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.
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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.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)