The Gretna Green of the Ohio Valley–Aberdeen OH

As a preliminary note–I could not determine if the Scottish placename of Aberdeen had any original influence on the fact that this little River town was also called Gretna Green.  I do know that the riverboat that connected both sides of the Ohio River for miles along its course was called the Gretna Green because it ferried couples to the “Marrying Squire.”

Thomas Shelton, the Justice of the Peace, lived for 95 years and is credited with marrying many thousands of eloping couples from OH, KY, IN, IL, MO, and most of the Southern States.  Some couples came just to be married and then went home again.  Others stopped over on their way West or East or South or North to be married.

Squire Massie Beasley took over when Shelton died.  And he is said to have married more than 20,000 couples.

Thomas Green Beasley, the Squire’s son, was pilot of the ferry boat which criss-crossed the River for many years.  Many marriages were performed on the boat in the middle of the great River as Squire Beasley went from wharf to wharf seeking couples to marry.  As he questioned his prospective groom and bride, he determined what to charge them.  He accepted nothing but cash–with a few exceptions.  It was rumored that potatoes brought in baskets served several couples.

Not all of the couples who were married by Squire Beasley were eloping. They came from New Orleans arriving at the Squire’s house by carriage, sleigh, horseback, or in a skiff. Some were barefoot, dressed in sunbonnets, and handsomely attired in silks and satins.

At the close of the Civil War and following Thomas Shelton’s death, many widows and orphans of soldiers had trouble getting pensions because these marriages performed by Squire Shelton were questioned as to whether or not they were legal. Later, they were declared legal by act of the Legislature.

A more detailed account can be found in Chapter Fifty Four of Early Fleming County Kentucky Pioneers: Historical Facts by Wade Cooper. This volume sold for many years at Mary’s Handcraft and Gift Shoppe, 117 N. Main Cross Street, Flemingsburg KY. Priced at $6.95.

A visit last week to Squire Jesse Ellis, the gentleman to whom Squire Beasley willed his records and those of his predecessor, Thomas Shelton, was full of intense interest to me. Mr. Ellis has in his possession many unique relics of the late Squire, having served in the capacity of his deputy during the latter’s decline. Through Mr. Ellis’ courtesy I had the pleasure of looking over all the marriage records of Aberdeen since the day Shelton acceded to power on May 18, 1882, until Massie Beasley’s death in 1892. They show the appearance of having been kept with a school girl nicety, and comprise nine ponderous volumes. (Quoting an article, “The Gretna Green,” by Dorothy Richardson which appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, August 4, 1897. Reprinted in the Valley Times, Nov 14and 21, 1968.)

We have to watch for these records.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

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