:Tahoma } –></style> </head> <body class=’hmmessage’> Hi!&nbsp; I noticed some things coming into my inbox, and found this old message in my junk mail, so sorry for the delay to the response!<br><br>I know I have access to some information, and pictures, from the Mount Carroll side of the family – my grandmother did quite a lot of geneology work on the family, but I’m pretty sure she focused a bit more on her side of the family (Last names of Sack, Craig, Wagner, Hild etc.)&nbsp; But I have pictures of my great-grandfather Dent.&nbsp; I commend you trying to tie everything together, as it always seems to become a nightmare with all of the family stories of "well, he/she married 3 times,"&nbsp; or "his name was John, but they called him ‘Gerry’"&nbsp; I will see what I can pull together for you! (Mom and I looked at an old family bible recently, and found a letter and, basically, the Last Will of Amy Kessler’s mother)&nbsp; BTW, if I remember correctly, the Ritenour side of the family took really good pictures!<br><br>So, if you have a particular family from the Mount Carroll area you’re interested in, I might be able to come up with something – (lol, if I remember correctly, grandma even had stuff about some of the family’s teachers &amp; whatnot – I remember seeing a news article that someone from the area taught Amelia Earhart)<br><br>So, anyway good to meet you :)<br>Stacy<br><br></body></html>

  8. Amy
    March 2, 2011

    Thanks so much for the quick response.  <br><br>As you said, researching the Georges beyond Martha Ellen and Enoch's generation is a nightmare.  The same features that make those households so intriguing — the absence of any older men, the mulatto designation — make it virtually impossible to piece the connections together.  It is the most confounding branch of my tree, as well, … but one I find so interesting.  And your discovery of the listing of Blackwood as Mary's surname on a child's marriage certificate is fascinating, even if it gets us nowhere.<br> <br>Of the top of my head, a couple questions/points.  You mentioned that Patsy may be Enoch's grandmother (and Rachael's mother).  While her proximity (and mulatto listing) must mean there's some connection to the Enoch-Matilda-Martha clan, I think she probably wasn't old enough to be Rachael's mother. The ages listed for Patsy in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records are inconsistent.   However, it still seems to be me more likely she was Rachael's sister.  I don't understand why she is listed as white in the 1820 and 1830 census records, then colored or mulatto in all subsequent ones (assuming it's the same person).  <br> <br>I do have a couple questions — and I'm sure I will have more in future months.  First of all, you mention in the posting on Encoh Branson that the family was living in the sticks (in a rural section of an already rural county) — how did you discover this?  I wouldn't really know how to go about researching that.  Secondly, where did you dig up the great pieces about Enoch from the Meridian papers.  Were those posted online or did you end up having to visit an archive in TX?  And, finally, a broader question:  has most of that research been conducted online?  I'm so impressed by your blog and all the research you've done.  I'd love to replicate the detail with which you have been able to paint pictures of your family members, but sometimes feel that my time and travel constraints prevent me from doing so.  Other than scouring the web and writing courthouses, I haven't done much other research.  Any suggestions or insight would be appreciated.  Thanks again!

  9. Rob Siedenburg
    October 20, 2013

    Well, the DNA results are in, and it turns out that we can say with some degree of confidence the following, expressed in percentages of African DNA (Benin/Togo and African Southeastern Bantu. The DNA is that of my uncle (my dad’s brother), a granddaughter of Mary Elizabeth Ritenour Douglas. There is also no Native American DNA found.

    My great-grandma Mary Elizabeth Ritenour Douglas (1870–1959) 12% [buried at Wacker, in the first row, right behind what is now the United Methodist church]
    Martha Ellen George (1841–1909) 24% [buried at Wacker, same cemetery]
    Matilda Hopkins Myers (1825–1895) 48% [listed as mulatto on free negro list, Warren County, VA,1837]
    Rachael George (b. 1798) [listed as mulatto on free negro list, Warren County, VA,1837]

    An act passed in 1801 by the Virginia legislature required commissioners of the revenue annually to return a complete list of all free African Americans within their districts, with their names, sex, place of abode, and trades, and a copy of the list to be fixed at the courthouse door.

    In 1806, the General Assembly moved to remove the free Negro population from Virginia with a law that stated that all emancipated slaves, freed after May 1, 1806, who remained in the Commonwealth more than a year, would forfeit their right to freedom and be sold by the Overseers of the Poor for the benefit of the parish. Families wishing to stay were to petition the legislature through the local county court. Beginning in 1837, freed slaves could petition the local courts for permission to remain.

    For further info, please contact me at my e-mail address:

  10. Rob Siedenburg
    January 13, 2014

    Please let me amend the previous post. Through Clare’s good offices and excellent grasp of how to do things, and the GEDmatch Web site, we have found a 1% Native American trace in my uncle’s DNA. He is Henry Ritenour and Martha George’s great grandson. This is in addition to the percentage of African DNA I listed in the previous post. We have no information or rumors of Native American blood in my dad’s other family lines.

    • Clare Cook
      January 13, 2014

      Thanks for the kind words, Rob, and many thanks to for helping us sort that out! This is all such a saga!

      So we now have two descendants, Rob’s uncle, and S Ritenour, from William Henry Ritenour and Martha George that are carrying both Native American and African genetics. Also, large chunks of those genetics are occurring on the places where Rob’s uncle and S match, which is exactly what we want.

      If there’s anyone else out there descended from this couple or one of their relatives that would like to do some comparison on GEDmatch, I — and I’m guessing Rob — would love to hear from you. (It’s a highly regarded and volunteer-run site.) The more the merrier!

      • tony miller
        January 4, 2015

        Hi Rob and Clare,
        What a great site this is! Rob, my grandmother was Clarice Douglas, of Mt.Carroll and Freeport, so I believe you and I are some sort of cousins. Clarice’s mother was Mary Elizabeth Ritenour. How does the gedmatch testing work? Would it be helpful if I was tested?
        Tony Miller

      • Clare Cook
        January 4, 2015

        Hi Tony,
        Great to “meet” you! I would say you’re definitely cousins with Rob, and one generation more distantly cousins with my husband Jeff, whose great-great-grandfather Andrew Jackson was Mary Elizabeth’s brother (so, somewhere in the third cousin range?).

        As far as gedmatch testing, the more the merrier, I always say, particularly if it’s something you’re interested in. Gedmatch lets you compare DNA results from different companies, so if you’ve taken a test with Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can simply import them (for no additional cost).


      • Robert Loyal Siedenburg
        January 5, 2015

        Tony, Sorry, but old habits die hard, and I always real my latest e-mails first (because of business requirements years ago). Yes, you and I are second cousins. You can get DNA tested by various organizations. My brother Ric and I have never been able to be tested successfully because the lab can’t ever find any DNA in our saliva. Of course saliva contains only the DNA that happens to fall of the various parts of our mouths, so if a person has really great oral hygiene, the DNA might all go down the drain, so to speak. The last I heard, was still charging about $99 for a test. There are many other tests available.

        Uncle George Siedenburg, my dad’s youngest brother, and still living in Savanna, is one of the people Clare mentioned that I had tested. My youngest sister Merry is another whose results are available on GEDmatch. I took the Ancestry.DNA results (raw data available for downloading) and got much more detailed results from GEDmatch after uploading the files there.

        Clare has been of inestimable help in all of this, and she has been instrumental in helping me understand just what the DNA tests mean. Brother Ric and I had the awesome privilege of meeting her and her husband (our mutual cousin Jeff) last year at Dad’s old farmstead, along with their beautiful daughter. Rob

  11. tony miller
    January 4, 2015

    I seem to recall an old photo of Mary E.Ritenour. I had it in my possession at one time, along with several other pics of Douglases and Ewalts. Gave them back to my mother years ago. I will check with her and see if she can dig them up.

    • Clare Cook
      January 4, 2015

      Oh, wow, pictures. I would love to see those, even though Mary isn’t a direct ancestor. I’ll cross my fingers!

    • Robert Loyal Siedenburg
      January 5, 2015

      But Mary Elizabeth is a direct ancestor of mine (my Grandma Ida’s mom), and I would be delighted to see any pictures of Douglases (Douglasses), Ewalts, and Ritenouts. I do have an old picture of “Liz,” though it isn’t the sharpest in the world. You can e-mail me at, and I’ll be delighted to send you the pictures I have. Rob

    • Robert Loyal Siedenburg
      January 5, 2015

      Tony, Clarice (whom I remember very well), was Grandma Ida’s youngest sibling (Ida was the eldest of the Douglas kids). Clarice grew up playing with my dad Loyal and his younger siblings, and, even though his aunt, she was only two years older than he.

    • Mr. Môniyâw
      January 5, 2015

      Hi Tony! Thanks for commenting. I’m Jeff. My grandfather, Elmer Ritenour, was born in Savanna. Mary Ritenour was my great-great-great aunt.

      Always glad to see pictures and hear stories of the Ritenours. Judging by my family, they were quite the crew!

      • tony miller
        January 5, 2015

        Hi Jeff! Savanna was fairly rough and tumble, I’m told 🙂
        It still has a river-town edge to it.
        Great info you’ve put together – thanks for sharing!

      • Mr. Môniyâw
        January 5, 2015

        Yeah I don’t know so much about the rough and tumble – more of the Crazy and Deranged types. 🙂 When someone tells you that you’re “just like a Ritenour,” they don’t mean it as a compliment. When I stop by Savanna, I’ve learned not to tell people I’m a Ritenour. It provokes a reaction. Haha!

        Anyone ever hear of someone named “Chicken,” by the way? Maybe “Chicken Ritenour”? He hung around with my great-great grandfather, “Crazy Jack” Ritenour…

      • tony
        January 7, 2015

        Jeff, my mother is fairly sure she remembers my grandma talking about a Chicken Ritenour. She will ask my aunt, who is a few years older than her.

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