Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Did Moses Cross the Road?

Moses Simon Jennings was likely born on 30 August 1881[1] in Augusta County, Virginia, to Rev. Pleasant Jefferson Jennings and Sarah J. Davenport. He was my second cousin twice removed. Moses' mother died sometime before 1889 and his father married Queenetta Coffey in 1889. Queenetta died before 1897 and Moses' father married for the third time to Mary Elizabeth Bridge. By 1900 the family lived in Buena Vista, Virginia, and Moses worked as a laborer in a tannery. I have been unable to find Moses in the 1910 census, but his father had moved to York, Ohio, where he continued his work as a minister.

Moses married Mollie Cash on 20 August 1917 in Roanoke, Virginia. When he registered for the World War I draft the next year, the couple lived at 411 8th Avenue SE in Roanoke and Moses worked as a laborer for the N&W Railroad. His appearance was described as tall and slender with blue eyes and black hair.

By 1920 Moses and Mollie were living with his father and step-mother, who had moved back to Buena Vista from Ohio. Moses worked as a laborer at an iron furnace. About seven years later something happened to Moses and Mollie's marriage.

For a brief period of time, it appears Moses was a bigamist. He married a widow with four daughters, ranging in age from 18 to 5 years old, named Zula Emma (Shuler)[2] McCrary on 3 February 1928 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Moses and Zula were listed in the 1929 Baltimore, Maryland city directory as living at 1924 Home Road. Moses worked as a painter.

Mollie, Moses' first wife, had had enough. She filed for a divorce, which was granted on 29 May 1929 by the Court of Law and Chancery, City of Roanoke. The divorce was uncontested and the cause was desertion of over three years. It does not appear that Moses and Mollie had children during their marriage.

1929 Divorce decree between Moses Simon Jennings and Mollie (Cash)
Jennings; image courtesy of

In 1930 Moses, Zula, and her two youngest daughters lived at 62 Laurel Avenue in South River, Virginia. Moses worked as a house painter and Zula as a seamstress in a coat factory. When the 1940 census was enumerated on 3 May. Zula lived on 440 East Side Road in South River with her youngest daughter. She said she was a widow. That was a tiny bit premature, but likely meant she and Moses were no longer together.

Again, Moses is elusive in the 1940 census. He died on 24 December 1940 in Kernstown, Virginia. He had been walking along the side of the road when he was struck by a passing automobile, which did not stop. His death certificate indicated he was "in transit" at the time of his death and lived in Raphine, Virginia; it also listed his martial status as widower. His death was listed as an accident or homicide. Surprisingly, his race was listed as black, although his parents are correct.

1940 Moses Simon Jennings death certificate; image courtesy of

This is one of those stories when you feel fairly certain you have the people, dates, and places correctly identified, but you are left wondering what was the back story. My suspicion is that Moses was a drinker. I have no document to prove it, but, based on death certificates, it was a disease that appeared multiple times in his immediate family, including Moses' younger brothers, Jaby Jefferson and Fitzhugh Lee Jennings, and a few other other branches of the Jennings tree.

[1] Documents related to Moses Simon Jennings provide several options for his date of birth. I have chosen 30 August 1881 as that is the only document written by Moses.

[2] Zula's maiden name presented quite a challenge as she and her children used both Dovel and Shuler. However, I believe the 1900 census proves that Zula E. Shuler was her maiden name. There was an Emma J. Dovel born a year later, who lived in the same county, but she married different men.


  1. Sometimes having the dates, names and places is just not enough and this is one of those times. It surely makes me curious about the rest of the story.

    1. I have scoured newspapers and anything else I can think of to find an answer. So far, no dice.