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James Michael and Susannah Layton

Early Life    Missouri Pioneers    An American Tragedy    Children of James Michael and Susannah Layton    Links    Contact us

Early Life

"I, James Michael, do hereby report in conformity to the acts of Congress relative to Naturalization that I was born in the Parish of Soumagne on the river Schelde in the Kingdom of Holland, subject to the Dominion of the Crown of Holland, and that I migrated on the thirteenth day of April A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen directly from Flanders to Anapolis [sic] in the State of Maryland, United States of America which place I landed at on the twentieth day of August A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen and that it is my intention to settle in the State of Missouri and that I am twenty-seven years old."
Source: August 17, 1823, Court records, Perry County, Missouri

What little we know about James Michael's early life comes from this record. If his age here is correct, he was born in 1796. Later records show that he may have been born as early as 1793. "Michael" was the Americanized version of his name, which was probably "Michel" or "Michiel". Many variations of the spelling are found among the records of James and his descendants.

He is only one of a handful Belgians living in Missouri in the 1820s. His reason for migrating there at that time is a mystery. From the time James was a small child, Europe had been engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and Belgium was occupied by the armies of Napoleon in 1814. After the battle at Waterloo, in 1815, the country, which was predominantly Catholic, was placed under the rule of the King of Holland, a Protestant. Dutch replaced French as the national language. Belgian missionaries, Father Nerinkx and Father de la Croix had been in Missouri, and stories of them may have traveled back to Belgium. Perhaps this was what inspired the young James to board a ship in April for the grueling four-month voyage across the Atlantic to America.

And grueling it was, as in this account of the difficulties of transatlantic travel by an Irish immigrant to Canada in 1817. It was just one year before James Michael made his trip to America.

May 26th, 1817 [11 days at sea] - "Being much afflicted with sickness these few days past, I have been unable to write, but thanks be to God, now feel better. I never witnessed such a scene before as the storm which we had on Friday night. About eleven o'clock, the captain being just gone to bed, it began; on which he immediately got on deck and ordered all the sails down, which being done, restrained the motion of the vessel; nothing could equal the awful change that took place-the vessel rolled from side to side, and overturned all the passengers' boxes, pans, kettles, and vessels of water, in such a manner as that no tongue can express, or mind conceive the state we were in-all, I may say, expected every moment to be swallowed in the great deep. My mind was seriously impressed on the occasion, but my whole soul was stayed on god. The captain had, by his own account, three dozen of plates broken, besides several bottles of porter. This storm continued partly till Sunday evening."
Source: Dublin to Quebec on the Mary and Bell, 1817
From Narrative of a Voyage from Dublin to Quebec, in North America, by James Wilson, 1822, CIHM #63247

Missouri Pioneers

It appears that after arriving in Annapolis, Maryland, in August of 1818, James headed straight for Missouri, which was still two years from statehood. He made his new home in the part of the Ste. Genevieve District that became Perry County in 1821. James quickly ingratiated himself into the community. He was married shortly after his arrival in Missouri to Susannah Layton and their first child was born in 1820.

"James Michael(s) m. Susanna Layton, b. ca 1800, by 1820, dau. of John Layton and Monica French"
Source: 1823 Parish Census of St. Mary's of the Barrens Congregation

Susannah's parents were John Layton and Monica French, who were originally from Maryland and had migrated to Kentucky with the group which have come to be known as the "Maryland Catholics". Susannah was born in Washington County, Kentucky, and moved to Missouri with her family about 1810. They settled on a Spanish land grant, most of which today is within the town of Perryville near the Seminary church. John Layton was a Justice of the Peace, and was involved laying out the county roads and the town of Perryville. He was selected by the Governor to represent Perry County in the State Legislature in 1836.

Unlike most other early settlers in this area, James Michael was not a farmer. In 1828 he is shown on the tax list with 50 acres, probably deeded to him by his father-in-law. In his homeland, the River Schelde in Belgium was known as a major shipping and trade route even in the early 19th century. In 1836, James received a grocer's license, and in 1841 he was licensed to operate an inn and tavern. In the 1850 census, he is listed as a "tavern keeper" living in a dwelling identified as a "hotel" in Cinque Hommes township. Although it is never mentioned, Susannah was probably very active in running the business as well, taking care of the housekeeping and seeing to the needs of travelers.

James Michael was likely a most accommodating innkeeper, so much so that it got him into trouble a couple of times. In 1832, he was indicted for "suffering a card table to be used in his house". The indictment was dropped at the next session of the circuit court. In 1841 he got into trouble with the law again, this time for selling liquor without a license. Attempts to quash the indictment this time were unsuccessful, and he was tried by a jury of twelve "good and lawful men who being elected tried and duly sworn" who found him guilty. After a couple of attempts to get the verdict overturned, presumably he paid the twenty dollar fine.

An American Tragedy

January 10, 1841 was a date the family would never forget, for that was the day that Mary Maddock Layton was murdered. Mary was the daughter of Richard Maddock and Elizabeth O'Connor, and had come to Missouri with her family from Ireland between 1815 and 1830. She became the sister-in-law of James and Susannah when she married Susannah's brother, James Layton, in 1832. Mary and James Layton had five children over the next eight years, and she was expecting her sixth when she was brutally killed by her husband. He attempted to escape justice, but was eventually captured, convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

"At that time (bef. 1845] most of the Perry County Circuit Court practice was done by non-resident attorneys. However, the James Layton murder case came up in 1841. Albert Jackson of Cape Girardeau County was then Circuit Attorney and Edward M. Holden was employed by Layton as the attorney for the defense. This was a savagely cruel wife murder case. Layton obtained two continuances, and finally a change of venue to St. Francois County. This so infuriated the masses of the people that a vast mob composed of Perry County men augmented by citizens of Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois Counties marched to Farmington, took possession of Layton and hanged him and riddled his body with bullets."
The Centennial History of Perry County, Missouri, 1921.

[For more information on the crime of James Layton, see the account in Goodspeed's "History of Southeast Missouri", 1888 and the "Crime of the Century" from the St. Louis Republican, 1903. ]

This drama had lasted three years, and the Layton family were severely affected by it. Some of the Laytons left Missouri and moved to Texas, and it is speculated that Susannah's father, John Layton, at age 69, was one of them. The diarist, Archibald Little Hager, recorded in April 1846 "Theire was a sale at John Laytons" and "John Layton started to the Texes".

James and Susannah Michael remained in Perry County and raised a family of ten children. They were married until James' death in December 1857 at the age of 64. Susannah outlived him by fourteen years. In 1860, Susannah was living with two of her sons, William and Amatus Michaels. Her daughter, Theresa (Michaels) Doerr lived next door, which was fortunate. When her son-in-law, Philip Doerr, died suddenly in 1861, Susannah was there to help Theresa and her six grandchildren. Susannah Layton Michael died on the last day of the year 1870.

Death of Mrs. Susan Michles. -- This lady departed this life on the night of the 31st ult., after a long and painful illness, in the seventy-seventh year of her age. The deceased was born in this county, and about one mile from Perryville, in the year 1793, and was twenty-seven years old when Missouri was admitted in to the Federal Union as a State. The deceased was a strict member of the Catholic Church, and was highly respected by all who were acquainted with her. She was conveyed to her last resting place on Sunday morning last. The deceased leaves many relatives and friends to mourn her loss.
06 Jan 1871, Weekly Perryville Union

Family of James Michael and Susannah Layton

James MICHAEL, born 1793 in Belgium; died December 02, 1857 in Perry County, Missouri. He emigrated to America from "Soumagne on the River Schelde" in the summer of 1818. He married Susannah LAYTON Abt. 1819 in Perry County, Missouri. She was the daughter of John LAYTON and Monica FRENCH; born abt. 1800 in Washington County, Kentucky; died December 31, 1870 in Perry County, Missouri.

Children of James Michael and Susannah Layton are:

i. John Michaels, born Abt. 1820 in Perry County, Missouri.

ii. Thomas Michaels, born November 04, 1822 in Perry County, Missouri; died Abt. January 1881 in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri. He was a "drummer" or salesman for Young & Bros., a clothing establishment, and other firms in St. Louis.

04 NOV 1822, Thomas Michael, son of Jacobi Michal and Susanna Layton. Sponsors were Thomas and Joanna Layton. Signed S. Rosti.
Baptisms, St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Perryville, Mo., 1822-1856; FHC film #1940100, pg. 8

iii. James Michaels, Jr., born July 11, 1824 in Perry County, Missouri; died November 15, 1889 in Perry County, Missouri. He was buried in Belgique Catholic Cemetery.

iv. Mary-Theresa MICHAELS, born August 08, 1826 in Perry County, Missouri; died September 25, 1894 in Carpenteria, Santa Barbara County, California; married (1) Philip Henry DOERR May 18, 1845 in Perryville, Perry County, Missouri; married (2) Lawrence B. Baylard March 28, 1864 in Perryville, Missouri.

v. Peter Michaels, born October 03, 1828 in Perry County, Missouri; died November 20, 1932 in Perry County, Missouri.

vi. Francis Michaels, born June 02, 1831 in Perry County, Missouri; died June 20, 1889 in Perry County, Missouri. He married (1) Ellen Eliza Moore February 01, 1857 in Perryville, Missouri; they were the parents of five children: Pantaleon, Mary Narcissa, James F., Mary Elvina (wife of Emmett Tucker), and Thomas W. He married (2) Catharine, who was previously married to Foster, on March 23, 1874 in Perryville, Perry County, Missouri; they were the parents of one child: Edgar. He married (3) Mary-Bridget Manning November 25, 1886 in Perryville, Perry County, Missouri; she was previously married to Hillary Moore by whom she had ten children. He was buried in Belgique Catholic Cemetery.

vii. Matilda Michaels, born June 08, 1833 in Perry County, Missouri; married Francis William Redford October 14, 1851 in Perryville, Perry County, Missouri; they were the parents of six children: Susan (wife of Martin J. Moore), John Francis, Mary Lavina, James William, Mary Narcissa Elizabeth, and Thomas Lawrence.

viii. Mary Michaels, born November 08, 1835 in Perry County, Missouri.

20 DEC 1838, Marie Michiel, born 08 NOV 1835?, daughter of Jacobo Michiels and Suzanne Layton. Sponsors were John Layton and Monica Layton. Fr. Brands.
Baptisms, St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Perryville, Mo., 1822-1856; FHC film #1940100, pg. 185

ix. William Louis Michaels, born January 08, 1838 in Perry County, Missouri.

08 JAN 1838, William Lewis Michaels, born 02 NOV?, son of Jacobo Michel and Suzanna Layton. Sponsors were Lewis Layton and Maria Layton. Fr. J.B. Raho.
Baptisms, St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Perryville, Mo., 1822-1856; FHC film #1940100, pg. 214

x. Amatus Michaels, born July 27, 1842 in Missouri.

Michael and Layton Family Links

"Crime of the Century"    Goodspeed's History of Southeast Missouri, 1888    Indictment for murder of Mary Maddock Layton    Plea for clemency    Gratitude for clemency    Guardian Bond for James Layton, Jr.   
Generation 2:  Philip Doerr and Mary Theresa Michaels    Michael Surname   

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Updated Sunday, July 15, 2001
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