In the years following the Civil War, Caleb Headley migrated from Wetzel County, West Virginia to the Sulphur Spring Fork of Fourteen Mile Creek in Lincoln County, bringing with him a young wife and some degree of knowledge about medicine. Behind him were Pennsylvania roots, a soldier’s experience in the Mexican and Civil wars, as well as a failed marriage. About fifteen years later, he passed away and was buried on a hill near his home.
Today, Ward Adkins, an 81-year-old walking encyclopedia of Sulphur Spring history, is the best source on Dr. Headley’s life. He was partly raised by Headley’s son, Will, his step-grandfather, who told Adkins what little he knew about his father and eventually gave him a very important family heirloom: a geography book containing genealogical information in his father’s handwriting.
Caleb Headley was born on April 11, 1808, the first son and second child of Dr. Thomas and Sarah (Asher) Headlee, in Pennsylvania. Thomas was born around 1775 in New Jersey and was the son of a Revolutionary War veteran. Sarah was born around 1785 in Virginia.
Caleb had seven known or suspected brothers and sisters: Elizabeth Headley, born about 1807, Mary Headley (c.1811-1881), Anthony Headley (August 11, 1812 – January 1, 1894), Jerusha Headley (March 16, 1815 – May 16, 1884), Sarah Headley (August 22, 1817 – June 18, 1900), Elisha Headley (August 24, 1820 – August 2, 1895), and Nancy Headley, born about 1822.
In 1822, according to Hardesty’s History of Wetzel County, Thomas Headley settled in Tyler County, (West) Virginia with his family where he taught young Caleb what he knew about doctoring prior to his death, which reportedly occurred around 1830 in Monongalia County, (West) Virginia.
On November 2, 1826, Caleb married Nancy Ann Wright in Pennsylvania. Nancy was born on October 15, 1808 in Virginia. Her parents were born in Maryland.
Caleb and Nancy had ten children: Charity Headley, born March 1, 1828; Elizabeth Jane Headley, born June 2, 1829; Thomas J. Headley, born November 23, 1831; Joshua Headley, born April 7, 1832; Sarah A. Headley, born December 8, 1833; Caleb Samuel Headley, born March 30, 1836 or 1837; George Washington Headley, born May 21, 1839; Benjamin Franklin Headley (May 31, 1841 – April 11, 1918), Anthony Headley, born June 3, 1844, and Elijah Headley, born August 1, 1850.
During the 1830s and ’40s, Caleb lived in Tyler County where he was, by his own admission, a practicing physician, member of the Methodist Church and for sixteen years a justice of the peace.
“I don’t think Caleb had any schooling to be a doctor,” Adkins said, in a 2003 interview. “As far as I know, the only thing he had as far as a medical education was studying under his daddy. His daddy was a doctor.”
In 1846, the portion of Tyler County occupied by Headley became Wetzel County.
Some time between 1846 and 1848, Headley reputedly served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War. While no military records have been located at the present time to verify his service, one of his sons made the claim that he had been an officer in the war.
“His son Will told me that he was an officer in a war with Mexico,” said Adkins.
In the 1850 Wetzel County Census, Caleb appeared in the Green District as a 40-year-old farmer (not physician) with $200 worth of real estate. His wife was 32 years old, while the children were listed as follows: Thomas (age 17, farmer, in school), Sarah (age 16, in school), Samuel (age 13, in school), Washington (age 10, in school), Franklin (age 9, in school), and Anthony (age 6).
In 1860, the Headleys maintained their residence in Green District.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Headley joined with most of his neighbors and sided with the North.
“Wetzel County, Virginia, was one of the counties which supported the Union during the War Between the States,” Mary Curtis, a genealogist, wrote in 1959. “The large majority of the settlers were from Pennsylvania and the Piedmont areas of Virginia where slaves were not common, so that their interests lay with the North.”
According to Hardesty’s History of Lincoln County, Headley was captain of a company in the Union army. According to military records, he was captain of Company C, 154th Regiment.
“He was captain of a company in the Civil War,” said Adkins. “That’s in Hardesty’s. And Will said he was an officer. He didn’t know what rank, you know. I was told that he was shot in the back. His backbone was just barely hanging together. I think he was discharged in Ohio.”
Several of Headley’s sons fought for the North. Caleb Samuel, later a resident of Porters Falls in Wetzel County, “served a short time in the Union army as lieutenant,” according to Hardesty’s History of Wetzel County. Anthony, later a resident of Pine Grove in Wetzel County, “was a soldier with the Federal army, serving in Company I, 15th West Virginia Infantry, and he participated in all the fortunes of that regiment, engaging in its battles and witnessing the surrender of Lee at Appomattox.” His term of service was from August 24, 1862 until June 30, 1865.
In 1866, 50-something-year-old Headley settled in present-day Lincoln County and joined the Christian church. By that time, he had separated from his wife Nancy and was involved in an intimate relationship with 16-year-old Sarah Farley of Logan County. The two had their first child on May 1 then married on May 25 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
Headley’s separation from his first wife has been a hot topic of conversation among his local descendants.
“They had a rumor going that Dr. Caleb run off and left his first wife, but Will said it wasn’t so,” said Adkins. “I heard his wife died when their son Elijah was fifteen years old, which would have been around 1865.”
However, according to Wetzel County census records, Nancy was very much alive after the separation. In 1870 and 1880, she referred to herself in both census schedules as a widow.