Rebecca Oney: An Inspiring Pioneer

Carnival of Genealogy - A Tribute to Women

Very little is actually known about Rebecca Oney, but what has been able to be pieced together by census records, land warrants, and the like makes me feel quite honored to call her my fourth great grandmother.

Rebecca Oney was born August 26, 1791 either in Richlands, Russell County, Virginia or a short distance away in Cedar Bluff, Virginia. Today, Cedar Bluff is in Tazewell County, Virginia. It is believed, but has not been proven, that Richard Oney and Sarah Highland are the parents of Rebecca. It is also quite possible that Rebecca was their daughter-in-law without issue, as she is not mentioned in Richard’s will.

Rebecca Oney married William Corel, a man who eludes genealogists as well, on June 6, 1811 in Tazewell County, Virginia. The couple made their home near Maiden Springs, Tazewell County, Virginia. The couple had fourteen children, 11 girls and three boys, this alone makes Rebecca a remarkable woman. Sadly, three daughters did not survive into adulthood, but this did not signify the end of Rebecca’s life.

As the older children were marrying and starting their own families, William and Rebecca Oney Corel decided they would move west to take advantage of the new life that the new frontier had to offer. In 1849 William and Rebecca packed up all of their worldly belongings and 10 of their 11 living children, along with a few grandchildren and left Virginia. Many brothers and sisters of their sons- and daughter-in-law joined the family in this westward trek. The first few days the group traveled by horseback to clear the mountainous terrain. Once they reached the Ohio River, they continued on by boat until they reached Westport Landing in Jackson County, Missouri.

By the 8th of August in 1850, the day the census taker came by, William and Rebecca Corel had quite a full house in Kaw Township (now Kansas City), Jackson County, Missouri. Along with their youngest children (William, Cosby Jane, James Pickens, Nancy Maryland, and Olivia Gillespie) they had three other children living with them, Stewart Peart, Mary Louisa Peart, and William B. Peart.

How this came to be, I cannot speculate, but I have found that the mother of the Peart children, Oney Biggs Peart died in January of that same year. Oney Biggs Peart and her widower, Jonathan Peart had married in Platte County, Missouri in 1842, long before the Corel family moved to Missouri. In those few months after they arrived from Virginia, they must have made quite a connection with the Peart family to be willing to take on three young children (Stewart was the oldest listed as 7 on the census).

Another interesting note about Rebecca, who was just over two weeks away from turning 59, is her occupation listed on the census. Where most wives/mothers we find are listed as “at home” or such indicating they were housewives, which is quite a job in itself, Rebecca is listed as a farmer.

The following year Rebecca is faced with great hardship in this new land her family now calls home. Jemima, William and Rebecca’s oldest daughter died on June 13, 1851. Jemima’s husband, David McGlothlin, soon heads back east with his six children. Life did go on for Rebecca as she prepared for her daughter, Cosby Jane, to be married to William Justice just two months later on August 14. On September 27, 1851 even more tragedy strikes the Corel family when the patriarch, William passes away. I can only imagine that Rebecca found solace knowing that her two youngest sons and her two youngest daughters were still living at home to stand by her throughout these trying times.

Rebecca Oney Corel’s adventure did not stop there. At 5:00 AM on March 4, 1854 the United States Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill after an all night session. I wonder how quickly Rebecca and her children heard of the bill’s passing. I wonder when they decided to move further west. On May 1, 1854 the Kansas Territory was open to settlers. According to the December 25, 1890 issue of the Lawrence Quarterly, three Corel brothers (Henry H., William, and James P.) accompanied Clark Stearns of Michigan to stake their claims on land in Douglas County, Kansas. “The first settlement made in Lawrence was on May 14, 1854 when the foundation of a cabin for Clark Stearns was laid…” A survey map of the area dated July 4, 1857 shows the land of C. Stearns on the west side of the land of J.P. Corel, although, at the time the land actually belonged to Rebecca Oney Corel. The area that the Corel family settled was not their first choice. They had planned on settling on the north side of the Kansas River, but the camps of the Delware Indians had them rethinking that plan.

In 1855 a measles epidemic swept through the town of Lawrence. Rebecca’s son’s family was hit hard. Henry Highland Corel, his wife, Nancy Matney Corel, and their son, William Corel all died in 1855 from the measles. About 1858 Rebecca lost yet another child, Margaret Corel Puckett.

The next few years, Rebecca married off her children that were still living at home: William was married to Margaret Ann McGee about 1856, Nancy Maryland married Francois LaHay December 19, 1856, James P. married Susannah Clay McGee on August 20, 1857, and Olivia Gillespie married John Jacob McGee April 19, 1860.

After Olivia and John Jacob McGee were married, Rebecca lived with the couple along with two of her grandchildren, Rebecca Corel, daughter of Henry H. Corel and Nancy Matney, and Henry H. McGlothlin, son of Jemima Corel and David McGlothlin. It was about this time that Rebecca sold her land claim to her son, James Pickens Corel, but he would not be vested in the land until after her death.

November 9, 1860 Rebecca left this world to see the many family members who had passed before her. Rebecca was buried along with her family members, son Henry H., daughter-in-law Nancy, grandson William, and daughter Margaret, in the Mount Oread Cemetery, also now known as the Pioneer Cemetery.

In 1865 the city of Lawrence, Kansas opened a new cemetery, Oak Hill Cemetery, and burials at Mt. Oread ceased. After Oak Hill Cemetery opened many of those buried at Mt. Oread were moved to Oak Hill. It would be over 100 years after the moving of the graves that Corel descendants would find that the Corel family members originally interred at Mt. Oread were among those moved to Oak Hill. Watkins Museum in Lawrence, Kansas received old burial reinternment cards from the city of Lawrence that proved the transfer of the bodies. There are no markers for the graves that were once at the Pioneer Cemetery, but the burial cards now in possession of Watkins Museum show that the Corel family members are buried in the same area as the Corel family plots.

Carnival of Genealogy

Rebecca Oney Corel led a difficult life being one of the pioneers who left Virginia to settle in the Midwest. Five of her fourteen children passed on before her, as did her husband and a few grandchildren. In a time when her peers were often housewives, she farmed the land. She continued to live when others may have found the circumstances too difficult. Sadly, even in death she was not able to rest in peace, as she was moved from one cemetery to another.

The women of the early 1800s were required to live through many trials and tribulations that we may not have to face today, but the inspiration I get from knowing that I am descended from Rebecca Oney Corel is that no matter what I must face, in the end I can still live to fulfill my dream, just as Rebecca was able to make it to Kansas and claim land as her own. Today, four families that are descendants of Rebecca Oney and William Corel still live on the land that Rebecca settled on in 1854 on the south bank of the Kansas River.