Saturday, October 30, 2021

History Repeating Itself

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all of you on this spooky scary weekend! May it be a safe and special weekend for all of you!

This article is a follow up to my last post about Elizabeth Maxwell, my 7X Great Grandmother, originally from London, England. At just 18 years old, Elizabeth's mother forced her daughter to break her engagement to the man she loved and wanted to marry. We don't know why her mother felt so strongly against this engagement. We just know that she forced the issue and young Elizabeth did her mother's bidding and broke her engagement. It was devastating to the teen. Over the next few years young Elizabeth recovered from that terrible disappointment and made a good life for herself. My last post told about the amazing events that led to Elizabeth's immigration to Colonial America.

In the New World, in 1725, Elizabeth married a young man named Thomas Job of a respectable Pennsylvania family. Elizabeth and Thomas Job had a large family like most early American families. One of their children was a daughter they named Lydia. Lydia then married and had a daughter named Rachel who in turn had a daughter named Esther who married and had a daughter named Matilda Reynolds. 

Here are these consecutive generations of women in our family:

  • Elizabeth Maxwell (1700-1782) (husband Thomas Job)
  • Lydia Job (1735-1817)  (husband Benjamin Wilson)
  • Rebecca Wilson (1767-1857) (husband Job Sidwell)
  • Esther Sidwell (1791-1874) (husband Richard Reynolds)
  • Matilda Reynolds (1814-1876) (husband James Sheppard)

Marriage Record for Mattie Reynolds
and James Shepherd, April 2, 1833
Choosing the Way of Love. Matilda, the last in this list, had an experience strikingly similar to that of her GG Grandmother Elizabeth. Like her great great grandmother before her, Mattie was not allowed to marry the man she loved and with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. A century after Elizabeth's experience history repeated itself. For young Elizabeth from London it was her mother who rejected her daughter's betrothed in 1718 with terrible consequences for the family. For Mattie it was not her mother who objected. It was her Quaker Church leadership. At that time the Quakers did not allow members to marry someone who was not a Quaker. But Mattie, despite being a practicing Quaker, was determined. She chose the way of love over the dictates of her Church and married her betrothed in 1833, a young man named James Sheppard (see the record above of their marriage). As a result in 1834 Mattie was disowned by her religious leaders for marrying outside the Quaker faith.

Elizabeth and her great granddaughter Matilda -- 100 years apart -- experienced a similar disappointment. Authority figures in their respective lives disapproved of the men they each chose to marry. In one case an overbearing mother stepped in to break up an engagement. In the other it was the church leaders who stepped in and punished the young bride for marrying the love of her life.

For at least 100 years -- going back to about 1700 -- this family line of descendants included dedicated Quakers. But with the one act of disownment in 1834, that all changed. 

A Typical Quaker Assembly
in 19th Century America

Our Respectable Quaker Heritage. But let's be clear. The Quakers were respectable people who helped create a great foundation for our country and our family both morally and spiritually. Their positive impact on our nation, and on our family's history, cannot be overestimated. Their stance against slavery, their objection to war, their emphasis on strong families, their acceptance of women leaders -- those were all wonderful things. But their strict stance on young people only marrying within the faith was bad policy. 

Descended From Gritty Women. It's great to know that we are descended from strong, principled, gritty women who rolled with the punches that came their way. We are direct descendants of Elizabeth Maxwell and her great granddaughter Mattie Reynolds, both strong women who refused to let unreasonable authority figures have the last word in their lives. They persisted. They took the bad treatment that came their way and did not let it define them. They made the most of life despite difficult circumstances.

Theirs is a family story we need to tell. They were not the only women in our families who were mistreated and given a bum deal. Others have had to endure similar fates and they too must be honored. But these two -- Elizabeth and Mattie -- remain outstanding examples of honorable women who were treated dishonorably, yet they prevailed. And in them we can find hope and promise for the future.
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Steve Shepard

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