pencer Washington Stout was a successful 19th century blacksmith in Michigan. How he wound up as a servant for a physician in Judsonia, Arkansas, is a mystery that his descendants continue to explore.

Family legend suggests he was swindled out of his land in a swap for worthless Arkansas swampland, possibly in White County. Spencer was born in 1820 at Dryden, in Tompkins County, NY, the son of Jonathan and Jane Blue Stout. His lineage has been traced to immigrant 17th century ancestor Richard Stout from Nottingtonshire, England. When Spencer was only 19 years old, he moved from the Empire State to New Haven in Shiawassee County, Michigan. A history of the county states he made a small clearing in the raw land “but finding the solitary life of a bachelor monotonous very speedily obtain the consent of Miss Rosanna Hart to become his wife, the second marriage of the township.” Rosanna’s father Horace Hart was the first landowner in New Haven. He had brought his family from Monroe County, NY, in 1839. Spencer held civil offices in the newly formed township, serving as a Justice and also as Director of the Poor. The 1850 census shows he had moved his family to Saginaw County, MI, and listed his occupation as blacksmith. Rosanna died that year, leaving Spencer with three young children – Jane, Edward and Jonathan. Spencer moved his family back to New Haven and the following year he married Amy Coy Kingman, a widow with two children. He also purchased 40 acres of New Haven land that same year.

Louis Stout, a grandson, stated many years later that Spencer “was a very fine blacksmith” and “had a good business.” He had a “five-forge shop and was so good at making traps that the Indians came to him to make traps. He taught all his sons the blacksmith trade.” In the late 1870s, land promoters in White County, Arkansas, were advertising throughout the Midwest to attract northerners to the Judsonia area, then known as Prospect Bluff. Many came and settled there, along a strip of land that became known as “Yankee Road.” About 1877, according to Louis Stout, “Some very crooked men came and sold Spencer on the idea of trading his property in Michigan and his business for some land in Arkansas. He didn’t see the land before he made the trade, and when he got there it was only a swamp that was absolutely of no value, and of course he was very discouraged and despondent.”

It was a great letdown for the entire Stout family, who then had to turn to other resources in order to survive. A granddaughter, Fay Stout Paxton, says S.W. Stout Jr. “worked as a young boy in the woods of Arkansas to help support his family.” Family Bible records confirm that Spencer and his wife Amy were living in Judsonia when their daughter Rossey died at age 9 in 1879. The 1880 federal census of Harrison Township lists Spencer W. Stout Sr., then age 60, as a servant in the home of Judsonia physician Dr. John Eastland. Spencer W. Stout Sr. dropped off the radar shortly after the 1880 census, although it is known that Amy and her children were back in New Haven shortly after the Arkansas fiasco. She married a man named Jesse Crosby in Saginaw County in 1889. No record of Spencer’s death or divorce has been found. He is not listed in any White County, Arkansas, cemetery lists. Dr. Eastland and his wife are listed in Evergreen Cemetery at Judsonia.

The only known material possession of Spencer W. Stout Sr. is a 16x20-inch portrait, which was probably made shortly after the Civil War. His wistful appearance is a sad reminder of a once-proud blacksmith who found Arkansas to be only a bad dream.

(The material for this article was submitted in 2007 by Joyce Short of Breckenridge, Michigan. She and her cousin Helen Griswold, who are great-granddaughters of Spencer Stout, continue to research this story.)