The following paper on Richard Cantrell was written by the DeKalb County Historian, Thomas G. Webb. The contents of these pages are copyright 2000 to Thomas G. Webb. all rights are reserved. The information on these pages are free for private use, but may not be included in any compilation or collection in any media form for either private or commercial use without the author's consent. I am using these papers on this page with Mr. Webbs permission.


Richard Cantrell was born March 10, 1771, (1) in Orange (now Rockingham) County, North Carolina, and died probably in the late 1830ís in Franklin County, Illinois. He was probably the oldest of nine children of Abraham Cantrell. Richardís father was married twice. Richard and two brothers (and possibly a child or two who died young) were children of the first wife. The name of Richardís mother is not known at this time, nor was it known in 1908 when the Cantrell Genealogy was published. Richardís mother probably died when he was about ten years old, leaving her husband and three sons. Within two or three years, Richardís father married again, and he had at least six more children by the second wife.

The family, along with several relatives and friends, moved from North Carolina to Spartanburg County, South Carolina, about 1785. Richard Cantrell was a true pioneer and spent most of his life moving from one frontier to another; as one area became settled, he moved on to a new frontier. Schools were generally not plentiful on the frontier, and it is not known just where Richard got his education. He was sufficiently educated to be selected as clerk of Bildad Baptist Church. (2) His writing was legible and his spelling was adequate, though neither was excellent. His reading ability must also have been better than average, as he was appointed at Bildad Church to ďset the tunes.Ē (3) There were few hymn books at that time, and Richard called out a line of the hymn, then the congregation sang it; then another line was called out, etc. What ever formal education Richard Cantrell had was limited to a total of no more than a few months; of that much we can be sure.

Richardís informal education was much like that of other boys of the time: Such things as plowing the fields, clearing new ground, pulling fodder, hewing logs to build a house, riving shingles for a roof, and raising horses, cattle and hogs. All of what we think of as a simple life was actually quite complicated and required a vast storehouse of knowledge. As his fatherís oldest son, Richard would have had much responsibility and much work to do. Of course, the family got some help from various uncles and cousins. Richardís father was one of twenty-three children, so there were plenty of relatives living nearby. Among them was Constance Bethel, whose grandfather Cantrell was a brother to Richardís grandfather. Both the Bethel and Cantrell families were members of the Buck Creek Baptist Church in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. When Richard saw Constance at the monthly meetings of the church, they soon developed a feeling for each other that was more than kinship. On February 18, 1794, Richard Cantrell and Constance Bethel were married. (4) Richard was almost twenty-three; Constance was seventeen. Their first child was born the next year; they had a total of thirteen children in the next twenty-six years.

Constance Bethel was born October 22, 1776, (5) in Guilford (now Rockingham) County, North Carolina, and died probably in the 1830s in Franklin County, Illinois. She was the second of twelve children of Sampson Bethell and his Wife Mary Cantrell. When Constance was about ten years old, ;the Bethell family joined their Cantrell Relatives in the move from North Carolina to Spartanburg County, South Carolina. There Constanceís father was a leading member of Buck Creek Baptist Church. A few years later, in 1795, the Bethells left South Carolina with the Rev. John Hightower and several members of the Buck Creek Baptist Church , and moved to Warren County, Kentucky. Constance and Richard Cantrell had only been married a little over a year and had a young baby (named Sampson for her father), and they remained in South Carolina. They appear in the 1800 census with two males and a female under ten years old, a male between 26 and 45, and a female 16 to 26. Living near them were Richardís father, Abraham Cantrell, and Constanceís grandfather, Isaac Cantrell, as well as twelve other families of Cantrell uncles and cousins. Even though Constanceís parents and brothers and sisters had moved away, there was still a good supply of relatives nearby in case the young couple needed help.

Constance probably did not need much help; as the oldest daughter in the Bethell family she had plenty of experience at looking after babies, as well as cleaning house, washing, churning, cooking, sewing, and the more complicated jobs of spinning thread and weaving cloth. In keeping with the custom of the time, she would have been performing most of the simpler tasks by the time she was five; by the age of ten she could do almost anything that her mother could do. Most of her education was in the household arts, and it is uncertain whether she could read and write. Probably she could, as the Bethell family placed more emphasis on such education than did many families of the time. Even if she could read and write, Constance had very little time for such activities. All cooking was done on the fireplace, and certainly there were no convenience foods. All clothing was made at home, from the spinning of the thread through the weaving of the weaving of the cloth and the cutting and sewing into garments. It was truly said at the time that ďmanís work lasts from sun to sun, but womanís work is never done.Ē

Richard and Constance almost certainly never lived in anything but a log house of two or three rooms. They spent their entire lives in new settlements on the frontier. In the first twenty-five years of their married life, they lived in at least six different counties in four states.

Their first move was from Spartanburg County, South Carolina to Smith (now DeKalb) County, Tennessee. By December, 1801, they were residing on Smith Fork Creek near the present sit of Liberty. Living nearby were Constanceís brother Larkin Bethel and her Cousin Daniel Allen. (6) Within a year Constanceís parents and most of her brothers and sisters were also living in the neighborhood. Her Brother Cantrell Bethel was the first preacher at Salem Baptist Church; Richard and Constance were on the first list of members in 1809. (7)

Richard and Constance Cantrell probably moved again in that same year. On August 8, 1809, Richard sold to John E. Dale for $600. his 274 acres on the north side of Smith Fork Creek. Richard and Constance then moved about twenty miles southeast into Warren County, Where many of Richardís Cantrell relatives had begun to settle. Doubtless Richard had some influence in their choice of a place to settle. Richard was apparently the first Cantrell to settle in this part of Tennessee. When the area that became Warren County (and later DeKalb) was opened to settlement in October, 1805, he saw an opportunity for his relatives to settle in what he felt was a new and better location. And indeed, it must have suited them very well; in 1984 DeKalb County was full of Cantells, and Cantrell was the most common name in the county. By August, 1812, Richard and Constance appear on the membership roll of Bildad Baptist Church on Sink Creek in Warren (now DeKalb) County, Tennessee. (8) Twenty-four other Cantrell men and women appear on the same membership list, which covered from 1812 to 1816. There was, in fact, another Richard Cantrell, which has led to some confusion, for it is sometimes difficult to tell which of the Richards a particular record may refer to.

It is uncertain how the two Richard Cantrells were related to each other. The were not far from the same age; census records indicate that the other Richard was probably three or four years older. He may have been an uncle or first cousin to our Richard, but it is most likely that he was a son of Isaac Cantrell, which would have made him an uncle to Constance Bethel Cantrell and a second cousin to her husband Richard Cantrell.

There is little question that it was our Richard Cantrell who was a deacon and church clerk of the Bildad Baptist Church. (9) After he moved to Indiana in 1816, Watson Cantrell was appointed church clerk. The other Richard Cantrell was still mentioned in the church records in 1822 (on a complaint of drunkenness), though he is also gone by 1825. (10)

It is thought that Richard Cantrell owned land in Spartanurg County, South Carolina, and later in Warren County, Tennessee. However, the other Richard Cantrell lived in the same neighborhood in both counties, and it has not been possible to tell with certainty which records pertain to which Richard Cantrell.

There are few records which remain to give us any idea of the financial status of Richard and Constance Cantrell. However, judging by their relatives, we can assume that they lived in modest circumstances. They grew practically everything they ate, and probably had plenty to eat most of the time. They also made their own clothes, and had enough, though their wardrobes would have seemed very scanty by 1984 standards. Their homes provided shelter from the weather and were very much like those of their relatives and neighbors, but they also would seem very bare and uncomfortable by todayís standards.

Like many other families of that time (and the present time too), the Cantrells were always looking for something better than they had. In 1816 they decided to leave Warren County, Tennessee, and move to Orange County, Indiana. They appear on the Bildad Church membership roll in June, 1816, but by September, 1816, Richardís half-brother, Watson Cantrell, had replaced him as Bildadís church clerk. (11) Constanceís younger brother and sister (both newly-married) also moved to Orange County, Indiana, in 1816, as did Richard and Constanceís newly-married daughter Polly and her husband Perry Green Magness. 1816 was also the year in which Abraham Lincolnís family moved from Kentucky to Indiana; living conditions for the Cantrells would have been very similar to those for the Lincolnís, about whom much has been written.

After two or three years in Indiana, Richard and Constance Cantrell decided to move on to Illinois. (The Lincolnís also moved from Indiana to Illinois.) Constanceís brother and sister moved from Orange County, Indiana, to Warrick County, Indiana; and Richard and Constanceís daughter and son-in-law returned to Tennessee. Constance had a brother Chester in Gallatin County, Illinois, but the Cantrells passed through that county and on to Franklin County.

At the time of the 1820 census, Richard and Constance Cantrell were living in Franklin County, apparently with eleven of their children. Their thirteenth (and last) child was born the following year. In 1830, they were still living in Franklin County, Illinois, but had only six children living with them.

Because they moved from one frontier to another, Richard and Constance spent much of their lives repeating the same round of activities. They cut trees, cleared newground, split rails, hewed logs, and built houses. Time after time they repeated this same cycle when they moved to new locations. For practically all their lives they endured the inconveniences of living on the frontier; they probably never owned a field that was completely cleared of stumps.

Both the Cantrell and Bethel families were dedicated members of the Baptist Church. Two of Constanceís brothers were Baptist preachers, and all the records we can find indicate that Richard and Constance Cantrell were both faithful members of the Baptist Church. Of course, the churches of that place and time met only once a month; and they had no prayer meeting, Sunday School, choir practice, Vacation Bible School, Baseball team, or other activities which are part of todayís churches. Almost certainly Richard and Constance belonged to a Baptist Church after they moved to Illinois, although no record has yet been found.

No record has been found of the deaths of Richard and Constance, but presumably they both died in Franklin County, Illinois, between 1830 and 1840. They do not appear in the 1840 census of that county, and do not seem to have been living with their children. Descendants who still live in the area think that Richard and Constance Cantrell were living in Franklin or Hamilton County, Illinois, at the times of their deaths, but they have found no records. (12) Richard and Constanceís son Isaac Cantrell died in 1840, and the records concerning the settlement of his estate give some indication that Isaac may have been administrator of his parentsí estate, which could mean that they died before 1840. (13)

Richard and Constance Bethel Cantrell were the parents of thirteen children. Several of them were named for members of the Bethel family: Sampson, Larkin, Mary, Bethel, and Tilman Bethel were the names of some of the Cantrell children. Most of the children made their homes in Illinois, and I have little knowledge of them, although they have descendants still living in Illinois. Most of the following is from the Cantrell Genealogy, by Susan Cantrill Christie. The children of Richard Cantrell and his wife Constance Bethel were:

Sampson Cantrell, born 18 February 1795, in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, married Feriba Durham. They were living in Hamilton County, Illinois, in 1830, with two sons and four daughters.

Larkin Cantrell, Born 18 February 1797 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, married Eunice Moberly. They were living in Franklin County, Illinois, in 1830, with two sons and three daughters.

Mary (Polly) Cantrell, born 20 July 1799 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, died 3 January 1863 in DeKalb County, Tennessee. She was married in 1815 to Perry Green Magness (23 May 1796-1 March 1884). They moved to Indiana in 1816 with her parents, but within less than two years returned to Warren (now DeKalb) County, Tennessee, where they spent the remainder of their lives. They had 12 children.

Isaac Cantrell, born 27 September 1802 in Smith County, Tennessee, died by 21 September 1840 in Hamilton County, Illinois. Married Nancy Upchurch about 1825. Their children: Sampson B. born 1826, Mary born about 1827, Richard H. born 1818, Katherine born 1830, and James M. born 1831. (14)

Anna Cantrell, born 20 October 1804 in Smith County, Tennessee, married Uriah Odell. One of her Grandchildren married a grandchild of Annaís sister Sarah and had a son James Ray. James Rayís son Sam Ray in 1978 lived at 227 Caroline St., Pekin, Illinois 61554.

Bethel Cantrell, born 21 January 1807 in Smith County, Tennessee, died between 1856 and 1869 probably in Franklin County, Illinois. He was married first to Elizaeth Layman; They may or may not have had children. By 1856 he was married to Mary W. McFall, who died in Franklin County, Illinois, leaving neither husband nor children. (15)

Elizabeth Cantrell, born 5 May 1809 in Smith County, Tennessee. Married first to Daniel Brown, one son. Married second to Robert H. Flannigan, two sons and a daughter. This family lived in Illinois.

The following two girls were twins.

Sarah Cantrell, born 21 April 1811 probably in Warren County, Tennessee. Married 25 August 1829 to Captain James W. Flannigan. Four sons and three daughters. They lived in Illinois.

Jane Cantrell, born 21 April 1811 probably in Warren County, Tennessee. Married John McFall. Two sons and two daughters. This family lived in Illinois. One of Janeís granddaughter married a grandson of Janeís brother Tilman.

Irena Cantrell, born 27 December 1813 in Warren County, Tennessee. Married Thomas Jordan. Nothing more is known of them.

Tilman Bethel Cantrell, born 7 Jan 1815 in Warren County, Tennessee and died 14 May 1873 in Illinois. He was married 9 March 1843 in Franklin County, Illinois, to Euphemia Dundas Newman (born 11 December 1826 and died 9 October 1901). Six sons and three daughters. Four of these children died young and unmarried.

Jonathan Lomax Cantrell, born in April 1819, Probably in Franklin County, Illinois. Married Mary (Polly) Irby. They sold 40 acres in Franklin County, Illinois in 1839. (16) Nothing more is known of them at present.

Narcissus Cantrell, born in October 1821, in Franklin County, Illinois. The Cantrell genealogy shows that she married John Evans, and a marriage is recorded in DeKalb County, Tennessee for Narcissa Cantrell and John Evans on 10 October 1853. Presumably this is the same Narcissa Cantrell, as the 1850 DeKalb County shows no Narcissa in all the Cantrell families living there. Narcissa and her husband John Evans do not appear in the 1860 census of DeKalb County, Tennessee, and it is uncertain where they lived. Narcissa was 32 when she married, and would have been considered ďan old maid.Ē Probably she was visiting in DeKalb County, Tennessee, with her sister Polly Magness or her Bethel relatives at Liberty at the time of her marriage.


(1) Christie, Susan Cantrill, The Cantrill-Cantrell Genealogy , (New York, 1908), p. 13.

(2) Minutes of Old Bildad Baptist Church (DeKalb County), 1812-1816. April 1815. (Microfilm, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville).

(3)Old Bildad Church Minutes, 1812-1816, Aug. 1814.

(4) Cantrell Genealogy, p. 13.

(5) Sampson Bethell Bible Record, Xerox copy in possession of Thomas G. Webb.

(6) Smith County, Tennessee, Quarterly Court Minutes 1799-1804, p. 53.

(7) Salem Baptist Church, Liberty, Tenn., Minutes, 1809 membership list.

(8) Old Bildad Baptist Church Minutes, 1812-1816, Membership list.

(9) Old Bildad Baptist Church Minutes, 1812-1816, April 1815, August 1815, Nov. 1815.

(10) Bildad Church Minutes, 1816-1823, Dec. 1822. Bildad Church Minutes, 1825-1869.

(11) Bildad Church Minutes, 1816-1823.

(12) Letter to Thomas G. Webb from Mrs. Samuel Ray, 227 Caroline, Pekin, Illinois 61554; 5 March 1978.

(13) Hamilton County, Illinois, Probate Court, Division B, Box 1, file 30.

(14) Same.

(15) Franklin County, Illinois, Deed Book G, p. 57, and Estate Box 5.

(16) Franklin County, Illinois, Deed Book B, p 261

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