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)

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