Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks in a Thankless Time

Let us be grateful 
for the people who make us happy. 
They are the charming gardeners 
who make our souls blossom.
~Marcel Proust

Even in the year 2020, Thanksgiving is a holiday to be celebrated. The last 12 months have been a year we would like to forget. The Pandemic, the economic crisis, social unrest, political chaos, social distancing, sheltering in place; all of that has made 2020 a year we will never forget, as much as we might like to. To put things in historical perspective, consider this: Thanksgiving was originally established during a crisis that was even worse than what we have been living though this year. President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in 1863, during the Civil War. That conflict brought a shocking amount of death and heartbreak and economic devastation to Americans everywhere.

Thanksgiving 2020 is a time to remember and be grateful for many things. I am especially thankful for family ancestors who went before us and paved the way for us. They were men and women who endured great adversity, who taught their children and grandchildren how to open their hearts to a benevolent God and be people of genuine gratitude. I am particularly thankful for ancestors and family members whose lives seemed to emanate gratitude even though life was difficult for them. 

No pictures exist of William Elmer Shepard,
but this image shows his son William Shepard
with his wife Bura Davis, in the 1960s in San Diego

William Elmer Shepard (1860-1915). In particular I am especially grateful for my Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard, a man I never met, but whose life is worth considering. He is a person of history to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for several reasons. He is responsible for the spelling of our family name "Shepard." William Elmer's father died in the Civil War leaving behind a wife and two young boys. The youngest boy, William Elmer, he never even met because of the father-soldier's untimely death. As a teenager William Elmer had such a hard time in his step-father's home that he ran away and was never reunited with his Indiana family again. His father-soldier's last name was spelled several different ways in various historical records: Sheppard, Shepherd, Shepheard, Shephard and Shepard. Interestingly, William Elmer's brother, Frank, chose the spelling "Shepherd" and used it for the rest of his life which was spent as a postman in northern Indiana. Great Grandfather William Elmer (the runaway) chose the spelling "Shepard" and used it consistently for the rest of his life, in Illinois where he found a wife and lived 25 years, and then in Oklahoma, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life.

We also owe a debt of thanks to the runaway/vagabond William Elmer Shepard for being the only link to our Shepard ancestors before the Civil War. Were it not for William Elmer, we would know nothing about our Indiana Shepard kinfolk, or our impressive ancestors, the Sheppards of Kirkwood, Ohio, or the three generations of John Shepards of the 18th century which show our Shepard roots in Barbados and in England before that. 

My cousin Hershell Gower 
in 2003
We are also indebted to William Elmer Shepard (and his Illinois wife Elvira Owens!) for bringing into the world Granddad William Shepard (1888-1976), pictured above, who would become the husband of Bura Davis, and then the Grandfather of me and 11 other grandchildren. This Thanksgiving I am filled with gratitude as I remember the life of William Elmer Shepard.

Hershell Gower (1943-2020). On this Thanksgiving I am also grateful for my cousin Hershell Gower who passed away this past summer at the age of 77. I am thankful for his life, for his service to his country, for his family, and for all the memories of good family times in years past.

I cannot write about Thanksgiving without mentioning these others for whom I am very grateful this holiday: 

  • my grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986), who was born in the month of November 124 years ago; a small woman who made a big impact on her family. 
  • my two aunts Thelma Shepard Boyd (of Athena, Kansas) and Vicki Gower Johnston (of Chandler, Arizona) who are family gems as senior members of our Shepard and Gower families. 
  • I am also very grateful for the senior most member of our extended family, my mother Maida Gower Shepard who is now 96 and going strong in Anacortes, Washington; 
  • and I am thankful for the wonderful, sacrificial work of Mom's dedicated caregivers, Barbara, Gary and Cindy Shepard.

In the words of Marcel Proust, these are all "charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." They are special people who I celebrate this week in a spirit of gratitude for the place of each of them in our family. May you have a safe and happy time with your family this Thanksgiving!
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Celebrating 96 Years

October 31, 2020
Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow, November 1, our mother Maida Gower Shepard will celebrate 96 years of life. Sunday is fittingly celebrated by many as Dia De Los Muertos or All Saints Sunday. But for her family it will be a day to celebrate that one saint, our mother, whose life has spanned nearly a century. 

The years have taken their toll on mom's mental and physical health. But her spirit is still strong and vibrant. And her spiritual health is undimmed. She has a hard time getting around in this 10th decade of her life. She stays in her living room chair most days and needs someone with her at all times. But she continues to live with grace and dignity the days that the Good Lord has given her to live.

She is the oldest surviving member of both her Gower family and her Shepard family. Her "younger" sister Vicki Gower Johnston turned 87 just two weeks ago. The two of them are gems of our family, reminding us of our Gower history that is worth celebrating and remembering.

Mom and I celebrating Halloween today
at her home in Anacortes, Washington


Mom's birthday is uniquely situated just before Election Day. In 1924, three days after she was born in Mountain View, Arkansas, Calvin Coolidge was elected President. In 1944, just months before she and dad married in San Diego, and a few days after Mom's 20th birthday, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his 4th term as President, an unprecedented occurrence that prompted a law change. Days after her 32nd birthday in 1956, mom and dad both helped Dwight Eisenhower defeat Adlai Stevenson and win a second term as President. As a child I remember the day dad came home from work wearing an "I Like Ike" button, making it clear where his sentiments lay.

Mom has lived through 16 different Presidents. In addition to the three mentioned above, she lived through Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Those Presidents and the years they served represent an amazing amount of American history that Mom has experienced.

For these and so many other reasons we will celebrate and honor our mother Maida Gower Shepard tomorrow on the occasion of her 96th birthday. During this Pandemic our celebration for her will be small, with only her immediate family in attendance physically. Others will be present on Zoom. If you would like to join us Sunday afternoon to wish her well, send me an email and I'd be glad to send you a Zoom invitation.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Monday, October 05, 2020

A Famous Peace Maker

I referred in my last post to a well known person in Tennessee history by the name of Gen. James Randolph Robertson (1742-1814). He was an important leader in the early years of the State of Tennessee and is arguably the most renown person in our entire family history. His mother was Mary Gower, and his grandparents were Abel Gower and Mary Robertson Gower, my 6X Great Grandparents. James' father John Randolph Robertson was born in 1712 in Scotland, where he married Mary Gower in 1739, the daughter of adventurous Scottish Sea Captain Abel Gower.

Born in 1742 in Brunswick County, Virginia young James Robertson accompanied Daniel Boone on his third expedition into the American Wilderness in 1759, an expedition that gave him an appreciation for the possibilities of life in the untamed frontier of America.

Gen. James Robertson (1742-1814)
"Here I Shall Stay." Gen. James Robertson was man of remarkable insight and wisdom, who had a vision for harmonious life in frontier America. During his lifetime white settlers and Native Americans were constantly in conflict. In 1780 James Robertson's Uncle and Grandfather
-- both Gowers -- were killed by Indians in the Clover Bottom tragedy near Nashville which I wrote about in a previous post. As a result of the many conflicts between the white settlers and the Native Americans, many settlers wanted to abandon the frontier and return to their homes in Virginia and North Carolina. And who could blame them? But Robertson stood steadfast and refused to leave. "Each one should do what seems to him his duty. As for myself my station is here, and here I shall stay if every man of you deserts me." 

Red Lives Matter. James had a dream of whites and Native Americans living together in peace, where all were accepted and everyone had their place. Robertson's vision was not shared by all leaders of early America. Some, including his Tennessee colleague Andrew Jackson (elected President in 1827) had nothing but contempt for Native Americans. Jackson supported the the cruel and inhumane policy of forced relocation, which led to the deadly "Trail of Tears" in 1830. It was an evil almost as egregious as the enslavement of blacks. Our ancestor Gen. James Robertson believed there was a better way. He negotiated with Native Americans and became known as a peacemaker forging treaties, creating alliances and supporting Native American self determination. 

Chickasaw Chief Piomingo
(1750-1799)

The Father of Tennessee. We are honored to have such an important person like James Robertson in our family tree. We celebrate and remember his gifts of peacemaking and leadership in early America. His spirit of cooperation, his acceptance of diverse cultures and his willingness to do the hard work of making peace is noteworthy. Known as "The Father of Tennessee" he is an outstanding member of our family history.

Robertson and the Chickasaws. In a very interesting and personal historical connection, James Robertson crossed paths with the Native American Chickasaw tribe, from which my wife Cindy is descended. On several occasions Robertson had conversations with the Chickasaws. Even though more than one family member of his had died "by the tomahawk," he was persistent about developing positive relationships with them. As a result he was selected to serve as an Indian agent in Tennessee until his death in 1814.

In January, 1781 James Robertson was at Fort Nashborough (which became Nashville, Tennessee) when it was attacked by Chickasaws. As told in William Hale's A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, the furious battle lasted for several hours resulting in numerous deaths. The telling of the story ends by saying it was the last battle between the Chickasaws and the Cumberland Settlement. It prompted peace talks between James Robertson and the Chickasaws, talks that included the famous Chickasaw Warrior Chief Piomingo (1750-1799) with whom Robertson became acquainted. 

U.S. Representative
Andrew Pickens (1739-1817)

The Treaty Of Hopewell. A few years later, on January 10, 1786, Chief Piomingo signed the famous Treaty of Hopewell which officially established peace between the U.S. and the Chickasaws. I can't help but think that Robertson's peace talks with Piomingo was at least partly responsible for Piomingo's willingness to be a signer of the Treaty. Coincidentally, among the other signers of that peace treaty was Andrew Pickens (1739-1817) a U.S. Representative from South Carolina who also happens to be an ancestor of ours (the grandson of my 6X Great Grandparents William and Margaret Pickens). Select this link for more about Andrew Pickens and his place in our family tree.

Chief Piomingo Day. The Chickasaw Warrior Chief Piomingo continues to be honored today by the Chickasaw Nation. Select this link for a short video about Chief Piomingo. Some will celebrate next Monday, October 12, as Columbus Day, or possibly as Indigenous People's Day. The Chickasaw Nation proudly celebrates October 12 as Chief Piomingo Day, to honor the famous Chickasaw Chief, peacemaker and acquaintance of our ancestor General James Robertson.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gowers in Middle Tennessee

In my last post I shared the story of our ancestors Abel Gower Sr. and Jr. who both tragically died in a conflict with Native Americans in the fall of 1780. It was a story of devastating loss for the Gower frontier family, a story found in numerous historical sources from the early history of Tennessee. These deaths were a difficult beginning to life in Tennessee for our Gower relatives. The following stories show that eventually things got better and the Gowers made an indelible mark on their new community.

Charlotte Reeves Robertson 1751-1843
wife of ancestor Gen. James Robertson


The Heroics of a Gower Teen. That deadly encounter in 1780 was not the first time the Gowers had experienced a life threatening conflict with Native Americans. In "Indian Wars and Warriors" (Tennessee Historical Magazine, Vol. IV) Albert Goodpasture writes about Nancy Gower (1761-1831) the daughter of Abel Gower Jr. and his wife Mary. During the Gowers' dangerous river journey from Virginia to the frontier of Tennessee, on one occasion the Gowers were attacked by Indians on the Tennessee River. While the men were fully engaged in warding off the raiders, 18 year old Nancy took the helm of their boat and carefully steered it down river. When she finally guided their craft past the Indian attack and were safe from danger, Nancy's mother Mary noticed blood stains on her daughter's dress. Only then did they realize that Nancy had been shot in the thigh. They bandaged her wound and in time she recovered fully and lived to tell the harrowing tale of this dangerous episode.

The Father of Middle Tennessee. The above mentioned Abel and Mary Gower had a grandson, Gen. James Robertson (1742-1814), who was very instrumental in leading their frontier community. He was such a significant leader that he has become known as "The Father of Middle Tennessee" and is honored as such even today. In 1791 President George Washington got word of Robertson's outstanding leadership and appointed him brigadier general of the U.S. Army for the entire region south of the Ohio River.

Marker at the Nashville burial site
for Gen. James Robertson and
his wife Charlotte Reeves Robertson

A Doctor and a Mayor.
Gower ancestors James Robertson and his wife Charlotte Reeves Robertson (1751-1843) had 9 children, the 4th of whom was Felix Robertson (1781-1865). Born Jan 11, 1781, he was the first white male child born in the historic Cumberland Settlement. Felix was trained as a Physician at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to practice medicine in early Nashville for 40 years. In 1818 and 1819 he was selected the Mayor of Nashville for two different terms. He was also the president of the Medical Society of Tennessee.

The early years of the Gowers in Tennessee were difficult and fraught with conflict and even death. But after a difficult beginning our Gower ancestors made an indelible mark on the Cumberland Settlement which became the city of Nashville. They will forever be remembered in the history books of that famous city. 

Leroy Gower and Ellen Taylor Gower,
the first Gowers to leave Tennessee
and settle in Stone County, Arkansas

From Tennessee To Arkansas.
Our Gower ancestors first began to settle in Nashville in 1780 and continued to be members of that community for several generations. Abel and Mary Gower's Great Grandson Jackson William Gower (1831-1902) and his wife Mary Anderson Gower (1833-1912) were the first Tennessee Gowers to continue the inevitable move westward. After marrying in 1849, Jackson and Mary moved out west to the Mountain View area of Stone County, Arkansas where they settled and raised their family. 

Their first child, Leroy Gower -- born in 1854 -- was the first Gower child to be born in Arkansas. This Leroy Gower (1854-1909) and his wife Ellen Taylor Gower were the Grandparents of Leroy Ertin Gower (1899-1974), who was "Grandpa Gower" to many of us. The source from whom I received the picture above on the right claims that "this is the oldest known picture of any Gowers in Arkansas." I could find no date for this remarkable photo, but both these folks died in their early 50s in 1906 and 1909, respectively. It may have been taken around the turn of the 20th century.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he/him/his)

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Gowers in Tennessee: The Clover Bottom Tragedy

I have written before about our earliest Gower ancestors who settled in Virginia in the early 1600s. One of them was Abel Gower (1640-1710) who had migrated from England. In the subsequent three centuries our Gower ancestors made their way all across our country. Leroy and Nola Gower, my Grandparents, were the first of our Gower ancestors to make it to the West Coast when they arrived in Southern California in 1942. Here in San Diego some of their descendants still live today. 

Purportedly Abel Gower Jr.
(1725-1780)
The Westward Migration to Tennessee. As our Gower ancestors made their way across country, one of the places they settled for a number of years was Nashville, Tennessee. My 7X Great Grandparents, Capt. Abel Gower Sr. and his wife Eleanor Salmon Gower, were part of the early migration from Virginia that joined the Cumberland Settlement of Middle Tennessee. They were accompanied by their son Abel Gower Jr. and his wife Mary Robertson Gower. ("Abel" was the first name of choice for many of our Gowers in the early years.)

This historic immigration into Tennessee, begun in December, 1779 was led by frontiersmen John Robertson and Col. John Donelson. They and those they led, endured an arduous journey of nearly 1000 miles of wild frontier, including confrontations with Native Americans. Much of their travel was overland, while a good portion was on the Cumberland River as a part of "the Donelson flotilla," a collection of nearly 30 vessels of various kinds with immigrants in each one. After journeying for several months they arrived April 24, 1780 and joined the Cumberland Settlement which eventually became the city of Nashville, Tennessee.

An artist's rendering of
The Donelson flotilla, 1780
During their first summer in Tennessee, Col. Donelson and his group planted some crops in prime growing land a few miles away from the Settlement in an area known as Clover Bottom, near the confluence of the Cumberland and the Stones Rivers. On November 1, 1780, a group of about a dozen settlers went to harvest the crop of Corn and Cotton. The harvesters were led by our ancestor Capt. Abel Gower and included his son Abel Gower Jr. 

A Surprise Attack at Clover Bottom. When they finished the harvest, they loaded their boats with the corn and the cotton and headed back home. They had gone only a short way when they were suddenly attacked by a large band of Chickamauga Indians, natives who had lived in the area for generations. The settlers were outmanned and suffered great losses in the attack. Abel Gower Sr. and his son were shot and killed during the raid. In all the chaos their bodies floated down the river and were never recovered. Also killed in the attack was James Robertson, the son of one of their leaders Col. John Robertson. Only three of the harvesting settlers lived to tell the tale. Those three survived the attack by hiding in the nearby forest and laying low until they could make their way back to the safety of the settlement.

An historical marker today in
Davidson County, Tennessee

November 1, 1780 was a fateful day in the life of our Gower ancestors when they lost two important family members. The effects of that tragedy on the lives of their surviving family is hard to fathom. This illustrates how difficult it was to settle this untamed wilderness that was our nation in earlier times. It also brings to our attention what a great debt of gratitude we owe our forebears. Their courage, determination and resilience is an inspiration to us. 

In my next post I will write about the Gower response to the tragedy at Clover Bottom and the remarkable impact our ancestors made on the Cumberland Settlement of Middle Tennessee. That in itself is a memorable story.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Tale of Forbidden Love

 
Sewellsville Cemetery and Church
Belmont County, Ohio
I have mentioned before in this blog about the young teenage friends and neighbors James Sheppard Jr. (1813-1887) and Matilda Reynolds (1814-1876), Ohio teenagers who fell in love and married in 1833. My 3X Great Grandmother Matilda was a Quaker, while my 3X Great Grandfather James and his Sheppard family were mainly Methodist-Episcopal, and were members of their congregation in Kirkwood, Ohio where they lived. The Quakers required their members to marry only within the Quaker family which created a problem for Mattie who wanted to marry James. But as we know, people will respond to the call to love and marriage regardless of what the Church, one's family, or the local community thinks. 

Disowned By Her Church. When Mattie and James chose to ignore her church's rule and marry anyway, the Quakers tossed her out of the church. And it was solely on the basis of her marrying outside the faith. It did not matter to them that her beau James Sheppard was a respected member of the community, a model citizen, and even a practicing Christian. The only thing that mattered was that he was not a Quaker. So the overseeing Quaker body, at their meeting on Christmas Day, 1834, made the decision to "disown" her. (Merry Christmas, Mattie!) Her ouster from her church must have been difficult for this young, head-strong woman, and embarrassing within the tight knit community in which the Sheppard and Reynolds families lived. 

The part of their story that I did not know until recently was how much support Mattie and James received from her brother Jeremiah Reynolds and his wife Mary. Uncle Jeremiah was the oldest of the 8 children in the Reynolds family with Mattie born just two years after him in 1814. They developed a strong bond that lasted throughout their lives. Uncle Jeremiah and Aunt Mary were not just relatives and neighbors of Mattie and James, they were fully supportive of Mattie and her decision to marry James. 

Blood Is Thicker Than Water. Uncle Jeremiah and Aunt Mary were Quakers themselves, yet they knew where their priorities lay. When James and Mattie got married at the County Courthouse, Uncle Jeremiah was there to vouch for them and to swear that they were both old enough to marry. He literally stood with them as they took their vows and were married. The oppressive Quaker rule was not going to affect his love for his sister and his support of her and James. Uncle Jeremiah was living by the old adage that "blood is thicker than water," even if it is "holy water."

Jeremiah Reynolds with his wife Mary Bonar Reynolds
Belmont County, Ohio, about 1850

Not long ago I came across this old picture of Uncle Jeremiah and Aunt Mary Reynolds, from the mid 19th century. It shows two very straight laced folks, with high collars, plainly clothed in black and white, no smiles, who are barely comfortable in front of the camera. They are simply dressed, very much like the Quakers of their day. They are pure Americana, simple farming folk who lived in what was still the Ohio frontier. This picture makes them look stern and resolute, yet there is something in their eyes that speaks of tenderness and welcome. The fact is they were remarkably generous people. Beneath the stiff exterior of these two were generous hearts who made a tremendous impact on family members with long lasting effects. They were quick to support kin, especially in trying times. They believed in the power of love, even in the face of religious opposition. 

A Close Knit Family. Uncle Jeremiah was a close personal friend of James Sheppard Sr., his sister's father-in-law. He was actually one of the two signers of the elder James Sheppard's will of 1840. Uncle Jeremiah's mother Esther Sidwell Reynolds, after being widowed later in life, married the elder James Sheppard in 1839, after his wife Hannah Sheppard died. 

Furthermore, Jeremiah and Mary Reynolds, after raising 10 kids of their own, adopted a child named William Whorton. I don't know his story yet, other than he appears in the 1880 Census records as their adopted son. They welcomed him into their family and gave him their name. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Mary were exceptional people. It is not often in family research that I find so much evidence for the generous lives of outstanding ancestors. But in the case of Uncle Jeremiah and Aunt Mary, the evidence is plentiful. They were open-hearted and supportive even in difficult circumstances. We are honored to be descended from people such as these.

Re: Hershell Gower (1943-2020): I received word from Lloyd Gower, son of my cousin Hershell Gower who passed away recently. Lloyd invites everyone to visit this Website, to pay one's respects to Hershell and to leave a remembrance.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Monday, August 17, 2020

Remembering Hershell Gower

Saying goodbye is often 
another way of saying 
"I remember."

My cousin Hershell Orley Gower passed away this past Thursday evening, August 13. He died from Covid 19 in Bullhead City, Arizona where he and Shelly have lived for many years. Our heart felt condolences go out to Shelley and to Hershell's sons Shaun and Lloyd and their families. 

Hershell and Janet on their wedding day
October, 1966, Ploughley, England
Hersh had the distinction of being the first Gower grandchild to be born in California. His mother Starlene Bass Gower was actually pregnant with him when she and husband Hendrix Gower with Grandpa Gower migrated to San Diego in the early summer of 1942. After Grandpa Gower and Hendrix found jobs, they sent for the other members of the family they had left behind in Okemah, Oklahoma -- my mom Maida, my aunt Vicki, and Grandma Nola Gower.  In December of that same year Grandma and the two Gower daughters arrived by bus in San Diego. Though conceived in Oklahoma, Hershell was born in San Diego in February of 1943 just two months after the family was reunited in Southern California. 

Hershell grew up in the Claremont area of San Diego where his parents Hendrix and Starlene owned a home for many years. Hershell, like his brother Jim, graduated from Mission Bay High School. After finishing High School in 1962, Hershell enlisted in the United States Air Force and was stationed in England. While in the U.K. he met an English woman named Janet Nolan and married here there in the fall of 1966. (See first picture. Thanks to Lloyd's wife Tammy for posting this picture on Facebook.) Hershell and Janet's first child Shaun was born in England in 1967. I remember the happiness of our whole family when Hershell, Janet and Shaun returned to San Diego in 1968 and Grandma and Grandpa Gower were presented with their first Great Grandchild.

I always looked up to Hershell when we were kids. He was the oldest of us 12 cousins, the dozen grandchildren of Leroy and Nola Gower. Hersh was the one who led the way when we cousins got together. He was the first to tell the off color jokes, the first to play the pranks, and the first one to feel on his behind Grandma’s disciplinary switch. He also showed us how to appreciate the cobblers and Tommy Tarts that Grandma Gower loved to cook. 

Hershell, his father Hendrix Gower and his grandmother
Nola Gower on her 100th Birthday celebration
in 2003 in Anacortes, Washington


Though he lived for a period of time in Oak Harbor, Washington in the 1990s, most of Hershell's life was spent in the San Diego area. He was a plumber for many years, a skill he taught his sons Lloyd and Shaun. His later years were spent in the retirement community of Bullhead City, Arizona. In Arizona he contracted Covid 19 and spent the last month in the hospital struggling with the Virus.

Though the firstborn of the 12 Gower grandchildren, Hershell was not the first to go. My sister Linda Shepard Clark died tragically in a car accident in 1971 at just 20 years old. Her death occurred 49 years ago this month. In 2016 our cousin Gloria Harrell Watson was taken from us at 63 years old. Hershell now is the third of those dozen cousins to pass away. At just 3 years short of 80, he lived a good life, leaves a good family, and will be missed by his family and friends. May God grant him eternal peace.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Friday, July 31, 2020

July 31, 2020: A Remarkable Coincidence


Recently, while researching immigrants in our family tree, I discovered a most interesting coincidence when the lives of two of our 17th Century ancestors came together in a surprising way.

In the last couple of weeks I have been delving into the history of my grandfather Leroy Gower (1899-1974) who is descended from the immigrant Abell Gower (1640-1710), originally from Gloucestershire, England. In 1672, my 8X Great Grandpa Abell Gower sailed across the Atlantic and settled in Henrico County, Virginia. Not long after 37 year old Abell Gower stepped off the ship, he became a leader in his new community. The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (Vol. 1) documents Abell Gower being elected to the House of Burgesses (the representative body governing the Virginia Colony) in 1679. It also mentions that he served as Henrico County Sheriff in 1681. From 1679-1689 he was one of the Justices of the Peace for Henrico County, Virginia. He was a busy civic leader to be sure!

Justices of the Peace were the local law enforcement individuals in the Colonies in the 1680s. Their job was to keep the peace, to settle minor disputes and to make sure order was maintained. They were important since there were only a few thousand colonists in the county in the 1680s with very little infrastructure. 100 years later, in 1790, the first population records show there were just 12,000 colonists in all of Henrico County.


The above graphic shows the 4,100 mile route our Gower ancestors took, over 3 centuries, to get from Henrico, Virginia in 1672 to San Diego, California in 1942, and then to Western Washington in the 1970s. It should also be noted that my aunt Vicki Gower Johnston, one of the senior most Gower family members, also made the move from San Diego to Western Washington in the 1970s, but came back south four years ago and today lives in Chandler, Arizona.

Capt. William Randolph
A Small World
. Historical Records for Henrico County refer not only to Abell Gower's 10 year stint as a Justice of the Peace. They also mention four other Justices who served with him. Here is the reference to them from Henrico Records, 1677-1692, Book 1, p. 256:

At a court held at Varina for laying the levy for the County of Henrico, the 8th day of October, by his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in the year of our Lord 1683, and in the 35th year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord Charles by the grace of God of Great Brittain, France and Ireland, King, defender of the faith, etc. Present: The honorable William Byrd, esq., Capt. Thomas Cocke, Mr. Richard Cocke, Capt. William Randolph, Mr. Abell Gower, Justices of the Peace.

In addition to Abell Gower, the list above includes Capt. William Randolph, a name that sounded familiar to me when I read it. Then it dawned on me why. Capt. William Randolph -- are you ready for this? -- was the 8X Great Grandfather of my wife Cindy Harris Shepard. My ancestor Abell Gower and Cindy's ancestor William Randolph (1651-1711) knew each other, may have been neighbors, and worked together in peace keeping in late 17th century Colonial Virginia. What a remarkable coincidence that my 8X Great Grandfather and Cindy's 8X Great Grandfather served together on the same group of Justices for Henrico County, Virginia in 1683. 

The image above on the right is a portrait from Wikipedia of Cindy's ancestor William Randolph who served with Abell Gower in the 1860s in Virginia. 

I know of no other connection between my ancestors and Cindy's ancestors in the three centuries between 1683 when Mr. Gower and Capt. Randolph were Justices of the Peace in Virginia, and 1968 when Cindy and I were married here in San Diego. 



Over the past three centuries my ancestors and Cindy's ancestors made similar journeys across country. The graphic above shows the three century, cross country route of Cindy's ancestors. From Henrico County, Virginia, they migrated to Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and finally California. On the West Coast they settled first in Visalia (where Cindy was born) before moving, in 1950, to San Diego where Cindy and some of her Harris family members still live today.

This is one more indication that we are descendants of some remarkable ancestors. Many of their stories have been hidden to history. I am grateful for the proliferation of resources that continue to come to light and tell us about them. The more we know about them, the more we can understand ourselves, our past, and our future.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

July 28: "Birthdays Are Good For You"

Birthdays are good for you. 
Statistics show that 
the people who have the most 
live the longest.
~Larry Lorenzoni

Today, July 28, is one of those special days on the calendar when two members of our family have birthdays. My sister Barbara and our grandson William are both celebrating another year today.

Barbara and William enjoying a moment
last year on Wildwood Lane 
Barbara was born in San Diego sometime in the last century, as were all of her siblings as well as most of her cousins. In the spring of 1978, the year after graduating from San Diego's Kearny High School, her parents Maida and Eugene Shepard left Southern California and moved to Western Washington. Barbara and mom Maida still live today in the house Mom and Dad bought 42 years ago when they settled in Anacortes, Washington. Barb had a recent bout with breast cancer but received some wonderful news from her doctor not long ago: she is now cancer free.

Barbara is the primary care giver for our mother Maida and receives lots of help in caring for Mom from our brother Gary and his wife Cindy who live not far away. With her 96th birthday coming up in November, Mom's needs continue to grow. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Barb, Gary and Cindy, and all those who are helping our dear mother through these sunset years. Best wishes to Barb for a very Happy Birthday today!

William and "Mimi" celebrating
their birthdays in San Diego in 2015
Our Grandson William Shepard is the other birthday celebrant on this day. He was born in San Francisco eight years ago, the third child of Nathan and Chenda Shepard. For the last 6 years he has lived with his Dad Nathan, brother Logan and sister Preslea in the San Carlos community of San Diego, not far from where Cindy and I live. William and his siblings seem to be enduring the Pandemic shut-down quite well. When the time is right William and his siblings look forward to going back to school, playing hockey, visiting friends and going to places they have had to avoid. Happy Eighth Birthday to William!

On a few occasions in recent years Barb and William have been able to share their birthdays together physically, even though they live nearly 1,500 miles apart. Last year, for example, a whole group of us were together in Las Vegas to celebrate with Barb and "Mimi" on their special day. But this year, because of Covid, an actual face to face birthday celebration will not happen. At least not in the traditional fashion. Instead they will get together virtually in a Zoom celebration, to blow out candles, eat cake, and sing Happy Birthday. Best wishes to both of them!

Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Friday, June 19, 2020

100 Years of Fathers, June 19, 2020

A father carries pictures 
where his money used to be. 
~Steve Martin

Happy Father's Day! This weekend is an occasion to honor all fathers in our midst, and to celebrate our own fathers. We also remember men who have had a fatherly impact on our lives. I hope all of you can celebrate with your father this weekend in person. If not I hope you can remember your father with great fondness. Few relationships are more important to our well being than the relationship we have (had) with our father. Theirs is an influence that will impact us for our entire lives.

The following is a music video that celebrates 100 years of Fathers in our family. This collection ranges from some Davis ancestors in Indiana in 1908 through some Shepard and Gower kinfolk in the 1920s and on through the decades with images of Russell, Boyd, Harris, Ortiz and Clark fathers, including some images from recent months.



Memorable Fathers. My own father Eugene Shepard (1921-2003) was a man I remember with great respect and honor. All my siblings would echo the same thing. I also remember my two grandfathers, Leroy Gower and William Shepard. Both of them I had the great privilege of knowing and relating to for many of my early years. The first 23 years of my life were spent in San Diego when my father and both grandfathers lived there. I consider myself fortunate to have had such a wonderful father, and to have been close to both of my grandfathers. 

On this father's day weekend I am also remembering my father-in-law Joe Harris (1922-1999), a man of faith and integrity, who had a positive impact on my life for many years. As the father of my wife Cindy, Joe Harris was very much like my own father Gene Shepard. They were very different from each other in many ways, but it is uncanny how the span of their lives was remarkably similar. Both men were born in small towns in Oklahoma in the early 1920s, both were from families who migrated to California and settled in San Diego around the time of World War II. Both served in the United States Navy during the war. Both had wives who were raised in Oklahoma, while both had children who were raised in San Diego. And both were devoted church leaders as were their wives.  For many years both men were Elders of Church of Christ congregations in San Diego; my father at the Linda Vista Church of Christ, and Joe at the Allied Gardens Church of Christ. Both men died within just a few years of each other, Cindy's dad in 1999 and my dad in 2003. 

Paula Harris and daughter Cindy Shepard
Like all of you, Cindy and I are proud of our fathers and honor them both as we remember their lives, their influence and their legacy on this weekend of Father's Day 2020.

Remembering Paula Hicks Harris (1923-2018). This post celebrates fathers, but what would we fathers be without the spouses in our lives? So I must mention a particular woman who is being remembered this month. Cindy's mother Paula Hicks Harris (1923-2018) was the wife of Joe Harris, one of the fathers mentioned above. She died at 94 years old on June 2, just two years ago. She was a lovely lady who lived a full life and is remembered for her faith, her fortitude, and her love of family.

Poor People's Campaign. As a way of standing with all those who support racial justice, I invite you to consider the Poor People's Campaign by selecting this link. It is led by nationally known minister William Barber, who serves Greenleaf Christian Church in North Carolina, a congregation of the Campbell Stone tradition with which many of us are familiar.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)