Unseld Family

Our connection to the Unseld family comes through Cora Everett Unseld, who married George Washington Johnston.

The Unseld (or Unsell) family likely came from Germany and settled before the Revolutionary war in Frederick, Maryland, and the Harpers Ferry and Shepardstown area of what is now Jefferson County, West Virginia (and which was Virginia before the Civil War). Although there is a tavern owner, John G. Unseld, living in Shephardstown, Virginia in the very early 1800’s, the earliest member of the Unseld family that can be reliably traced is John C. Unseld, who was born about 1806, likely in or near Frederick, Maryland. He married Sarah L. Perry, who was born about 1808, on July 18, 1829 in Jefferson County, West Virginia.

John C. Unseld was peripherally involved in John Brown’s infamous raid on the Armory at Harper’s Ferry. John Brown, using the name Isaac Smith, moved to the area of Harper’s Ferry in June of 1859, several months before the raid. John Unseld met him and his sons on the road about this time and helped him find a farm to rent. He and John Brown visited each other off and on over the next several months. John Unseld’s house was not on the route to the Armory from John Brown’s rented farm, which likely saved him from becoming a hostage at the time of the raid, as he was one of only two slave-owners in the area and John Brown took the other one captive on his way to the armory. During the second day of the raid, John Brown held the armory and some of his men held a school house across the river in Maryland. John Unseld made several attempts to get one of the militia companies that had come to Harper’s Ferry to assault the school house and free the hostages. He finally met with Col. Robert E. Lee (later to be the famous Confederate General) and with his aid got a battalion of Baltimore Greys to do this. John Unseld, with one of his younger sons, visited John Brown in prison shortly before his execution in December of 1859.

John Unseld was a slave owner, and the 1850 Census Slave Schedules showed he had six slaves, and the 1860 Census Slave Schedules showed him with five slaves. When asked about his occupation during testimony before the US Senate following the raid, he replied “I am living off what I have saved. I suppose you might consider me a mechanic, but I am not engaged in any business. I have made some money, and I am living off the interest of my money. I am living on a farm, but I am not farming it. I own the farm, and rent it out.”

John and Sarah had at least three children; James Thomas (b. abt 1832 near Frederick, MD), John H. (b. abt 1834) and George (b. abt 1847). The 1850 census shows John, Sarah, their three children and Elizabeth, who was likely John’s mother, living in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Sarah likely died before 1860. In the 1860 census, John is living in Sandy Hook, Maryland, with a woman named Nancy and his sons George and James. The 1870 census lists John’s occupation as farmer and he is living with a woman named Ann, and a son Charles (b. abt 1853) who may or may not have been a stepson, in Harper’s Ferry, Maryland.

John Unseld (II), married Mary and had four children; Estelle (b. abt. 1860), Clifton (b. abt 1862), Lawrence (b. abt 1868) and John J. (b. abt 1874). In the 1880 Harpers Ferry, WV census his occupation was listed as laborer, and his son, Clifton’s, was listed as news agent on train.

James Thomas Unseld married Sarah Josephine Griffin on Aug 14, 1867 in Cabell County, West Virginia. She was born about 1853 in Cabell County, WV and went by the name Sallie. She was the daughter of John William and Elizabeth (Thornburg) Griffin and was the ninth of thirteen children (it is noteworthy that only 3 of these thirteen children survived to adulthood). James was a physician and a schoolteacher. He taught and was a school principal as well in Huntington, WV, and was noted as a stern disciplinarian. At the same time, Sallie was manager of the millinery department at T.S.Garland’s Dry Goods Store in Huntington.

James and Sallie had three children; Cora Everett (b. Nov 4, 1870), Mary Laidley (b. Nov 10, 1873) and Campbell E. (b. abt 1878). James died in Huntington on Jan 14, 1884. Mary and Campbell lived for a time with Cora, as they are listed in the 1900 Census at her Avery Avenue, Detroit address.

Mary Laidley Unseld married Albert H. Johnson and had four children; Eleanor V. (b. abt 1904), Josephine (b. abt 1911), Albert (b. abt 1913) and Mary (b. abt 1916). The 1920 census shows her living in Tampa, Florida with her children, and her mother Sallie.

Campbell Unseld married Nellie Fraser about 1904 and had three children; James Fraser (b. abt 1907), Rex Campbell (b. abt 1916) and Bethany Maxine (b. abt 1920). Campbell was a musician and an electrician. He was a percussionist with the Huntington Theater Orchestra and the Al Field Minstrels, a traveling minstrel show, but his occupation was listed as electrician in the 1900, 1910 and 1930 censuses.

Campbell’s son James, died of pneumonia at age 6, in 1913. Rex (who actually went by the name of Campbell), enlisted in the Army on March 27, 1941. He later married Joyce Jackson and had two children, Allen and Denise. Rex died in 1968 in San Bernadino, California. Bethany married Russell Henry Greenshields in 1940, and had two children, Nancy and Dale. Bethany died in Michigan in 1992.

Cora Everett Unseld, of course, married George Washington Johnston on January 16, 1889 and had five children between 1890 and 1897; Wilbur Unseld, Myra Jane, Cora Belle, Ruth W. and George James.

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