We know very little about George's early life. He had seven siblings that we currently know of: John (1811), Rachel (1820), William (1821), Lydia (1826), Joseph (1827), Thomas (1829), and Jesse (1831). While it's assumed George was born in Pitstone (baptism record has yet to be located), by the late 1830s the Simons family is living at Vicarage Farm in Ivinghoe where George's father Jesse ran the farm along side his brother Jonathan.
It's here in Ivinghoe where George married a local girl named Sarah Short on the 13 Mar 1837 in Ivinghoe's St. Mary's Church. George was 19 and Sarah was 18 (6 day short of her 19th birthday).4
The couple would welcome their first child, a son, Edward J. Simons on the 21 Jan 1838. Complications would arise and on the 2nd February, Edward passed away, leaving the family to mourn the loss of their first child after just 12 days.
The following years would be much kinder as son Thomas Simons would be welcomed into the world on 10 May 1839 and a daughter, Maria Simons, would follow on 02 Jun 1841.
1842 NY Arrival ManifestOn the 1841 UK Census the family is noted as living in Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire, England in the hamlet of Greatgap. The family consists of George, 20; Sarah, 20; Thomas, 2; and Maria, 3 months; The registration district is Leighton Buzzard.5
George and Sarah weren't the only ones living at Greatgap. On the 1841 census they're noted as living next to sister Rachel Collyer with her husband Ethelred. Also next to Greatgap was George's parents, Jesse and Mary, his younger siblings and uncle Jonathan all working on Vicarage Farm.5
The family must have had some difficulty because within a year of the census they packed their bags and crossed the pond. The 1839 Robson's directory to Buckinghamshire seems to confirm this as George is not listed even though we know he lived here. This would make sense if he had trouble finding work outside of being a farmhand.
Around the 15 May 1842 the Simons family depart London, England aboard the passenger ship Philadelphia. The Philadelphia docked in New York, New York on the 30 May 1842, where the arrival manifest noted the family as George, 25, farmer, from Great Britain, traveling with wife Sarah, 23, son Thomas, 2, and daughter Maria, 10 months. They were accompanied by George's sister Rachel Collyer, her husband Ethelred and some of his family.6
1850 Census for Simons FamilyNot much is known about the next 8 years. The family is said to have spent four and a half years in Ohio and for some unknown reason, returned to England for the next two and a half years before returning, again, to Ohio. Specifically, the family is said to have returned to England in 1847 and back to Ohio in 1852. The problem with this is the family turns up on the 1850 U.S. Census in North Royalton, Cuyahoga, Ohio (known as Royalton at the time). By this time George is listed as a laborer, 33, and Sarah, age 32.7 They have 2 additional children, a son Jesse was born in 1843 and another son John Edward Simons was born 6 May 1846.A
In June of 1850, Sarah gives birth to their next child Charles Joseph Simons and follows up again on 07 Feb 1853 with their last child, a daughter, Mary Ellen Simons.
In early 1860 George picked up the Simons family, left North Royalton and migrated to the American heartland where they settled on a farm in Delhi Township, Linn, Iowa. Word is the family followed eldest son Thomas who had left for Iowa previously in 1857 and settled in Julien, Dubuque, Iowa by the 1860 census. It has been stated that after the family settled in Dehli, they either picked up Thomas, or he traveled to meet them in Dehli... either way, by the outbreak of the Civil War they were together in Dehli.
The family didn't have much time to settle as the Civil War broke out in 1861 and on the 15 August 1862 George and son Thomas joined the Union Army. They both were assigned to Company K of Iowa's 21st Infantry where they fought side-by-side.8
1860 Census for Simons FamilyOn the 11 Jan 1863, while seeing action during a skirmish in Hartville, Missouri, George suffered wounds to the head and knee of which was noted he would "take the rebel lead to his grave".1, B
George and Thomas would continue fighting until George was taken sick in Texas and transferred on 29 Feb 1864 to the invalid corps (reserves) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he later contracted smallpox. His transfer record states his disability as "nervous, derangement" which nowadays can most likely be attributed to some form of post traumatic stress disorder.
George was honorably discharged on 1 May 1865. Son Thomas stayed in the 21st and mustered out at the completion of his service on 15 Jul 1865.
George returned home to his family, which is where we find him on the 1870 census. Back on the family farm in Delhi living with wife Sarah, 52, and daughter Mary Ellen, 17.9
The wounds George suffered during the Civil War would affect him the rest of his life. Described as having hazel eyes, dark hair, dark complexion and standing 5 ft 11.5 in. tall, George wore his hair long to cover the wound and skull fracture to the left side of his head. He had a "lame" left leg due to being shot in the knee, and was said to have suffered from frequent dizziness and headaches that were especially prevalent in heated rooms or during hot weather.
George Simons Biography (1878)By 1880 George and Sarah were alone in their house but son Thomas and his wife had moved in next door. It's more than likely George sold Thomas a portion of his land to cut the workload as he got older, or to just to help take over the family farm.10
On 20 Nov 1881, at the age of 63, Sarah Short-Simons died of what was written as "Paralysis of the Heart". Supposedly, she retired in the evening, seemingly in good health, but never awoke the following morning. She was buried in Delhi Township in Evergreen Cemetery.2, 11
After Sarah's death, George moved in with his youngest daughter Mary Ellen and her husband Charles Robinson and their children. He was counted as living with them on the 1885 Iowa State Census where he was noted as being 67 years old.12
George Simons in Charles Robinson Bio (1914)About March 1887, George returned to England in what was stated as being "for the benefit of his heath". Its also around this time (yet we still have no idea when or where exactly) that George married for a second time. This marriage supposedly took place in England and was to an old friend he had known before he left for America.
While in England he reacquainted with some of his family and arranged to live with his nephew in Tring, Hertfordshire,E which was only 4 miles from Pitstone. It was here, in the town of Pitstone (which adjoins the town of Ivinghoe of his youth) where George died at the age of 70 on 1 Apr 1888.13
It is not known if George was buried in England or if he was returned to his family in Iowa for burial, but his vitals are etched into the Simons family monument alongside is wife at the Evergreen Cemetery in Delhi Township stating his death occurred in Pitstone, England.C
UPDATE: I stumbled across the blog of cousin Sharron McElmeel the other day and was delighted to find a ton of useful information, some of which could only come from family that grew up around George in Iowa (unlike my family, that stayed behind in Ohio). Her post is a wonderful resource and I'm happy to reference it here. I plan to add her information into the above story soon and will reference it below in the sources as well (as soon as I stop slacking).
Jesse Simons, 1787 - 1859
Mary Osborne, 1788 - ?
Sarah Short, 19 Mar 1818 - 20 Nov 1881
- Edward J. Simons, 21 Jan 1838 – 02 Feb 1838
- Thomas S. Simons, 10 May 1839 – 03 Apr 1919
- Maria Susan Simons, 02 Jun 1841 – 26 Jun 1911
- Jesse Joseph Simons, 26 Dec 1843 – 26 Nov 1854
- George Simons, 15 May 1844 – 13 Oct 1845
- John Edward "Ed" Simons, 06 May 1846 – 10 Sep 1914
- Charles Joseph Simons, Jun 1850 – 25 Jun 1924
- Mary Ellen Simons, 07 Feb 1853 – 13 Jun 1912
A George and Sarah were said in George's 1878 biographical piece to have lost 4 of a total of 9 children. Seeing as how only one child from censuses went unaccounted for (Jesse, age 7 in 1850) It reasonable to assume these children most likely died in infancy or early childhood.
B Originally written as the Battle of Houston, even though he was wounded at Hartville, Missouri. History now notes this skirmish as the Battle of Hartville. The Union troops marched a relief effort from Houston, Missouri to defend Union posts under assault by Confederate raids around Hartville. The Union took Hartville and setup a strong defensive position that repelled multiple Confederate attacks before both sides withdrew by nightfall with no clear victor.
C Sharron's blog post notes that the family belief is George was buried in Pitstone and the reference to him is just a family memorial to their father (an email conversation with Sharron confirms this). History seems to suggest this is accurate as embalming was only invented at the end of the Civil War about 20 years prior and the expense involved in returning a body from England to America would have been no easy task (nor inexpensive)... and something that was still out of the norm 30 years later during World War I.
D More research is needed for confirmation, but grandson Fred Christian (through daughter Maria) visited the family from Ohio in late 1881-early 1882 after he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis in July of that year. It was thought that a change of weather in Iowa might help him recover. It could be unrelated, but it's possible a contagious Fred got his grandmother Sarah sick and caused her death that November (not likey as Sarah is said to have died from issues related to heart trouble).
E The "An American Veteran" article only reference George's nephew by title alone. However, a little digging uncovered one Simons relative living in Tring. This was Charles Simons, George's nephew through his brother Joseph.
F The history of the Simons family name seems to be a muddled mess. While it appears the family here in America finally settled on the spelling "Simons", it was a rough road getting there. So far, it appears earliest records may have the name written "Symons", but a majority of English records for father Jesse list the name as "Simmons" and many parish records list "Simmonds" (including the birth registration of George's 3 children in Ivinghoe). All these names coincided with each other. Father Jesse was documented under everything but "Symons" and the same can be said for George.
G While a definitive reason for the family's return to England may never be known, I think I'm on to something. I have been unable to located any records of George's sister Rachel or her husband Ethelred in America. At this point, I believe Ethelred passed away and for one reason or another George took Rachel back to England where it appears she remarried in 1849 to a James Darvill. She lived in Tring, Hertfordshire until her death in 1892 (which is only a mile or two south of Ivinghoe & Pitstone, and the same place we can find George after he returns to England in the 1880s).
What happened to George's parents after he and his sister left for America? (Jesse died 1859 in Ivinghoe)
Where did his sister, Rachel Collyer, end up once the family settled in America? Her brother-in-law William Collyer ended up in Hinckley & Brunswick, but no sign of Rachel & Ethelred... (It might be that Ethelred died and Rachel returned to England and remarried)
Was the family always on the Vicarage Farm in Ivinghoe? When did they start occupation of the farm?
When did the transition from Pitstone to Ivinghoe happen for the family? (Even though baptism records are said to be of Pitstone, I can't locate them. They do not appear to be a part of the Pitstone record book.)