Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

This day always reminds me how Irish our roots really are. We have numerous immigrants in our family tree who came to America generations before our nation was born. Today is an opportunity to celebrate our Irish ancestry, and to remember those who made a great effort to migrate across the Atlantic.

My grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004) was the most Irish person I ever knew. There are numerous persons in her family tree -- probably more than she realized -- who were Irish immigrants to America long before she was born. Even though she was very Irish and proud of that fact, I do not remember her ever getting particularly excited about Saint Patrick's Day. As a country girl from small town Arkansas in the early 20th century, her people were hard working, pious Baptists.

Numerous ancestors of ours took great risks by sailing across the Atlantic and journeying to America with high hopes for a better life. They are folks like Thomas and Eigness Shannon who came from Derry in Northern Ireland about 1700. Also James Alexander and family who came from Raphoe, in northern Ireland in the late 1600s, and John and Lucy Maxwell in the mid 1600s, and Robert and Mary Alexander who came from Scotland in the 17th century. We have a few dozen Irish ancestors who can be identified in our family history, and for them all we are grateful.

Image of an Irish Immigrant ship
arriving in America
A Remarkable Ancestor. Among the most interesting Irish immigrants in our history is William Henry Pickens (1670-1735) and his wife Margaret Pike Pickens (1672-1740). Originally from La Rochelle, France on the Atlantic coast, William was probably among the Hugenots, Reformed Protestant Christians who suffered severe religious persecution from the established Catholic Church in France. In response to that persecution 6X Great Grandfather William Pickens crossed the England Channel and migrated to Ireland. There he married an Irish woman named Margaret Pike with whom he had 10 children. 

From the town of Limerick in central Ireland, William and Margaret Pickens obtained passage for themselves and their children and sailed across the Atlantic to the new world. In the early 18th century ocean voyages were dangerous ventures, especially for a large family like the Pickenses. From what little we know about their journey, the family survived the difficult ocean crossing safely and arrived in Philadelphia in 1722. They settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania just north of Philadelphia.

An Amazing Life Journey. What an amazing life journey our 6X Great Grandfather William Pickens had. Born in a small French town amid religious persecution, he fled to Ireland where he settled and raised a family, before making his way across the Atlantic ocean to America. For the 18th century his was a life journey that included an incredible amount of cultural, ethnic and family transition. What an adventurous spirit!

From the historical records of the Abington
Presbyterian Church, showing the marriage of
Lucy Pickens and Matthew Gillespie in 1722

Once William, his wife Margaret and their children settled in Pennsylvania, the Pickens family continued in their Reform Protestant tradition and joined the Abington Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, a congregation that still exists today. As a youth in France, William was persecuted for being a Reformed Protestant. In America he and his family freely shared their faith in a new church setting. Historical records of the Abington Church show that 299 years ago, in 1722, the very year the Pickenses arrived in Pennsylvania, their 20 year old daughter Lucy Pickens married a young man named Matthew Gillespie. It was the first marriage for this family in the new world. What a joyous occasion it must have been! From that union our family line is descended: 

  • Lucy Pickens (1702-1762) married Matthew Gillespie (1700-1728)
  • son Matthew Gillespie Jr. (1726-1793) married Anna Pickens (1726-1775)
  • daughter Mary Q. Gillespie (1756-1789) married Andrew Pickens (1753-1844)
  • daughter Anna Pickens (1785-1867) married David McKnight Shannon (1790-1860)
  • son David Reid Shannon (1821-1864) married Peggy Gray (1829-1899)
  • son Samuel Pickens Shannon (1858-1930) married Finetta Dearien (1861-1960)
  • daughter Nola Shannon (1903-2004) married Leroy Gower (1899-1974)
  • daughter Maida Gower (b. 1924) married Eugene Shepard (1921-2003)
  • son Steve Shepard (b. 1948) married Cindy Harris (b. 1948)

Our proud Irish ancestry is something worth remembering. There is much more to learn about that part of our family. Today we pause and remember their place in our heritage and we celebrate all they went through to bring us to this day.
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Steve Shepard

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