The Zerelda James Story

406 LOCUST FORK PIKE is the James M. Lindsay House, the site of the wedding of Frank and Jesse James’ parents.

On December 28, 1841, Robert James, 23, and Zerelda Cole, almost 17,stood before the ancient parlor mantel in the log house of James Madison Lindsay, Zerelda’s uncle and guardian, on Locust Fork Road near Stamping Ground and repeated their nuptial vows. Robert was a Baptist ministry student at Georgetown College. The Reverend Younger Pitts, renowned pastor of the Stamping Ground Baptist Church, performed the ceremony while the bride’s uncle and guardian, Scott County magistrate James M. Lindsay, and other family members, and friends, looked on.

Zerelda Cole was born January 29, 1825, to Sallie Lindsay and James Cole (1804-1827), a son of Richard Cole. After the death of her husband in 1839, Sallie took her babies to live with her grandfather’s family in Woodford County at the family’s Black Horse Tavern on the corner of Midway-Versailles Road and the Old Frankfort Pike, a landmark that survives in restored elegance. Following her marriage to Robert Thomason, she moved with her family to Missouri. Zerelda, then 14, remained in Kentucky, choosing her mother’s younger brother James Madison Lindsay as her guardian and living with his family in their log house on Locust Fork Pike.

Zerelda and Robert met either at the Stamping Ground church or at St. Catherine’s, where Robert is said to have spoken to test his ability to speak to people of different faiths. Robert proposed marriage in the fall of 1841 and managed to pull together the fifty dollar bond required by Zerelda’s uncle and guardian for that winter’s wedding. In the summer of 1842, the young couple traveled to Clay County, Missouri to visit Zerelda’s mother, where Zerelda remained while Robert returned to Georgetown to complete his college work. Once he satisfied the college’s academic requirements, Robert joined his wife and six-month-old son Frank in Kearney, Missouri. The couple bought a farm, built a cabin, acquired slaves, and had three other children – Robert who died shortly after birth; Jesse Woodson, born September 5, 1847; and Susan, born Nov. 25, 1849.

In the spring of 1850 Robert James took leave from his wife and children to join a prospecting venture to California’s gold mines with the stated goals of advancing his ministry and securing funds to educate his sons. Tradition also suggests that Robert’s journey to California was prompted by a need to take a break from his argumentative wife. However, the several letters that he wrote to her en route to California suggest affection for her and his children and asked her to “pray for me that if no more [we] meet in this world we can meet in Glory.” A few weeks after arriving in California the young clergyman became ill, died, and was buried in an unmarked grave. After his death Zerelda married Dr. Reuben Samuel. Dr. Samuel was a devoted father to the James brood.

The log home of James Madison Lindsay (1810-1846) is located on a portion of the Lindsay 1,000 acre grant, positioned a short distance from Locust Fork Pike. A wing, probably also log, has long been removed, but the main part of the house remained at the time of its purchase in 1999 from Lindsay heir Mattie Lee Sprake Goshong. The wing’s original appearance was eclipsed by the small bungalow that replaced the deleted wing. Extending into the yard sufficiently to spark curiosity is the gable end of the log house with a stone and brick chimney. At that time several important components of the early Kentucky log house remained. The single pen dwelling, likely original, retained its original dividing partitions that also closeted the stairs to the second story. The parlor mantel was served by the remaining exterior chimney. On the other side of the house was a room that later members of the Lindsay family used as a kitchen. Remaining also were original batten doors, the door and window frames, horizontal and vertical paneling, and ash floors. From a vantage point in the pantry behind the house, one could secure a view of some of the logs.

John Waymond Barber, who in 1999 bought the Lindsay home, arranged for a Kentucky Historical Society highway marker’s erection, which was dedicated on August 24, 2002.