Thursday, July 2, 2015

What the soldiers say

      As the Fourth of July approaches, my genealogy project is snagged at the American Revolution. One of the best resources I've found is the pension applications. Years later my ancestors who served in the Revolution went to a courthouse somewhere and told the story of their service so they could receive a pension. They described the war in their own words.
          Here's what an Benjamin Merrill said of a battle on Sept. 19, 1776, at a gorge on the Coweecho River in North Carolina called the Black Hole:  "A considerable battle with the Indians and Tories in which we lost 11 men."
            Here's how Magnus Tullock, a 14-year-old fifer from my mother's family, describes the siege of Augusta in 1779: We were stationed on the opposite side of the river where we torn up a battery. No officers higher in command than captains... We remained there until the British evacuated Augusta (February 14). We were then marched through the town and on down to Brier Creek and joined Gen. Lincoln.“. 
           Benjamin Merrill was at the battle of Brier Creek on March 3, 1779: We had an engagement with the British commanded by Major Turnbull in which we were defeated before General Rutherford could get his Army over the Savannah River to our assistance and a great number of our men were drowned endeavoring to cross the River and the most of us lost our horses, guns &c and were permitted to return home."
          Magnus Tullock reported on the Siege of  Savannah, Sept. 16-Oct. 18, 1779: The siege at that place continued three weeks. We lost hundreds of men and were defeated.”
          When I look at the fireworks this year, I'm going to be thinking of Benjamin and Magnus and all the others who fought in all the wars. Thank You.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


As I am working on my narrative genealogy I love finding something solid, an actual building that one of my ancestors built. Something that survived the centuries.
        I found just such a building in South Carolina.
        Back during the revolution some of my ancestors lived in Old Ninety-Six. That's a village in South Carolina which was so named because it was estimated to be 96 miles from the Cherokee town of Keowee.
         It was a trading post in 1751. In November of 1772, workers completed a courthouse and a large brick jail at Ninety-Six. The symbols of civilization for backcountry South Carolina. The first Revolutionary battle outside New England was fought at Old Ninety Six in 1775.
          One of my ancestors, Andrew Logan, was a member of the Petit Jury and his family lived above the courthouse. Andrew listed the courthouse as his home on documents in 1778 and 1779. A reconstructed census for 1780 says Andrew's son Hendrick, also my direct ancestor, lived there, and it seems pretty likely that Hendrick's daughter Jemima, who married my ancestor Samuel Tullock, was born there in 1777.
           But in 1780 the British arrived to reclaim the town.It became a staging area for the British troops and a fortress. In May, 1781, a thousand patriots under General Nathaniel Green surrounded the fort. The month-long standoff became the longest siege of the Revolution. When the British left, they burned it down and the village never recovered.
           In the 1960s, Greenwood County created an historic site at the old fort. That's also about the time a log cabin was discovered when the siding was ripped off of a house in Greenwood.. Turns out, the well-preserved two-story cabin had been built by Andrew Logan after Ninety-Six was destroyed.
           The cabin was moved to Ninety-Six where it stands today. Old Ninety-Six became a National Park in 1976, and Andrew's cabin is open to the public.
            It's on my list of places I have to see.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fanning the flames

Everybody needs a nemesis. Without the Joker, Batman would be suffering in that hot rubber mask for nothing. And Superman would have to go back to Kryptonite if it weren't for Lex Luthor.
       Working on my narrative genealogy I discovered that the nemesis makes the story work. I've been trying to figure out the puzzling death of William Merrell. No, not the William Merrell I wrote about before who was "killed with lightning." This is his son, the fourth William Merrell in a row. I just call him Bubba.
        According to his great grandson, Orson Merrill, who reported family history in his Personal Notes in 1886, Bubba was kidnapped from his home by "British Soldiers" one night in early 1782. My history books said the British surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781. What were soldiers doing kidnapping people out of their beds six months later? Didn't they get the memo?
         That's when I heard about David Fanning. After the "regulars" marched out of North Carolina in 1781 and finished their fighting in Virginia, the Loyalist militia under Col. David Fanning continued fighting those dang patriots. Fanning was considered a military genius. During the revolution, he managed to kidnap the Governor of North Carolina and the whole state assembly.
      But by 1782 his Tory War was down to terrorizing the folks of Randolph County, North Carolina which happens to be where Bubba lived. In fact, when Randolph County was formed in 1779, Bubba was one of 15 county justices on the first county court.
      Reading up on Fanning and the Tory war, I came across an article in last month's issue of the Journal of the American Revolution about "Bloody Sunday" on March 10, 1782, when Fanning and his band killed two men in front of their families and burned several homes. The names of the victims sounded eerily familiar. Two of them sat on that same county board with Bubba. The names of the creeks and rivers where they lived sounded familiar too. This was Bubba's neighborhood.
      Two of Bubba's sons, John and Dan Merrell, were mentioned in the article as Revolutionary era soldiers. But the article doesn't say Bubba was one of the victims of that Sunday rampage. Yet North Carolina archives show that 10 days later, March 20, 1782, Bubba's oldest son Benjamin filed to become the executor of the estate of his father, "deceased."
      I don't know if Bubba was kidnapped on that "Bloody Sunday" or some other day about that time. But I know his strange disappearance wasn't an oddity in those times. And I am somehow pleased to read that when North Carolina pardoned the Loyalists after the war, Fanning was one of three men who were not pardoned and had to leave the country. He went to New Brunswick, Canada, until he was found guilty of raping a 15-year-old and was run out of New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.
       Wow, what a nemesis he turned out to be!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Revolting relatives

I've been spending Memorial weekend reading up on relatives who fought in the American Revolution. Like cousin Jimmy Merrill. He was only 16 when he was shot on August 27, 1776, at the Battle of Long Island, the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence and the largest battle of the war in terms of the number of soldiers involved. Letters home to Hopewell, New Jersey, reported that Jimmy's wound was healing, and he was getting better. Then word came that he had died. "Slain in ye field of Battle contending for our just rights," reads the stone at Old School Baptist Church in Hopewell. 
Magnus Tullock, a ggggreat uncle on my mother's side,  started serving as a fifer when he was just 13 years old, and had only lived in this country for two years. He served under Capt. John Bowie. Magnus piped that company to battle at Brier Creek in Georgia and Stono Ferry near Charleston, S.C. Little did he  know that among the 1,500 patriot soldiers in the South Carolina marsh was Benjamin Merrell, another gggggreat uncle on my father's side. 
Benjamin's brother, Daniel Merrell, my direct ancestor, was back in Randolph County, North Carolina where the war had turned to guerrilla tactics. Even after he had been discharged from the official military, Daniel was called up regularly to help arrest bands of Tories who were terrorizing women and children and burning homes. On one of these short tours -- April 15, 1781-- Daniel's horse was shot out from under him and he was struck in the head with a broadsword. The wound must not have been too bad. Daniel lived another 63 years, fathered six children and married four wives!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Everything changes

Today, on the way to visit my son at Spectrum Hospital, I drove past the remnants of the Grand Rapids Press building at Monroe and Michigan. It almost made my heart stop.

I worked in that building for 20 years. In this photo of the southwest corner, the destruction of the second floor stops just shy of the window that was closest to my desk. During the annual Festival of the Arts I could watch the kids swinging on the Di Suvero  outside that window. In the fall I watched the Celebration  fireworks from that window because that was always the weekend we were working late on the Season Preview. When it snowed I watched the cars sliding down the Michigan Street hill, and when spring came I saw the trees blooming just outside. It was my window on the world for 20 years.

I was sitting there on 9/11 when two planes flew into the World Trade Center. Now The Press Building looks like a photo from that tragedy.

After visiting with Ryan, who is in the hospital for a routine treatment of his cystic fibrosis, I walked down the hill to get a couple of photos of the building. It reminded me of the many, many times I had made that walk between my office and that hospital, where Ryan is often hospitalized. I used to think how lucky I was that the hospital was so close. On a lunch hour I could visit my son, grab a burger and get my exercise. Every second counts when you're a single mom.

I watched the Van Andel Institute being built. I saw the hospital mushroom and absorb the Burger King and every parking lot in sight. Never in all my trips up and down that hill did I ever imagine that Ryan would outlast the Press building. His life expectancy was in the teens. Now he's facing forty in a couple of years and still going strong.

Nothing is permanent. The strongest institutions have to fight to survive, just like the most fragile among us.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easy to be soft

         The narrative genealogy I have been working on for the past few months is called Faith of our Fathers. My ancestors were Baptist going all the way back to the 1600s and their religious beliefs had a major impact on their history. It's why they left England and traveled to the unknown colonies at the first opportunity. And when Baptists were not welcome in most of the original 13 colonies, they headed west in search of religious freedom. 
Lewis Craig,  one of my son's ancestors, is probably the most famous. He was arrested numerous times in Virginia for preaching without a license from the Anglican Church. At one such arrest he surprised the jury by gladly accepting his fate:
        "I thank you, gentlemen of the grand jury, for the honor you have done me. While I was wicked and injurious, you took no notice of me, but since I have altered my course of life and endeavored to reform my neighbors, you concern yourselves much about me. I shall take the spoiling of my goods joyfully.”
      A crowd gathered outside the jail, and he preached through the bars. And when he decided to move to Kentucky for more freedom, hundreds followed him.
     As time passed, and religious freedom was guaranteed by the constitution, the Baptist church grew into one of the largest denominations in the country. I have become soft. I expect religious liberty.
     But certainly that is not true everywhere. Twenty Coptic Christians were beheaded last month in Libya. More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria to avoid "sinful" education.We've become accustomed to such atrocities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, much the way we've become soft about expecting our own religious freedom in this country.
      I'm a Methodist now -- I have the freedom to choose -- and today my minister read a letter encouraging us to speak out about the persecution of Christians. She also encouraged us to pray about the problem, but she said we need to pray humbly.  All of us are guilty of having prejudices and misconceptions about others' religious beliefs.   We want religious freedom but only for the "right"  religions.
        So I will pray for gratitude for the freedoms I have, tolerance for beliefs I don't like, justice for the oppressed and forgiveness for the oppressors.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Kiss me! Just found out I'm Irish!

For 27 years -- from my wedding in 1971 until I returned to my maiden name in 1998 -- I was Sue Wallace. My son still carries the surname of his father. We never had any doubt his ancestors were Scottish. Ryan has a plaque with the clan coat of arms as well as many pieces made in the distinctive red, black and yellow tartan of the Wallace clan.
         Remember the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace? In the final scene when everyone is chanting "Wallace, Wallace, Wallace" my son turned to me and said, "Makes you proud just to have the name."
          Then last week, working on my genealogy project, I put in the earliest known Wallace ancestor, Joseph, who was born in Virginia in 1762.  Then I checked Seems Joseph had a father of the same name, born in 1730 in IRELAND! I couldn't believe it! I guess it's good for a swig of green beer this week, but what am I going to do with all that Scottish tartan?