Monday, May 31, 2021

Our Shannon Ancestry in California

In recent months I have connected with a part of our Shannon ancestry with which I was unfamiliar. It is the family line of Dee Shannon, wife of my cousin Joan Shepard of Chico, California. It was an unexpected surprise to learn that Dee, like me, is descended from the 17th century Irish couple Robert and Annel Shannon. Their four sons Thomas, Andrew, William and Robert, migrated around 1700 from Munster, Ireland to Pennsylvania. The oldest of their four sons, Thomas Shannon, is my ancestor via my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, while William Shannon is Dee's ancestor via her Grandmother Marie Shannon Ostrom.

For those of you who are familiar with Shannon family history, Thomas Shannon (1686-1737) is the Irish immigrant described in detail in the anthology Shannon by the late Dexal Shannon. Thomas Shannon's brother William Shannon (1682-1742) is the sibling about whom most of us are not nearly as familiar.

ancestor Jefferson Milam Shannon
an early pioneer in California
Both Shannon brothers -- Thomas and William -- migrated to Lancaster County, in Southeast Pennsylvania when they arrived in Colonial America in the early years of the 18th century. In time, the families of both brothers began journeying westward across America. Thomas Shannon's descendants migrated to Davidson County, Tennessee, then to Stone County, Arkansas, and then to Oklahoma. In 1942, these Shannons finally made their way to the West Coast when Nola Shannon Gower and husband Leroy settled in San Diego. 

The descendants of brother William Shannon took a different route to get across country. From Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, they made their way into Fayette County, Kentucky, then on to Marion County, Missouri. In Missouri Nathaniel Shannon, Jr. had a large farm outside the town of Palmyra, on which he and wife Isabella raised a large family. 

One of their sons, Jefferson Milam Shannon (1831-1902), left his family in Missouri for the West Coast. In 1849 Jefferson Milam Shannon made his way from Palmyra, Missouri to the new State of California which at the time only had a population of 92,000. As people like Jefferson Shannon flocked to California the population boomed. (Today there are 75 cities in California with more than 92,000 people.)

Rebecca and Jefferson Shannon headstone
Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, Ca.
Jefferson Shannon appears in a special 1852 California Census as a young farmer in Solano County. Family records indicate that Jefferson's father Nathaniel Shannon Jr. (1800-1852), had come to California from Missouri a year or so before his son. But the record is clear that Jefferson Shannon arrived before 1852. In the early 1850s Jefferson made his way to Fresno and nearby Millerton where he established himself and accumulated significant wealth as a farmer and landowner. He married a local girl named Rebecca Margaret Baley, and with her raised four children: Mary Shannon Idria, Scott Shannon, Sidney Shannon, and Leland Stanford Shannon.

While in Fresno, Jefferson was fortunate enough to be acquainted with four of the biggest tycoons of early California: Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University. Not surprisingly the Shannons named their youngest son after Leland Stanford. 

After nearly 40 years in the Central Valley, Jefferson and Rebecca Shannon relocated in 1888 to the Bay Area to get advanced education for their sons. They spent their last years in the town of Alameda, California. Jefferson and Rebecca died in 1902 and 1906 respectively and are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

For most of my life I was under the impression that my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was the first of our Shannon ancestors to come to California. But I now see that that distinction belongs to Jefferson Milam Shannon and his father Nathaniel Shannon from Palmyra, Missouri. They arrived in California about the time of Statehood, before the Civil War, and 90 years prior to Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower's 1942 arrival in San Diego. It is a proud Shannon ancestry we have in California.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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