|John Covey Howard and one of his wives (see end of post for explanation)|
John Covey Howard lived for most of the 19th century. He was born on March 6, 1806 in Knox County, Kentucky and died 93 years later on November 20, 1899 in Harlan County. He was the son of John “War Jack” Howard and Mary Risner. Jack and Mary were listed in the Knox County census for 1810 and in Harlan County for 1820. Since Harlan County was created from part of Knox County in 1819, the family likely didn’t actually move but simply lived in the area of Knox that became Harlan.
John Covey was married three times, divorced twice and had (at least) 20 children. According to my grandmother he was a farmer and distiller. (Yes, I believe that means he was a moonshiner.) Oddly, she also said he was the Sheriff of Harlan County in 1867 and he may have been a Justice of the Peace as well (based on at least one Harlan County marriage record showing Justice of the Peace John C. Howard performed the ceremony). Over the years, John Covey owned a good deal of land in Harlan County, much of it at Wallins Creek.
About 1828, John Covey married Matilda Brock, daughter of James Brock and Elizabeth Osborn. There was apparently a close connection between the Howard and Brock families as John Covey’s siblings Larkin and Elizabeth married Matilda’s siblings Elizabeth and James Jr.
John Covey and Matilda had 11 children together before she vanished sometime around 1850. Several stories have been told to explain Matilda’s disappearance but the one apparently told by John Covey was that she ran off with a pack peddler and was never heard from again. (At least that’s the story my grandmother heard from her mother-in-law, Lucinda Howard Hopkins, who was the daughter of John Covey and his 3rd wife.) Another story is that Matilda went to the spring to draw water, never returned and must have been killed. Many of Matilda’s descendants have insisted that she would not have abandoned her children especially since several of them were still very young at the time. In the 1850 census, nine of her children were still at home with their father and ranged in age from 18 to 3 years. Regardless of what happened, John Covey obtained a divorce from Matilda claiming she no longer lived in the area.
Between 1852-1853, John Covey married Sarah “Sallie” Saylor. Not much is known about Sallie except that they had two children and she probably married Aaron Brock after her divorce from John Covey. She was living with Brock in 1860 in Harlan County along with her two children with John Covey. She may have died before 1870 as she is not found in that census and the children were living with John Covey.
On March 10, 1856, John Covey married Mary F. “Polly” Morris in Harlan County. John Covey was 50 years old by this time and, after two divorces, this marriage lasted for 43 years (until his death in 1899). Polly was the daughter of Littleton Morris and Martha “Patsy” Mark. She and John Covey had seven children and Polly also had a daughter prior to their marriage with Enoch Ball. (It is unclear if she and Enoch were married but most likely they were not.)
It’s possible that John Covey had at least one other child. His daughter, Lucinda, told that he had two daughters named Elizabeth and implied that one of them was illegitimate. One of his daughters with Matilda was named Elizabeth but the second one has not been identified.
For more about John Covey Howard and his family, click on the link at the beginning of this post.
The picture above is John Covey and one of his wives. The original portrait is owned by a descendant of John Covey and Matilda (sorry I don’t know her name) who allowed Pat Hopkins Howard to photograph it several years ago. Pat shared her photo with me. The owner believes the woman is Matilda but since she and John Covey would have been in their early 40’s when she disappeared it’s at least questionable that it is her. If it is not Matilda then it is probably his 3rd wife, Polly.
John Covey Howard was my 2nd great-grandfather, his daughter, Lucinda, was my great-grandmother and his grandson, Elmer Dennis Hopkins was my maternal grandfather.