Monday, May 29, 2023

#MemorialDay, remembering a female patriot ancestor

© 2022 Christy K Robinson

We are taught stories about heroic men who gave their lives to bring independence and liberty to their families, friends--and of course, to the people who would come long after they passed, whether in war or in their beds of old age. But we rarely learn of what women endured during wartime. There's no detailed history of Sarah Adams Stevens, only what can be learned by association with men of the time.

Some of my US patriot ancestors were massacred on 3 July 1778 by Mohawks who were paid bounties for scalps, by the British, or the American Tories loyal to the British. Scalping was a particularly gruesome and painful way to die, since the scalps were stripped from the skulls while the victim may still have been wounded but alive. Stories I read about the Massacre of Wyoming cited British loyalist officers from Connecticut as commanders of the battle. My patriot ancestors were from Fairfield, Connecticut. They may have known the men behind their deaths.

Among the fallen in the Massacre of Wyoming (Wyoming, Pennsylvania) was Lt Asa Stevens, my 5x great-grandfather on my Robinson side. 

Asa's and 300 other men's remains were later interred in a cemetery where a 60-foot cenotaph was erected.

Asa Stevens was married to Sarah Adams, 3rd cousin to the future US President John Adams.

Asa's 245th birthday was 2 days ago, May 27. He was only 44 when he was hacked to death. His 15-year-old son Roger died a week later while the family was fleeing the Wyoming Valley in the wake of the massacre. Roger was buried in the wilderness and the family had to move on through forests and mountains, during a war in which Indians killed women and children or took them captive as slaves. (This happened to other ancestors.) The journey to Connecticut must have been terrifying, even as they were suffering grief over Sarah's dead husband and son.

Sarah's son Jonathan wrote later that the family returned on foot to Canterbury, Connecticut, where Sarah had been born, and stayed until the end of the Revolution, when they moved back to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 

The only relative I find for Sarah in Canterbury was her brother Timothy Adams, married to their cousin Susanna Adams. Timothy was also serving in the Revolutionary War. Timothy and Susanna had seven young children, and Sarah had nine children remaining after Roger died, so that's a household of 16 children and two women, if that's where Sarah landed in 1778. We can imagine that there were other families like theirs, in colonial America.

Four years after her husband's death in 1778, Sarah appeared in Forkston Township, back in the Wyoming, Pennsylvania area, about 30 miles from Wilkes-Barre. Forkston is where her 10-year-old son Phineas died. 

I don't know if she was farming by herself, or with friends or relatives from her hometown. She didn't remarry. Her father was long dead; so was her father-in-law. Her children were young, and don't appear to have been raised by relatives. Sarah Adams Stevens must have developed a support system of neighbors, and possibly a cottage industry along with farm income. 

Sarah lived only to age 55, a few years after the Revolutionary War came to an end. Her world had been at war for 40 of her 55 years. She had trekked between Connecticut and Pennsylvania three times, with babies or young children in tow, in danger every step of the way.

How are we connected?
Lt Asa Stevens and Sarah Adams, mid-1700s.
Asa Stevens Jr and Esther Downing (as in Downing Street, London).
Cynthia Stevens and William Riley Robinson.
Stevens Allison Robinson and Harriet Grist.
Wesley L Robinson and Isabella Hamner.
(For many of us, Wesley's and Isabella's children are our grandparents or great-grands.)


Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):  

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Grandma's blueberry battalion

Forest blueberries. Source: USDA.gov

 © 2022 Christy K Robinson 

My grandmother, Lois Stone Steen, of International Falls, Minnesota, was a monster about wild blueberries. 

My great-aunt Helen (top-center) at age 18 in 1933,
blueberry picker!

My Arizona parents scheduled the annual 2,000-mile road trip to coincide with the Minnesota blueberry picking season in late July and early August, and the aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors were recruited to go out picking en masse. Everyone either arrived at the rendezvous with pails, pots, or plastic buckets or were issued them in a military-style operation. 

It was an all-day event with a break for sandwiches and coffee at lunchtime. I was just a little kid who probably ate a third of the berries I picked. And though the only thing I had to worry about was touching poison ivy, I suppose that the adults were bear spotters. 

My grandmother Lois with her blueberry collection pot,
her sister-in-law Mary, and sister Helen (age 38 here),
with my uncle David (eating blueberries), cousin Linda, and aunt Harriet. 

Blueberry pickers at lunch time: Lois's husband Harry Steen, Louis Prebil,
Russell Stone, Helen Stone Prebil, David Forsell, Harriet Steen, Mary Stein Stone,
and Terry Stone.

At the end of the day, we dumped our pails into a big tub in Grandma's back yard, and the berries were rinsed and air dried. 

My cousin Trish said, "We used to go out all day with Grandma Anna [Glad-Hall] and pick outside of International Falls, cleaned them by putting a wool blanket on a table and rolling the berries over the blanket. All the leaves stuck to the blanket. A lot of the berries were frozen after cleaning and enjoyed all winter.”

Finally, over the next days, there was baking. There was canning. There was freezing. There was jamming. There were blueberry pancakes.

The blueberries came back to the relatives, neighbors, and church members as treats in many forms. When I say "monster," it's because it was an operation she organized, and many people were happy to participate--and enjoy the fruits thereof. 

Seeing scans of old albums like the 1933 photo above, makes me think that the blueberry madness was something my grandmother, the oldest child of six in a financially strapped family, learned from her mother and grandmother. My cousin Trish's memory of her grandmother Anna (who was my grandmother's aunt by marriage and a good friend of my grandmother) indicates that the blueberry hunters were foraging and harvesting the forests around their town, to supplement their diets all year. By the time I came along as a child in the 1960s, it was more of a traditional social event than a harvest so they'd have food in the cellar.

If you've speed-read this article to the end so you can find a recipe for wild blueberries, I'm sorry. This is not a recipe blog. It's about history and ancestry. I wish you well in finding a great recipe for cobbler or muffins (I'm a jammer and sell or give my jams in November and December). But I hope this anecdote about picking berries in summer will resonate with your own personal history. 


Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):  

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Monday, August 1, 2022

When the dog days of summer are actually dog months

I offer up these photos of my great-aunt Helen Stone Prebil, doing what she and her sisters often did in the winters of International Falls, Minnesota. Temperatures could often be -40 degrees for days at a time. The weather there is so extreme that my mother, who had been born with severe lung disease, had to spend some of her high school years with relatives in warm and dry California. When she was 18, she married my father and they prepared to move to Arizona for her health. Phoenix has long been known as therapeutic for TB and asthma patients. Living here extended her life by about 35 years. 

Family road trips took almost 3 days and nights of driving,
in the days before the interstate highway system.

I was born in Phoenix, where the daytime summer temperatures can be 112-120ยบ for days and weeks at a time, punctuated by the occasional humid day with monsoon storms. It takes imagination to survive those days even with expensive air conditioning, wet towels on the shoulders, and fans. It takes thinking about snow and drinking iced tea.

When my mom was younger, she'd tell me about how her crazy aunts Ruby, Ruth, and Helen would go out into the International Falls snow in their swimsuits and take pictures of how brave they were. Sure enough, my cousin scanned this one from her grandmother Helen's album. Obviously taken in the 1930s, it was in black and white. But with photo editing apps and utilities, I've colorized it to immortalize great-aunt Helen frolicking in the snow.

I hope we all feel cooler for having seen it!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The disowned Quaker

 © 2022 Christy K Robinson

In my family tree, I have numerous lines of Quaker Friends. But this story is about the ones that got away. They were disfellowshipped from their Quaker congregation. 

Henry Willetts and Charity Willson were members of the Muddy Creek Meeting from 1785 in what is now High Point, North Carolina. Previously, they’d been members in good standing of the (Quaker) Friends Meeting at Kingwood, New Jersey. Charity’s parents and grandparents were members of the New Jersey Friends.


Jemima Jane Willetts, colorized

Jemima Jane Willetts was born on December 20, 1787, to Charity, age 38, and Henry Willetts, age 38. Jemima was the eleventh of 14 children.


Birth of son

Her son David was born on March 22, 1813, in Stokes County, North Carolina, when Jemima was 25 years old. Did Jemima have an affair with a married man? Was she assaulted? She obviously wasn’t able to marry the father of her baby. 


Friends Meeting censure

In June 1813, Muddy Creek Monthly Women's Meeting records show that Jemima Willets was accused of misconduct for "having a child in an unwed state."  She was dismissed from membership there--disowned. 

It looks like two of her brothers were dismissed from the Meeting at other times, for misconduct. The reasons are not publicly recorded. 


Jemima’s father Henry made a will that was probated in 1816, leaving about 500 acres and a house to two of his sons and his wife Charity, along with horses and tack, blacksmith tools, and household goods. The residue of his estate was divided equally between his daughters, including the unwed Jemima (good for him!). 

Leaving the South
(The 1820 US Census has a Henry Willetts and five white family members, plus two young enslaved women and four enslaved children under 14 years of age, living in Brunswick, North Carolina (far to the south) and engaged in agriculture. I can’t see Quakers as slave owners, and Henry was probably dead, so this is probably a different Henry Willetts.) 

Charity and most of her adult children moved to Geauga County, Ohio in about 1820, but records show that Charity died that year.


In 1823 in Ohio, Jemima married the Irishman and recent United States Army veteran Alexander Harper; they had three children together. At this time, Jemima’s eight-year-old son David became a Harper, and his numerous descendants have believed him a Harper for 200 years. But it appears that David Harper was never a Quaker: his wife was the daughter of three generations of clergymen of Dutch descent, and David and his wife were buried in the churchyard of their Methodist church near Peoria, Illinois. 

David Harper and wife
Christenah Vanover, 

Jemima’s husband, Alexander Harper, died after 25 years of marriage, and she married Andrew King, a twice-widowed father of six adult children, on December 21, 1850, in Peoria, Illinois. Andrew King died after 20 years of marriage to Jemima, and she went back to using her previous married name, Harper. She died on February 17, 1877, in Hanna, Illinois, at the age of 89 years. She, her two husbands, and her son and daughter-in-law are buried in the same churchyard, probably with other children and step-children. 

One of David Willett-Harper’s many children, Maria Elizabeth Harper (see another post about her HERE), was my great-great grandmother. Her son was a carriage painter and finisher, like his step-grandfather Alexander Harper. 
Maria Elizabeth Harper Stone,
holding my grandmother,
Lois Elizabeth Stone, in about 1914.

I was showing photos to my second cousin, a descendant of Maria, David, and Jemima. When she saw Jemima’s plain black dress and bonnet, she laughed. “She doesn’t look at all like a Quaker!” (meaning that Jemima looked exactly like a 19th-century Quaker). 

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title): 
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A no-good, horrible, terrible day

© 2022 Christy K Robinson

I was looking at the events in the life of my great-great grandmother, Mabel Alice Rowley Hall, when I noticed that she had a baby on the 26th of July, 1904 -- and that her eldest child died on the same day. 

Eighteen-year-old Archie propped his gun against a fence and crawled through it. His dog knocked the gun over, which went off and killed Archie.  

On the same day, Mabel gave birth to her son Earl Martin Hall. 

I don't know the order of the events of that day, but I wonder if the pregnant Mabel heard about the death of her eldest child, and she went into labor with Earl. 

I don't have photos of Mabel before 1937. She lived a very difficult life, eloping with Martin F Hall when she was 15. He was often away from his wife and children for up to two years at a time, which meant that Mabel had to support the children. Mabel and Martin divorced quietly in 1915, and in later years Martin seems to have been an alcoholic. People of their time often hid the fact they were divorced: Mabel listed herself in the 1920 census as widowed, though Martin would live for another 24 years. She and her adult children attended Martin's funeral, but by then she had been married for 16 years to an older man. 

Mabel's timeline shows that she, her siblings, and her parents moved from settled Connecticut, where Rowley generations had lived for 200 years, to homestead on the Minnesota prairie. She eloped at 15 and bore her son Archie at age 17. Her daughter Edna married young and moved to another county and seems to have had few ties to the family, and another daughter married young and moved to the west coast. They lived through two world wars, the Spanish influenza pandemic, huge complex fires that wiped out their property, the Great Depression, and the deaths of family members. They had very little money. Her sons and grandsons served in wars while the women remained to tend farms and live off the land. She had diabetes and was overweight in the 1937 photo, but by 1941, she was slim. She died in 1946, a few months before her daughter and grandson perished in a vehicle accident while living in another state. 

But imagine the tragedy of losing one son as you bring another into the world. 

Mabel A Rowley Hall Lattimer, age 71

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title): 

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sir John Harrington, inventor of the first flush toilet

© 2021 Christy K Robinson

Sir John Harrington, 1560-1612, was my 11th great-grandfather. He and his wife, Lady Mary Rogers, had around 20 children, if we're to believe genealogy records, but I'm not sure I trust them. There were numerous branches of the Harrington family across Great Britain, and lots of cousins with common names. His oldest child, Lucy Harrington, became Countess of Bedford. I descend from his son Robert. 

He was a man of learning (Eton College, and Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Cambridge University, plus legal training at Lincoln's Inn by the time he was 21). He was High Sheriff of Somerset in 1591; he was Commander-of-Horse with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in 1598; and was created Knight of the Bath in 1599. Sir John's poetry and pamphlets, though entertaining to the people of his time, seem mostly incomprehensible today because we don't understand the "inside" jokes. 

Despite those worthy accomplishments, the reason Sir John Harrington is remembered today is that he was the inventor of the water closet: the first flush toilet. 

"The first flush toilet or water-closet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596. He was the godson to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Harrington invented both a valve at the bottom of the water tank, and a wash-down system. However it was not widely adopted because there was no supply of running water to flush it.  -- https://madeupinbritain.uk/Toilet

"There was a noble origin to the water closet in its earliest days. Sir John Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth I, set about making a "necessary" for his godmother and himself in 1596. A rather accomplished inventor, Harrington ended his career with this invention, for he was ridiculed by his peers for this absurd device. He never built another one, though he and his godmother both used theirs. 

⁠"Two hundred years passed before another tinker, Alexander Cummings, would reinvent Harrington’s water closet. Cumming’s invented the S-trap, a sliding valve between the bowl and the trap. It was the first of its kind."   

-- https://www.pmmag.com/articles/91499-the-men-that-made-the-water-closet​ 


From the book  Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up 
by Sarah Albee and Robert Leighton
Sir John wrote to his cousin about his invention of a flush toilet. He made puns and referenced classical literature in his treatise, but this paragraph seems to be concerned with marketing his invention to Queen Elizabeth. 

 "You tell me, belike to encourage me, that my invention may be beneficial, not only to my private friend, but to towns and cities, yea, even to her majesty's service for some of her houses: trust me, I do believe you write seriously as you term it herein; and for my part I am so wholly addicted to her highness' service, as I would be glad, yea, even proud, if the highest strain of my wit could but reach to any note of true harmony in the full concert of her majesty's service, though it were in the basest key that it could be tuned to." 

-- Microsoft Word - Ajaxpdf.docx (exclassics.com) 


That message to his cousin must have worked magic on the aging queen, who included Harrington's water closet in her residence at Richmond, for here is an epigram Harrington wrote to the queen's ladies.

It's titled "To the Ladies of the Queen's Privy Chamber, at the making of their perfumed Privy at Richmond." 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: 
Sir John Harrington, in my guest bathroom. 
Also, if you're a gentleman: Mind the Gap.
Fair dames, if any took in scorn and spite,
Me, that Misacmos' [nickname meaning "filthy man"] muse in mirth did write,
To satisfy the sin, lo, here in chains
For aye to hang my master he ordains:
Yet deem the deed to him no derogation,
But doom to this device new commendation;
But here you see, feel, smell, that his conveyance
Hath freed this noisome [stinky] place from all annoyance:
Now judge you, that the work mock, envy, taunt,
Whose service in this place may make most vaunt:
If us, or you to praise it were most meet,
You that made sour, or us that made it sweet. 

-- Microsoft Word - Ajaxpdf.docx (exclassics.com) 


Perfumed! Yes. Notice in the drawing that there's a bunch of lavender herb hanging from the front-right post. I prefer a more proactive perfume: a canister of room deodorizer. 

I'd say "You can't make it up," but anyone who studies history and genealogy knows that some people out there can and do make it up. If you are willing to follow the trail and back it up with citations (rather than copying someone else's line), you might find some wonderful anecdotes about your ancestors, too! 




Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click a highlighted title):


We Shall Be Changed (2010)

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  

Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2 (2014)

The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport Vol. 3 (2014)  

Effigy Hunter (2015)  

Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)


And of these sites:  

Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)

Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)

William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)

Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)



Wednesday, June 30, 2021

To love this world the less, and heaven the more

Rev. John Robinson and love for his flock amid great loss

© 2021 Christy K Robinson

When the Mayflower made the perilous voyage from the Netherlands to Plymouth, the passengers were beset by depression (perhaps one suicide), grave illness that some think was scurvy or typhus, and starvation.

The pastor of the Pilgrim congregation that fled England and lived in Amsterdam and Leiden was John Robinson, a Cambridge University graduate who became a professor at the University of Leiden. In an era when many ministers were harsh and stringent, Robinson can be seen in his writings as a man of grace and kindness. He was beloved by his congregation, and his influence continued for years after he died in 1625. In fact, 40 years later, his son Isaac Robinson became first a Quaker sympathizer and then a Quaker--and though he was disfranchised for a time, he wasn't whipped or jailed as some other Quakers were. Respect for John Robinson seems to have given some immunity to Isaac!

Jail cells in Boston, Lincolnshire, where Robinson and fellow leaders 
were imprisoned when they first tried to escape England for
the sake of religious liberty.

Of the 50 or so Pilgrims and "strangers" (business investors or Mayflower crew) who died in the first winter of 1620-21, many were members of Robinson's church community who had been with him for 10 to 20 years. They'd risked their lives and fortunes together, escaping England. They were people he'd taught and baptized and had gone to prison for. Some of them were relatives: his wife's siblings, in-laws, and nephews and nieces. The following letter was written at the end of June 1621, and it's unclear if he knew the full extent of the losses by then because ocean voyages bearing letters to him might take three months or more to cross the Atlantic and be delivered on land. He knew the losses were many, though. And it sounds like he intended to pull up stakes and follow them to New England.

Here's Robinson's letter to his flock in Plymouth Colony:

To the church of God, at Plymouth in New England.

Much beloved brethren, neither the distance of place, nor distinction of body, can at all either dissolve or weaken that bond of true Christian affection in which the Lord by his spirit hath tied us together. My continual prayers are to the Lord for you; my most earnest desire is unto you; from whom I will not longer keep (if God will) than means can be procured to bring with me the wives and children of divers of you and the rest of your brethren, whom I could not leave behind me without great, both injury to you and them, and offence to God and all men.

The death of so many our dear friends and brethren; oh how grievous hath it been to you to bear, and to us to take knowledge of, which, if it could be mended with lamenting, could not sufficiently be bewailed; but we must go unto them and they shall not return unto us: And how many even of us, God hath taken away here, and in England, since your departure, you may elsewhere take knowledge. But the same God has tempered judgment with mercy, as otherwise, so in sparing the rest, especially those by whose godly and wise government, you may be, and (I know) are so much helped.

In a battle it is not looked for but that divers [various people] should die; it is thought well for a side, if it get the victory, though with the loss of divers, if not too many or too great. God, I hope, hath given you the victory, after many difficulties, for yourselves and others; though I doubt not, but many do and will remain for you and us all to strive with.

Brethren, I hope I need not exhort you to obedience unto those whom God hath set over you, in church and commonwealth, and to the Lord in them. It is a Christian's honour, to give honour according to men's places; and his liberty, to serve God in faith, and his brethren in love orderly and with a willing and free heart. God forbid, I should need to exhort you to peace, which is the bond of perfection, and by which all good is tied together, and without which it is scattered. Have peace with God first, by faith in his promises, good conscience kept in all things, and oft renewed by repentance; and so, one with another, for his sake, who is, though three, one; and for Christ's sake who is one, and as you are called by one spirit to one hope.

And the God of peace and grace and all goodness be with you, in all the fruits thereof, plenteously upon your heads, now and forever. All your brethren here, remember you with great love, a general token whereof they have sent you.

Yours ever in the Lord,
John Robinson
Leiden, (Holland) June 30, Anno 1621.


Robinson wrote essays in the latter part of his life that were not published until after his untimely death at age 49 in 1625. This is the last paragraph of his essay entitled "Of Death." 

We are not to mourn for the death of our Christian friends, as they which are without hope, 1 Thess. iv.13: either in regard of them or of ourselves. Not of them, because such as are asleep with Jesus, God will bring with him to a more glorious life, in which we, in our time, and theirs, shall ever remain with the Lord, and them: not of ourselves, as if that, because they had left us, God had left us also. But we should take occasion by their deaths to love this world the less, out of which they are taken; and heaven the more, whither they are gone before us, and where we shall ever enjoy them. Amen. 

Christy K Robinson, 12th-generation descendant of Rev John Robinson, is author of these books (click the colored title): 

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)