“Here a Lea, There a Lea - Everywhere a Lea, a Lea!” Part 2

Local History
Dr. Pleasant Lea's gravestone
Dr. Pleasant Lea's gravestone

(Continued from Part 1)

Pleasant Lea seems to have become just as important to his new community in Missouri as he was when he lived in Tennessee. In January 1852 he was appointed as a US Postmaster.

On October 22, 1859, Dr. Lea married for the second time. His new wife was Fanny (or Fannie, as it appears in the Cuyahoga County record of their marriage) Mahalia Clark. She had been born about the same time as Lucinda, but Fanny had been born in Massachusetts, and had lived in Ohio, when her family had moved there, and then in New Hampshire. They were married in Ohio (Myra seemed quite pleased about the wedding in her diary entry for that day, already referring to her as Aunt Fannie). Dr. Lea and his second wife returned to Cleveland, Tennessee, to visit his family after the wedding (it is an interesting coincidence that the largest city in Cuyahoga County is also called Cleveland), and then journeyed up to Missouri, where she now had several step children. By this time Thomas, the oldest of Dr. Lea’s offspring was 19 or 20, and, at 6, John was the youngest. (One online genealogy site does say that Fannie had a son by Pleasant, named Watson.)

On September 12, 1862, Dr. Pleasant Lea was murdered. There are varying versions of his death—more than one has him being attacked while on a road, possibly on his way to or from visiting a neighbor, while another has him being attacked in and dragged from his home. His niece Myra, in her diary entry for December 27, 1862, simply says, “I received a letter from Sister this eve. It obtained the sad news that Uncle Pleasant Lea was killed in Missouri, 12th day of September.”

The one factor that remains constant in each report attributing the killing to anti-slavery guerrillas from Kansas. This fact would have an impact on what followed.

In April of that year, Fannie Lea had given birth to Pleasant Lea’s youngest son, Watson Clark Lea. The question of where the birth took place is open to conjecture. The Census records—depending on which decade you check—say, variously, Maryland, Vermont, or Ohio. We do know that sometime after Dr. Lea’s death, Fanny and Watson relocated to Ohio, as on December 18, 1865, she married George W. Hallis (or Hollis) in Cuyahoga County, where Watson spent much of his boyhood.

Both of Pleasant’s older sons, Thomas and Joseph, rode with General Shelby during the Civil War. Joe and Frank also rode with Quantrill in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Joe is the best known of the brothers when it came to his Civil War exploits, but it would seem that the three brothers who were 18 or older when their father died, becoming Confederate guerrillas was probably swayed by how their father died. (Joe is one of those featured in the portraits done by Anna L. [Dillenbeck] Stacey and Elmer Stewart in the Missouri Valley Room’s exhibition of charcoal drawings currently on display here on the fifth floor of the Central library.)

Marriage certificate of Dr. Pleasant Lee & Fannie Mahalia Clark
Marriage certificate of Dr. Pleasant Lee &
Fannie Mahalia Clark

The brothers were not tied to Missouri once the family moved here. There are reports that some of them, possibly along with their father, spent time in Nebraska prospecting. And we know there was also mining activity in Colorado, and that several members of the family spent time during the years leading up to and into the Civil War back in Cleveland, Tennessee.

After the war, the family moved in different directions.

T.C. Lea, though, was the only one of the Lea brothers to live out his life in Jackson County. After the war, he lived in Independence, and in the 1870s and 1880s he did a stint as the chief surveyor for the county. In his last years he worked as the Deputy Chief Surveyor for the county.

In the 1860 Census, he and his father are the only two members of the family to have occupations listed—Tom’s as a surveyor. The memoir written by his step-daughter tells us that after the war Tom attended Jefferson Medical College, and did have a medical practice for a time, but did not like it, grieving over the murder of his father. She said that he gave up his medical practice and turned to being a surveyor. These events, taking place many years before she was born, must have been told to her. There are some problems with the time line she lays out, as she says that Dr. Lea was killed after the Civil War was over, rather than 1862. (As mentioned earlier, there are varied accounts about his death, and a recent book about New Mexico, in a chapter about Joseph and Frank, puts Pleasant Lea’s death in 1861.)

It may be that Thomas came to be known publically by his initials, T.C. Lea, because of the example of his father, P.J.G. Lea. T.C. did stay in Jackson County, primarily in and around Independence. He held positions of some importance, and appears to have been well liked in the community. Claudine’s mother, Ella Bradford Sowell, was the daughter of the neighbor who had helped the Lea family move from Tennessee. He had made a trip back to Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1886, after his first wife had died, and became re-acquainted with Ella, who was a widow.

Claudine and her stepfather seem to have had a close relationship. She thought she might have been his “favorite.” He often took her with him as he made his way around Jackson County, surveying its boundaries. She tells us that he would let her drive the buggy.

T.C Lea's gravestone
T.C Lea's gravestone

She also tells us that when she was a young girl in Independence, it had no paved roads, that the streets that bordered the town square were “paved” with cedar blocks. Her stepfather would drive his buggy from their home to his office at the courthouse, coming in on the muddy trail that is now Lexington Avenue. He finally started collecting from some of the well to do in Independence, $250 each, which he presented to the County Court. This sum was used to pave, or “macadamize” Lexington.

T.C. Lea died in Independence at the age of 71 from Bright’s disease on April 20, 1910. It was in January of the previous year that he had returned to the County Surveyor’s Office as the Deputy Chief Surveyor. He was survived by his wife Ella (the announcement in that day’s edition of the Kansas City Star calls her Emma) and stepdaughter Claudine, as well as three children from his first marriage—daughter Lucy Lea of Roswell, New Mexico, and sons Cal Lea of Independence, and Thomas Lea, Jr., of El Paso, Texas. The younger Thomas (about whom more later) appears to have come back to Independence to be with his father during his last days, since he signed the death certificate.

Claudine Chandler says that among her stepfather’s friends was Dave Wallace, the future father-in-law of Harry Truman.

As you will see when this story continues, members of the Lea family were regularly honored with things being named after them—a town, a county, buildings, parks, schools, streets. In Independence there is a place where two of these bump into each other. Lee’s Summit Road is the road that used to be the main connection between Independence and Lee’s Summit. It is still a major street in Independence that runs north and south through the city. At one point, just north of Truman Road and south of 24 Highway, it intersects with another road that runs east and west across part of northern Independence.

It’s called T.C. Lea Road.

Come back again to find out about Tom’s son and grandson, as well as his brothers and nephew.

About the Author

Dr. John Arthur Horner of the Missouri Valley Room has a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a deep love of history. He is an award-winning playwright and member of the Dramatists Guild of America. He lives in Independence with his wife, two pianos, and their multitude of books.

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