Thursday, September 27, 2018

Famously Named Ancestors, Part III, September 27, 2018

Family isn't defined only by last names or by blood;
it's defined by commitment and by love.
~David Willis

I continue my series on "The Pantheon of the Famously Named," sharing with you people in our family tree who were named after famous people. In my last two posts I mentioned 5 ancestors who were named after Presidents. But there are others in our family tree who were also famously named. Not after Presidents, but named after other famous people of history.

Emperor Julius Caesar
by 16th century artist Paul Rubens
Julius Caesar Vessels. My wife Cindy's GG Grandfather was given the beautifully ostentatious name of Julius Caesar, which automatically gives him a place in my "Pantheon of the Famously Named."  He was named after the emperor of the Roman Empire, who lived in the first century before Jesus. He was a Roman politician and one of the most famous military generals in all recorded history. 

He is referred to a number of times in the New Testament, most memorably by Jesus, when he commented on the question of paying taxes. Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22.21) It is one thing to be named after a U.S. President. It takes things to a whole different level to be named after the leader of a world empire and one of the most famous men in world history.

Our ancestor Julius Caesar Vessels (1842-1928) was born in rural Limestone, Alabama. He became an adult when America was ready to plunge into the horrors of the Civil War. He served in the Southern Army, in the 53rd Regiment out of Alabama in the 1860s, which puts him in another select category of soldier-ancestors who served in the Civil War. During the War he married Fannie Narcissus Bradford, who herself was given a remarkable name from Greek mythology, Narcissus. Before the War ended Julius Caesar and Fannie began their family of 11 children, the 7th of whom was Edna Pearl Vessels McGowan, Cindy's Great Grandmother.

Julius Caesar Vessels
about 1870
Julius Caesar Vessels was a hearty Alabaman who lived to be 86, very old by 19th century standards. He outlived three of his children, and his first wife Fannie by almost 30 years. He married a second time to a Texas girl named Sally Bates and relocated to North Texas to live with her. Though 10 years older than her, he outlived her by 27 years! Julius Caesar Vessels therefore takes his rightful place as the 6th member of our "Pantheon of the Famously Named."

Julius Theophilus Vessels. The aforementioned Julius Caesar Vessels and wife Fannie Vessels gave the 4th of their 11 children the name Julius Theophilus Vessels (1871-1942). Theophilus, a greek word meaning "lover of God," is the famous name of the person to whom the Book of Acts in the New Testament was written (cf. Acts 1.1). To be fair it must be said that the Biblical Theophilus is famous primarily to those who are students of the New Testament. Even at that, not very much is known about the original Theophilus. The mystery surrounding him is part of the reason he is of interest to so many.

Julius Theophilus Vessels
with family, about 1920
Our ancestor Julius Theophilus had a heavy burden when it came to his name. To say nothing of his father who was named after one of the most famous men in all history, and his mother who was named after a legendary character of Greek mythology. Julius Theophilus, like his father, was born on a farm in Limestone County, Alabama in 1872. With his family he migrated to North Texas in the 1890s and died at 70 years old after living his last years in Plainview, Texas, north of Lubbock. Julius Theophilus therefore takes his place as the 7th member of our "Pantheon of the Famously Named."

This whole matter of naming children has changed over the generations. These days common names are often the norm. But in years past it was not unusual for our ancestors to give children names of outstanding people of history. The 7 famously named people I have mentioned in recent posts were all from the 19th century. Their thinking seems to have been that the more glorious the name, the better. Many of the 19th century folk from whom we are descended were poor dirt farmers, some of them from the South. To give their children outstanding names may have been a way of reaching for something better in life than what they had experienced so far, a way of claiming a sense of southern sophistication that had eluded them.

Kambree and Karver
Do you know of others in our family tree who deserve a place in this "Pantheon of the Famously Named?" If so let me know.

From the Ancient to the Contemporary. After all this talk about people of long ago, the last word today needs to be about what's happening these days in our family. 

Last weekend our family in and around Weatherford, Texas celebrated the 4th birthday of Lyndsey Aquiningoc's son Karver. Among those attending that celebration was Karver's cousin Kambree, the daughter of Mandi Aquiningoc. Karver and Kambree are the only two (so far!) Great Great Grandchildren of my mother Maida Gower Shepard of Anacortes, Washington. Happy birthday to Karver and best wishes to him and his family! And thanks to the family for sharing this picture of them on Facebook recently.

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Steve Shepard

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