Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Record Setter

Many ancestors in our family tree were parents of numerous children. For example, I was one of six children. Other parents in our larger family brought even more children into this world. My Grandmother Bura Davis was one of 7 children. My Grandfather Leroy Gower was one of 13 children. It was common for our ancestors in the 19th century to have large families. They were pioneer people, moving ever westward, driven to populate this young country of ours.

Ancestor Sarah Bates
A Charismatic Missionary. Recently I discovered an ancestor who sets the record -- at least in our family tree -- for having the most children. This particular story begins with Sarah Marinda Bates (1817-1888), who was a distant cousin of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. Sarah was born and raised in Henderson, New York. As a young adult she met and married a charismatic missionary named Orson Pratt (1811-1881) who introduced Sarah to Mormonism which she practiced wholeheartedly for many years. Rev. Pratt, an accomplished and capable religious leader, was also an historian, a civic leader, a world traveler, a scientist, a mathematician and an author. He was chosen to be one of the original 12 Apostles of the Latter Days Saints movement. As such Orson Pratt embraced polygamy. For many it was a repulsive, anti-Family and un-American practice, but it had its day in the history of Mormonism. Since Sarah's husband embraced the practice, it meant that Sarah was just the first of Mr. Pratt's numerous wives. 

With Sarah, Mr. Pratt had 14 children. He went on to gather around him 9 other women whom he married and with whom he fathered children. In the early years of Mormonism polygamy was not uncommon. It was encouraged, as a way of increasing the numbers of this new sect. To her credit, our ancestor Sarah Bates refused to be married to anyone besides her one husband. Other men sought to make her one of their "spiritual wives," but she refused.  Among her suitors was the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith himself, according to a reputable article regarding Mormon history on Wikipedia. 

Rev. Orson Pratt (1811-1881)
The Man Who Fathered 38 Children. Sarah Bates' husband Orson Pratt fathered 38 children by his 10 wives between 1834 and 1877. How does a father bring 38 children into the world and give them the attention they deserve? He doesn't. Because he can't. Mr. Pratt obviously was not motivated by any sense of family love but simply from a base desire to procreate, regardless of the consequences. Because of its detriment to healthy families, the Mormons finally repudiated polygamy publicly in 1890. The practice became a felony in 1935.

Yet the historical record remains clear about Mr. Pratt's 38 offspring. What is also clear is Sarah Bates' refusal to accept Polygamy, despite her husband's full embrace of it. She even became an outspoken critic of the Mormon practice. As you might expect it created a serious rift between her and her husband leading to the end of their marriage. 

Sarah later became a founder of the Anti-Polygamy Society in Salt Lake City. In 1874 she was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. The following year she described herself by saying, "I am the wife of Orson Pratt. I was formerly a member of the Mormon church. I have not been a believer in the Mormon doctrines for thirty years, and am now considered an apostate." 

The full story of our family's history includes the feel-good episodes as well as the head-scratching stories of people whose actions we rightly call into question. Like most families, our history is a checkered one, including people we can be proud of, as well as others whose stories we might not want to repeat. But even from them we can nonetheless learn valuable lessons. Wisdom comes from discernment.
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Steve Shepard

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Black History Month

February is Black history month. In our family tree we have a number of Black ancestors including Lulu B. Lee (1871-1941), a 2nd cousin (4X removed) who was originally from Virginia. She was one of the more fascinating people in our family history. She was black but not a slave, having been born just a few years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. 

Dr. Harry Warren Mickey

Lulu was a Great Granddaughter of our notable ancestor Matthew Gower (1762-1853). Lulu was a domestic worker for most of her life. During one particular job in New Jersey, she ran into legal problems and had to appear before a judge. She was accused of "visiting a disorderly house."  We don't know what her crime actually was, but whatever it was earned her 30 days of hard labor in prison. If nothing else, it appears that Lulu was caught up a judicial system that treated people of color unfairly. Sound familiar?

Lulu's sister Amanda Lee (1875-1950) had a son named Harry Warren Mickey (1904-1973) who was the first black Medical Doctor in the city of Washington, D.C. In the June 7, 1930 edition of the Washington D.C. newspaper The Evening Star, the graduates of the Medical College of Howard University were listed. Among them was our ancestor Harry Warren Mickey. One family tradition has it that he was the physician for our 25th President William McKinley and that Dr. Mickey accompanied the President to Ohio when McKinley was assassinated.

Another notable black relative in our family tree was Bishop Henry Beard Delany (1895-1991). He was an outstanding Episcopal minister who, in the early 20th century, was one of only two black bishops in the Episcopal Church in the entire United States. He is related to us through our Gower ancestor Charity Gower Clayton (1804-1847).

Ruby Dee and Diahann Caroll
portraying the Delany Sisters
In addition to the foregoing, two of the most accomplished black ancestors in our family tree were Sarah and Annie Elizabeth Delany (1891-1995), two of the children of the aforementioned Henry Beard Delany. Annie's biography on reads as follows: 

Annie Elizabeth Delany was one of ten children born to Bishop Henry Beard Delany and Nanny Logan, having been born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1891. She, along with her sister, were thrust into the national limelight in the last decade of their lives. With her sister Sadie (Sarah Delany) and journalist Amy Hill Hearth, a book was published, "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First One Hundred Years" (1993) which found itself on The New York best-sellers list. The book recounted the sisters' experiences growing up in the segregated South and later in New York. Their story was later made into a play that toured the country. In 1994, the sisters published another book, "The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom." Bessie Delany died in Mount Vernon, New York at age 104. In April of 1999, the Delany sisters' story was made into a movie which starred Ruby Dee and Diahann Caroll.

On Black History Month it is gratifying to know that we have a number of Black members whose lives give credit to our larger family.
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Steve Shepard