Erasmus would have grown up on his parents' farm, about 4 miles outside Independence, Virginia. He may have been especially close to his brother Wiley who was only two years younger because he named his first son for his father and his brother--- John Wiley. By the summer of 1850, Erasmus was a young man of 23. When the census taker came, Erasmus was not in the home of John and Patsy. (Since the 1850 census is the first to list the names of children, the fact that Erasmus was not at home leads many researchers to exclude him from the family.) He was listed several miles away in the household of William Dickerson and gives his occupation as "laborer".

Recently a thanks to Ralph Bedwell of Hercules, CA the plot of Erasmus in the summer of 1850 thickens. He pointed out that the 1850 Census also shows Erasmus Bedwell, listed as a 24 year old carpenter, incarcerated for "petit larceny" in the "Penitentiary of Virginia" in December, 1850. (Check out the link below) There is a slight age discrepancy but having searched Virginia time and time again I think that there is only one Erasmus Bedwell It seems most likely to me that this is the same Erasmus Bedwell as the one counted in Mr. Dickerson's household a few months before. The census suggests he was incarcerated sometime in 1850. If he was indeed a free man when living at the Dickerson household he must have committed his crime and been sent to the penitentiary in the fall of 1850. At this point I have no idea what exactly Eramsus did or how long he was suppose to have been imprisoned but I am really grateful to Ralph for supplying the reason the eldest son of a fairly prosperous and successful old Grayson County family left and never seems to have returned or been remembered.

Somehow between December 1850 and Aug 1852 Erasmus did leave prison. Hopefully he did that with the agreement of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Whether or not he went back to his parent's home or not I don't know but he arrived in Letcher County Kentucky enough in advance of the late summer of 1852 to meet court and become engaged to Letty Adams. That process could have moved quickly or not. In any case he did arrive in Kentucky and on Aug 12 1852, married Letty S. Adams in Letcher County. Letty was from Kentucky, the daughter of Micjah John (John Cagie) Adams and Elizabeth Mullins.

It appears that Letty and Erasmus lived first in Letcher County. Their first two children, Margaret Jane (Jenny) who was born April 1853, and John Wiley seem to have been born there. John certainly was as he is in the Letcher County. birth records, born October 18, 1855. His parents are listed as Erasmus and Letty. By the 1860 census Letty and Erasmus had moved to Perry County and had two more children, Nelson R. born in 1858 and Nancy born June 1860. Since Nelson is not in the Letcher County birth records the move must have happened between John's birth and his. Interestingly, that 1860 census lists Erasmus as "Barnabas". Erasmus seems to have been commonly called "Rass" and the census taker may have decided Rass was short for Barnabas. Of copurse, given his relationship with the Virginia Penitentiary System Rass may have deliberately been a tad vague. There is no doubt, however, that this "Barnabas" is really Erasmus as he is the only Bedwell in all of eastern Kentusky and the rest of the family match exactly that of Erasmus and Letty.

The next record we have of Erasmus is in 1866. On Feb 4, 1866, again back in Letcher county, Erasmus Bedwell married Sarah (Sally) Caudill, the daughter of Matthew and Terry Caudill. Letty Adams Bedwell had not died so Erasmus and Letty must have divorced. These were small communities of families that had lived there for generations so it is just not reasonable to believe that Erasmus remarried without having legally ended the first marriage. Everyone would have been aware of who he was married to when. There is also a question with respect to a possible fifth child. A later census (Perry 1880) shows Letty with several children (she continued to have children after she and Erasmus split up).One, Lynda is 16 which means she was born in 1864. Since we don't know when Erasmus and Letty split up Lynda could belong to him. Another point of interest is the fact that in the 1880 census Letty and all her children ranging from Nancy who is twenty years down to Margaret who is one are listed with the surname Bedwell. This is interesting because whatever the reason for the divorce all of Letty and Erasmus children changed their surname from Bedwell to Adams. While they used Bedwell on legal documents they were commonly known as Adams and all the subsequent generations of Letty and Erasmus' sons use the Adams surname. The children themselves however, knew that their name was actually Bedwell. This is demonstrated by the fact that while they were commonly called Adams, Erasmus' sons John and Nelson reverted to Bedwell whenever they engaged in legal activities. Both the marriage bonds for Nelson and John Wiley use the Bedwell surname, not Adams. And when John Wiley divided his land between his sons he is listed on the deed both as "John W (Bedwell) Adams" and "John W. Adams Bedwell". None the less, half of the Bedwells became Adamses.

In addition total Letty Adams seems to have had at least nine children. The first four are certainly by Erasmus: Margaret Jane, John Wiley, Nelson and Nancy. Then from the 1880 census, Lynda who may or may no have been Erasmus's daughter, Jenny, Sarah Frances, Manday and Margrett. Sarah Francis was born in 1872 and from her marriage bond was the daughter of James Young. Like all of Lettys' children Sarah Francis commonly went by Adams and is “Adams” on the bond. But in the 1880 census when she was 7 she is Sarah F Bedwell. It is unclear if Letty ever actually married anyone other than Erasmus. Her headstone in the Singleton Cemetery on Camp Creek in Leslie Co, reads "Letty Adams".

Although they were married in 1866, Erasmus and Sally apparently did not have children, at least ones that survived infancy until 1872 when Francis (Fanny) was born. In the 1870 census it is only Erasmus and Sarah. Along with Fanny the 1880 census lists Andrew Jackson (A. J.) Born in Aug 1874, Thomas born May 6, 1876, Terry (listed as a male) born about 1879, and Elizabeth born in 1880. A daughter, Flora is listed in the Letcher county birth records as born to Erasmus and Sally March 20, 1878 but is not in the census. She must have died before age two. Also Sally and Erasmus' last child was a son Elijah born in June 1880. It is possible the census taker confused the names and sex of the infant in the household. Lige should have been the child born in 1880 and Elizabeth is never mentioned in any later records.

The 1880 census is the last official record of Erasmus. Eli Hall was a Letcher County neighbor of Erasmus and Sally. He kept a daily diary of activities in the area and in the fall of 1880 made this notation: "Erasmus Bedwell died September 25, 1880". There is no cause given and no other details. Erasmus would have been 53 years old. Presumably he is buried somewhere in Letcher county but I've never been able to find out where.

We know for certain that Erasmus Bedwell left 10 children, Margaret Jane (Jenny), John Wiley, Nelson and Nancy with Letty and Fanny, A.J., Thomas, Terry, Flora and Elijah with Sally. In addition it seems likely that Letty's daughter Lydia was also his making eleven. At this point I know that at least seven, Jenny, John, Nelson, Nancy, Fanny, AJ and Lige survived to adulthood. I have at least some information on descendants of all those but Nancy. Just from those six children Erasmus' grandchildren (through at least 8 generations now) number in the thousands. We are spread out over the entire country and beyond. We were and are teachers, social workers, farmers, lawyers, truck drivers, politicians, doctors, coalminers, carpenters, nurses, ministers and merchants. Like Rass, a few also had intimate contact with a penitentiary or two. Some still have his surname, most don't.

Whatever it was that inspired Rass to leave Virginia and head for Kentucky worked out well for us!

Erasmus Bedwell was born in Grayson County Virginia probably in the summer of 1827. We know he was born in Grayson County from one of his marriage bonds. Establishing his parentage took some work (which I have talked about elsewhere) but using the census data for 1830, 40 and 50 for Grayson County, it is clear that the only people who could possibly have been his parents were John Bedwell and Patsy Pool Bedwell. 

Click on the cell door to see the 1850
VA Penitentiary Census