Friday, February 19, 2021

Black History Month, February 19, 2021

My humanity is bound up in yours,
for we can only be human together.
~Desmond Tutu

February is Black History Month. Like most families in America, our extended family has a mixed history when it comes to race relations. In my lifetime our family's attitudes toward Blacks has been varied. As a child growing up in San Diego, I remember my Grandfather, who like many of his generation, regularly used the n-word. Many in our family, like me, winced whenever he spoke it. In addition, his comments and anecdotes regarding blacks were often demeaning. His language was reflective of his upbringing at the turn of the 20th century in a time of racial strife. 

Jesse and Mary Bradford, just one
among many slave holding families
among our ancestors.
In my lifetime our culture has evolved a great deal in regard to race relations. And yet, no matter how much the culture has changed, we have a history of slavery in our country and in our family that we cannot ignore. Owning another human being is inexcusable. Whether it happened 2,000 years ago or 200 years ago, it cannot be condoned. It was just plain wrong and should have been resisted.

Slave Holding Ancestors. In my family history research I have discovered that numerous members of our family were slave holders in the early 19th century. Even though slavery was an integral part of the culture at the time, it is still discouraging to read of ancestors who owned slaves. U.S. Census records in the early 19th century clearly document families who owned slaves and how many they owned. 

The following is a list of just some of the slave holding families in our history (according to US Census Records):

  • Andrew Pickens of Virginia (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 2 slaves in 1810.
  • William Dearen of North Carolina (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 11 slaves in 1810.
  • Sarah Rives of Virginia (my 4X Great Grandmother) owned 8 slaves in 1820.
  • David Shannon of Tennessee (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 6 slaves in 1820.
  • William Gray of Tennessee (my 4X Great Grandfather) owned 13 slaves in 1830.
  • Thomas Shannon of Virginia (my 4X Granduncle) owned 16 slaves in 1840.
  • David McKnight Shannon of Mississippi (my 3X Great Grandfather) owned 5 slaves in 1840.
  • Katherine Bradford of Tennessee (4X Great Grandmother) owned 13 slaves in 1840.
  • Jesse and Mary Bradford of Alabama (3X Great Grandparents) owned 3 slaves in 1840.

One other slave owning family in our family tree was my 5th Granduncle William E. Gower and his wife Charlotte Garland Gower of Nashville, Tennessee. Born in 1776, the year of our nation's birth, William served as a Methodist minister for over 50 years. Uncle William and Aunt Charlotte built Gower's Chapel, next to Gower Cemetery which still exists today on Gower Road in Nashville, Tennessee. 

1860 Newspaper Notice
of Gower Slaves For Sale
When William died in the fall of 1861, his widow Charlotte put their slaves up for sale. In the May 8, 1860 edition of the Nashville Union and American newspaper, a notice appeared regarding the sale of their Gower owned slaves. It read: 

Sale of Negroes 

In pursuance of a decree of the County Court of Davidson County, rendered in the case of the heirs of William Gower, deceased, I will offer for sale at the Court House in Nashville, on Saturday the 2nd Day of June, next, the following negroes, to wit:

Rachel, about 57 years of age
Isaac about 40 years of age
Harriet about 27 years of age, and her two children
Laura about 5 years of age
Charles about 3 years of age.

Terms - - $100 in cash will be required, and for the balance notes endorsed, payable in back, at twelve months.

F.R. Cheatham, 
Clerk and Master

Could the woman in this photo
be Beverly Russell Wilk? 

It is hard to believe that ancestors of ours -- or anybody for that matter -- could traffic in human lives like this, offering men, women and children for sale on the open market. Thank God we have come a long way since then.  

Do You Recognize This Woman? I read an article earlier this month in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which recognized Black History Month. Included was a picture of a "sit-in" protest in downtown San Diego in 1963 at the San Diego Gas and Electric office building on 6th Ave. In the photo a woman is entering the building and making her way past the protesters. She looks to me remarkably like my late cousin Beverly Russell (1939-1974), who worked for many years at SDG&E, and would have been 24 years old when this picture was taken. Those of you who knew Beverly, what do you think? Could this be our cousin Bev?

Black History month is a time to recognize this dark and unsettling chapter in our family's history. It is difficult to believe, yet it is true, that numerous ancestors of ours were part of the slave culture in early America, buying, selling and enslaving other human beings, including children. This month therefore becomes a time to ponder the questions: What does this part of our history say about who we are today? And how will we be judged by our descendants 200 years from now?
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

A Tale of Two Soldiers

A Tale of Two Soldiers

Like each of you, I have 8 GG Grandfathers in our family tree. Six of them had the misfortune of being just the right age for service in the American Civil War. The other two were too young to serve in the military. Two of my GG Grandfathers served in the Confederate Army: David Reid Shannon and Augustus Dearien. Four of them served in the Union Army: William Shepard, Payton Owens, William Spear and John M. Turner. Most of these men were farmers who simply took a break from their domestic affairs to serve their time in the War. Four of those who served returned home from the War relatively unscathed. Two of my GG Grandfathers gave their last full measure of devotion and died in combat. One was a Union Soldier, the other a Confederate Soldier. 

William Shepard (1835-1862) and David Reid Shannon (1821-1864). William Shepard is a GG Grandfather on my father's side of the family. David Reid Shannon is a GG Grandfather on my mother's side of the family. The life journeys of these two soldiers were somewhat similar, although different in notable ways. 

My ancestor William Shepard, originally from Ohio, joined the Union Army in Wabash, Indiana in September 1861. Three years later and 1,000 miles to the South, ancestor David Reid Shannon, originally from Mississippi, joined the Confederate Army in Alexandria, Louisiana in April 1864. 

Each man had a wife and children. Once they left home to join the military and serve their country in the Civil War, neither man was ever seen by their families again. It was a tragedy duplicated countless times across our country during the years of the War. When William Shepard departed Wabash, Indiana, he left a 21 year old pregnant wife, Mary Shepard, with their one year old son named Frank. When David departed his family farm near Sugartown, Louisiana, he left his wife Peggy Shannon with 7 children between the ages of 2 and 14. 

They Were On Their Own. As the war dragged on, both wives eventually came to the awful realization that they were not going to see their husbands again. They were on their own to support themselves and their children. Both women did what they had to do to survive. Years later, after the war, they would each receive a widow's pension with some financial relief. But during the war it was a very difficult struggle for each woman and her children. 

Evansville, Indiana Grave of
Soldier William Shepard (1835-1862)
Mary Shepard, after finally realizing that husband William was never coming home, made her way back to her hometown in Ladoga, Indiana west of Indianapolis. Shortly after the war ended she remarried an older gentleman farmer named William Ragsdale who already had 9 children, adding her two young boys to the mix. She spent the rest of her life in that large blended family. We don't know how much she ever knew about what happened to her soldier-husband William Shepard. She did receive a small pension some 40 years after the war so she likely knew something about his death. 

An amazing amount of information about the Civil War is now accessible online, information that was not easily available before. Sitting at a home computer today one can learn much more about William's Civil War travels and battles than his wife Mary ever knew. Fortunately Mary was able to get on with her life by remarrying. It is unclear whether she ever visited William's grave in Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana.  

Two Resilient Women Who Survived. In Louisiana, Peggy Shannon was not so fortunate. She waited all through the war to receive word about her husband David Shannon but never heard anything. Communication was maddeningly slow and inconsistent during the Civil War in rural America. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been during the War for a single woman with 8 children on a farm in rural Louisiana, 200 miles west of New Orleans. After a year of hearing nothing, Peggy finally made her way to the enlistment center in Alexandria, Louisiana and demanded some word about what happened to her husband. Finally she received confirmation that her husband had died.

Word got back to Peggy's 62 year old father Richard Gray in Arkansas of her plight, and his heart was touched. He accepted the difficult task of traveling 400 dusty miles -- probably in a wagon -- from Mountain View, Arkansas to Sugartown, Louisiana to gather up Peggy and her children and move them to Arkansas. What else but a father's love for his only daughter could make a man do what he did? 

A Post War Journey. Moving Peggy Ann Shannon and her 7 children from Southern Louisiana to Northern Arkansas in the aftermath of the Civil War was no easy task. It was a slow, difficult journey that must have taken weeks. The South had been decimated in the war, people were desperate, poverty was rampant and travel had great risks. To undertake this journey required a heart full of love, a pocket full of greenbacks, and lots of help. The help Richard received from his sons -- Peggy's brothers -- James, Samuel and Lawson, who made the journey with him to rescue their family. The family was reunited and they lived out their lives on homesteaded property west of Mountain View, Arkansas. 

New Orleans Cemetery where Soldier David
Reid Shannon (1821-1864) is buried
By the way, the graves of both soldiers are in beautiful cemeteries that are easily accessible today. William Shepard rests in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Evansville, Indiana, a grave I have visited a couple of times. David Reid Shannon rests in Chalmette Cemetery in New Orleans. It is a grave I look forward to visiting some day. 

Mary Shepard and Peggy Shannon were women who survived tragic, desperate situations. Their resilience was remarkable. We, their descendants, owe them a great debt of gratitude. Both women, from different parts of the country, went on with their lives and had children and grandchildren whose life journeys took them westward. 

First Into Oklahoma. For Mary it was a Grandson (my Grandfather) named William Shepard (named after his soldier-grandfather) whose family settled in 1905 in the panhandle of Oklahoma. For Peggy it was a Granddaughter (my Grandmother) named Nola Shannon Gower whose family settled east of Oklahoma City in 1925. Both these grandchildren, William Shepard and Nola Gower, with their respective families, eventually made their way to San Diego in the early 1940s. It was in San Diego that William's son Eugene Shepard, and Nola's daughter Maida Gower, met and married. 

And, as they say, "the rest is history."
- - -
Steve Shepard (he, him, his)