Mothers I Never Knew
Whether Pocahontas was born in 1595 or 1596 is not certain. Her mother was Winganuske, a member of the Algonkian tribe residing along the stream now known as the James River that flows into Chesapeake Bay. Her father was the chief of the tribe, a man named Wahunsonancock, who had taken the name Powhatan when he was elevated to chief, that being the name of the principal village of the tribe, and of the tribe itself. At birth, she was named Mataoka, meaning “she is playful.” As she matured, she was renamed by her father as Pocahontas, meaning “little wanton.”
Their tribe was a segment of the Algonquin tribe populating the region on both banks of the St. Lawrence River dividing Canada and New York. They had migrated to the South many years earlier, but not so much earlier that they did not share a common language. It was a matriarchal tribe, at least with respect to inheritance. The women, if not the men, tended gardens. Hence, the tribe was not migratory. The men caught fish, hunted small game, and gathered wild fruit, when they were not engaged in their occasional military encounters with neighboring tribes.
During the time of Powhatan’s leadership, the tribe became a small empire growing out of a confederation of six small tribes having diverse origins. This empire may have had a population as large as 9,000. A reason for this confederation was the known danger of European colonization. It is not unlikely that the Powhatan tribe and its confederates had participated in the eradication in the 1560s of a Spanish settlement on Chesapeake Bay and in the 1580s of an English colony further south on Roanoke Island.
About 1605, young Pocahontas first saw white men who came ashore from one of the vessels occasionally cruising in the bay. Her father entertained them briefly, but later learned that the ship’s captain had killed the chief of another tribe and taken some prisoners.
In April 1607, three foreign ships arrived in Chesapeake Bay. About two dozen white men were sent ashore. They were attacked at night by a few members of a different tribe. The white men escaped. The small fleet cruised the rivers and finally, to the dismay of the Powhatan, settled the village of Jamestown.
After fighting off an assault by a band of natives offended by their choice of site, the English built a fort of sorts, and began to barter for food. The Englishman doing most of the bartering was Captain John Smith. Smith was 28 in 1607. He had served in the British Imperial Army and was a hero of a battle against the Turks, winning his rank in the cavalry, a pension, a shield decorated with three Turks’ heads, and the title of an English gentleman. However, at the next battle with the Turks, he was left for dead on the field of battle. Taken up by scavengers, he recovered from his wounds and was sent to Istanbul where he was sold as a slave. However, he killed his master and escaped across the Black Sea to Russia. He made his way back to England in 1605. The next year, he signed up with the Virginia Company for its next colonization, hoping that he might find a passage to the Pacific Ocean and thus to China, where untold riches were believed to exist.
In December, not long after the erection of the fort at Jamestown, Smith began his explorations on the Chickahominy River, a tributary of the James. He was captured by natives. Passed from one tribe to another, he was brought at last before Powhatan. He was fed, and was then taken by force and stretched out on two ceremonial stones. Executioners approached him with clubs, but as they did so, the princess Pocahontas rushed to his side and put her head over his to protect him from the clubs.
Powhatan then gestured to the executioners and they put down their clubs. He communicated to Smith that they would be friends. Smith later reported, repeatedly, that Pocahontas had saved his life on that occasion. It is more likely that the event was scripted as an initiation ceremony by which Powhatan adopted him, for such rites were not unknown among those tribes. Powhatan was to be Smith’s foster father, but because it was inappropriate for the chief to perform the role of savior, he assigned it to his daughter.
In the course of trading between Powhatan and Jamestown, young Pocahontas often joined her tribesmen visiting the fort. She was apparently pleased to do cartwheels around the fort, virtually in the nude. She became a friend to Smith, who believed that she was his savior, and was very kind to her. She acquired English (as he acquired the Algonkian tongue) and became, at thirteen, the spokesperson for her father.
There were, however, serious altercations to follow. Relationships deteriorated as Powhatan encouraged the English to leave, for a time by refusing to supply them with food. Later, Smith reported, Pocahontas warned him of an ambush planned for him by her father. In 1611, Smith disappeared from her life, having returned to England.
In 1612, Powhatan captured seven Englishmen and a cache of arms. By deceit, the English in 1613 captured Pocahontas and offered to exchange her for the seven prisoners. Powhatan agreed to give up the prisoners, but reported that the weapons had been stolen from him. The leadership in Jamestown disbelieved this. So Pocahontas was held at the fort for a time.
But the little jail was no place for a princess and so she was sent to Henrico, another English community about fifty miles distant from Jamestown, where she was placed under the protection of Alexander Whitaker, an Anglican minister who had arrived in Virginia in 1611. Whitaker took the occasion to instruct her in the Christian faith. Pocahontas then communicated to her father that she would choose to remain with the English who loved her unless he would make peace and returned the weapons taken from the English. He consented, made peace, and authorized her to remain in the custody of Whitaker.
While at Henrico, Pocahontas met John Rolfe. Rolfe was then a widower. He had been born in the village of Heacham in the English County of Norfolk in 1585. His father (of the same name) was said to be a gentleman, “sturdy and able, but not brainy.” With his first wife, Rolfe had sailed from England in 1610. Their ship sprang a leak and was lucky to reach Bermuda. There, his wife bore a daughter who was christened Bermuda. Favoring the weed himself, Rolfe took an interest in Bermuda tobacco. The next year, the group at last made it to their destination, Jamestown. There, Rolfe’s wife died.
By unknown means, Rolfe acquired tobacco seed from Trinidad that was superior to the native variety. He planted it in the vicinity of Henrico in 1611, and was able to ship tobacco to England the next year. It brought a good price.
Rolfe met Pocahontas at Whitaker’s church at Henrico in July 1613. He was enchanted, but feared that a “strange wife” would incur the “heavy displeasure” of God. The tenth chapter of Ezra was especially alarming in this regard. On advice from others, however, he decided that he would marry her “for the good of the plantation, the honor of our country, for the glory of God, for mine own salvation, and for the converting to the true knowledge of God and Jesus Christ an unbelieving creature.”
The governor and Powhatan both consented to the marriage, and it is to be presumed that Pocahontas did as well. Powhatan sent a brother and two sons to participate in the wedding. Pocahontas was christened as Rebecca. She and John were married not by Whitaker, but by the Puritan minister at Jamestown on April 5, 1614.
The Rolfes lived in Jamestown, or perhaps across the river in land owned by Rolfe. In 1615, their son, Thomas Rolfe was born at Jamestown. In 1616, for reasons that are not recorded, the Rolfes all boarded a vessel bound for the long voyage to England. They arrived there in June.
John Smith, by then a published author in England, learned of her arrival and wrote Queen Anne (the wife of James I) commending Pocahontas as a princess who had saved his life. Also, the Virginia Company provided her with a generous allowance. The lodging in which she stayed painted her likeness on the inn’s sign. Ben Jonson introduced a character in his popular play that was plainly intended to represent her. She was invited to the royal palace on the Twelfth Night of Christmas to meet the Queen, whom she charmed. She was then invited to return for another event, and she danced with King James I on January 6, 1616. One who was present recorded that she “did not only accustom herself to civility, but still carried herself as the Daughter of a King and was accordingly respected.”
While she was in London, her portrait was engraved by a noted Dutch engraver:
However, Pocahontas soon became ill. This is unsurprising in light of what we now know about infectious diseases. She could have had no immunity to infections that Europeans and Asians could withstand. These infections were caused by viruses mutating from those infecting horses, cows, and sheep that were kept in close proximity to humans throughout Asia and Europe, but were unknown to natives of America. Many natives of America brought to Europe were soon like Pocahontas deathly ill, and the science of the time was far short of explaining their sickness.
Pocahontas was moved to rural Branford in the hope that country air would improve her health. While there, she received a visit from Smith, whom she had supposed to be dead. She insisted that he should be her father while she was in England, just as Powhatan had been his father while he was in Virginia. Historians have perceived that Smith, not Rolfe, was the love of her life. Perhaps so, but so far as appears, Smith was never intimate with any woman.
It has been said that Pocahontas did not wish to return to Jamestown, and so it may be. However, Rolfe had accomplished his mission in England and had been named an officer of the Virginia Company. He and his family therefore departed London in March 1617 to return to Virginia so that he could perform his duties. Their ship had not left the Thames River before Pocahontas begged to be taken ashore. It dropped anchor, she was taken ashore to the inn at Gravesend, and there she died and was buried.
For a century, it was unlikely that Pocahontas would leave many descendants. When the ship reached Plymouth on the south shore of England, Rolfe took his infant son Thomas ashore and summoned his brother Henry to take charge of the boy. This was done, and Thomas was raised and educated in England by his uncle. John Rolfe did not return to England and never again saw his son Thomas. After returning to Virginia, he acquired a considerable spread of land and remarried before dying at Jamestown in 1622.
Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia in 1635 to assume ownership of much of his father’s property. He married Jane Poythress, whose father was a captain and substantial landowner. Their only child was a daughter, Jane, who married Colonel Robert Bolling in 1675. In turn, she had one child, John, who was born in 1676. She died in childbirth, so John Bolling was the sole descendant of Pocahontas alive in 1700.
2. ANNA VINALL
There were, however, many in England who did not accept the authority of the monarch with respect to their religious beliefs. By the time of the visit of Pocahontas, the English people were deeply divided. Those opposing the Crown generally aligned themselves with the Puritan faith. Anna was among them.
Puritanism was a severe form of Protestantism resting on a strong commitment to the doctrine of predestination espoused by John Calvin; that doctrine instructed them that every human life was controlled by God’s plan for that individual, that within each human heart and soul are sources of good and of evil that are not knowable by others. Puritan diaries were full of reports of self-searching that sought introspective reassurance of the author’s own virtue.
Because their faith was antithetical to Anglican beliefs and seen as a form of treason as well as heresy, Puritans were often persecuted in England. Some had fled to Holland where they could maintain ties to fellow Puritans in England, but even there, the Church of England in the time of King James had sought to suppress them by bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on the Dutch. At last, the crown authorized Puritans to emigrate to Virginia.
3. REBECCA TOWN
Rebecca Town was born at Yarmouth, England in February 1622, some years after the birth of Anna Vinall. She was the first-born child of William and Joanna Blessing Town, who had been married in Yarmouth the previous March. The Town family and their friends, like those who first settled Jamestown and Plymouth, were Puritans.
Among the early settlements in Massachusetts Bay were Boston and Salem. The latter was settled in 1630. The Town family came from Yarmouth about 1635 to be among its early settlers. Their number included at least two young sisters, Rebecca and Mary. There would be another sister, Sarah, and several brothers.
A short time later, Francis Nurse arrived from England. His place of origin is not known, but he was born in England in 1618, was a Puritan, and had mastered the trade of traymaker. In Salem, he took up farming, but may also have practiced his trade. Rebecca Town married him in 1645.
In 1647, as immigrants to New England may have anticipated, a brutal civil war erupted in England. It was said that English Puritans prayed for Anglican blood and Anglicans prayed for Puritan blood. Numerous Puritan clergymen were drawn and quartered, an excruciating as well as fatal form of punishment. Charles I, the son of James I, was beheaded by Puritans. They then governed the country for thirteen years.
These events resonated in Salem and elsewhere in Massachusetts. There being no Anglicans or Catholics to pursue, the Puritans directed their rage at Quakers, a Protestant sect given to an unacceptable degree of individual autonomy in the formation of religious belief coupled with a measure of moral arrogance. Quakers were made outlaws in the colony of Massachusetts Bay and executed for their heresy, a crime likened to witchcraft, a rebellion against God. At least one resident of Salem was severely punished for sheltering a Quaker and the Quakers he sheltered each lost an ear. Other Quakers were flogged and several were hanged in Salem.
Francis and Rebecca Nurse had numerous children. They were faithful members of the Puritan Congregational church in Salem. In 1660, Rebecca took in a Quaker orphan and raised her with her own children. Some of her neighbors may have questioned this decision, but the child, like all Rebecca’s children, became members of the faith and useful citizens. Rebecca was also known to care for her sick neighbors.
Rebecca was known on occasion to manifest a temper. She once harangued a neighbor couple for letting their pigs root in her garden. The offending husband died soon after this encounter, and his widow laid some blame on Rebecca for having been too hard on him and thereby hastening his death.
Two families that had most prospered in Salem were the Putnams and the Porters. Both families had arrived in the 1640s, had mercantile interests, and owned large tracts of land. They came to speak for two factions led by them as rivals. They resided in that part of the town known as the Village, a group of dispersed homes about five miles from the watch house or fort in the town center. In 1667, the residents of the Village were excused from military duty at the watch house so that they could form their own defense against the threats of the native Indian population. In 1672, they were authorized to form a separate congregation.
In the 1670s, the sprawling settlement of Salem began to break up. Farms were broken into smaller units as they were divided among children and grandchildren. Separate towns were formed, each with their own congregation. One such community was Topsfield, on the Ipswich River. It included the site of William Town’s farm, part of which was being cultivated by Rebecca’s brother Jacob, and part of which was owned by Rebecca.
Captain Putnam, the leader of his clan, made a claim to land located in Topsfield. Jacob Town was sent to see the Putnam deed, but there was none. The controversy continued for some time, despite a resurvey ordered by the colonial legislature. Some years later, Captain Putnam was accused of cutting trees on land that did not belong to him; a principal witness against him was Isaac Esty, the husband of Rebecca’s sister, Mary. Putnam caused the grand jury to accuse Esty of perjury, but he was not prosecuted. Thereafter, the Towns, Nurses, and Estys were identified with the faction in the community led by the Porters. So was Rebecca’s other sister, Sarah Cloyse, and her husband.
In 1675, the war with King Philip erupted. Salem was not itself attacked, but its men were engaged in combat and a score or more were among the six hundred or so Puritan men killed in the fighting. Among the soldiers from Salem were two of Rebecca’s sons.
The feud between the Putnam and Porter factions became notorious in the region and afflicted the careers of the ministers of the Village Church, who came and went as a result of it. Perhaps on that account the Nurses retained their membership in the parent church in the Town of Salem although they regularly attended services at the Village Church.
In 1689, Samuel Parris was appointed minister of the Village Church. He was the candidate favored by the Putnams. He was a native of Barbados and a graduate of Harvard, who brought with him several Barbadian slaves in addition to his wife and two daughters.
In the winter of 1691-92, seven girls including young Betty Parris and Ann Putnam, took palmistry and fortune-telling lessons from Tituba and her husband, two of the slaves brought to Salem by the Reverend Parris. The girls began to act queerly, with spasms and fits. A doctor pronounced them bewitched. For months, the girls would have fits and convulsions and feign death whenever they were in the presence of a receptive audience. They acquired also the habit of calling attention to invisible yellow birds in church on Sundays, causing some members of the congregation to stay away. On March 1, the “afflicted children” identified three witches as the authors of their afflictions. One was Tituba. A second was Sarah Good, the most pitiful person in Salem, who was with her children a homeless beggar. The third was Sarah Osborne, who had not attended church for three years because she was bed-ridden and afraid of a brutal husband.
Challenged, Good and Osborne denied having had any contact with the children. Tituba did as well at first, but then confessed that she had served the devil along with numerous other women whose specters had been riding around Salem on broomsticks and attacking the children. The only ones she could identify were Good and Osborne. So the three of them were sent to jail in Boston to await trial. Osborne died in jail, and Good would be tried and executed. Tituba in jail recanted her confession, saying that Reverend Parris had threatened her if she did not confess and identify her confederates. She was sold to a slave dealer to pay for her board bill in jail that Parris had not paid.
The jailing of the first three witches sent the people of Salem into a state of high anxiety. The Reverend Mather in Boston and the Reverend Parris in Salem both proclaimed that the great enemy of God and man was loose among them. The seven girls continued to suffer their torments and were joined by Ann Putnam, the mother of her namesake. At last, they identified the other two witches mentioned by Tituba: they were the two old women who had expressed doubt about their alleged bewitching, Martha Corey and Rebecca Town Nurse.
Rebecca was a venerable seventy years old, having exceeded the life expectancy of Salem women of that time by thirty years. She was a great-grandmother. She was frail and quite “hard of hearing.” Because of her age and standing in the community, she had long been assigned a front row seat in the Village Church. She discountenanced the children and told them to stop their malicious play-acting. The only member of her family who did not join in this resistance was a son-in-law, Thomas Preston, who, like the husband of Corey, could recall events that might have been influenced by the witchcraft of the accused women. “I am as innocent as the child unborn, but surely,” she said, “what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that he should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age?” Rebecca, Martha Corey, and the five-year old daughter of Sarah Good were sent to jail.
At her trial, Rebecca was, pursuant to Puritan law and practice, allowed no defense counsel. The seven girls each identified her as one of their assailants who had come to them in spectral form. Mother Ann Putnam testified that she, too, had been injured by the specter of Rebecca. A midwife testified that she had examined Rebecca’s teat and found evidence that it had been suckled by the devil. Rebecca’s request for a second examination was denied. At the instance of her husband, thirty-nine of her neighbors testified to her impeccable character. They included all the Porters, and even some of the Putnams. A problem with proof of character in such a case is that a witch would obviously be able to conceal her identity by appearing as a benign person by day while doing mischief at night.
Although Rebecca had difficulty hearing the hostile questions of the magistrate, she denied the accusations, and wisely noted that she could not prevent the devil from appearing as her likeness if he was of such a mind. The magistrate observed that it was awful to see her “stand with dry eyes where there are so many so wet.” “You do not know my heart,” she answered. Asked if she thought the afflicted children “suffered against their wills,” she answered, “I do not think so.” One historian of the event recorded: “Infirm, half-deaf, cross questioned, circumvented, surrounded with folly, uproar and outrage, as she was, they could not intimidate her to say less, or entrap her to say more.”
On this evidence, Rebecca was convicted by the jury. She was publicly hanged and buried at Gallows Hill in Salem on July 19, 1692. On the gallows, she again affirmed her innocence.
One senior Puritan clergyman attending the event found in her demeanor convincing evidence of her innocence, and he became a voice of sanity. Despite his efforts, within a month of that date, nineteen witches had been executed. And poor Giles Corey, the eighty-one year old husband of Martha, refused to plead and was therefore pressed to death in the effort to compel him to do so.
One would wish to believe that this event was extraordinary. In America, it was. In Europe, it was not unusual in the centuries preceding Rebecca’s execution. Joan of Arc was only the most famous European witch. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans had been, like Joan, burned to death for their alleged connection to the devil.
Both of Rebecca’s sisters were also convicted, but before they were executed, the environment had changed. The insanity was brought to an end, first by the recognition of many Puritan ministers in other communities, many of whom had come to Salem to observe it first hand. With their support, the royal governor pardoned some of those who had been convicted. Those who had been held for trial were thereafter acquitted by juries, in part because the legislature had proscribed the use of evidence of spectral appearances. Rebecca’s sisters were returned to their families. The Reverend Parris remained in his pulpit for a few years, blaming others for what had happened, and then left the ministry.
Rebecca’s husband and son John both died at Salem in 1695. The rest of her family, including the Estys, Towns, and Cloyses, all departed from that place of their suffering and dispersed among other towns in Massachusetts. They erected a monument to her on land she had owned in Topsfield.
John Nurse III would be born in Framingham in 1701, and his daughter, Zerviah in the same town in 1722. Her granddaughter, Bathsheba Read Foster would be born in Rutland in 1762. Bathsheba’s grandson, Clark DeWitt, would be born in Hubbardston in 1826.
4. SARAH CLARK
5. RHODA ANN PHILLIPS
Rhoda Ann Phillips was born at Weymouth, Massachusetts in August 1816. Her father Isaac was a prosperous merchant at Weymouth Landing. He and her mother Rhoda were descendants of numerous generations of residents of Plymouth County dating from the arrival of the Mayflower in 1619. Isaac’s father and grandfather had been mariners and fishermen. Her paternal grandfather had moved to Boston, where he and his large family were members of the Old West Church at the foot of Beacon Hill. The grandfather was lost at sea while Rhoda Ann was a child.
Apparently, Isaac was attracted to public events. On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he took Rhoda Ann to the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument. There, they met the speakers of the day, Daniel Webster and the Marquis de Lafayette.
In June 1833, Isaac took Rhoda Ann to Boston to meet President Andrew Jackson, who had come to that city to be hailed as the victor in his struggle to preserve the tariff against the effort of South Carolina to nullify it. The tariff was important to Massachusetts industry and the President was warmly received.
In September 1837, Rhoda Ann married Zechariah Damon at Hanover, Massachusetts. Zechariah was the sixth of that name, a native of Hanover but descended from small landowners in Scituate, including Anna Vinall. He was four years older than Rhoda Ann and a widower with a young son, Peter. He had trained as a carpenter, and was a lay minister in the Methodist church. Like other Massachusetts Methodists, he was also a follower of William Lloyd Garrison, and thus an ardent abolitionist and a member of the Free Soil Party. He was prone to make fiery abolitionist speeches whenever he had an audience, and sometimes when he didn’t.
Zechariah and Rhoda Ann had four children, two sons and two daughters. Their older daughter, Mary Ann, married Clark DeWitt, a descendant of Rebecca Town, in 1856 and moved to his home in Templeton.
In the spring of 1857, Zechariah took his and Rhoda Ann’s older son, Albert, to Kansas, following John Brown, another lay Methodist minister from Massachusetts, with the purpose of maintaining Kansas as a free state.
The first antislavery contingent had settled the town of Lawrence in 1854, to the dismay and horror of those seeking to establish Kansas as a slave state. In 1856, hostilities erupted and a proslavery army of 800 men sacked Lawrence. Brown retaliated by leading a midnight raid on the cabins of a proslavery group that had settled at Osawatomie, brutally murdering eight men. When a unit of 80 men tracked him down, Brown and his sons and companions attacked, captured and disarmed many of them.
This encounter happened in the same month that Senator Sumner of Massachusetts had been brutally beaten on the floor of the United States Senate, an event elevating antislavery sentiment in Massachusetts. Brown withdrew from Kansas, finding temporary refuge in Iowa and then comfort from antislavery supporters in Massachusetts, including such notable persons as the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. These supporters were not well informed about the Osawatomie massacre. Seniors at the Harvard Law School were excused from attendance in the spring of 1857 so that they could go to Kansas to serve the antislavery cause led by Brown. Zechariah and Albert joined this movement.
Brown, by 1857 was already beginning to think of a military invasion of the South to free the slaves, a feat he attempted two years later. Meanwhile, the struggle in Kansas was not over, but was in recess. The bloodshed would be renewed in 1859. Zechariah took up some land near Lawrence. He was intending to build a home for his family, and was on his way to Lawrence for supplies when he was afflicted with ague. He died in his wagon and was buried in boot hill in that town.
Young Albert found his way back to Rhoda Ann at Weymouth Landing in the spring of 1858. There, he found that his sister, Mary Ann, had borne a son, but died in childbirth. The child’s father being unable to care for him, Rhoda Ann had assumed responsibility for her grandson, Edgar Augustus DeWitt.
In 1861, the Civil War erupted and all three of Rhoda Ann’s sons volunteered. They marched off together as members of the same regiment. Her stepson, Peter, was killed at Antietam. Her son, Zechariah VII, died at Norfolk as a consequence of wounds suffered at Fair Oaks in the peninsular campaign. And Albert lost a leg at Gettysburg. Rhoda Ann was left widowed, with one disabled son, an unmarried daughter Ellen, and an infant grandson Edgar. She did have the house of her deceased parents, and she married an older widower, James Monroe, best known for his gentle spirit and generosity. She moved to his home in Rockland. Albert died in 1870 and James Monroe in 1885.
Rhoda Ann 1898
Rhoda Ann was a tough mother to her grandson, quick to discount his excuses and full of awesome threats that were never executed. Nevertheless, against her advice, Edgar left school at 13 to work in the shoe factory in Rockland. However, the man sharing a workbench with him taught him classical Greek. The owner of the shop then sent him to prep school at Exeter, and then to college. He graduated from Dartmouth with very high marks, having earned his keep by teaching school during periods of recess.
Although still close to his grandmother, Edgar left New England for Texas in 1883. There, he became a salesman for Ginn and Company, a Boston publisher of schoolbooks. His employment occasioned regular summer visits to Massachusetts to spend time at the South Shore in the company of Ginn officers. Rhoda Ann thus came to know his wife, Imogene, and their four children.
In 1898, Rhoda Ann (then 82) took Ellen and made the long railroad trip to Texas for a visit. When she returned, she taught her neighbors a dance that she had learned from her great granddaughters. She was still active and alert at the age of 99 when she died.
Rhoda Ann’s Great Grandchildren, 1902. Frances DeWitt is on the right.
In 1906, she paid a visit to Edgar’s summer place on the South Shore. Only Imogene and her three daughters were there, Edgar and his son, Roscoe, being off in Vermont. To please their great grandmother, the girls rowed a boat into the small bay and caught some fish for her dinner. She was very pleased with the gift. But when she departed, she gave Imogene a dollar to give to Roscoe “for the fish.” Needless to say, the dollar did not get to Roscoe. Indeed, her three great granddaughters were still very angry at her when they told me this story on Christmas Day, 1977.
6. ELIZABETH FRANCES PORTER
Elizabeth Frances (Lizzie) Porter was born in Stewart County, Georgia in 1828. Her father was William Porter III (Billy), a man of Quaker origins but not committed to Quaker doctrine. All three William Porters were born in Hyde County, North Carolina and were descended from four generations of John Porters. The first John Porter was in Norfolk County, Virginia in 1647 and was elected Burgess there in 1661.
In 1663, John Porter I was accused of Quaker sentiments. On that ground, he was expelled from the House of Burgesses on September 12 of that year. Two months later, his son John II was arrested for speaking at a Quaker meeting in the town of Norfolk and fined for preaching without a license. Ten days later, the same sheriff detected John II at a Quaker meeting held aboard a ship anchored in the bay. In December, he was fined 50 lbs. of tobacco for absenting himself from public worship. Despite this persecution, John II had played an important role in organizing a meeting and erecting its house at Nansemond, and in 1702, he was the presiding officer of the annual meeting of Virginia Society of Friends.
By 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution in England, the Porters had relocated to Edenton, North Carolina. John III was, among other things, a building contractor, Attorney General of the colony, and speaker of its General Assembly. Despite his Quaker connections, he was the contractor for the erection of the Anglican Church at Edenton.
However, in 1700, on the ascent of Queen Anne to the throne, a new period of repression was commenced with the establishment of a loyalty oath and a special tax. John III was sent to London to remonstrate on behalf of the colony and its Quakers. He succeeded in having the oath requirement abolished. Then in 1710, it was reinstated by a new royal governor. When a group protested, they were arrested on charges of rebellion, and John III was sent again to London, this time to be tried. He won his release, but died in England.
From all this hostility, John Porter IV removed to Hyde County, where, it seems, Quakers could reside in peace. The extent to which his descendants retained their Quaker faith is uncertain. In any case, three generations of them, all William Porters, moved to Savannah in 1785 and commenced growing cotton on the south bank of the Great Okeechee River. After the oldest of the three died in 1791, the second William and his wife Rachel moved to Kittrell’s Creek in Washington County, in central Georgia, again to grow cotton.
By 1825, the soil of that plantation was no longer fertile, so Billy and his wife Lucy moved on to Stewart County in western Georgia, where they were pioneers. Their small plantation was just north of the village of Lumpkin on the road to the village of Louvale and near Moccasin Gap. The family graveyard remains there.
Billy Porter was the surveyor for many of the county roads of Stewart County. He was a leading advocate for the establishment of public schools and a trustee of the private academy. As a Mason, he was a founder of a Masonic Female College in Lumpkin. He and Lucy opened their home to young women attending that institution. Lizzie was born in that home.
Lizzie attended the Masonic Female College and then attended Macon Academy in Macon, an institution that became Macon Female College. Her older brother John was trained as a medical doctor at the Georgia Medical College. Her younger brother, Benjamin Franklin Porter (note the Quaker name) was also sent off to school for a time.
In December 1847, Lizzie, then 19, married Calvin John Walker of Harris County. C. J. was by the standards of the time a wealthy and sophisticated man. His grandfather had been known as Rich Billy. His parents, Virgil Homer and Ann Bell Walker had a large and prosperous plantation in Harris County, only a few miles north of the Porters’ place. Virgil was a colonel in the militia and some of his land was acquired as compensation for his services in fighting the Creek and Seminole Indians. He and Ann built an elegant mansion with a long magnolia-lined drive and a carconiere,* and had eight children. C. J. was the first, born in 1820. In 1832, he tried to follow his father into combat with the Seminole, but was sent home in the custody of a slave.
The Walkers cultivated a taste in music. In 1840, Virgil and Ann went to New York to attend the opera. C. J. was trained to a level of competence on his violin, and played other instruments as well. In 1844, Virgil took his two older sons to Nashville to meet the former President Andrew Jackson. C.J. recalled being told by Jackson that his one regret was that he had not had Vice President Calhoun horse-whipped for his role in South Carolina’s effort to nullify the federal tariff. In 1845, Virgil sent C. J. to Washington to study law at Georgetown University. While C. J. was in Washington, Virgil instructed him to discontinue law study and master the science of surveying taught at an institution in Alexandria, Virginia. C. J. did so. Virgil died in 1848, the year after C. J. married Lizzie Porter. His estate was valued at $75,000, an immense sum, and included 144 slaves.
On Lizzie’s wedding trip to Harris County, a mule became frightened and backed the carriage of bride and groom off a bridge. She fell out and broke her ankle. Otherwise, however, she and C.J. prospered for a time. She began to bear children. He practiced law for a time in Lumpkin,* until he lost a case that he thought he should have won. That outcome caused him to foreswear the profession.
When Virgil died, C.J. inherited a hundred slaves. Then Billy Porter also died and Lizzie inherited sixty more, to the dismay and anger of her brothers. C. J. decided that owning and leasing slaves and mules was more profitable than using them to plant and harvest cotton. He developed a property in Barbour County in eastern Alabama where the slaves could live when not needed in the cotton patches. It is said that he built the only brick slave quarters in Alabama. In 1859 C. J. and Lizzie moved their four children to that location near the village of Clayton. Four more children, including Imogene, were born there. The day after Imogene’s birth in April, 1861, the guns blazed at Fort Sumter, and the Walker’s world began to fall apart.
C. J. was a colonel in the militia, but at 41 he was deemed too old for military service. Most of C. J.’s brothers hired substitutes, but the youngest Walker, Marriott, was killed at Antietam. Lizzie’s brother Benjamin Franklin Porter also died at Antietam, as did Peter Damon, the stepson of Rhoda Ann Phillips, who was a member of a Massachusetts regiment.
John Porter was a medical officer in the elite Zollicoffer Guards who were held in reserve to resist the invasion of Georgia; he died in 1865 while in military service. Thus, C. J. and Lizzie lost three brothers in the war. Because most of their wealth was in the form of ownership of other human beings, they were also greatly reduced financially by emancipation. Yet, their children never heard them express any bitterness about the devastation of their lives.
However, C. J. was not strong enough to cope with this situation. He sold what was left of his property in 1867, moved the family to Macon and surrendered to alcoholism. Born to rule, he was made to break. He tried to run a grocery store, but it failed. Although not physically abusive, and said by other men to have impeccable manners even when drunk, he was often verbally abusive to his family and of little practical use to them save as an occasional musician. Lizzie bore a ninth child in Macon, and took over the management of her family.
Lizzie arranged for C. J.’s youngest sister to attend Macon College. Then, at her insistence, C. J. and their oldest child, Henry (Tooken to his sibs), were sent to Texas to buy a new farm. They sailed to Galveston, took the train as far inland as it went, got off, and bought a farm at Calvert on the Brazos River. C. J. judged the quality of the soil to be good because of its bright red color, redolent of the soil of southwestern Georgia. The family moved there in 1870.
C. J. Walker, 1870
C. J. declared himself unable to farm and declared that Henry at 13 was the man of the family. C. J. also told Henry not to work with blacks. To do so would be degrading. Since there was no other help available, Henry had to run the farm with only such help as his mother and younger brothers could provide. C. J. proclaimed that the lawyers in Texas were ignorant, but he did not attempt practice himself. He did a little surveying, with Lizzie doing his logarithms.
C. J. ran for the office of County Surveyor, but was defeated. One reason for his defeat was that he ran as a Republican. I cannot account for C. J.’s move to the Republican Party of Texas, given that the Republicans were the authors of the Reconstruction, an initiative generally much resented by former slaveholders such as himself.
C. J. had been wrong about the quality of the soil at Calvert, but Lizzie stuck it out in Calvert for a decade. In 1871, Imogene (then 10) caught a 90-pound catfish in the Brazos; it required three children to carry it back to the house. But three of her nine children died suddenly in a tragic jaundice epidemic about 1875.
Lizzie’s second child, Annabel, was then courted by a man from nearby Bryan to whom she was attracted. C. J. dictated a letter telling her suitor that he was unworthy of her and required Annabel to write and send it to him. The next day, she came down with typhoid, and soon died. Eloise then became his favorite, but she, too, died. Henry and his brothers urged a move. They explored and recommended Dallas County, where land was available for fifty cents an acre. C. J. rejected the proposal because the soil was black.
As the boys aged, they left Calvert. Henry left in 1880, acquired training as a dentist and set up practice in Denison. Not long thereafter, Lizzie directed C. J. to sell the farm and buy a cottage on Gandy Street in Denison, next door to their son Henry. C. J. continued to bully his daughters. Imogene left Denison to attend Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, but returned and in 1886 (at the age of 25) was appointed principal of Denison High School. One evening, Imogene and her sister Lally went out to a church meeting. C. J. demanded that they return no later than 9 PM. They told him that since they were paying the bills, they would return when they chose. C. J. threatened to lock them out, but did not in fact do so.
Soon thereafter, Imogene accepted the job of principal at the new girls’ high school in Dallas. There, she encountered a textbook salesman from New England, Edgar DeWitt. C. J. denounced him as a “sawed-off Yankee book peddler,” but Imogene married him, anyway, with her mother’s consent. Lizzie’s consent had not been immediately forthcoming. Lizzie knew no one in New England who could inform her whether Edgar might be “worthy” of her daughter. So she wrote several postmasters in Massachusetts to inquire if they could inform her of Edgar’s worthiness. None did. Lizzie took a chance and consented, anyway.
Soon after Imogene’s marriage in 1891, C. J. died. Lizzie cried. Lally asked her why. “Only because,” she said, “ he was the last link to my childhood.” About that time, Lizzie fell and broke her hip. Medicine of that time being unable to deal with that problem, she was thereafter almost immobile. Despite her handicap, she was able to ride the train between Denison and Dallas, and remained close to her surviving three children (Henry, Imogene, and Lally) until her death in 1914.*
Lizzie at Grandson Roscoe’s Birthday Party, Dallas 1900
7. NANCY BATTERTON
Nancy Batterton was born in 1835 in northwestern Boone County, Missouri at a place then known as Pershe (pronounced Persia). Her parents were Lemuel and Mary. Both her parents had been born in Madison County, Kentucky. Their families had migrated together from Kentucky in 1820 to settle new land. Nancy was one of ten children of Lem and Mary Batterton to survive to adulthood.
Lem Batterton was born in 1800, the son of Moses and Ann. Moses had been born at Lexington, Kentucky where his father Amos had been among the first settlers. Ann was a descendant of French Protestants who had fled France in the early years of the 18th century, first settling in North Carolina.
Lem’s wife Mary was born in 1802, the daughter of David and Fannie Lynch, and thus the great-granddaughter of Sarah Clark Lynch. Despite his Quaker ancestry, David Lynch had been a military man during the Revolution. After his extended military career, he had settled in Kentucky and married Fannie, another descendant of French Protestants, They had settled in Madison County where David became a professional surveyor who gave evidence in many land disputes.
Before the move to Missouri, Lem Batterton had trained as a cabinetmaker. He opened a general store and furniture shop at the village of Perche and kept a small farm. He married Mary Lynch in 1824.
Unfortunately for the Battertons and Lynches, Perche became a center for everything except the planned economic growth for which they had hoped. Horseracing, gambling, and whoring were the chief features of the village aside from Lem’s store. No church was erected there, and the village had vanished by 1890.
Nancy was well trained by her mother in the domestic arts, and the family was regular in its attendance at church services at Rocky Fork, a place several miles from Perche. Nancy was baptized there. A person baptized at the same church a year earlier was John Thomas Holloway, and the two were married there in 1854.
The church at Rocky Fork was built on land donated by Nancy’ father-in-law, Thomas Holloway. It was used by both Baptists and Methodists, and then also by the Disciples of Christ. Tom Holloway had won his land as compensation for his military service as a member of the Kentucky militia that had fought and won the Battle of New Orleans. He was one of those standing on the earthworks outside the city when the British Redcoats swarmed. Unfortunately for the British, the officer in charge of bringing them ladders suffered a failure of courage and made no appearance. The result was a slaughter of British soldiers at almost no cost to the Americans. After the battle, Tom had walked back to Kentucky and married Caroline Schooler, the sister of four of his military comrades. Together, all five had set off for Missouri.
Thomas and Caroline Holloway had broken ground on their new farm in Boone County, Missouri, about 1819. Like the Battertons, they had ten children. John Thomas, the eighth of these, was born on the Holloway farm in 1834. His own farm, consisting of 160 acres was a piece of the land granted to his father for his military service. Most of the John’s siblings dispersed. His father, Thomas, the veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, died in a cholera epidemic in 1850; Caroline in 1855, the year after John and Nancy’s marriage.
John Thomas Holloway was a good farmer and for seven years, he and Nancy prospered. Her brother William had studied at the University of Missouri and become the first elected school commissioner in the county. Her brother George was the Justice of the Peace. She bore three children: Rufus in 1855, Mary in 1856 and James Lemuel in 1860.
Holloway Home, Boone County, Drawn from Memory
Of John Holloway, his youngest son later wrote:
He sought the companionship of educated men, and attained exceptionally fine conversational ability. Indeed, he acquired considerable aptness in local religious controversies, which in all probability led him to study the Bible more earnestly than he otherwise would. It was at this time that the movement known as the “Reformation” inaugurated by Alexander Campbell was sweeping over the Middle West attracting thousands by its pleas to return to New Testament teachings and practices of the early apostolic church.
John’s vigorous advocacy of this view, presented each Sabbath under the shade of the trees in front of Rocky Fork Church, were a source of pain and embarrassment to his wife and daughter, who thought it best to leave religious differences unexplored.
Like that of Rhoda Ann Phillips and Lizzie Porter, Nancy’s world collapsed in 1861. Missouri was deeply divided by the Civil War. Although the Holloways owned no slaves, they shared with many of their kin and neighbors sympathy for the southern states that were seceding for the purpose of protecting the institution of slavery. Opinions of Missourians on the issues were divided into many intermediate shades. There was a small minority that had voted with Lincoln and believed with him that the house divided could not stand, that slavery was doomed, and that its demise was a good thing. Another small minority held strongly to the view that the South was entirely within its rights in seceding and that Missouri’s rightful place was with the South. Most Missourians held opinions somewhere in between.
Unionist sentiment was centered in St. Louis, the one town of any size in the state, and one largely populated by persons of German ancestry who were relatively recent immigrants and owned no slaves. When a state convention was held in 1861 to decide the course of Missouri, the strong Southern view was reflected by almost no one elected as a representative. The predominant view was that Missouri should remain in the Union and protect its neutrality.
However, a United States Army arsenal was in St. Louis and under the control of General Lyons, a native of New England and a veteran of the war in Kansas. Lyons had no sufferance of those who sympathized with the South.
On the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, President Lincoln asked the new Governor of Missouri, C. F. Jackson, for four regiments to suppress the revolution. Jackson was a native of Kentucky and bound by kinship to the Battertons and Holloways. He was also an enthusiast for slavery. He not only refused to supply Lincoln with four regiments, but he called on the men of Missouri to join him in a struggle to join Missouri to the Confederacy. However, Lyons, defying the Governor, was quick to assemble the four regiments requested by Lincoln.
John Thomas Holloway answered the call of Governor Jackson, as did two of Nancy’s brothers, George and William. Nancy purchased some gray flannel and sewed her husband a gray uniform. With what weapon we do not know, but he rode off on his “war pony” as a member of the Missouri militia led by General Sterling Price.
While John was gone, Nancy ran the farm. She milked the cows, fed pigs and chickens, worked the garden, supervised the killing of the hogs, ran the sugar camp, went to mill and market, and harvested her crops, while caring for her children. Her nights were spent carding, spinning, knitting and weaving clothing and turning gunny sacks into overshoes for the heavy winter that buried her house in waist-deep snow.
The Confederate army of Missourians took refuge in the southwest corner of the state. There, they were attacked by a small army of Missourians led by General Lyons. The Confederates prevailed at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield on August 10, 1861, killing General Lyons in the melee. However, both sides had lost a thousand men, and the Union was much more able to absorb that loss.
John Holloway remained under arms at the command of General Price through that winter. Price was transferred to the east, and the Missouri units were assigned to the command of General McCulloch. A Union army led by General Curtis advanced into Northwest Arkansas, where they were attacked by the Confederates on March 6-8, 1862 while holding a position in Pea Ridge. Curiously, the Confederate army mounting the attack on Pea Ridge included a regiment of Native Americans. The result at Pea Ridge was a disaster for the Confederates, with General McCulloch and his deputy both being killed in a route. It was said, however, that the Missouri units on the left wing of the Confederate force (in which John was serving) withdrew cheerfully, believing they were being relocated for an attack elsewhere. In fact, their army in Arkansas dissolved and the Confederacy virtually ceased to exist west of the Mississippi.
Missouri was then ceremoniously “admitted to the Confederacy” and 5,000 of its young men withdrew to the east of the Mississippi to continue the struggle. Nancy’s husband and brothers were not among them.
John returned to Nancy in May 1863, “under cover of darkness,” his uniform in tatters and himself infected with typhoid fever that seemed likely to make short work of his life. For the next year, she nursed an invalid in addition to performing all her other duties. Federal officers came to search for him. He was hidden in a space beneath the floor of the house. There he lay for some time, but fearing for his health there, Nancy placed him on a sort of couch in the front room of their house, and concealed him under a stack of laundry.
Federal officers would have allowed John to remain at home if he were to sign a loyalty oath. It was, however, so rigorous on oath that the leading Unionist in Saint Louis, Francis Blair (whose father was a member of Lincoln’s cabinet) strenuously protested. Neighbors had refused to sign it, and one on that account had forfeited his public office. Nancy was advised by Confederate sympathizers that if John sighed the oath, they would kill him. At about this time, General Price led a Confederate cavalry unit through the area on a raid resulting in the destruction of homes and livestock, some of it belonging to Unionists, but some of it belonging to Confederate sympathizers. Nancy’s brother William, having returned from military service was pressed into federal service as a wagon driver. He was ambushed by Confederate guerrillas in September, 1864 and badly wounded. One of the guerrillas recognized him and his life was spared.
It was decided that the Holloways should flee Boone County. Using young Rufus as go-fer, John managed in March 1864 to buy a wagon and team to carry freight to New Mexico. Nancy’s parents took possession of the Holloway farm to protect it from any destroyers, from whatever source. On the ferry across the Missouri River to take possession of the wagon and team, a federal soldier asked little James Lemuel if he would not like to borrow his sword so that he could cut the head off a rebel. Nancy alertly intercepted the question to prevent a reply that could have endangered the family.
Nancy and John Holloway, about 1860
The trip to New Mexico took over six months, the caravan seldom progressing more than twelve miles a day. Going through Indian territory, the family learned to cherish the presence of those wearing the blue coats of the Union army. On one occasion, Nancy’s children were in danger of being captured by Indians; “never did children run so fast.” Those Indians proved to be peaceable enough, but the caravan was in constant danger, and Nancy and John alternated shifts at night standing guard over their children in a small circle of wagons camped on the desert. Not a trivial risk was the possibility that the wagon train would be overrun by a herd of a buffalo; in those days, a herd could include as many as a million of these very large animals.
When at last they returned home to Boone County in 1865, the Holloways were welcomed with a tearful greeting by Lem and Mary Batterton. Very soon, the war was over, and they were free to return to the peaceful life they had known from 1854 to 1861.
For three years, they prospered, but John became ambitious to own and manage a larger and more prosperous property. In 1868, they sold their Boone County farm and bought 320 acres in Saline County at Malta Bend on the Missouri River. It was a four-day ride by wagon from their former home. The new place was a two-story house. They set out rows of maple trees to shade the drive, giving the place an aristocratic presence, seen from the road.
All five Holloways pitched in to make the new farm a prosperous one. By 1870, the older children were sent some distance to continue their schooling. Mary (known to the family as Mollie) became a boarding student with the teacher. Only young Jim remained at home.
On April 4, 1871, a neighbor asked Nancy for a loan of eggs. Nancy gave what she had and went to the barn to find more. Looking in the hay mow where the hens were prone to hang out, she stepped through an opening concealed by straw, and fell headfirst into the cutting box and was killed instantly. She was buried at the church at Rocky Fork where she had been baptized and married.
Mollie tried to run the farm as her mother had, but it was too much for an adolescent. In 1873, John remarried to a woman who had been a friend of Nancy’s in Boone County. All three of the Holloway children would go on to graduate from the Teacher’s College at Kirksville, Missouri.
On September 26, 1888, John, too, would die in an accident. He was ferrying livestock across the Missouri River when the flat boat capsized. His body was recovered ten days later.
Mollie would marry another graduate of the Teacher’s College,
Mary Holloway and William Thomas Carrington, June 1883
William T. Carrington, and the two of them would teach together for many years. He would be elected by the people of Missouri to the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and then founding president of the institution that became Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.
Mollie and Will had two sons. The older became a physician and for many years the president of the school board in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The younger, Paul, became a lawyer in Dallas, where he joined the youngest of Nancy’s children, his uncle Jim. In 1921, he married the daughter of Edgar and Imogene DeWitt. Mollie died in 1929.
Mollie’s little brother, Jim, had taught in Sedalia, Missouri, for several years, and then served as superintendent of schools in Fort Smith. In 1900, he forsook public education and acquired training in osteopathy at Washington University in St, Louis. He practiced that profession in Dallas for forty years, and celebrated his centennial there in 1960.
Jim Holloway was notable as a worried parent. In 1952 (he was then 92), he wrote the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in Washington to inquire whether his son (James Lemuel, Jr.) was falling short in his performance of duty as a rear admiral such that he might not be promoted to vice admiral. If so, he would like to give his son some helpful advice. President Truman offered him reassurance that his son was not neglecting his duties. Indeed his son did become the highest-ranking admiral in the United States Navy. As did his grandson, James Lemuel III.*
The Mother And the Grandmother That I Did Know
Imogene Walker DeWiTt Frances DeWitt Carrington