Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Reynolds Connection, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter weekend to all of you! May Easter tomorrow be a wonderful time for you to be with friends and family and celebrate the joy of spring, newness and the risen Christ. On this holiday weekend I want to share with you about an important person in our family tree who is probably unknown to most of you: Matilda Reynolds Sheppard (1814-1876). She was my GGG Grandmother, and the mother of Civil War soldier William Shepard (1835-1862). Even though our Reynolds ancestors are relatively unknown, they are an important part of our family heritage and worthy of our consideration.

The Sheppard and Reynolds Neighbors. In the early part of the 19th century the Reynolds' family migrated to the Ohio frontier from Maryland and Southeastern Pennsylvania. They moved westward at about the same time our Sheppard ancestors did and settled in the same community: Kirkwood, Ohio in the northern part of Belmont County. The Sheppards and the Reynolds were neighbors and founding families of the Kirkwood community. Belmont County was the early 19th Century home of a number of our ancestors, including the Davises, the Spears, the Buskirks, and the Sheppards. We can now add the Reynolds family to that list.

The family of Matilda Reynolds brought with them to Ohio a strong affiliation with "The Society of Friends" (Quakers). I wrote in a recent blog post that the Reynolds were such devout Quakers in Pennsylvania that Matilda Reynolds' parents had to get permission from Church leadership to get married in 1812.

The April 1833 Marriage Record for
James Shepherd and Matilda Reynolds
Belmont County, Ohio
Disowned By the Quakers. On April 15, 1833 the Sheppard and Reynolds families became more than simply neighbors when young James Sheppard at 19 married Matilda Reynolds who was just 18. It was a marriage with built-in challenges because the Sheppards were not Quakers like the Reynolds. In that day, marrying outside the Quaker fellowship was frowned upon. As a result, in 1834, the year after James and Matilda got married, the Quaker leadership disowned Matilda for what they said was "marrying contrary to discipline." Matilda did something the Church fathers did not approve.

The 19th Century Quakers were a closely knit fellowship with strict requirements for their followers. We do not know for sure what Matilda did to cause the Quaker leaders to disown her. She may have failed to get their permission to marry, or she may have chosen to marry outside the Quaker Fellowship, or in some other way she may have simply refused to submit to their oversight of her personal life. Whatever offense she committed, it was deemed worthy of ousting her from their fellowship. The meeting at which they issued that decree was dated December 25, 1834. On Christmas Day (!) the Quaker leadership took action to remove from their fellowship one of their own -- a 19 year old girl from one of their long time families, the Reynolds.

It is hard for us to imagine what it was like 200 years ago among religious groups on the American frontier. It was not uncommon for Churches of all kinds to be very strict in their demands of members. Even Restoration Movement Churches (the heritage of many of readers of this blog) placed demands on their members in those early years. To be sure, the Quakers and other religious institutions have evolved considerably over the last two centuries. Most of them are not nearly so narrow and heavy handed today as they were in the early 1800s.

Richard Reynolds and wife Mary Hissey Reynolds
Brother of Matilda Reynolds Sheppard and among
our Reynolds ancestors of Kirkwood, Ohio
Quite the Rebel and Romantic. I can't help but be curious about the teenagers James and Matilda. What were they like? At 18, Matilda must have been quite the rebel and romantic to have given up her religious association, and probably the good will of her biological family, for this neighbor boy James Sheppard Jr., the love of her life. Kirkwood, Ohio was a frontier community in 1833 when they married, a place where the open-minded, adventurous, frontier mentality flourished. At the same time there were those who were more conservative and sought to preserve the old ways. At times those two ways of thinking clashed. Matilda's life was a good example.

Westward Ho! Matilda's marriage to James Sheppard in April, 1833, and her resulting ouster in December, 1834 from the Society of Friends, began a series of memorable events for this young couple. Six months after her ouster, in June, 1835 their first child was born. They named him William Sheppard, after James' brother William who was 2 years younger than James. In 1837 their second child Elizabeth Sheppard was born, named after James' sister Elizabeth who was just 16 when her namesake niece was born. Then in 1840 with two young children in tow, James and Matilda packed up and left Kirkwood, Ohio and migrated westward. I wonder how much her ouster from the Quakers had to do with her willingness to leave Ohio. It was a time to make a new life for herself and her family as she and James made the trek farther into the American frontier.

James and Matilda were in their 20s when they and their children made their way 350 miles along the famous Cumberland Trail across Ohio and Illinois to Western Indiana. They eventually settled in Tippecanoe County, northwest of Indianapolis, and the movement of the Shepards across the U.S. took a major step forward. There is more to be said about James and Matilda, but that will have to wait for another blog post. For now let us be grateful for the courage and foresight of these two, James and Matilda Reynolds Sheppard, as they take their place among our honored ancestors whose lives we celebrate and whose legacy we claim.
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Steve Shepard

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