Newton Adams was born on July 12, 1836, near the town of Dresden, Ohio, located in Muskingum County. Very little is known about his immediate family, including the names of his father and siblings. As Newton's youngest son, Emmanuel Adams, wrote in 1948, "One thing sure these Adams and others will not tell you very much about their Ancestors and my father never told me very much."

However, Newton apparently did pass on the family tradition that his grandfather, a native New Yorker, was a first cousin of John Quincy Adams, and that the Adams family was related to the Roosevelt family as well. According to Emmanuel, "The Adams and Roosevelts were all related and all N[ew] Y[ork] people that is since the older set like John Adams etc. were from Mass. to New York." Emmanuel went on to report that Newton's father was also born in New York, and that he married a woman of Seneca Indian ancestry named Elizabeth Adams. Around 1820, he and some twenty related families settled in the area of Zanesville, Ohio, where he had at least four sons and a daughter. It is not yet certain, however, just how accurate is Emmanuel's version of the family history. His belief, for example, that Newton's father was born in New York conflicts with data contained in the U.S. federal census of 1900, in which Newton reported his father's birthplace as Ohio. This and other family traditions still await confirmation.

With the onset of the Civil War, Newton and his brothers joined the Union Army. Emmanuel later stated that "My father's family got hit pretty hard during the Civil War. My father had one brother killed at Malvern Hill, one wounded at Shilo [sic] and one died in prison at Andersonville." As for Newton, he went to Danville, Illinois, where on August 15, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Captain John Black's Company, Fremont Rifle Regiment Volunteers. Late renamed Company K, 37th Regiment Illinois Infantry, his unit was attached to the Army of the Frontier, operating against Confederate forces west of the Mississippi River.

Newton's company first clashed with its Confederate counterparts in a minor engagement at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, fought on March 7, 1862. Exactly nine months later, on December 7, 1862, he took part in the much larger battle of Prairie Grove,Arkansas, during which his regiment captured a Confederate battery, only to lose it to superior enemy forces. The battle itself was a stalemate, but Newton was commended for "bravery and good conduct" and promoted to the rank of corporal. Along with the promotion, however, he received "two bullet holes in his cap," Emmanuel later wrote, "...and he sent that cap to my Aunt in Zanesville, Ohio."

Perhaps because of his close call, Newton deserted his company less than three months later, only to be quickly captured and arrested. Following his arrest, he wrote a letter of confession that described what he had done:

I deserted from my company on the 28th of Feby 1863 at Camp Bliss on Flat Creek in Barry County Ms. I was arrested at Newtonia [Missouri] five days after deserting and was sent to Springfield where I was confined to Guard house three days. I was then released [illegible word] and sent to "Camp Straggler." I remained there until I was arrested on the twenty ninth day of April.

After being stripped of his rank and pay, Newton was restored to duty on June 1, 1863. He does not, however, seem to have participated in any further military actions. Instead he was detailed as a guard on the steamer Mustang the following November, and he then moved on to Brownsville, Texas, headquarters of U.S. Forces, Rio Grande. In July 1864 he was stationed in nearby Brazos Santiago, shortly after which he was sent to Chicago, Illinois, to be mustered out of service.

By 1866 he had returned to Ohio, marrying Delila Dixon Adams on November 18, 1866, near Frazeysburg, only a few miles from his hometown of Dresden. Delila's ancestry is somewhat better known than Newton's; the child of Jacob and Elizabeth Adams, she was born in Pennsylvania on January 8, 1847. Like Newton's parents, her mother and father shared identical surnames, a fact that was not lost upon Emmanuel Adams. "Both my grandmothers were named Elizabeth Adams," he wrote. "You see my mother was an Adams before she married my father. They were bad about marrying each other by the same name, so many of them could not find anyone else with another name I guess." In the case of Delila's mother, this was doubly true, for not only did she marry an Adams, she was to marry twice in her lifetime, and both of her husbands would be named Jacob Adams. According to Emmanuel, the family's Seneca ancestry can be traced to Delila's ancestry, for he reported that one of Delila's grandmothers was one-quarter Indian.

The first child of Newton's new family was Elmer Ellsworth Adams, born at Zanesville, Ohio, on July 4, 1867. However, Newton soon moved the family to Vermillion County, Illinois, which happened to be the same county in which he had enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. While here, Delila gave birth to Ida May Adams on September 16, 1869. By about 1872 the family had moved again, this time to Vermilion County, Indiana. During their stay, Delila had two more children--Lettia (Letty) Adams, born October 24, 1873, and Jasper (Jap) Adams, born November 28, 1875. In 1880 Newton and the family moved yet again, this time to Clarksville, Texas. He stayed here only a year before settling permanently in the nearby area of Isaca, which would later become the town of Avery. In the meantime, the family welcomed its final addition: Emmanuel Marling Adams, who was born December 28, 1880.

From the time of his marriage until his move to Texas, Newton pursued his occupation as a farmer, but during the 1890s his health gradually deteriorated, forcing him to stop farming and apply for a military pension. However, it was not until 1897 that he was awarded $6.00 per month to help compensate "for disease of heart." In order to obtain increases in his pension, Newton was required to submit to medical examinations scheduled by the Pension Bureau. However, when the Bureau proved inordinately slow about scheduling one of these exams, he wrote to the agency to make his an increase:

Worked hard all these 38 years to make an honest living. Our children is all doing for themselves except out baby now over 16 years of Age. We are both getting ould and less Able Every day to fight the Battle of life. I am no longer Able to live by my labor. I have bin a laboring man all my life. I know what A laboring man can do. We are not beggars. Have refrained from Asking any thing until nesessisity compeld us to.

A year later, Newton had still not received a reply from the Pension Bureau. Now angry and impatient with the slow pace of the Bureau, he sent it a new letter dripping with sarcasm:

Your proposition to discharge so many of your clerks appears ridiculous when it takes nearly A year to get an order for [medical] Examination Issued now with all the clerks you have got. All so your intended Request to congressmen and senitors to Refrain from calling up claims for their constituents looks like you wish to close the last possable chance for the ould soldiers to get A hearing or any thing from your Department. Of course I am Entirly ignorant of the vastness of your Department and am not competent to Judge of what can or aught to be done.

When Newton's repeated letters failed to prod the Bureau into action, he then enlisted the aid of his former commander of the 37th Illinois, John C. Black, now a general and a prominent member of the Republican Party in Chicago. General Black agreed to intervene, and the examination finally took place on December 17, 1902, in Bonham, Texas. Although the results of Newton's previous examinations are no longer in his pension file, the 1902 exam is still extant, giving a rare portrait of Newton in the last years of his life.

The Surgeon's Certificate of that exam records his disability as "Disease of heart and rheumatism, and general debility and severe constipation." Newton, however, added a statement that said, "I have never had nor have I claimed disease of heart. Have had muscular rheumatism for twenty years, havr [sic] also had lumbago for twenty years, but am more feeble now than at any time, have had constipation foe [sic] ten years, it is growing worse."

The Certificate went on to describe Newton as being 5'61/2" tall, weighing 123 pounds and having a dark complexion and hazel-colored eyes. While apparently not suffering from heart disease, rheumatism or constipation, the physicians noted that his skin was "sallow, he is emaciated, with belly flabby and somewhat distended with gas, he has no teeth, arcus senilis is present... We find that the aggregate permanent disability for earning a support by manual labor, is due to general debility and age, not due to vicious habits and warrants a rate of eight dollars per month."

Newton thus won an increase in his pension, a struggle he had to repeat in the remaining years of his life. In 1906 he was required to submit an affidavit to the Pension Bureau that stated when he was born and how he came about this knowledge. Exasperated by what he saw as an absurd request, Newton lashed out in stinging sarcasm:

I was present on that occasion my self. If I had thought at that time I would have bin cald to answer sutch fool questions all most A century afterwards I would have made A note of all of the minor details of the occasion. I would have taken down the name of the Doctor or mid-wife that was in attendance and all other little Details of the affair, Expressly for the benefit of some smart alek that we have in office now. I will have to console my self that same as Baron DeKalb did About fighting the Indians. I will know better next time.

By 1910, Newton's health took a sharp turn for the worse. Now paralyzed and unable to write to the Pension Bureau to request an increase in his pension, he relied upon his youngest son Emmanuel to write on his behalf, but to no avail. When Newton finally died on April 7, 1911, he was still drawing a pension of only $15 per month.

Following Newton's burial at Avery Cemetary, Emmanuel took it upon himself to secure a widow's pension for his mother, Delila. However, in his letter to the Pension Bureau, he inadvertently complicated the matter by giving her name as "Delilah D. Adams." When Delila spelled her name differently on her Declaration for Widow's Pension, the Bureau told her in a letter dated May 5th to submit an affidavit "clearly setting forth the correct spelling of your name, which appears as Delila and Delilah D." More seriously, however, the Bureau also required evidence that Newton had been Delila's only husband, for if either of them had ever been married to someone else, the question of her receiving a pension would be placed in doubt.

On May 22 Newton's physician, Dr. J.T. Collvin, submitted a sworn statement to the Bureau, in which he reported that Delila "was the only wife that the said Newton Adams ever had so far as he [Collvin] knows, as he has only knew [sic] them for about eighteen years." The Pension Bureau was unimpressed:

If ... there was no prior marriage on the part of either you [Delila] or the soldier, the last should be shown by the testimony of credible witnesses who knew you and the soldier from the time each attained marrigeable age. There should also be furnished testimony of credible witnesses having personal knowledge of the fact, showing whether you lived with the soldier to the date of his death, or was ever divorced from him.

Satisfying the Bureau's demand would not be easy. On June 8, the manager of her bank, Mr. W.S. Lawson, wrote the Bureau on her behalf in an attempt to persuade the agency to waive its request for proof that Newton and Delila had been married only to each other: "We are of the opinion this can be easily done if it is absolutely necessary, but it will take some weeks perhaps to do it as something like 50 years have elapsed since they left Pennsylvania, and Ohio." The Bureau's reply on June 13 was terse: "Your unsupported statement is not sufficient to cover these points."

Emmanuel Adams now wrote Congressman Morris Sheppard for assistance, who in turn asked the Bureau why Delila's claim was being delayed. In its response of July 1, the agency stubbornly repeated its conditions for granting the pension. However, only one week later the Bureau abruptly reversed its stance. The reason for its sudden change of heart was the intervention of General John Black, now head of the Civil Service Commission and recipient of a plea from Emmanuel Adams for help.

On July 8 the Acting Commissioner of the Pension Bureau -- the previous commissioner now conspicuously absent -- circulated an internal memo that said, "These people were married by ceremony November 18, 1866, nearly 45 years ago, when the claimant was less than 20 years of age, and shortly after the soldier's discharge from his military service, he being at the time but 30 years old. Under these circumstances non prior marriage and legal widowhood may be accepted on evidence now on file."

Delila's final encounter with the Pension Bureau came on October 4, 1911, when she submitted a short and unrevealing deposition that stated her age and address, the fact that she was Newton's widow, and that she drew a pension of $12 per month. Just a few months later, she was institutionalized at Honea Community, about five miles from the small Texas town of Indian Creek in Brown County, where Elmer Adams lived. She died there on January 5, 1912, of a burst blood vessel in her lungs brought on by bronchitis and was buried at Avery Cemetary beside her husband.


Submitted, written, and copyrighted by Mark Wibe.