from Ralls County Times, May 17, 1901 published by Ralls County Missouri Historical Society, August 11, 2013.
James Alexander Elzea
. . . In this [Shenandoah] valley and county April 2, 1824, James Alexander Elzea was born. His father and mother for many generations back were Virginians. . .
When eleven years of age his father and family of nine and four colored people left Winchester for Missouri, November 25, 1835, the party landed at Hannibal. Two old Virginia wagons with four horses to each brought the family overland to the state. Bad roads - at times a trackless pat, at others a dim government furrow leading westward and after sixty-five days the trip was made.
At Hannibal, then a town of less than one hundred and fifty souls, a farm was bought, part of which is now within the corporate limits of the preset city. The farm consisted of 200 acres and was bought of one W. J. Griffin for $7 per acre. All the dwellings there at the time were either hewed log or rude frame ones - not a brick house in the place. After a while Gill Buchanan fitted up a brickyard, burning a kiln, and Mr. Elzea helped haul the first brick in that place which entered the construction of a dwelling on Bird street for Zachariah Draper, afterwards county judge of Marion county from Miller township.
Where the beautiful public park now stands a rough board schoolhouse stood. All around was the “forest primeval” full of game and at playtime the boys would raise a rabbit which when pressed would run under the school house for shelter and after “cotton tail” would crawl a small boy, run the fellow to the hole, where if the waiting boys and dogs were passed, a chase again was had. “In this way,” says Mr. Elzea
we boys spent our playtime - often the teacher, Mr. Sam Cross or Mr. Hazelton would help us stand guard at the hole or follow in the chase out in the woods. Then our schools were run by subscription for three or four months in the year, but we had school day not a few hours, as now.
I remember particularly my teacher, Mr. Hazelton. He was truly good man, had the best interest of his few pupils at heart, and each morning would read a chapter in the bible and open the school with prayer.
My father and Judge Sam Clemens, father of Samuel L. Clemens, now “Mark Twain” were well acquainted and “Mark” his brother Owen and myself were schoolmates in the Hazelton School. I remember Mark very well and all the pupils regarded him as a bright boy. He could memorize better than any of us and had no trouble in getting his lesson.
Mr. Elzea speaks thus highly of his boyhood schoolmate, but never dreamed that this little – funny fellow would one day become the greatest natural humorist of the century and be held in proud esteem by the civilized world whose heart he touched and made merry with wit.
For several years Mr. Elzea teamed in the town, and when it began to grow and improvements came hauled the material out of which the streets and sidewalks were made.
In 1850 he was married by Dr. Winthrop, an eminent Christian Minster, to Miss Rebecca A. Lefever, cousin to William M. Lefever [son of Jacob LeFevre], of New London. To this marriage there were born six children. The first born died in infancy and the other five are living, namely:
Dora, wife of James W. Keach; Van Buren;
Fannie, wife of John A. Freeman, of Fayette, Missouri;
Emma, wife of D. M. Bunch, and
Olive, wife of J. Ed Rice,
all of whom are worthy citizens and occupy respected positions in society.
In 1855 Mr. Elzea moved to Ralls County and bought the farm five miles south of New London where he has since resided and amid whose pleasant surroundings he raised his family.
In the day when Senator Benton, James S. Green and other distinguished men were making fame for themselves and history for Missouri. Mr. Elzea attended all the meetings hereabouts addressed by these great men and recalls a statement he heard Mr. Benton make in 1848, presaging the coming conflict of the sixties. He regards Mr. Benton as one of the nations greatest men and one whose labors have shed luster upon our State.
He cast his first presidential vote for James K. Polk in 1844, and has ever since faithfully supported the Democratic Party. In 1860 when the country was divided between John C, Breckinridge, representing the extreme Southern wing of the Democratic party, Stephen A. Douglas the Northern wing, with Bell and Everett the Union party and Abraham Lincoln the Republican nominee, Mr. Elzea, true to his faith and uncompromising Democracy, cast his vote for Breckinridge and Lane.
While giving party allegiance to the Southern wing of Democracy he never held to the doctrine of human slavery and hence never owned a slave and was glad to see them free.
He believes that slavery was a greater curse to the owners than to the slaves; that the enervating was destructive of the sprit of enterprise and activity, which must possess a people if they truly thrive or rise above the vulgar level. If he needed extra help on the farm and white hands could not be had he hired his neighbors’ slaves. Some times the hiring was a matter of auction, and he remembers on one occasion when he hired a young Negro belonging to some Minor, from the auction block here in New London. Another farmer had bid a higher price for the slave than Mr. E., but the follow absolutely refused to go to the successful bidder, but would go with Mr. Elzea, who took him at his bid, $75 per year for seven years. Mr. E. agreeing to pay the doctor’s bills and taxes. “What taxes?” we asked, “The taxes levied upon the Negro according to his assessed value,” replied our friend.
In 1862 he joined the Baptist church at Salem, this county, under the preaching of good Parson Keach and there his membership remains.
When the old frame church at Salem was built, Mr. Elzea and his friend, Meredith Brashears, father of Mr. Solomon Brashears, of this city, sawed and shaved three thousand oak shingles and gave five dollars as their part of the work of putting up a new church building.
“In those days," said Mr. Elzea,
when we old farmers had anything to do that called for extra help, all we had to do was to let our neighbors know and plenty of good, honest and willing help was at hand. I feel despondent when I think that most of my old neighbors are gone and I almost alone am left.
There were Captain Guttery, John Neely, Jackson Beshears, John D. Biggs, Joe McGrew and Uncle Wash Ledford, all our good friend turned his moistened eyes from view.
On grinding days these good old people met at mill and talked over the affairs about them. The Krigbaum mill west of New London, the Neal mill on the Turley, now Guttery farm and the Matson mill, were the public places for country folk to meeting and exchange friendly greetings. Cleaver and Pitt ran a carding machine at Frankford, and later one was put up at Spencerburg. These machines took the place of the old slow hand cards and rendered the use of the woolen garment more common.
With the exception of a brief membership in Captain Southworth’s militia company, Mr. Elzea took no part in the war. His sympathies were strongly with the South, and for these the right of suffrage was for a time denied him.
Though in his seventy-eighth year, Mr. Elzea is quite active, comes to town when business calls him, attends to affairs on his farm and takes great interest in the political issues of the day.
The wife of his youth is still by his side and continues in those ministration of wife and mother which go to make home the dearest spot on earth. She has been to him all that his heart could ask and now in each other’s love, having come through half a century hand in hand and given to the present generation a family of splendid citizens, they hopefully look beyond. . .