|According to the census records, James Atkisson was born in Tennessee, as were his older brother Benjamin (ID 73531916) and younger sister Elizabeth (ID 39505098). There is no definitive record as to the identity of their parents. Circumstantial evidence suggests they could have been the children of a William and Frances Attkisson of Goochland County, Virginia, who married in 1806 and possibly migrated to East Tennessee, a journey that would have taken them down the Great Valley Road of Virginia and into the Clinch River Valley of Tennessee. According to the memory of James's last surviving grandchild, Ruth Atkinson* Rowe, James and his siblings were orphaned at a young age and "bound" to another family after their parents were struck down by cholera during a wagon trek.† The other family was almost certainly that of John and Margaret (Gonce) Mendenhall, next to whom James appeared on the 1830 census in McMinn County, Tennessee. By then he had married their daughter Margaret, and his sister Elizabeth later married Margaret's brother or cousin Isaac Mendenall.‡ The three families moved to Jefferson County, Illinois in the late 1830s.|
On December 1, 1849, James was granted 162.9 acres of land in Lee and Van Buren counties, Iowa, and it was in Lee County the following year that he and his growing family appeared on the federal census, with James working as a farmer. The 1854 state census put him in Cedar Township, with his sister Elizabeth's family living next to them. In 1855, however, James and his family moved to newly purchased land further west in the new town of Corydon, Iowa, where they stayed a year or more before relocating to Trenton, Missouri. The 1915 "History of Northwest Missouri, Vol. III" says that James "was one of the early settlers of Grundy County, and had the distinction of operating a grist mill for the benefit of the settlers in the early days."
James's wife Margaret died in Trenton around 1858, and on November 25 of that year, he remarried a widow named Rebecca Burk (Gibson) Shock. In 1860, while James was still a miller, they were living in Trenton with three of his daughters and two of Rebecca's children by her first marriage. By 1870 he and Rebecca had moved further downstate and were living alone in Boone County, near Columbia, where James was working as a blacksmith. A history of Boone County mentions that he was a pastor at the Rocky Fork Baptist church, and the same history of Northwest Missouri cited above says of James: "He was by profession a Primitive Baptist preacher and was quite successful as a trader." There is reason to believe that James had been a lay minister for some time before this; many years later his son Billy would tell his own daughter Ruth tales of "church dignitaries" visiting James when Billy was a boy, which could only have happened prior to 1860.
Sometime in the early to mid-1870s, James and Rebecca moved yet again, to Douglas County, Colorado, where they lived close to the family of James's daughter Sarah and son-in-law Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Cozad. James may have been trying to establish a Baptist presence in the county, where Catholics and Methodists then predominated; his given profession in 1880 was "minister," and a number of marriages he officiated around that time described him as a "Minister of the Gospel." The last marriage of record he performed in Douglas County was in September 1880. He died two months later, back in Boone County, Missouri. In June of the following year, the General Land Office belatedly granted him 160 acres of land around Lincoln Mountain and West Cherry Creek, in Colorado.
James's sister Elizabeth (Atkisson) Mendenhall died in 1889 and was buried at the Bentonsport Cemetery in Van Buren County, Iowa, followed in 1901 by her husband Isaac, a Union army veteran of the Civil War. James and Elizabeth's older brother Benjamin Atkisson settled in first Greene and then Barry County, Missouri, where he died in late 1861, possibly as the result of militia service in the early months of the war. All four of James's sons served in defense of the Union as well: Isaac in Company A of Missouri's Mercer County Battalion, Six Months Militia; John in Company I of the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, which marched with Sherman's army across Georgia; and William and James in Company D of the 15th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry.
One final note: the only source that identifies James as "James Newton Atkisson" are the written memories of his last surviving grandchild, Ruth Atkinson Rowe. Everywhere else he appears on record, he is listed as "James Atkisson."
* After the Civil War James's sons John and William both adopted the more common spelling ATKINSON, purportedly out of resignation to the government's persistent misspelling of ATKISSON.
† While impossible to prove, there is some reason to believe that a very young and already orphaned James and Elizabeth Atkisson lived with the Mendenhalls in Limestone County, Alabama in 1820. The state census that year shows John Mendenall's older brother Isaac as head of a household of 11, but Isaac only married that year and had no children of record yet. The other nine members of the household could have been John Mendenall's family plus James and Elizabeth and one unidentified female under 21. Pleasant Atkisson, the brother of the same William Attkisson of Goochland County, Virginia, some belief to be the father of James and his siblings, also lived in Limestone County at the same time as the Mendenhall, with one unidentified male under 21 (possibly James and Elizabeth's brother Benjamin?) living under his roof. If this Pleasant Atkisson was the uncle of Benjamin, James, and Elizabeth, it seems likely that their parents died between July 1815 (Elizabeth's birth) and April 1818 (the date of a Goochland County will for Pleasant and William's uncle Pleasant Attkisson naming "the Children of William Attkisson my nephew the son of Lewis Attkisson" as potential beneficiaries), possibly in the migration that brought them across the border from East Tennessee to Limestone County.
‡ Curiously, on December 7, 1835, the McMinn County, Tennessee court appointed James Atkisson as guardian of Isaac "Mendingall." James at that time would have been 23 and Isaac 20. The reasons for the guardianship are unclear and not specified in the court record, but it's possible that Isaac's father (or uncle) John was already preparing to move to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and deemed it wise for James to be Isaac's guardian in his absence. Both John and Isaac owned land in McMinn County, according to 1836 county tax records, and the planned sale of those lands may have factored into the decision to appoint James guardian. As to the spelling of their surname, it varied as Mendingall and Mendenall in early 19th century records and later, more consistently, as Mendenhall.
This narrative was researched and written by Eric Atkisson, a third-great-grandson of James and Margaret Atkisson.