Thursday, December 25, 2014

A gift from the past

       For this very special Christmas edition of Throwback Thursday, I want to share the story of a gift my son Ryan received that was made more than a century ago.
       The red, white and blue quilt was crafted by a woman with the patriotic name America. She was born in Kentucky in 1839.   By 1860 she had moved to Missouri and married  George Hall.
      While the Civil War was tearing Missouri apart, America Ashley Hall was having babies. And making quilts.
       One of her sons, John Albert,  who was born in 1870, grew up and married Laura Louise Mockabee. They had a daughter named Maxie whose son, Ken,  was Ryan's father.
       I'm not sure exactly when America made the quilt or when she gave it to John Albert and Laura Louise. Perhaps when they married in 1897. But the quilt ended up with many others in an old wooden trunk on the second floor of the house where Ken grew up.
       After Ken's parents died and the house was sold around 2000, Ken's sister Carol sent the quilt to me to pass on to Ryan. I stored it for more than a decade, waiting until Ryan and his wife Angela were settled in their home. This year I decided to pass it on.
       I learned from a quilting friend, Kathi Watkins, that the patchwork pattern is a variation on Seven Sisters, a pattern that was developed in the early years of the Civil War to honor the first seven states that seceded and the first confederate flag.
        As I mentioned before,  it's often hard to research female ancestors because their names don't show up on military rolls or land deeds. But they leave messages in the crafts they make. Missouri was a border state that voted to secede from the union but was prevented from doing so by the invasion of Union troops. Political sympathies were divided. I don't know whether George and America favored the North or the South. But I know America chose to make a quilt using a pattern that was inspired by the Seven Sisters.
         I also know that George and America lived in Callaway County which became known as the Kingdom of Callaway during the Civil War. In October of 1861 about 600 Federal troops camped on the northeast border of the county. In self-defense, the men of the county gathered an equal force -- including great grandpa George no doubt -- and tried to appear better trained and armed than they were.  They sent an envoy stating that if the federal troops would leave the county alone, they would not fight. The Federal Commander, General John B. Henderson, agreed and the federal troops left.  The county proudly claimed the U.S. government had negotiated with them like a sovereign state and began flying their own "Kingdom of Callaway" flag.
        I should add that the Seven Sisters patchwork pattern enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the late nineteenth century so America's choice of that pattern may have had little relationship to the earlier war. But the quilt makes me think about America ... the lady and the country.  I can't help seeing that hardy pioneer woman in every tiny stitch.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Royal Relatives


James Madison
For many genealogy researchers the goal is finding the connection to royalty. Although I haven't found any crowns in the closet, I have stumbled upon the American equivalent: a relationship to not one but two Presidents.
       My mother was a Coleman.  Last year I found a document that filled in a lot of blanks in the history of the Colemans. I discovered my earliest Coleman ancestor shows up in Virginia in 1638.
         I also discovered that the Colemans were neighbors of John Madison II, great-grandfather of President James Madison. My ancestor, Robert Coleman Jr., and John Madison attended St. Stephens Parish in New Kent County, VA. They were both listed in a petition in 1688 to replace the vestrymen at the church. In 1714, Robert's brother Daniel Coleman and John Madison were granted 2,000 acres as co-tenants in King William County.
        Robert's grandson, my ancestor James Coleman, married one of John Madison's daughters, Eleanor. Her brother, Ambrose Madison, was the grandfather of the future president. Ambrose had a plantation called Mount Pleasant on the property that would eventually become Montpelier, President Madison's home. In 1755, when the future president was just a toddler, James Coleman was godfather to his baby brother, also named Ambrose Madison.  In 1764, when the future president was just a boy of 13, his father James Madison was a witness for James Coleman's will.
       This week, as I was digging a little deeper into the documentation and deeds involved, I discovered that the 2,000-acre property that became Montpelier was a gift to the wife of Ambrose Madison, Frances Taylor, from her daddy, Col. James Taylor Jr.
        Now here's the genealogy jackpot of the day: Frances had a brother named Zachary. He wasn't the Zachary Taylor who would become president in 1849. Nope. That was Zachary's  grandson Zachary.
Zachary Taylor
        In other words, Col. James Taylor Jr. was the great grandfather of two presidents: James Madison in 1809 and Zachary Taylor in 1849! I'm sure this relationship has been well noted in presidential genealogy circles, but I never knew it. Obviously  the Bushes were related,  and the Roosevelts and the Harrisons. But I never guessed Madison and Taylor. The presidency really is a family dynasty.
          Through  gggggggreat grandma Eleanor, I have a blood relationship to the Madisons. But my relationship to Zachary Taylor is strictly "in-law." He's one of the relations that shows up at the Thanksgiving dinner table and you call him cousin Zach but you don't share any DNA.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Traitor or Patriot?

For my second installment of remarkable relatives I turn to good ole Uncle Ben who was hung for treason in1771.
        Captain Benjamin Merrill was a farmer, gunsmith and captain in the Rowan County Militia in North Carolina. He lived on the Yadkin River in an area called Jersey Settlement. Like most of the people in that area, Ben had come from New Jersey where he watched the Royalist Supreme Court take away his family's property saying the proprietors that sold it to them didn't have rights to the land and  the deeds weren't properly registered. High school history books make it sound like the colonists revolted against the British over the cost of tea, but my ancestors tell me the the British abuse of power was much more severe.
          Ben flourished for 15 years in the backcountry of North Carolina. He was a deacon in the Jersey Baptist Church. He built a waterwheel to power the machinery in his gun shop. But in the 1760s Ben became involved with the Regulator movement to "regulate" the corrupt local officials.Thousands of men banded together to protest corrupt practices and defend people whose property was taken by unscrupulous officials.But from the government's point of view, the Regulators were outlaws.
          In  1771 Governor William Tryon announced he would hold court in Hillsborough to deal with the Regulators. He arrived in May and set up camp on the  Alamance Creek with about 1500 troops. About 2,000 regulators showed up but most of the men were unarmed. They didn't come to fight. They thought they could meet with the Governor and explain their grievances. But when they sent a representative to meet with the Governor, Tryon personally shot and killed him and ordered his troops to attack. After a few hours of fighting, Tryon claimed victory. Nine of his troops had been killed and 16 injuried compared to 20 of the Regulators dead and more than 100 wounded. One account says the troops set fire to the woods where the Regulators were hiding so the wounded had no chance to get out alive. In his "Neglected History of North Carolina" (1905), historian W.E. Fitch called the Battle of Alamance the first battle of the Revolution.
         Good ol' Uncle Ben, who would have been 40 at the time,  was enroute with about 300 militia to help the Regulators, but he got sidetracked by a confrontation with another British General Hugh Waddell. He was still a day's march away when he heard how Tryon had beat back the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Ben and his troops returned home. On June 1 Ben was arrested at his home and dragged in chains with about 30 prisoners as Tryon toured the backcountry burning homes and crops and forcing people to take an oath of loyalty to the British Crown.
          Fitch's history says Tryon's troops camped at Ben's place and let their horses graze, hanging a bell around the neck of each animal so it could be found later. In the dark, some of the pillaging soldiers knocked over a bee hive in Ben's apiary. The swarm of bees stung soldiers and horses who came stampeding back into the camp with the clanging of 100 bells and Tryon thought the devil himself had attacked.
          In June, a trial was held at Hillsborough. Twelve men were charged with treason. Six of them, including Benjamin, were hanged on June 19. The exact sentence was the traditional British sentence for treason: "That the prisoner should be carried to the place from whence he came; that he should be drawn from thence to the place of execution and hanged by the neck; that he should be cut down while yet alive; that his bowels should be taken out and burned before his face; that his head should be cut off, and that his body should be divided into four quarters, which were to be placed at the King's disposal, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul."
           We have no indication that the prisoners were actually drawn and quartered but we know they were hung. My ancestor, Daniel Merrill, would have been a 16-year-old boy watching his uncle's execution.
          Fitch reports that Ben professed his faith in Christ and sang a psalm before his execution. He said he had converted 15 years before and felt he was freely forgiven and ready to die. He asked only that his estate be spared for his wife and eight children.
        "I entreat that no reflection be cast upon them on my account" he said. Supposedly  one of Tryon's soldiers was heard to declare that if all men went to the gallows with a character such as Captain Merrill's, "hanging would be an honorable death."
         Tryon offered amnesty to all Regulators who would lay down arms and submit to authority. Within six weeks he had received 6,409 requests for pardon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's all relative!

My latest project is compiling a narrative genealogy for my family. I've been combing the Internet looking for ancestors with stories to tell and I've found some doozies. I thought it might be fun to share some of these tales on my blog.
      The accomplishments of male ancestors are often recorded in land deeds and military records, but it's harder to find documentation for female ancestors. That's why I was particularly pleased recently to discover my ninth-great-grandmother survived an Indian attack,  raised 10 kids and helped start New Jersey's first Baptist church in her kitchen.
        In 1640, Penelope Van Princis was a blushing bride of 18. She was immigrating from the Netherlands  to New Amsterdam (later known as New York) when her ship ran aground near the point that would become. Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  Evidently the other passengers headed out on foot for New Amsterdam leaving Penelope and her feverish husband on the beach. Indians attacked, killing the man (John Kent in some versions of the tale) and leaving Penelope for dead. She  had a skull fracture and was partially scalped. Her left arm was mangled and her abdomen so badly slashed  that her intestines were exposed. She crawled into a hollow tree where she survived for several days. An older Indian found her and patched up her wounds  with a fishbone needle and vegetable fiber thread according to some accounts. .

       She lived in the Indian village about a year learning the Indian language and ways, until some white men came and took her to New Amsterdam. She married Richard Stout there in 1644. Stout started exploring the the area in New Jersey where Penelope had been shipwrecked.In 1648, he and eleven others purchased a large area in East Jersey from Gov. Nichols. The area became Monmouth County.
      One day the old Indian who had saved Penelope came to warn them that an attack was being planned. Penelope and the other women packed up their children in canoes and left. Richard gathered the other men to prepare for battle. The Indians attacked at midnight but because the settlers were prepared and armed with guns, the Indians soon retreated. Richard and the Indians hammered out a peace treaty and on January 25, 1664, the settlers paid the Indians for the land. Gov. Nichols issued the Monmouth Patent guaranteeing them religious freedom.
        In 1668, Richard and Penelope, along with other families, organized the state's first Baptist Church in Penelope's kitchen. Richard and his oldest son John were among the 18 charter members.  They built a log cabin to house the growing congregation in 1688.
        Richard lived until 1705. According to some records, Penelope died in 1712 but most records claim she lived until 1732 which would have made her 110. (see dates on commemorative coin.) Family legend says Penelope always wore a cap to cover the scar from nearly being scalped and she had no use of her left arm.
        Penelope's grandaughter, Penelope Stout Jewell, married my seventh great grandfather, William Merrell, about 1729.