Mary Ramsey Wood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mary Ramsey Wood
Mary Ramsey Wood.png
Wood on July 26, 1907
Born May 20, 1787/1811?
Knoxville, Tennessee
Died January 1, 1908
Hillsboro, Oregon
Resting place
Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery
45°31′14″N 123°00′22″W / 45.52045°N 123.00599°W / 45.52045; -123.00599Coordinates: 45°31′14″N 123°00′22″W / 45.52045°N 123.00599°W / 45.52045; -123.00599
Spouse(s) Jacob Lemons (died in 1839)
John Wood (died in the 1870s)

Mary Ramsey Wood (May 20, 1787 or 1811 (disputed) – January 1, 1908) was an American pioneer known as the "Mother Queen of Oregon." She was reported to be the oldest living person in the United States when she died at the supposed age of 120, and it is said she traveled to the Oregon Territory across the Oregon Trail at the age of 66. There is evidence this age claim was inaccurate or exaggerated, however, and she may have been 96 when she died.[1]

Oregon pioneer[edit]

This section is based mainly on two 1908 obituaries for Mary Ramsey Wood.[2][3] Those obituaries were likely mistaken about her being born in 1787, as described below; thus, many of the age-related facts may be inaccurate.

At the time of her death, Mary Ramsey was reported to have been born on May 20, 1787 on a farm near Knoxville, Tennessee. The child of brick maker Richard Ramsey and his wife, Kate, Mary grew up in Tennessee. Her parents were born in England and immigrated to North America after they were married. In the American Colonies they settled in Tennessee and raised ten children. Mary was the sixth child. Her mother was reported to have lived to the age of 110, while her father lived to be a few years younger. Richard built the first brick home in Knoxville, and the family was wealthy and owned slaves. In her early years she danced with General Andrew Jackson, for whom her father fought in the War of 1812.

At the age of 12, Mary joined the Methodist church, and at 17 married Jacob Lemons in Tennessee in 1804. The couple would raise four children on their farm in that state. The children were Mary Jane Lemons, Isaac Lemons, Nancy Lemons Bullock, and Mrs. Catherine B. Reynolds.[4] In 1837, the family moved to Alabama followed by Georgia the next year. In 1839 Jacob died, and Mary moved to Missouri in 1849.[2]

In 1852, Lemons moved to the Oregon Territory with her youngest daughter Catherine. She rode horseback the entire journey at the age of 66, and the family brought 12 slaves with them to Oregon. She named her horse Martha Washington Pioneer. The family arrived in Oregon in 1853 after following the Barlow Road into Oregon City, and settled in Washington County at Hillsboro in the Tualatin Valley. She married John Wood on May 28, 1854, in Hillsboro. He built the first frame hotel in Hillsboro, in which Mary tended bar at the in-house saloon.

Around 1865, the couple sold the hotel to Mary’s daughter Catherine, and John Wood died in the 1870s. Mary then served as postmaster before retiring to her daughter’s residence. In 1879, she suffered from typhoid fever and lost the sight in her left eye. In 1904, she testified in a trial concerning a 40-year-old land deed, where she was noted for having a "keen" memory. In 1907, Wood was crowned as the "Mother Queen" of Oregon by former Oregon Senator George Henry Williams and the president of the Oregon Pioneer Association, J. D. Lee.[5]

Wood's gravestone

Still according to contemporary obituaries, Mary Ramsey Wood died at the age of 120 on January 1, 1908, at five o’clock in the morning. At the time of her death she was thought to be the oldest living person in the United States. She was also referred to as the "oldest Methodist in the world".[6] She was buried at the Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery.[7] The Hillsboro Civic Center was built at the former site of Wood's hotel, and there is an informational plaque in the plaza of the center about Wood.[8] In 2005, it was proposed that a fountain at the civic center be named for Wood.[9]

January 1, 2008 was named Mary Ramsey Wood Day by the City of Hillsboro. Local historian James Andrew Long advocated for this recognition of Wood.[10]

Longevity claim[edit]

The claim that Mary Ramsey Wood lived to 120, though long accepted as correct, now appears to be incorrect.

Had she truly lived to age 120, as claimed, Mary Ramsey Wood would have been the world's oldest person and would still hold the record as "oldest American on record" even today. She does not, however; that distinction, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, belongs to Sarah Knauss, who died at age 119.[11]

There is a Mary Wood listed in the 1880 Hillsboro census, however, whose age is stated as 69 years old. This age would place her date of birth in 1811, making her 96 years old at the time of her death.[1]

The 1880 census listing includes the following matching points: this "Mary Wood" was born in Tennessee; had both parents born in England; and had a daughter named "Catherine". There is no other "Mary Wood" living in Hillsboro, Oregon recorded in the 1880 census.[1]

The 1900 census also lists a Mary Wood in Hillsboro, again with several details that strongly suggest she is the same woman. She was listed as having been born in May 1809, which would have made her 98 at the time of her death.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 1880 United States Census Individual Record: Mary Wood from Retrieved on March 2, 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Oldest Oregon Woman is Dead". The Morning Oregonian. January 2, 1908. 
  3. ^ Putnam, George (January 1908). "Oregon’s oldest woman who passed away at age of 120". Capitol Journal. 
  4. ^ Engen, Edna (October 19, 1976). "Pioneer’s 121 years spans three centuries". Hillsboro Argus. 
  5. ^ Horner, John B. (1921). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. The J.K. Gill Co.: Portland.
  6. ^ "Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths: The Nashville Christian Advocate 1908-1910 (cached)". Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  7. ^ Mary Ramsey Wood. Find-A-Grave. Retrieved on March 2, 2008.
  8. ^ "Mary Ramsey Wood: Hillsboro's Pioneer and Longest-Lived Citizen". The Advisory from Washington County Disability, Aging & Veteran Services. Archived from the original on 2007-11-04. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  9. ^ "Historical Society to propose 'Mary Ramsey Wood Fountain'". The Oregonian. December 1, 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  10. ^ Suh, Elizabeth (December 27, 2007). "Hillsboro, past and present". The Oregonian Metro West Neighbors. 
  11. ^ Official Tables. International Committee on Supercentenarians. Retrieved on August 15, 2007.
  12. ^ 1900 Census, confirmed via Retrieved on October 7, 2007.

External links[edit]