The Death of Joseph Chicken/Baker


My search for Joseph Baker actually began quite by accident. I was visiting a cemetery to take pictures of my McKee ancestors (one of which would marry John Henry Baker) and saw this stone about a dozen feet away and took a picture, just because of the last name. At the time, 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker was as far back as I could trace my Baker family line. It wasn't until over a decade later that I would finally uncover more of this line and piece together some of the story of Joseph Chicken/Baker and come to realize, that the grave above was actually that of my 3rd great grandfather.

Joseph Chicken was born in 1847 in the town of Evenwood, County Durham, England to Joseph Chicken Sr. and Elizabeth Ann Britton. Joseph was the fourth child of seven born to this couple who soon immigrated to America in 1849-1850. Joseph Chicken Sr. came first in 1849 with a group of Mormons and the rest came the following year. Joseph Chicken Sr. was listed as a coal miner in England and so it wasn't surprising that he ended up in lead mining community in Southwest Wisconsin. 

Joseph Chicken would grow up in that community and volunteer for the Civil War. He enlisted in January 1864 for a three year enlistment and would soldier under General Sherman "March To The Sea" as it has come to be known by us Yankees. Southerners have much different descriptors for that event in our history. Joseph was mustered out in July of 1865 after the war ended, and given $140 and promised another $160. He presumably made his way back to Wisconsin to settle down and begin a family.

He would start that family by marrying my 3rd great grandmother Frances Ann Bolton. She is the daughter of Mary Shaw Bolton and granddaughter of George and Betty Shaw whom I wrote about last summer. Frances though born in the same town in SW Wisconsin that the Chickens were living, would go west to California during the last days of the California Gold Rush, immigrate back to England with her surviving family and then return on her own leaving the rest of her family back in England. I have always presumed that she had met Joseph Chicken during their childhoods and fallen in love which is why she made that second journey across an ocean by herself at the young age of 15 or 16. 

But Frances married Joseph Baker and Joseph Chicken disappeared from the record trail. It took me 15 years or so of digging, pontificating, searching to figure out that Joseph Chicken changed his name to Joseph Baker for reasons unknown to me. I had lots of circumstantial evidence when I made that realization and after another handful of years, found conclusive proof though I have never found the reason for the name change.

So Joseph Chicken/Baker as I refer to him, would soon move away from his family to a coal mining community in Colchester, Illinois and start having children, including my second great grandfather John Henry Baker. Back when I took the above photo, I knew John Henry had been born in Colchester but he never shows up in the 1870 Census or the 1880 Census and as discussed more recently, the 1890 Census record no longer exists. So the 1900 Census is the first census record I have for John Henry and he was already 29 and on his own which is why this mystery remained as such for so many years.

I know from the birth locations of other children, the Joseph Chicken/Baker family would migrate to NE Iowa and progress through a few different locations. By 1880, they were found in Parkersburg Iowa and living with a saloon keeper. Joseph was listed as a farm laborer. Until I learned of the name change, the 1880 census was my one and only record of Joseph (Chicken) Baker's life for many years and by 1882 he was dead from unknown causes. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls where four generations of my Baker ancestors are now buried. He is buried off by himself, though he ended up not far from future in-laws of his son John Henry who would marry into the McKee family 15 years after the death of his father. John himself is buried on the opposite side of the cemetery as his wife and in-laws, another story I have told before and may tell again someday.

After Joseph Chicken/Baker's death at 35 years old, wife Frances Ann Bolton Baker was left with five children ranging between the youngest perhaps just months old to the oldest being 12 years old. The oldest two, including my 2nd great grandfather, would essentially start working for others to earn money for the family. The next two sons would be raised by Joseph Chicken/Baker's brother Robert Chicken who never changed his surname. Frances kept only the baby to raise herself.

One of my projects is to write all this information about this family up along with all the photos I have into a book that I can print off to give to my girls to have. I have it started and have had it started for probably two or three years, but just need to finish it someday. I think part of my delay is that I keep hoping to learn a little more about Joseph Chicken/Baker and also his father Joseph Chicken Sr. whom I also know very little about. 


  1. Our kids may or may not be interested but I wasn't at their age and now am. It's impossible to predict. I also had relatives from County Durham.

    1. It is impossible to predict. Someday I would like to visit that part of the country to see where they lived. Up until the last couple months, I didn't know much about that part of the world but I've learned a great deal more in my quest to go further out on my family tree.


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