Husband of Susannah Gentry, Victim of National Cholera Epidemic
When Merrill Parks died of cholera in the national epidemic of 1849, he was, at age
42, in the prime of his life, a successful farmer and father of six children. The
youngest, Bettie, was just two years old, the oldest William, only 17. His widow,
the former Susannah Gentry, was left to carry on the family enterprise on their Otter
Creek farm four miles north of the Madison County Courthouse.
Merrill bought the Otter Creek farm in October 1836 from his wife's brothers and
sisters, paying $637.085¢ for 63 acres or $10 an acre. The neighboring farms were
owned by Jacob Hackett, the George O. Pearson heirs, James Gentry (Susannah's brother),
Polly Elliott and James Parks (probably his uncle). In those days, the house --
a log structure no doubt -- would have been in the bottom facing Otter Creek, not
up on the ridge where Red House Pike was built a decade or so later.
Most of what we know about Merrill can be deduced from the inventory of his estate.
He appears to have been a breeder of horses and mules, a significant source of
cash for Kentucky farmers in the 1840s. At his death, he had six mares and three
colts, one of them a mule colt. Merrill likely would have sold his yearling mules
to a trader like Samuel Shearer from nearby Boonesborough who drove them overland
to markets in Georgia and South Carolina. Shearer estimated he bought and sold 6,000
to 7,000 mules before the Civil War and the coming of the railroad changed the business.
Merrill would have received up to $50 for a yearling mule in the 1840s.
Merrill was prosperous enough to lend money to family and others. His estate included
these notes: Green B. Park, his brother, $20; Rice Portwood, a brother-in-law, husband
of Susannah's sister Mary, $8.12 1/2 cts.; and Jeremiah Rucker, a prominent farmer
in the Waco area, $51.25. Also listed was an account of $19.39 for Wyatt Wilkerson,
a farmer who lived in Richmond.
Other livestock on Merrill's farm included 7 sheep, a heifer, a yoke of oxen and
28 hogs, a number which indicates he was raising hogs for sale, not just for family
consumption. The sheep would have provided some wool for sale (Waco had a small
wollen mill at the time), the heifer would provide milk and the oxen did the heavy
work on the farm.
Merrill would have raised wheat and corn for consumption by the family and the livestock.
The tools indicate they made have made their own shoes and certainly some of their
furniture. They may have spun and woven some of the wool into cloth for their own
clothes. The half barrel of salt was used to preserve pork.
Susannah Gentry lived on the farm until her death in 1878, and she is buried there
in the Gentry/Parks Cemetery. Her sons William and James bought the property from
their siblings in 1870, and James is shown living there on the 1876 map of Madison
County. William is across the creek. A third son, Thomas, relocated to Woodford
County between 1869 and 1872.
Susan Mary, the oldest daughter of Merrill and Susannah, married James Pike Denham
and lived down the creek near Red House. In 1871, Sytha Jane married Clifton Barnes,
a widower with eight children, and apparently moved from the area. The youngest
daughter, Elizabeth or Betty, married Henry Clay Embree; they lived at Red House.
Susannah, sons William and James and daughter Susan Mary (Denham) are all buried
in the Parks/Gentry Cemetery. Records show that Betty was buried in the Embree (Embry)
Cemetery at Red House. Sytha's burial place is unknown. Presumably, Merrill would
have been buried in the Gentry/Parks Cemetery, but no gravestone for him has survived.