Deep Roots in Dark Soil

In doing genealogy research, I’ve made many connections to American history, some of it quite dark and much of it not that far back in time. It is something that has been bothering me for a while. I had a longer series of posts I was writing about it, but I got bogged down with the topic. It’s overwhelming and hard to grapple with. So, let me keep this post simple and to the point.

Possibly the earliest line of my family that came to America was the Peebles. They were Scottish and, maybe for siding with the king, they arrived in the Virginia colony (1649 or 1650) during the English Civil War. David Peebles, the patriarch, came with some help (either indentured servants or slaves) and built a plantation. Later generations of the Peebles were definitely slave owners and they fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The family across the generations drifted further South and West, ending up in Texas. That is where my paternal grandmother was born in 1912, well within living memory of slavery and the Civil War. The last Civil War veterans died in the 1950s, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States died in the 1930s, the last American born into slavery died in the 1970s — the latter happening just a few years before I was born and about a decade before my grandmother died. None of this is ancient history. It’s possible that if my grandmother had bothered to ask that there were people in the family who still remembered owning slaves.

Also, the early twentieth century was a time of the last of the Indian Wars. There were major battles that happened in that part of the country when my grandmother was a child. The last significant altercation in the United States happened in 1924 when she was twelve years old and that is the age when kids begin to gain awareness of the larger world. But there were Indian holdouts who kept fighting in Mexico and weren’t defeated until nine years later in 1933. My grandmother was twenty-one years old at that point and so this was part of the world she was entering into.

David Peebles himself had been an Indian fighter, a captain in the Virginia militia. He was a well respected man. As reward, he had been given a Native American captive and I’m sure that person was treated as a slave. It’s assumed that David Peebles received an injury from fighting and he slowly disappeared from the records. Between those first Peebles in America and my grandmother, I’m sure there were numerous Indian fighters in my ancestry. After all, that part of my family was involved in the push Westward, as Native Americans retreated or were forcibly removed. And then they ended up in the region of the last battles with the last free natives.

All of this national history is intimately intertwined with my family history. And much of it was still living memory into my grandmothers childhood and even into her adulthood (in some cases, even into my parents’ adulthood). More importantly, it was an ongoing history. The struggles of blacks didn’t end with the Civil War any more than the struggles of Native Americans ended with the Indian Wars. I could understand how much of this history was hidden at the time, even as the suffering and oppression continued. Native Americans, after all, were forced onto reservations that made their plight practically invisible to the rest of the country. It was a problem that wasn’t seen and so didn’t need to be thought about. But the problems facing blacks would have been impossible to ignore for those living in the South and also in the North.

In the South my grandmother grew up in, Jim Crow was in full force and blacks had for decades faced re-enslavement through chain gang labor. My grandmother was a few years old when the Second Klan was founded. The Klan was a growing force during her childhood and was at its height in her teenage years: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men” (Wikipedia). I have no doubt that many generations and many lines of my family were involved in the various incarnations of the Klan, along with other violently racist organizations and activities; but there is no family stories about any of this, as it’s one of those things that people don’t talk about.

When my grandmother was eight years old, a short distance from her childhood home the Tulsa race riots occurred where white mobs rioted and terrorized the black population. It was an actual battle with whites and blacks fighting in the streets (many of them WWI veterans, including black veterans who took their military weapons home with them), snipers were positioned in buildings shooting at people below, airplanes firebombed the wealthiest black community in America at the time (Black Wall Street), and belatedly troops were sent in to restore order. Hundreds of blacks were killed, hundreds more ended up in the hospital, 6,000 black residents were arrested and detained, and in the detention centers blacks were forced to do labor. In the aftermath, most of the black population became refugees who had lost everything and thousands of white residents in Tulsa joined the Klan.

It was one of the most violent and destructive events in American history. Yet it was erased from public awareness almost instantly, as if it had never happened. “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place” (A.G. Sulzberger, “As Survivors Dwindle, Tulsa Confronts Past“, NYT).

This was just one of many race riots and other acts of mass racial violence that occurred in the decades before and following what happened in Tulsa. Violence like this, including lynchings, would have been common events for the first two-thirds of her life. After her family left Oklahoma, they moved to a part of Mississippi that was a major center of the Second Klan. Then as an adult in 1940, she moved her own young family to Indiana, the headquarters and epicenter of the Second Klan, during a time when the last vestiges of the organization were still to be seen. It was in the 1950s and 1960s when a splintered KKK reasserted itself in fighting the Civil Rights Movement.

Indiana is close to the South and not just geographically. It’s been culturally and economically connected to Kentucky from early on. This area is sometimes referred to as Kentuckiana. Much of Indiana’s population originally came from Kentucky and that has made Indiana the most Southern state in the Midwest (my maternal ancestry includes Indian fighters who came to Kentucky shortly after the American Revolution). A generation after my mother’s family left the border region of Kentucky and Indiana, she grew up in a large industrial city in central Indiana and yet she maintained a Southern accent well into her twenties.

Indiana was a destination of many white Southerners looking for work. Yet Southern blacks knew to mostly avoid Indiana, except for Northern parts of the state closer to Chicago. This wasn’t just a vague notion that blacks had about Indiana. The local white population, Klan and otherwise, made it overtly clear they weren’t welcome in most parts of the state.

My father was born in small town Indiana and then moved to another nearby small town. They were both in an area of much racism, but the second town where he spent most of his early life was a sundown town. When my father and his family moved there, a sign warning blacks to stay away was still visible on a major road into town. My father would have been too young to understand, my Southern grandmother could not have missed something so obvious. They had to have known they moved into a sundown town. Did my father know about this? No. Did his mother, my grandmother, ever talk about it? No. It wasn’t talked about. As my grandfather was the town minister, he could have challenged this racism from the pulpit. Did he? No. The reason for this is that my grandfather My was a racist, although like many he softened his prejudiced views later in life. Still, that doesn’t change the moral failure.

My grandmother was always a religious and spiritual person, moreso than my grandfather despite his being a minister. She grew in that old time religion, Southern Baptist church. When she moved to the West Coast, she became quite liberal and joined extremely liberal churches, such as Unity Church and Science of Mind. It was because of my grandmother that I was raised in the same kind of liberal churches. This led me to become the liberal I am today. Even so, my grandmother never spoke of our family’s ancestral sin of racial oppression, even though she had spent so much of her life right in the middle of it.

My father went off to college at Purdue. The city, Lafayette, had been a sundown town at one point. The systemic racism was lessening there by the time my parents attended, but the black population remained low. While they were at college, the Civil Rights Movement was growing and violence was happening. Professors and college students from Purdue even joined in some of the major events of that time. The world was changing all around my parents, but they apparently were oblivious to it all. When I’ve asked them, they had only slight memory of what was happening at the time, other than some brief news stories that they paid little attention to. It didn’t seem all that important to them, as white conservatives in a white conservative state with a hopeful future before them.

Systemic and institutional racism continued in some parts of the country long after the death of MLK. Blacks were still fighting for basic rights and demanding that laws against racism be enforced, well into my own lifetime (in fact, the struggle for justice continues to this day). For my parents, living in Ohio after college, that was a happy time of their life. As their children were born, protests and riots were going on around the country (including nearby), but it all seemed distant and insignificant, maybe a bit incomprehensible. After that, during the 1980s, our family moved to Deerfield, Illinois — a Chicago suburb with a history of keeping blacks out, something my parents were also unaware of. Then we headed to Iowa, which at the time was a demographic bubble of whiteness.

In my own childhood, I don’t recall my parents or other adults talking about race and racism. I also was oblivious to it all, until we moved to South Carolina when I was thirteen years old. It was a shock to my system. I didn’t grow up with that world and so I saw it with fresh eyes in a way someone wouldn’t have if they had grown up with it. Even then, amidst obvious racism and an overt racial social order, few people talked about it. I saw blacks at school, but no blacks lived in my neighborhood or went to my church. Black kids didn’t come home with me nor did I go home with them.

I was facing generations of denial in my own family. No one gave me any tools to deal with any of it. If not for genealogy research, I might never have realized how close to home all of this comes. Even now, I live in a liberal college town where at an earlier point in time a racist mob chased out of town the radical abolitionist John Brown, shortly before his execution. And a muted form of that old racism lingers still.

How do we deal with the legacy of centuries of oppression when it’s almost impossible to even publicly acknowledge what has happened within living memory? How do we come to terms with the fact that the legacy continues with systemic and institutional racism? How do we open up dialogue? How do we move forward? If more people simply dug into their own family histories, what might they find? And if they put that into context of the larger national history, what understandings might they come to?

My eternal refrain: Then what?

I’ve gained this knowledge and it was no easy task, as I had to find it for myself through decades of obsessive research and intense study. Generations of my own family have avoided this knowledge, built on centuries of ignorance and denial, supported by a vast social order designed to maintain the status quo. So, here we are. Many others like me are looking at these hidden truths now brought to light. What are we supposed to do with it all? How does a society come to terms with collective guilt?

William Faulkner spent most of his life a few counties away from my great grandmother’s home in Mississippi, the last place my grandmother lived before adulthood and the area she returned to after college to work a teaching job for a couple of years, around 1935. That is where my father would visit as a child and where he saw his first “colored” water fountain. Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun was set in that part of Mississippi, as were other of his novels. The events in the story were fictionally placed in the years immediately following my grandmother’s departure. The world that Faulkner described was the world that shaped my grandmother, a world she couldn’t leave behind because she carried it with her.

One of Faulkner’s best known lines comes from that novel. He wrote:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

My grandmother was an educated woman, a teacher in fact. I wonder. Did she ever read those words? And if so, what did she think of them? Did she ever look to the past, her own past and that of her family? Or was she trying to escape the past by getting as far away as possible, ending up in the Northwest? It’s ironic that she spent the last years of her life in Oregon, the only state in the Union that was once fully sundown, excluding blacks entirely.

From what I gather, my grandmother was a kindhearted woman, but that could be said of many people. Few white Americans are overtly mean-spirited. People simply try to live their lives, and yet their lives exist along a moral arc bending from the past into the future. How often do any of us consider our place in the larger scheme of things and wonder about what future generations will think of us?

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Mid-Atlantic Ancestral Homeland

New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. Those are the states my family and I visited recently, more or less in that order. It was a return to one of my ancestral homelands, the Mid-Atlantic region. The trip actually only involved part of my family, only one brother and one parent. My father was finally feeling nostalgic in his old age. So, he was our tour guide for much of the trip.

The last stretch involved some brief driving through Vermont and a stop at the Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Vermont was beautiful, exactly as I imagined it would be. And the Gettysburg battlefield was fascinating, similar to a tour years ago of Little Big Horn where Custer had his infamous last stand. As a side note, Custer had been on the winning side at Gettysburg and played a significant role in stopping the Confederate advance, but almost everyone remembers him solely for his later defeat and death. The guy deserves some credit. Enjoyable as it was to see some beautiful countryside and explore an important part of American history, it was the personal side of our East Coast travels that interested me the most. This was first and foremost a tour of family history.

Our first destination was New Jersey. We headed to Morristown. It was in Morris County that my father’s paternal grandparents were born. That is part of the New York Metropolitan area. Morristown itself has been a place since the colonial era that attracted the wealthy (it is still a place of money), but my family wasn’t wealthy and so they lived out in what was the surrounding countryside. Morristown was also a major center for the American Revolution, a meeting place for important figures and a headquarters for George Washington.

My paternal great grandmother is Matilda Reinthaler. Her father, Charles, escaped the Austrian Army, when he was an officer sent to Italy (I guess it was the Crimean War). His men were forced to wear heavy uniforms and, though it was hot, they weren’t allowed to unbutton to cool off. He refused to follow orders and, facing court marshall, was forced to flee, ending up in New York and then New Jersey. Matilda’s mother, Caroline Lindenmeyer, left Bavaria for unknown reasons, but probably related to the 19th century wars and revolutionary fervor.

We found their home and the one room school house she would have attended, still standing down the road. Even with new houses having been built, there was a sense of the rural clinging to the former country road. She had a more stable childhood than experienced by her husband, my paternal great grandfather, Charles Salvester Steele. His grandfather came from Pennsylvania and his mother’s family had been in New Jersey continuously since the colonial era (one line of my own mother’s family, the Hawks, also came from colonial New Jersey, but we didn’t visit that part of the southern part of the state). Charles’ mother died when he was young and, since his father couldn’t afford to raise all the children, he was sent to live with the Shakers somewhere near Rochester.

That particular Shaker village has since become part of a prison. The only way to visit the buildings my great grandfather spent time in would be get arrested for a serious crime. Later on in the trip, we visited a different Shaker village that is still standing in Hancock, Massachusetts. It was part of a complex of villages along the border of New York and Massachusetts. The Shakers were a fascinating group, highly innovative and technologically advanced, business leaders in agriculture and industry. Even the design and quality of their buildings is impressive, such as the round barn we saw which is the most practical barn I’ve seen in my life. They knew how to run an operation and they had no desire to cling to the past, like the Amish. Growing up there would have been simple, but deprivation in any form would not have been an issue. The Shakers for much of their history were successful and wealthy.

My great grandfather’s childhood was a not unusual fate for many poor kids of the time. The Shakers on a regular basis legally adopted children given to them, a practice that continued until the federal government made it illegal for groups to adopt children and thus officially doomed the abstinent Shaker communities. Once reaching adulthood, the children raised were given a choice to stay or leave. My paternal great grandfather was living at the Shaker village at a time when they were already in decline. He decided to leave and that Shaker village closed not too long later.

It seems he returned to Morristown, probably because it was the only other place he knew. He remained in contact with his family, but one gets the sense that the contact was limited. His wife was also from that area and so one might presume that is how they met, although there is no family info about this. My paternal great grandfather would have learned a trade or maybe multiple trades when with the Shakers, as they put heavy focus on practical knowledge and skills. As an adult, he probably did some farming; certainly, the Shakers were famous for their agriculture. While living in this area, he took a large wagon into nearby New York City to sell produce and it likely was produce that he had grown himself.

As part of our family pilgrimage, we headed into New York City. It’s hard to imagine what it must have looked like back then. When my paternal grandfather was younger, he would travel there sometimes, since an uncle had a grocery store in Brooklyn. My family and I only had a day in the city and so we didn’t see much, besides the standard tourist sights, although not even having enough time to visit the 9/11 memorial. The most exciting part was taking the Staten Island Ferry where could be seen the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, famous landmarks for incoming immigrants, although both from an immigrant era that came after my own immigrant ancestry.

Later on following marriage, Charles Salvester Steele worked doing professional gardening and lawn maintenance in Connecticut. He also entered into flower shows, which is where the wealthy Benjamin DeWitt Riegel met him and hired him as the estate superintendent and head groundskeeper. That is how my grandfather ended up growing up on a Long Island Sound estate where, later on, my father in his own childhood would spend his summers.

That estate is apparently known as Xanadu, but my father recalls that to his family and the Riegel family it was simply known as “The Place”. It was still in Riegel ownership until recent years. About a decade ago, my father and uncle were able to get hold of Mr. Riegel’s daughter, Katherine Riegel Emory (she remembered it as “The Place”, when my father mentioned it). She was a childhood playmate of my grandfather, until teenagehood when the fates of the classes diverged. My father and uncle knew her as Mrs. Riegel when they visited in the summers of their youth. In those last years of her life, they were given permission to walk the grounds of the estate one last time, not that they realized it would soon fall under new ownership.

Years of talking about the place was a major reason for this trip. My father has for a long time wanted my brothers and I to see the place of his fond childhood memories. There was no longer a way to get on the estate by invitation with new ownership, but there is a public road that is along one side of it and two public beaches adjacent to it. At low tide, we were able to walk the rocky beach directly between the estate and Long Island Sound, making possible a clear view across the vast lawns my great grandfather once maintained. My dad pointed to all that he remembered from his childhood, along with stories his own father had shared with him, such as the time as a child when my grandfather built a contraption attached to a cable secured to the top story of the barn and stretched taut to the beach upon which the two of them rode it down barely missing a wall in the process. By the way, an article stated that my great grandfather (referred to by his work title, not his name) used to gather the eggs from the chicken coops near the old barn, but according to my father it was in fact my great grandmother who did this — just wanted to set the record straight.

The Xanadu estate is in Fairfield, Connecticut. It is another old area, inhabited long before Europeans settled there in the early colonial era. Before the Riegels bought the property, it was a gentlemen’s horse farm and at some point an onion farm. There was a village nearby that had been almost entirely burned down by the British during the American Revolution, the British having landed right around where the estate is located. As with many places on the Eastern seaboard, there is much history there.

It was nice to finally see this place I’d heard so much about all my life. The Place! I also saw the school my grandfather went to. One time walking to school, the Riegel’s chauffeur drove by on the road splashing muddy water onto my grandfather who thought it was done on purpose. My grandfather grew up with Riegel children and lived a protected life during the Great Depression, but he had an inferiority complex living on the periphery of great wealth. He spent the rest of his days being extremely class conscious and always wanting to enjoy the good life. It was even passed onto his children, including my father who likes nice things (i.e., classy cars, large houses, manicured lawns, expensive resorts, and such), not that my family is wealthy enough afford many nice things.

It would be strange growing up as the son of the help on an estate or even visiting such a place as a child. My dad recalls as a child telling a close friend back in Alexandria, Indiana (“Small Town, USA”) that he spent the summer at an estate and his friend called him a liar. Life on an estate is not an experience most of us ever have.

One thing stood out to me. There are, as I said, two public beaches on either side of the estate. They are fairly nice beaches for the area and when we first arrived many local people lounged around on the sand and played in the water as people do. However, directly on the waterfront of the estate, there is almost nothing other than rocks. This is because the Riegel family had built a seawall that caused erosion of the sand and disallowed the beach to naturally rebuild itself. This is a great example of the opposite of the tragedy of the commons. In trying to protect their private property, they destroyed the beach along their property, while on either side are two popular public beaches with lots of sand forming popular beaches.

After my grandfather graduated college, Mr. Riegel offered him a job as night superintendent at one of his mills in order to get trained. His job was to manage the factory during the night shift. It was the Trion factory in Georgia and my grandfather was one of the fair-haired boys that Mr. Riegel sent down from New York. It was at Trion that my grandfather met his first wife and my grandmother, Billie Jean Nye, who was working as a school teacher employed by the company in the company town. You can see pictures of the mill town at this article, including a picture of the hotel where lived the unmarried employees like my grandparents, the place where they first met, and a picture of the school where I assume my grandmother would have taught.

He had felt socially obligated to accept that job. Mr. Riegel, after all, was not only his father’s boss but also the owner of the house his father lived in. It would have been an offense to decline an offer of such a good job, at a time not long after the Great Depression when the economy was getting back on its feet. Still, my grandfather hated the job, as it was his responsibility to pick the workers for the week out of a crowd of men desperate for a job, deciding who would get work and who wouldn’t. During the Great Depression, my grandfather had lived a protected existence on the estate. Before working at Trion, he probably had never seen much extreme poverty and unemployment. Also, that company town would have still been recovering from recent conflict. In 1934, a year or two before my grandfather arrived, the town had been the site of labor conflict and violence:

“1934 marked the 3rd closing of the plant for any length of time. Throughout the South unions were making a strong push to organize factories and mills. “Flying Squadrons” of union activists were sent into mill communities to gain support. The large group of employees working in Trion was high on their list. Led by a group of people from the Rome Foundry, along with some local people, a mob literally tried to take over the mill. Trion’s Chief of Police, Mr. Hix, was killed attempting to protect the mill. Others that had come on to work that day were beaten or roughed up. Eventually the National Guard was called in. The mill remained closed for approximately six weeks.”

It was the kind of clash of the classes that happened in places like that. In controlling employment, the company had total power over people’s lives. It was the largest employer in the area and still there were more people looking for work than there were jobs available. As an interesting side note, this was all going on in the last years of Mr. Riegel’s life. He had contracted some disease, maybe polio, and was kept alive with an iron lung. In 1941, back on the estate, a storm had hit and the power went out. The iron lung was run on electricity and apparently they had no backup generator. My great grandfather was sent for and he tried to hook up the iron lung to the engine of a Model A truck, but it was too late. Mr. Riegel had suffocated to death. Along with the ending of his life, it was the ending of an era.

Anyway, in those remaining years of Mr. Riegel’s life, my grandfather didn’t last long at Trion. He realized there weren’t many respectable ways he could quit without offending Mr. Riegel. He could join the military or he could become a minister. He chose the latter and took his wife with him to Indiana. But Mr. Riegel was still immensely disappointed, having given this son of the help such a rare opportunity to move up in the world.

I could imagine the sense of expectation and conflict. While at Trion, my grandfather managed the mill during the evening shift. Some new advanced machinery had been installed and, along with another guy, my grandfather had to learn how to operate it and keep it running non-stop. The problem is no one had been sent to show how it all worked and something went wrong, destroying the equipment. My grandfather was horrified about the incident, but after an investigation no one was blamed. Mr. Riegel had put immense trust and responsibility onto my grandfather’s shoulders, and he obviously looked to him with great promise. After all of that, it must have seemed ungrateful for my grandfather to quit.

Even so, the training my grandfather received didn’t entirely go to waste. There was a tomato canning factory in Geneva, Indiana where the family (including my father as a young child) lived for a time. It operated seasonally after the tomato harvest and my grandfather, while not doing his ministerial duties, worked there as a temporary factory manager.

My father without realizing it followed in his footsteps when he later became a factory manager, a family tradition that began with with the Riegels. Then my father also fell into the same pattern when he refused career advancement in order to look for other work, initially having considered the ministerial option as well until he decided to become a professor in order to preach at students instead. Like his own father, he found stressful the cutthroat world of business and the harsh reality of controlling the fate of workers, in personally determining who would be hired and fired. My family apparently doesn’t have the right kind of personality traits to be part of the wealthy business elite.

Later on, my great grandmother died on the estate in 1954, when my father was twelve years old. A few years later, the Riegel family asked my great grandfather to leave the property. He was around eighty years old and had spent half of his life working and residing on the estate. It was his home and, from the way my father talks about it, I get the sense that he was heartbroken. Mr. Riegel had promised that he would always be taken care of, but Mr. Riegel died in 1941 and had never wrote anything down. His word-of-mouth promise apparently meant nothing to the heirs of Mr. Riegel or maybe it never came up. Whatever the case, my great grandfather wasn’t given any retirement package or even a place to live. He  was just told to immediately leave the home he had known and loved for so long.

As a comparison, on the other side of the road was the estate of Harold Gray, the comic strip artist of Little Orphan Annie. My great grandparents were good friends with some of long term help at that other estate, only a few minutes walk away. When Gray’s long term help retired, he bought them an expensive house. My great grandfather was probably expecting something similar, as the Riegels were surely even wealthier. Instead, he was forced to move in with his son and died shortly later.

That part of my family has always felt distant to me. This trip was the first time, since I was a baby, that I’ve visited this part of the country. There are still some of the extended family living around there, but we’ve had a hard time contacting them. My father hasn’t seen his extended family on that side since he was a kid. Yet that part of the country is so key, both to my family history and to American history.

As I mentioned, one line of my mother’s family (originating with Sampson Hawk) came from colonial New Jersey. Like my father’s family, they were likely of Germanic ancestry. The difference was that they early on headed for the frontier, whereas the New Jersey lines of my father’s family didn’t venture far. The German-American Riegel family were also from New Jersey, along with Pennsylvania where Mr. Riegel was born. My own surname has an early Pennsylvanian background, although I don’t know the ancestral source of it.

Like the Midwest, the mid-Atlantic region was ethnic American (i.e., non-WASP) territory. Specifically, it was one of the areas where German-Americans were the majority. But none of this comes up much in official histories and collective memory, as cultural amnesia is almost complete. My father has a vague memory of his grandparents having some kind of accent, whatever it was. They weren’t that far from the immigrant experience and they lived in a place where the immigrant experience should have been close to the surface. Even so, my father doesn’t recall anyone ever discussing such things. The oppressive world war era had stigmatized and erased so much of the former ethno-cultural diversity. That makes me sad, as it is a loss of part of the ancestral history that shaped my family.

Visiting New Jersey, in particular, gave me a glimpse of the world that once existed there. I have more of a sense of the place. But family history came to life even moreso in our visit to Connecticut. My father doesn’t get too excited about genealogy, maybe having to do with particular disconnections over the generations. Talking about the estate, though, allowed me to see another side of him. The estate was something personally real and important to my father’s life, one of the fondest connections he has to his family history. And for me, the stories I’ve heard for years suddenly had physical locations that I can now see in my mind’s eye.

“…from every part of Europe.”

By then, the king’s authority in America had been practically demolished, and his imperial interests elsewhere were being challenged. America was on its way to securing an independent destiny, basing the case for separation upon differences rather than likenesses between the two countries. Yet, the new nation revealed a natural kinship with the old world it professed to reject – not only with England, but with numerous other countries. In his Common Sense, Thomas Paine castigated the “false, selfish, narrow, and ungenerous” notion that England was the parent, or mother country of America. “Europe, and not England,” he protested, “is the parent country of America.” The New World had for years, he added, offered asylum to the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty “from every part of Europe.” That observation was heartily endorsed just a few years later by Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, former French soldier and sometime resident of New York, in his Letters from an American Farmer. “What then is the American, this new man?” he asked in a widely quoted passage from that book. “He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

Such observations were justified. One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants. It was in recognition of the mixed European background of so many Americans that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson later proposed that the official seal of the United States bear the national emblems of Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, and Holland as well as of England, thus “pointing out the countries from which these States have been peopled.” (This idea was abandoned.) The list might well have been much longer. There were Jews from Eastern Europe and from Spain and Portugal (via South America), Swedes, Walloons, Swiss, and still others. Many came, as Paine stated, in search of asylum. But they also came with an intent to preserve and refresh those aspects of life in their homelands which they best remembered and most highly valued.

In the world of 1776, Europe boasted a rich civilization, alive with dynamic ideas and with flourishing arts, with promising new concepts and methods in the sciences. The rudiments of modern industry and business administration were well founded, and social reforms were being undertaken, which Europeans took with them as they colonized and traded. They had come in contact with Eastern civilizations, above all, China, and this experience added significantly to the cosmopolitan culture of the Continent. The Pacific Ocean had been explored, and Australasia discovered; the knowledge gleaned from such expeditions was accelerating an ecological revolution of universal importance. This abundance of experience and knowledge that characterized the world of 1776 was the inheritance America shared as a birthright.

From The World in 1776
by Marshall B. Davidson
Kindle Locations 237-261

* * * *

This early diversity has been an ongoing interest of mine. I noticed this passage and was reminded again of this less known side of American history.

What particularly caught my attention was that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” It wasn’t just that several of the colonies had non-English majorities. The non-English ethnicity was even a major part of the ancestral background of the so-called founding fathers, among others in the upper classes.

I always wonder why such amazing facts aren’t typically taught in US schools. This is the kind of thing that would make history more interesting to students. Instead, we get over-simplified and dumbed-down boring accounts of our shared past. The actual full history would be too radical for respectable public consumption.

For more details, see my previous posts:

“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

General American and the Particulars of Our Origins

Origin of American Diversity

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

The Many Lewis Families of Many Places

I’m still slugging away at my genealogy research. After solving the mystery of Thomas H. Lewis, I was faced by the mystery of his parents, claimed to be Simeon and Barbara Lewis.

If you have no interest in Lewis family history, this is fair warning that the following will bore you to tears. My purpose here is purely practical. Having done extensive research, I found many records on various Lewis family lines and possibly they are all related. This research would likely be helpful to others who have been faced with the same or similar confusions involving the Lewis family from Virginia and Kentucky.

I haven’t researched all the available records. My focus was on my own family. So, the records I was looking at mostly had to do with people who could be confused as the same person or related people. In trying to make sense of it all, I inadvertently ended up researching several distinct Lewis family lines. I had to figure out who wasn’t my family in order to figure out who was.

I didn’t know what to do with all this extra research I had done. It seemed like a shame to just throw it away, as it might be exactly what others are looking for. I decided to present all these family lines, as best as I can reckon.

* * *

My Lewis ancestry was first researched by my second cousin, i.e., the son of my mother’s first cousin. He is from the Wininger side of my mother’s family. His mother’s paternal grandfather, Rollie Franklin Wininger, is also my mother’s maternal grandfather. The generations beyond that, Rollie’s mother was Eliza Elizabeth Lewis and her parents were Thomas H. Lewis and Sarah Wininger. Yes, there were multiple lines of Wininger family and, yes, they were all related.

My second cousin did a lot of research and the family tree he filled out is quite large. Some of the family lines he researched in great detail, including traveling to other countries to look at records firsthand. I’m not quite that dedicated.

In our shared Lewis ancestry, he has told me that he has only personally researched up to the point of Thomas H. Lewis and his parents. I don’t know all the records he used in verifying the claims about those family members, but I do know that he had seen the transcription of the Sarah Wineinger Lewis Bible. In that, the earliest family members mentioned are Simeon and Barbary (Barbara?) Lewis and the birthdate of February 9, 1821 is given for their son, Thomas. No siblings of Thomas are mentioned. Also, no further pieces of data are given for Simeon and Barbary, just their names. Furthermore, the person who recorded all the births, marriages, and deaths in the family Bible didn’t consider the importance of offering such details as the location of these events. It would be nice to know where Thomas was born.

I was more than a bit perplexed when researching Thomas H. Lewis myself. In the end, I seemed to have simply proved the claims my second cousin made based on his own research. But I did so by looking at many records he probably never saw. It was worthwhile, even if I simply reinvented the wheel. You never know what you’ll find, until you look.

The issue of the parents and grandparents of Thomas H. Lewis is even more perplexing. My second cousin ended up taking info from other family trees he found, but he wasn’t able to verify any of it. I’ve also struggled with trying to ascertain the identities of these more distant generations.

My second cousin has Thomas H. Lewis as the son of Simeon B. Lewis and Barbary/Barbara Campbell. This Simeon is claimed to have been born about 1790 in Culpepper county, Virginia and was the son of Henry Lewis and Linda Cleggett. This is the beginning of a case for a particular set of people. In the family Bible transcription, it refers to Simeon without any middle initial and refers to a Barbary without any last name, both of unknown origin. What might be the source of further info on these people? What records are available to make this case?

Let me get to the meat of issue with the claim that Henry Lewis and Linda Cleggett were the parents of Simeon B. Lewis. I seem to have found the information that this is based upon. It is found on ancestry.com and comes from a record with the title “Family Data Collection – Individual Records about Simeon Buford Lewis”:

Name: Simeon Buford Lewis
Spouse: Nannie Maple
Parents: Henry Lewis, Volinda Claggett Linthicum
Birth Place: Nelson, Bardstown, KY
Birth Date: 17 Jun 1813
Death Place: Bardstown, Nelson, KY
Death Date: 1898

This is cited in some family trees for the parents Simeon Lewis who is the father of Thomas H. Lewis. It is a sizable chunk of info about a single person. At first glance, this does seem to match the family tree. The father is Henry Lewis as claimed and the mother’s name is close to Linda Clegget.

However, the first thing that stands out is the spouse. In my family tree and hence in my second cousin’s family tree, the spouse is supposedly Barbary/Barbara Campbell. This doesn’t mean much by itself for multiple marriages weren’t uncommon, either because of divorce or death. But who this Nannie Maple might be and where she came from, I haven’t a clue and I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The second and most important thing that stands out is the birth information. My family’s Simeon Lewis was supposedly born in Virginia, not Kentucky. Also, he would need to have been older than that. Having been born in 1813, what is the likelihood that he had a son in 1821 when he was around 8 years old? This is why a record like a family Bible can be invaluable. If I didn’t know when Thomas was born, it would be extremely difficult to discern which records matched or not.

Anyway, let’s set aside that particular record. But I will return to it later when disentangling the various Lewis families.

* * *

This brings me to the other claims made in other family trees. By the way, there seems to be hundreds of family trees for this family line on ancestry.com, but all that I looked at followed a few basic variations. I noticed several interesting things.

All of them include the basic relationship of a Thomas H. Lewis to a father named Simeon B./Buford/Beauford Lewis and to a mother named Barbara Lemons/Lemmons/Lemmon, Barbara Campbell, Barbara Sarah Campbell, Sarah Barbara Campbell, or just plain Barbara. Interestingly, any of these names would fit what little is known in the transcribed records of the Sarah Wineinger Lewis Bible. But very few of these family trees mention the info in that Bible.

Two records are referred to support the above names. Several of the family trees mention a death certificate of a Lucy, presumedly a sister of Thomas H. Lewis, that in particular is used to support the claim of Barbara’s last name as Lemons/Lemmons/Lemmon; but the URL to the source that is offered is a dead link. Another set of sources is a couple of marriage records. There is a marriage between a Simeon Lewis and a Barbara Campbell in 1800. Also, there is a marriage between a Simeon Lewis and a Sarah Campbell in Madison County, Virginia on the date of October 13, 1800. Are these two records of the same marriage? Was she Sarah Barbara Campbell or Barbara Sarah Campbell?

A number of family tree uses these two marriage records to form such a composite name. I’m inclined to accept that it is likely the same person. There often are multiple records for the same marriage. That isn’t unusual. Also, people recorded by different names in records isn’t unusual. Either way, how do we get a Barbara Lemons/Lemmons/Lemmon out of this? I guess the hypothesis is that Campbell was the name she got from a previous marriage. I don’t know what to make of that, since I haven’t seen the records to support the claim.

Most interesting and significant is the marriage record of Barbara Campbell. My second cousin listed that as the wife of Simeon B. Lewis and the mother of Thomas H. Lewis. That record fits those claims. So, far the Bible records combined with the marriage record(s) is the best starting point I’ve found, but there are many other records that form a jumble of puzzle pieces. Depending on which puzzle pieces are used and how they are put together, many pictures might form.

 

* * *

Before I get to my own research, let me further explore these other family trees. A diversity of claims and records were used to create the profiles for the family members. With looking at these family trees, the person I was most focused on was Simeon Lewis.

The profiles for Simeon B./Buford/Beauford Lewis all show him as having been born in Virginia (several listing the location as Culpepper county), which is also what my second cousin had written down. From there, they all list Simeon having moved to Kentucky (several listing the location as Hart county). After that, there is disagreement. Some claim he returned to Virginia, Culpepper or maybe some other location. Others claim he moved to Orange county, Indiana and/or Missouri where he died or else then having returned to Virginia where he died. In between all of this, a few additional locations of residences offered are Caldwell, Nelson, Barren, and Jefferson counties in Kentucky.

Simeon’s parents are shown as one of three couples. A fair number of family trees list the parents as the above mentioned Henry Lewis married to Volinda Claggett Linthicum, Linda Cleggett, Linda Cleggette, etc. Many give the names as Thomas Buford Lewis and Ann Rice. And the rest state them as John William Lewis and Mary Polly Brown or William Lewis and Mary Brown.

* * *

Each of these names has a profile page on each of the family trees. A decent number of these profiles cited sources and most of these sources were records on ancestry.com. I looked at every available record that was being used. It seemed like a total mess. On an intuitive level, it seemed unlikely that the exact same people were being referred to with various names, across four states, and from the late 1700s to the late 1800s.

I decided to print out all the records. I looked for the patterns across all the data: birth dates and death dates, marriage dates and names of married couples, named members in census-recorded households, locations of residence, etc. I started grouping them together.

Let me make the case for what I think is my family. Then I’ll make the case for what are separate families. The main basis for each of these cases will be location. All of the families appear to trace their origins back to Virginia. That is the initial confusion, upon which all other confusions are built. I’ll begin the case for my own family with Virginia.

The primary record I’ll rely on is the family Bible where the following is written:

“Thomas H. Lewis son of Simeon and Barbary Lewis born February the ninth day
in the year of our Lord 1821”

Let me consider the research I’ve done on Thomas H. Lewis as a starting point to connect backwards. I know Thomas spent many years in Orange county, Indiana where he is found on an 1850 census record and where he married his second wife. He spent most of his life around that area, including the two adjacent counties of Martin and Dubois. Census records also show that he was born in Kentucky, although specifically where is unknown. The earliest records I have shows his 1840 residence in Dubois and his 1840 marriage in Dubois to his first wife, Sarah Wininger (whose descendants are of my family line).

In the 1830 census, there is a Simeon B. Lewis in Orange county. He is listed as a free white male, between the age of 30 and 39 years old. The free white female living with him, I assume his wife Barbara, is also of the same age range. Four free white children are living with them. One child is a male, aged 5 to 9, which fits Thomas H. Lewis’ birth date of 1821. Also, Simeon B. Lewis was issued 40 acres of Orange county land in 1837 and again in 1838, the years prior to Thomas getting married in nearby Dubois county.

I haven’t discovered any further records of Simeon B. Lewis in Orange county or in that area. However, I found a Simeon B. Lewis in Munfordville, Hart, Kentucky in 1820. That is the census directly before the Orange county residence which offers possible evidence for when the family moved. In this census record, a free white male (16-25) is living with a free white female (16-25). This was the year before Thomas H. Lewis was born. Could this be his parents? If so, it would seem that he was their firstborn or else their first child to survive.

I’m tempted to connect this Simeon and Barbara Lewis back to the 1800 marriage records in Virginia. Is it possible that they had no children or no surviving children in the first two decades of their marriage? Or is it possible that they had children that had already moved away or were living with relatives? If those possibilities are discounted, is it a stronger case to connect the Orange county IN Simeon B. Lewis to the Hart county KY Simeon B. Lewis or to the 1800 Madison county, VA Simeon Lewis? Or is there not a strong enough case to be made at all to connect any of these people? It seems likely that my Lewis family came from Virginia and through Kentucky on the way to Indiana, but I haven’t found any data that would prove it.

To offer another hint of a connection, there is an early military record for a Simeon Lewis. He fought in the War of 1812. The company he was in is named as 2 Regiment (Thomas) Mounted, Kentucky Vols. That Simeon Lewis was in Kentucky nine years before Thomas H. Lewis was born. Considering all the other people around named Simeon Lewis, it seems a stretch to try to connect such a random piece of data, but it is data to be kept in mind.

Anyway, that is some of the best evidence I can provide at the moment for my own Lewis lineage.

* * *

Now, I’ll make the case for several other Lewis families that were from Virginia. Many people in making their cases about some these same people have used certain of the records above and combined them with the records of what I think are entirely separate families. Let me try to disentangle the rest of the verified data.

I’m going to go through all the records. I’ll group them according to matching data. This mostly means grouping them according to particular locations of births, marriages, residences, and deaths. I sometimes am able to more directly connect names of parents and children from certain kinds of records.

* * *

For the earliest family records people confuse with mine, let me begin with a different Madison VA marriage. This is from another record of “Family Data Collection – Individual Records”. The person listed is William Lewis: birth date as April 8 1763, birth place as Spts St Geo Parish VA, parents Henry Lewis and Anne Buford, spouse as Mary Polly Brawn (probably Brown), marriage date as 1783, death date as 1851, and death place as Culpepper (I assume in VA).

These names are all familiar from some family trees.

That data is supported by other records. There is a membership application for the Sons of the American Revolution. It lists the father as unknown, the mother as Ann Buford, the spouse as Mary Brown, and a child as John Lewis. The birth date is approximately the same, just stating it as April 4 1763 instead of April 8 1763. It also adds further detail to the death date by specifying it as June 6 1851. The marriage record for John William Lewis and Mary Brown also has the same basic info in less detail. However, it claims the marriage date as 1782. On top of that, an 1840 federal census and an 1840 VA pensioners list has a William Lewis (born about 1763) in Culpeper county.

This same William Lewis is still in Culpeper in 1850. His wife is probably dead. He is living with a Simeon B. Lewis (55) and an Alexander B. Lewis (39). After his death, Simeon Lewis and Alexander B. Lewis (both 30 years older) have remained in Culpeper.

Let me jump ahead in time and place by considering a death record. Buford Lewis of Caldwell, Kentucky was born about 1781 and died on March 3, 1854. His parents are stated as John and Mary A. Lewis. That seems quite similar to the marriage record of John William Lewis and Mary Brown. His headstone, however, states his birth year as 1786.

The 1850 census has a Buford Lewis of the correct age living with wife, Mary, and children in Caldwell. The children are Sarah (22), William (20), Henrietta (18), Nancy (14), Abram B (12), James (10), and Zachary Taylor (4). It states that Buford was born in Virginia. That would also fit his parents being the aforementioned John William Lewis and Mary Brown. Buford Lewis and household is found in Caldwell both for the 1840 and 1830 censuses. Prior to that in Caldwell, Lewis Buford was married to Polly McCarty on November 25, 1824 and earlier to Rebecca Johnson on October 3, 1816.

That would seem to connect a specific family line from Virginia to Kentucky. The above records would date the move as having happened before 1816. This seems to be the family that some people are using in part.

The case is that some seem to be making is that this Buford Lewis is the same as Thomas H. Lewis’ father, Simeon B. Lewis (with the middle initial being for Buford). The connection would be the 1830 census which does show a free white male at around the right age (5-9) for an 1821 birth. Another piece of evidence is that Simeon B. was a family name, as shown with the 1850 Culpeper census with William Lewis. The problem is there is no direct connection between that Simeon B. Lewis and that Buford Lewis or a connection of either of them to Simeon B. Lewis of Orange county, Indiana. None of the ages or locations are the same.

It just doesn’t seem to match up. Nonetheless, the Simeon B. Lewis is an intriguing clue about a common family name. Maybe this family is somehow connected to my family somewhere along the line. The two families could have split apart in Kentucky or before that in Virginia, but that is speculation. There is no clear reason to make such a case for a family connection. Commonality of names isn’t by itself all that useful for genealogy research.

* * *

The next case for a particular family line likewise begins in Virginia. In a marriage document, a Thomas Lewis married Ann Rile (Rice?). The document doesn’t give a marriage data, but it does give Thomas a birth year, 1765, and a birth place, Virginia.

To make a slight leap, there is a Thomas Lewis on a 1792 tax list for Kentucky. An 1810 census shows a Thomas L. Lewis in Bardstown, Nelson, Kentucky. This 1810 Thomas L. is the right age (45 and over). He appears to be living with wife and children, and slaves are also listed. The 1820 census seems to show the same Thomas, named without the middle ‘L’, at the same location and of course still in the 45 and over age range. The family and slaves are still present. To clinch it, there is a grave in Nelson county for a Thomas Lewis who was born September 2, 1765 and died August 10, 1839.

To connect this to the next generation, there is another grave in Nelson county for a Simeon Lewis who was born in 1787 and died in 1861. There is also a Kentucky death record for this person with a death of July 18, 1861 and a birth about 1788. The parents are named as Thomas Lewis and Nancy Lewis. Simeon Lewis is the head of household in the 1830 and 1840 censuses for Nelson county, respectively in West Division and in Eastern District. The problem with these census records is that he is the only free white person living with a group of slaves. There is no wife or children at that location, although it’s quite possible his family was living somewhere else such as a Summer home or place in a nearby city.

On a related note, there is the record I mentioned above that many people have used in their family trees for Simeon Lewis or Simeon B. Lewis, father of Thomas H. Lewis. It is the record of a Simeon Buford Lewis (1813-1898), spouse of Nannie Maple and son of Henry Lewis and Volinda Clagget Linthicum (typically referred to as Linda Clegget). What is interesting about this particular Simeon is that he was born and died in Bardwstown, Nelson, KY. It is highly probable that is part of the same Lewis family as seen above in Bardstown.

But who is this Simeon Buford Lewis? I’ve ascertained that he isn’t likely the Simeon B. Lewis of my family, as he was so young when Thomas H. Lewis was born. For my purposes here, I want to connect him to some family.  My Simeon B. Lewis was in Orange Ky at least by 1830 and was there throughout the 1830s, but I don’t know for certain where he may have been before and after that. Interestingly, for this Bardstown Simeon B. Lewis, I don’t know where he was in the 1830s.

A death record shows a Simeon B. Lewis having been born about 1812 in Nelson KY and died October 23, 1898 in Jefferson KY. This more likely than not is the same as the Bardsford Simeon Buford Lewis, even though the death location is different. Jefferson and Nelson counties are so close to one another that they are almost adjacent.

If we look to Jefferson county, we do find a Simeon B. Lewis on two records for 1850. both for District 2 of that county. He is on a census record (born about 1813) with a wife Emily (36) and children: Edward (12), Addison (8), Alex (4), Henry (1), and Edward (26); along with a maybe unrelated Wm Bishop (28). The second record is a  slave schedule for a Simeon B. Lewis as the slave owner of 12 slaves. That would fit the Nelson Lewis family who were also slave owners.

On September 5, 1859, he married Ellen Shrader in Jefferson. A year later, he and his new wife are found on the 1860 census for the same location, along with Edward E. Lewis (21), Alexander Lewis (12), George H Lewis (9), Addie Lewis (1), Henry Long (46), Wm Clemons (32), Joseph Withrow (22), and John Williams (24). I assume this was a wealthy family living on a plantation with quite a few slaves and other workers.

Now, the 1870 census seems to show the same person again, but with yet another wife, Nannie, who is the spouse named on the record that gives Bardstown, Nelson, KY as his birth and death place. Even some of the same names come up on this 1870 census, as well as some new names: Alex (23), George H (21), Adah (12), Henry Long(48), Thos Gregory (56), J M Harthge (57), Wm Williamson (26), Geo Tretman (23), Martin Lewis (15), and Mary Jane (35). This clearly is the same is the same person. The Civil War has ended and they lost their slaves, having replaced them with almost twice the number of paid workers, but obviously still a wealth family.

After making all those connections between Virginia and two counties in Kentucky, I still see no way of connecting it to Simeon B. Lewis in Orange, IN.

* * *

Here is the last Lewis family in Kentucky that I’ll discuss. They also originated from Virginia, but I don’t have the specifics on that aspect. All that is available are census records and one land grand record, both for Barren county, Kentucky. Some family trees have this Simeon as the father of Thomas H. Lewis.

In 1820, Simeon Lewis is living in Barren with 9 free white persons and 16 slaves. A short time later, on April 19 1822, some Barren property was surveyed as part of a land grant to Simeon Lewis. I wonder if this was a military land grant. If so, this could be the same Simeon Lewis who was in the War of 1812, but then again many people named Simeon Lewis could have been in that same war.

In 1830, Simeon Lewis is still there, but now with 8 free white persons and 13 slaves. In 1840, there were then 5 free white people and 6 slaves. It is likely he was giving slaves to his children as they moved out onto their own. Or else hard times had arrived. If one were to speculate, one could point out the economic problems that involved the Panic of 1819 and persisted through the early 1820s, but that is neither here nor there for the purposes of genealogical research.

Simeon Lewis was getting old in that 1840 census. He was between 50 and 59 years old. And so was what appears to have been his wife, of the same age range. As seen in the 1860 census, Simeon (65) was living with his son’s family: Simieon C Lewis (33), Mary E (27), Simeon T. (6), John (3), and Mary C (1). The name Simeon was definitely a family name, just as seen with so many other Lewis familes in the area.

This Barren county Simeon Lewis was born in Virginia, as shown in the 1850 census. This is like so many other members of the various Lewis families. There is a strong connection between Kentucky and Virginia, but the connection to Indiana gets tricky.

This Simeon Lewis is apparently not the same as the Simeon B. Lewis in Orange IN. I assume this couldn’t be the father of Thomas H. Lewis, but that is based on the assumption that the Orange county Simeon is the father. These seem like safe assumptions, since Thomas H. Lewis was connected to Orange county. I’m not sure how to connect the Lewis family in Indiana back to Kentucky in any specific way. All that I know is that Thomas H. Lewis was claimed to have been born in Kentucky, but that isn’t much information to work with.

* * *

This is the very last Lewis family will conclude my research on Lewis families, at least in relation to Simeon Lewis and Thomas H. Lewis. This Lewis family is found in Missouri. The main couple in question is a Simeon B. and Barbary Lewis.

A land grant is given him for Franklin county, Missouri on November 1 1851. Another land grant is issued on September 1 for Phelps county. In 1860 and 1870, they are living in Phelps; the former lists them as S B Louis and B Louis and the latter lists them by their full names of Simeon B Lewis and Barbary Lewis, but both list them as being born around 1798-1800, Simeon having been born in Virginia and Barbary in Kentucky. A Missouri state census shows a Simeon Lewis in Phelps in 1876.

The last record showing Simeon B. Lewis (80) is an 1880 census. He still is in Phelps, but his wife is missing and he is labeled as a widower. He is now living with his son’s family, which includes a grandson named after him: Abraham Lewis (41), Julia Lewis (41), Nathan Lewis (19), Sarah J. Lewis (18), James H. Lewis (16), Simeon B. Lewis (14), W. Edward Lewis (12), Joseph R. Lewis (8), P. thomas Lewis (5), Delbert D. Lewis (3), and Edney Thornhill (59, Julia’s mother). This is the first census that shows his occupation and it is described as “Minister Of The Gospel”. There are other records that show him as minister and justice of the peace. As with Simeon B. Lewis the elder, his son’s wife and his son’s mother-in-law were born in Virginia. However, like his own wife Barbary, his son Abraham wasn’t born in Virginia with Barbary coming from Kentucky and Abraham from Indiana.

 

This family comes up on a massive number of family trees. There is a simple reason for this. As with the Sarah Wineinger Lewis family Bible, this Missouri couple is named Simeon and Barbary Lewis, and I think these are the only two examples of couples by these names that I’ve so far come across. This is also close to the Virginia marriage record of a Simeon Lewis and Barbara Campbell, although that marriage is approximately the same time as when the Missouri couple was born and so it can’t be the same people, despite some genealogists having used them as combined evidence. To further connect this couple to many other Lewis families, including mine in Orange IN, this Simeon Lewis has ‘B’ as his middle initial.

There is good reason to see a possible connection to at least some of the families I’ve shown here. The census records do show this Simeon B Lewis to only be residing in Missouri quite late in life. In all the records, he is stated as having been born in Virginia and his wife, Barbary, in Kentucky. To make it even more interesting, at least one of his children was born in Indiana around 1839, the year after a Simeon B. Lewis is last recorded to have been in Orange county IN and 18 years after the birth of Thomas H. Lewis. And for his son to have been born in Indiana, it implies that this Simeon B. Lewis was living in Indiana at that time, which was approximately a decade before he shows up in Missouri. However, the Simeon B. Lewis in Orange IN was a farmer and the Simeon B. Lewis in Phelps MO was a minister. It isn’t unreasonable to speculate that a farmer might later on in older age become a minister, but I have no way of proving that happened in this case.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this Missouri family. I can’t directly connect them back to any specific family in any of these states. No record states which counties they came from, much less when they were living in those places. Without some personal documents such as a family Bible, a journal, or some letters, I don’t see any way of discerning which Lewis family these Missourians descended from.

One could hypothesize that these are the parents of Thomas H. Lewis. If we dismiss the Virginia marriage records, they could even be connected to the records for the Orange IN family. The last records I have for Simeon B. Lewis in Orange county is from 1838. The earliest records I have for Simeon B. Lewis in Missouri is 1851. To strengthen the case for this, the ages are about the same for both. The census records for Orange county, IN say that he was born sometime between 1791 and 1800. And the census records for Phelps county, MO say that he was born about 1799-1800.

A case could be made and has been made by many. I can’t disprove such a claim, but I’m not quite ready to accept it.

* * *

That is where my research ends for now. To summarize:

I feel certain about the claims made in the Sarah Wineinger Lewis family Bible. I feel certain that the Orange county, Indiana records of Simeon B. Lewis is the same as the father of Thomas H. Lewis listed in that Bible. And I feel certain that Thomas H. Lewis in the same area of Indiana, including Orange county, is the son of that Simeon B. Lewis.

I don’t feel strongly certain that any of the Virginia and Kentucky records refer to my family. However, a decent case can be made for the Simeon B. Lewis in Munfordville, Hart, Kentucky since it is that person is found there in 1820 and not in 1830 when another Simeon B. Lewis shows up in Orange IN. Likewise, the Missouri records of a Simeon B. Lewis seem to fit as he appears there following the other one going missing in Orange county. All three locations refer to the exact same name and all of the dates match up.

If so, the Virginia marriage of Simeon Lewis and Barbara Campbell would be an entirely different couple. Getting rid of that record would solve the issue of the 21 year gap between marriage and the birth of Thomas H. Lewis. Just because a record is found it doesn’t follow that you must connect it to your tree.

From Virginia to Kentucky, from Kentucky to Indiana, and from Indiana to Missouri. That might be the best case I’ll ever be able to make. I can’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but then again I can’t disprove it. Everything seems to fit. Often, that is as good as it gets in genealogy research.

The Case of Two Families: Who is Thomas Lewis?

If you have done or plan on doing genealogy research, you might find this interesting. What I discuss here is an example of the difficulties and confusions a researcher can come across. What at first appears correct sometimes turns out to be false or uncertain. And at other times, the apparent confusion only exists in your own head.

Previously, I showed another example, even more perplexing than what I’ll present here. Both examples are also connected, which demonstrates how problems overlap.

* * *

Mildred, Grandma Eliza Lewis Wininger.,Pete, Cleo

My maternal grandmother, Mildred Wininger, on the left with her paternal grandmother, Eliza or Elizabeth.

I’m preparing for a visit to Kentucky. I’m excited to go. I have been there before, but I’ve never spent any time exploring the state. It is mostly a foreign place to me. I know of it from history books and from genealogical research. For this trip, I want to get a more personal sense of the place.

I’ll be traveling to the areas where much of my mother’s family comes from, mostly the central region of the state, from Jessamine County down to Pulaski County. The main preparations I’ve been doing involve clarifying the locations of where my ancestors were living and when. I need to know which records I lack in order to know which records I’ll need to look for locally and the precise counties in which to look for them.

The past week I’ve been focusing on the maternal side of my mother’s family. I already knew the paternal side had many lines that came through Kentucky because I’ve spent most of my time researching those names, but it seems many lines on the other side may also have come through there as well. This maternal side I’m less familiar with for the family tree we have for it came from someone else, my second cousin, who researched it years ago.

I don’t have access to all the records and orally-shared information. He was able to speak directly to a number of people on that side of the family because, living in Indiana, he grew up around them. I’m not entirely sure about how he went about doing his research and what he was relying most upon. I need to verify his research on ancestry.com in order to get this all more clear in my own head. I need to see the connections in terms of what is available to me.

Most of this research isn’t difficult, just tedious. I’m being systematic about it. I go down each line looking for possible links to Kentucky. The genealogical company ancestry.com simplifies this process by offering hints and showing related documents. My second cousin didn’t have access to ancestry.com or anything similar when he was doing research. He was forced to do a lot more traveling than I’ve had to do. I’m not sure I’ll find much new info by visiting Kentucky, but it is partly just a vacation to see the area and to hopefully get some pictures of headstones.

Thomas Lewis_1

Thomas H. Lewis

The difficulty arose when I got to Thomas H. Lewis. According to the previous research, he was married to Sarah Wineinger/Wininger (I’ll just use the Wininger spelling for the sake of simplicity). They had a daughter named Eliza Elizabeth Lewis, the name Eliza I assume being a nickname for Elizabeth, although I’m not sure.

The Wininger aspect is what interested me previously. Thomas supposedly married a Wininger; and, likewise, his daughter Eliza also married a Wininger who was a convergence of two Wininger lines. The three Wininger lines then converged in Eliza’s children, including Flossie Shipman who was my mother’s maternal grandmother.

George Wininger 1855-1919 & Eliza Elizabeth Lewis 1856-1926

George Alexander Wininger and Eliza Elizabeth Lewis

What confused me was that I kept seeing the same names as I went back. It took me a while to realize that all three lines descended from the same original line. It was all the same Wininger family marrying back together after several generations. They probably didn’t know they were related. There were a lot of Winingers around in the area.

It turns out that one of these lines may not be my family, after all. I came to this suspicion by looking at federal census records, marriage records, and headstones. There were many people involved and I was trying to see what matched and what needed disentangling. There were many records for a Thomas Lewis sometimes with the last spelled ‘Louis’ and sometimes with a middle ‘H.’. A few of these didn’t seem to be the same person. Even though they were all living in nearby locations, the places of their births were different and the places of their parents births were different. It wasn’t just that an individual person was being counted multiple times in the census.

However, a researcher should take census records with a grain of salt. Who gave the information to the census taker may have not been the person in question. The informant could have been any of the people in the household. They may have not known or could have misremembered such details as the age of a person or their birthplace. Two different census records, even when the information isn’t exactly the same, could refer to the same person.

The most confusing part in my research was the marriages. Three marriages I found in southern Indiana were between a Thomas Lewis and women with three distinct names and at three distinct times: first with Sarah Wininger (1840, Dubois Co. IN), second with Eliza Jane McGregor (1856, Clark Co. IN), and third with Lavica Pinnick (1877, Orange Co. IN). Dubois and Orange are adjacent counties and Clark is one county over from Orange. Was this the same Thomas H. Lewis who remarried? It is possible. The marriages with Sarah Wininger and Lavica Pinnick were both with a Thomas H. Lewis, which strengthens the case that it was the same husband in both cases, just at different times.

For my purposes, I’ll ignore for the time being the marriage with Lavica Pinnick (who, as a side note, is probably the same as Levisa Giles in the 1840 Orange Co. marriage to Isaac Pinnick). Her marriage to Thomas H. Lewis is too late to be relevant. Even if she did later marry the Thomas Lewis of my ancestry, my family line doesn’t descend from her. Looking at her records would only be helpful if it clarified who this or these people who went by the name Thomas Lewis, but old marriage records offer little in the way of useful info.

Also, I’ll be ignoring lots of other records and narrowing my focus. In the mid-to-late 1800s, there were possibly hundreds of people in Indiana going by the name Thomas Lewis/Louis, some with middle initials and some without, of varying ages and locations, and quite a few with daughters named Eliza or Elizabeth. One early federal census for a Thomas Lewis (or Louis, depending on how one interprets the handwriting) is from 1840 in Dubois Co, and it doesn’t say much beyond that besides mentioning that a few other unnamed people were living with him. This is problematic for research purposes and daunting for even the most intrepid of genealogists. These early censuses show almost no information beyond the name of the head of the household. It is near impossible to determine that you have the right person. The 1850 federal census is the first to show all the names at a particular residence along with other useful points of reference. So, let me skip forward to that more genealogically profitable era of 1850s onward.

One 1850 census record shows a Thomas Louis (age: 30; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: cooper) living in Monroe, Clark Co, IN with apparently no wife present, at least on the day the census was taken. He is living with an Emily Louis (7) who likely is his daughter, a Martha Louis (73), and a Thomas Sparks (18). That doesn’t give me much information to work with. This could be a Thomas Lewis, as spellings of names wasn’t of great concern of many people back then. There was the Thomas Lewis who in 1856 married Eliza Jane McGregor in the same county and even the same town. That would make sense if he was without wife in 1850. In the 1860 census for Thomas and Eliza Jane Lewis (same location), there is no record of the previous child, Emily, who would then be 17 and likely either married or otherwise living on her own.

I’ll discuss that 1860 census further down a few paragraphs, but let me first consider a different record that fits some of the data claimed in my tree.

Another 1850 census record shows a Thomas H. Lewis (age: 29; birth year: about 1821; birthplace: Kentucky; occupation: farmer) living in Orange Co. IN with a Sarah Lewis (age: 29; birth year; about 1821; birthplace: Tennessee), presumably his wife who was born a Wininger, and a bunch of children: Amanda M. Lewis (9), Elizabeth Lewis (8), William F. Lewis (5), Thomas Lewis (4), George Lewis (3), and Bara E. Lewis (1). At first inspection, this seems to match what is known about my family, including Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The complicating detail is that this Elizabeth Lewis is eight years old in 1850, but the Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family apparently wasn’t born until 1856 or so it is claimed on her headstone:

Eliza Elizabeth <i>Lewis</i> Wininger

Emmons Ridge Cemetery, Martin Co. IN

What appears to be this same family is found on the 1860 census for Martin Co. IN (adjacent to Orange Co.), although Thomas Lewis is listed without the middle ‘H.’. Also, some other info is different for him (age: 46; birth year: about 1814; birthplace: Missouri; occupation: farmer) and different for his wife, Sarah (age: 43; birth year: about 1817; birthplace: Indiana), which is significantly different as according to the previous census they should both now be 39 years old, but I wonder if people didn’t keep track of ages very closely back then, especially of older family members. As for the differences of birthplaces, that is much more difficult to explain away. Looking at the original documents on ancestry.com, I suspect there is a lot of error going on — the ages could have been informant error, if the census taker was talking to an older child who happened to be the oldest adult home at the time, and that supposed Missouri (Mo) birthplace easily could be transcribed as a sloppy Indiana (Ind).

I would doubt it was the same family, if it weren’t for the almost exactly matching info for the children. Most of the same children, all ten years older, seem to be present along with some new children that were born since the last census: Amanda Lewis (19), Delphia A. Lewis (18), Wm Lewis (16), Thomas Lewis (14), Geo Lewis (13), Borbara A. Lewis (10), Sarah A. Lewis (9), John Lewis (8), Eliza Lewis (6), Lucy A. Lewis (3), and Thomas Self (21). The Elizabeth Lewis who was eight years old in 1850 would be eighteen years old in 1860, and so it is unsurprising she is no longer living there. Interestingly, there is now an Eliza Lewis listed who is closer to the age of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family. This Eliza is stated as having been born about 1854 which isn’t too far off from 1856.

Thomas H. Lewis

Wininger Cemetery, Dubois Co.

To challenge this claim for our ancestry, there is the other 1860 census I mentioned above for Clark Co. IN. This record also has a Thomas Lewis who is around the same age and same place (age: 40; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: laborer), and that matches perfectly with the 1850 census for Thomas Louis. He was then living with an Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 24; birth year: about 1836; birthplace: Pennsylvannia) who probably is the Eliza Jane McGregor who married a Thomas Lewis in 1856, also Clark Co. (As a side note, an Eliza McGregor from Pennsylvannia can be found in the 1850 census record for Ohio where she was then living with her parents.) The children listed for the 1860 census are all under four years old which matches the 1856 marriage date. What catches my attention most of all is the oldest child who is also named Eliza Jane Lewis. This Eliza is claimed to have been born about 1857 which is even closer in birth year to the headstone of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. Also, this Thomas Lewis has a closer matching birth year.

I wasn’t able to find an 1870 census for Thomas and Sarah Lewis. However, there is one in Monroe, Clark Co, IN for Thomas Lewis (age: 51; birth year: about 1819; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: farmer), his wife Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 35; birth year: about 1835; birthplace: Pennsylvannia), his daughter Eliza J Lewis (age: 13; birth year: about 1857; birthplace: Indiana), and four other children: William B. Lewis (10), Martha E. Lewis (7), Georgetta Lewis (5), Thomas H. Lewis (2). It basically fits the previous censuses, other than Thomas changing professions.

Now onto the 1880 census. This year seems to be the deciding factor.

I know that my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandparents are George Alexander Wininger and Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The marriage record shows a George W. Wininger and a Eliza Lewis being married in Martin Co in 1876. The ‘W’ is probably a transcription error, but I’m not sure as I don’t have access to the original document. There is an 1880 census record that lists a George A. and Eliza E. Wininger living in Martin Co. with their first two children, and all of those named are definitely my family.

Sarah Wininger supposedly died in 1876. If that is true, we shouldn’t find her on the 1880 census with Thomas Lewis. I couldn’t find such a census record, which doesn’t absolutely prove anything. It would be nice to have a death record for her or a picture of a headstone. Even lacking that, I do have other interesting records. There is that 1877 marriage between Thomas H. Lewis and Lavicka Pinnick (or Louisa, once again maybe transcription errors). The middle ‘H’ is an important clue. The case for this being the same Thomas H Lewis who first married Sarah Wininger is strengthened by the fact that the Lavicka/Louisa marriage happened a year after Sarah Wininger’s claimed death. The 1877 marriage happened in Orange Co. Next door in Martin Co, the 1880 census shows a Thomas H Lewis living with a Louisa Lewis and a child with the last name Pinnick. Like the 1850 census for the exact same name with the middle ‘H.’, it is stated that Thomas (then living with Sarah) was born about 1821 in Kentucky.

We at least have connected the two marriages for a Thomas H. Lewis. More importantly, it is shown that in 1880 his daughter Eliza was no longer living with him. And at the same time, it is shown that my great great grandmother Eliza was married and living in her own house at the time. This seems to confirm that this Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor.

Let me verify this further. Also, in the 1880 census, it is found that the other Eliza daughter was still living with her parents, Thomas and Eliza Lewis. Based on that simple fact, she couldn’t be living at home while also living with her husband and children. I can’t see any way that this other Eliza and her parents can be of my family line, unless there was a single Eliza who was double-counted, but that doesn’t make sense as the one living with her parents is listed as single while working as a teacher whereas the other is a married housewife. Even so, it is odd that both Eliza daughters were 23 in 1880 and both of their fathers were also around the same age.

That is the confusion, but my certainty has grown to the point of dispelling any reasonable doubts. The most probable conclusion is that, as was originally claimed on my family tree, Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor along with his wife Sarah Wininger. The other Thomas Lewis and his daughter apparently was just a strange coincidence of a parallel life. Of course, I could try to spice up my family tree by claiming that he was the same person who was a bigamist with two wives simultaneously in nearby counties and who used the same name for two of his daughters that were the same age. That is an interesting theory that technically can’t be disproven, but life is already complex enough without the need for multiple wives.

It seems I was on a wild goose chase. That is the way genealogy works. It was worth the effort, nonetheless. A researcher should never accept any unverified claim. I found the data to back up what was already in my family tree. I’ve presented my evidence and made my argument. Case closed.

To keep the practical in mind, the whole point of all this research was my upcoming visit to Kentucky. This Thomas H. Lewis was born in Kentucky. After all that work I did, I’d definitely like to find some local records or headstones in Kentucky that are related to him and his family line. Unfortunately, the county he was supposedly born in won’t be close enough to where I’ll be spending most of my time. Maybe I’ll have to do another trip sometime.

Racecraft: Political Correctness & Free Marketplace of Ideas

Here is a passage that is absolutely brilliant. The authors cut to the heart of the issue like a surgeon with a scalpel.

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields
pp. 40-44

Sometimes the fog of racecraft rolls in at the last minute, as a derailing non sequitur to an otherwise logical argument. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that scientists who conducted an epidemiological study of asthma among schoolchildren in South Bronx produced damning evidence about environmental pollution caused by heavy truck traffic. Their study identified the particle emissions, cited the location of major highways, and, through resourceful data collection, drew conclusions about the children’s exposure, in specific neighborhoods, at different hours of the day, to “very high fine particle concentrations on a fairly regular basis.” The correlations emerged: “Symptoms, like wheezing, doubled on days when pollution from truck traffic was highest .” It would seem as clear as noonday that class inequality had imposed sickness on these American schoolchildren. Yet the article’s summary tails off into confused pseudo-genetics. To a list of contributors to high asthma rates that includes heavy traffic, dense population, poorly maintained housing, and lack of access to medical care, the article adds “a large population of blacks and Hispanics, two groups with high rates of asthma.” Racecraft has permitted the consequence under investigation to masquerade among the causes. Susceptibility to filthy air does not depend on the census category to which the asthma sufferer belongs. And even if that susceptibility is (to whatever degree) genetically determined, Dr. Venter’s account of his own asthma stands as a reminder that “genetic” is not equivalent to “racial” or “ethnic.”

Some of the oddest racecraft moments come when scientists yoke modern genetics to folk notions. In the controversy over Dr. James D. Watson’s remarks in London, some of his defenders charged his critics with a “politically correct” retreat from science, insisting that good science requires a free marketplace of ideas . Researchers must be free, they implied, to salvage the old bio-racist ranking of superior and inferior races, regardless of the collapse as science of its core concept, race. But it is doubtful that those foes of political correctness would wish to rehabilitate that part of bio-racism that once identified inferior white races.

If they took their own position seriously, they would applaud the writings of such eminent American scientists of the late nineteenth century as Edward Drinker Cope and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (dean of Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School during the 1890s) on the inequality of races, not simply their work on dinosaurs and the earth’s history. Cope advocated both “the return of the African to Africa” and restrictions on immigration by “the half-civilized hordes of Europe.” Shaler agreed, characterizing those hordes as inferior “by birthright ,” “essentially in the same state as the Southern Negro,” and distinct from “the Aryan variety of mankind.” Popularizers hustled bio-racist “science” into public policy. Madison Grant, who advocated “Nordic” superiority in his 1916 best-seller, The Passing of the Great Race: The Racial Basis of European History, purported to map class inequality onto physical traits, such as height:

The Nordic race is everywhere distinguished by great stature. Almost the tallest stature in the world is found among the pure Nordic populations of the Scottish and English borders, while the native British of Pre-Nordic brunet blood are, for the most part, relatively short; and no one can question the race value of stature who observes on the streets of London the contrast between the Piccadilly gentleman of Nordic race and the cockney costermonger [street vendor] of the old Neolithic type.

In 1924, the lay and scientific streams of bio-racism converged in the Immigration Act of 1924 (which excluded European races deemed undesirable) and the Virginia Racial Integrity Act (which prohibited “miscegenation”). In the same year, Virginia adopted a law (upheld by the US Supreme Court three years later) providing for compulsory sterilization of persons held to be “defective and degenerate,” a group that included “the shiftless, ignorant and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.” The Nazis followed these developments closely. When they decided to weed out the “unfit,” they had American models of how to proceed, from administrative searching of family trees to sterilization. They became “the dark apotheosis of eugenics.”

In 1946, Leslie C. Dunn, a distinguished geneticist and part of a group intent on severing genetics from eugenics, wrote that the field “had developed … out of the racial problems presented so vividly to the United States by the great immigration of the early part of the century.” Consistent application of the “free marketplace of ideas” principle today would restore to bio-racism and eugenics the respectability they once enjoyed. Instead, “inferior white races ” vanished from the lexicon of bio-racism, to rematerialize outside its purview as “ethnic” groups. The “shiftless, ignorant, and worthless” white people vanished altogether. No one attributes to political correctness the demise of bio-racism as applied to white persons. So, the free-marketplace-of-ideas apologia for Watson’s bio-racism as applied to black persons turns out to be a familiar interloper, the practice of a double standard.

One of the present authors some years ago tested the limits of the free market in racist ideas. A crotchety yet likable right-wing colleague approached, looking disquieted and in need of moral support. He was “having trouble” with a certain black student in his bio-psychology class. What was wrong, he wondered, with saying that “black people may, or (mind you) may not, prove to be intellectually inferior to white people? In science, you frame a hypothesis, devise an experiment, find out.” The student raised her hand and, when recognized, blasted him. “Do you know So-and -So (the student in question)?” asked the bio-psychologist. (The author did happen to know the student in question, an eighteen-year-old single mother of twins who was as bright as they come and not one to brook insult.) “Why can’t she grasp that there’s a scientific approach to things , blah , blah?” Finally, the author put a question. “If, as you say, there is no hypothesis that science excludes, why not try this assignment ? Let your students pick any white ethnic group and any stereotype commonly applied to it, greedy, mendacious, dumb, drunken, gangsterish, and so on, then formulate a hypothesis, design the experiment, find out.” The colleague’s face froze.

Race-Racism Evasion

The following is a passage from Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields. I offer it here as an important point is made articulated. The key conclusion to be found is the specific section where the authors write:

Confronted with the intellectual arguments against the concept of race, my undergraduates react by grasping for another word to occupy the same conceptual space. “I don’t feel comfortable saying ‘race’ after your class . But I don’t know what else to call it,” is a characteristic response. At the suggestion, “Why not ‘ancestry,’ if that’s what you’re talking about?” they retreat into inarticulate dissatisfaction .

A very good question the authors ask: Why not speak of ancestry?

Nearly everything that is worthy of being spoken of is more clearly and fully found in categories of ethnicity and nationality (although I would also add socio-economic class and other related factors). The classifications of race don’t tell us anything we can’t discover without them. All that race does is conflate separate issues and obscure hidden causes.

From Racecraft (pp. 100-102):

“Race” appears in the titles of an ever-growing number of scholarly books and articles as a euphemism for slavery, disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, mass murder, and related historical atrocities; or as unintentionally belittling shorthand for “persons of African descent and anything pertaining to them.” 13 The more dutifully scholars acknowledge that the concept of race belongs in the same category as geocentrism or witchcraft , the more blithely they invoke it as though it were both a coherent analytical category and a valid empirical datum . In place of Jefferson’s moment of impassioned truth-telling, his successors fall back on italics or quotation marks, typographical abbreviations for the trite formula, “race is a social construction.”

The formula is meant to spare those who invoke race in historical explanation the raised eyebrows that would greet someone who, studying a crop failure, proposed witchcraft as an independent variable. But identifying race as a social construction does nothing to solidify the intellectual ground on which it totters. The London Underground and the United States of America are social constructions; so are the evil eye and the calling of spirits from the vasty deep; and so are murder and genocide. All derive from the thoughts, plans, and actions of human beings living in human societies. Scholars who intone “social construction” as a spell for the purification of race do not make clear— perhaps because they do not themselves realize— that race and racism belong to different families of social construction, and that neither belongs to the same family as the United States of America or the London Underground. Race belongs to the same family as the evil eye. Racism belongs to the same family as murder and genocide. Which is to say that racism, unlike race, is not a fiction, an illusion, a superstition, or a hoax. It is a crime against humanity.

No operation performed on the fiction can ever make headway against the crime. But the fiction is easier for well-meaning people to handle. (“ Race,” I have written elsewhere, “is a homier and more tractable notion than racism, a rogue elephant gelded and tamed into a pliant beast of burden .”) Confronted with the intellectual arguments against the concept of race, my undergraduates react by grasping for another word to occupy the same conceptual space. “I don’t feel comfortable saying ‘race’ after your class . But I don’t know what else to call it,” is a characteristic response. At the suggestion, “Why not ‘ancestry,’ if that’s what you’re talking about?” they retreat into inarticulate dissatisfaction. Instinctively, they understand that, while everyone has ancestry , only African ancestry carries the ultimate stigma. Therefore, what they are unknowingly searching for is a neutral-sounding word with racism hidden inside, which is what “race” is. The apparently blameless word permits students to reabsorb into the decorum of the routine something whose essence is not just indecorum but monstrosity: the attachment to fellow human beings of a stigma akin to leprosy in medieval Europe, only worse, in that it sets beyond the pale of humanity not the leper alone but the leper’s progeny ad infinitum.

Domesticating such a monstrosity for presentation in civilized company requires believers in race to attempt cosmetic repairs of its most obnoxious peculiarities. One such peculiarity is the fact that, effectively, there can be only one race, since the one-drop-of-blood or any-known-ancestry rule applies only to African ancestry; indeed , the rule ceases to function at all if applied to more than one type of ancestry. The cosmetic applied to the resulting asymmetry and invidiousness is “whiteness ,” whose champions purport to discover “racialization”— and therefore races— all over the shop. A further sleight of hand defines race as identity so that “white” also becomes a race. Similar cosmetic embellishments claim “agency” for the victims in creating race or deodorize it by tracing its origin to “culture” rather than racism. But people no more fasten the stigma of race upon themselves than cattle sear the brand into their own flesh. And, no matter how slipshod the definition of culture, no one can seriously assert that one culture unites those whom American usage identifies without hesitation as one race.

Oklahoma: A State of Confusion

Here is an insightful article with a good comments section and another discussion on a forum:

South by Midwest: Or, Where is Oklahoma?

Is the U.S. state of Oklahoma considered a southern state?

So, what defines Oklahoma?

Religion or political party?

Oklahoma is part of a geographical region characterized by conservative and Evangelical Christianity known as the “Bible Belt“. Spanning the southeastern United States, the area is known for politically and socially conservative views, even though Oklahoma has more voters registered with the Democratic Party than with any other party.[213]

Census region?

Culture?

Oklahoma is placed in the South by the United States Census Bureau,[92] but lies fully or partially in the Southwest, and southern cultural regionsby varying definitions, and partially in the Upland South and Great Plains by definitions of abstract geographical-cultural regions.[93] Oklahomans have a high rate of EnglishScotch-IrishGerman, and Native American ancestry,[94] with 25 different native languages spoken.[14]

Because many Native Americans were forced to move to Oklahoma when White settlement in North America increased, Oklahoma has a lot of linguistic diversity. Mary Linn, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and the associate curator of Native American languages at the Sam Noble Museum, said that Oklahoma also has high levels of language endangerment.[95]

Six governments have claimed the area now known as Oklahoma at different times,[96] and 67 Native American tribes are represented in Oklahoma,[45] including 39 federally recognized tribes, who are headquartered and have tribal jurisdictional areas in the state.[97] Western ranchers, Native American tribes, southern settlers, and eastern oil barons have shaped the state’s cultural predisposition, and its largest cities have been named among the most underrated cultural destinations in the United States.[98][99]

While residents of Oklahoma are associated with stereotypical traits of southern hospitality – the Catalogue for Philanthropy ranks Oklahomans 4th in the nation for overall generosity[100] – the state has also been associated with a negative cultural stereotype first popularized by John Steinbeck‘s novel “The Grapes of Wrath“, which described the plight of uneducated, poverty-stricken Dust Bowl-era farmers deemed “Okies“.[101][102][103] However, the term is often used in a positive manner by Oklahomans.[102]

Ancestry?

Shifting public opinion?

Now, the Southern Focus Poll, conducted by the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides strong support for including such states as Texas, Kentucky and Oklahoma in the South. On the other hand, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Delaware and the District of Columbia don’t belong anymore, if they ever did.

Fourteen polls, surveying a total of more than 17,000 people between 1992 and 1999 show, for example, that only 7 percent of D.C. residents responding say that they live in the South.

Only 14 percent of Delaware residents think they live in the region, followed by Missourians with 23 percent, Marylanders with 40 percent and West Virginians with 45 percent.

“We found 84 percent of Texans, 82 percent of Virginians, 79 percent of Kentuckians and 69 percent of Oklahomans say they live in the South,” says Dr. John Shelton Reed, director of the institute. “Our findings correspond to the traditional 13-state South as defined by the Gallup organization and others, but is different from the Census Bureau’s South, which doesn’t make sense.”

Geography?

Oklahoma Land Regions

A particular settlement patterns of veterans after the Civil War?

Oklahoma, with its rich, fertile soil and undeveloped resources, was attractive to Southerners ruined by War and Reconstruction.  They came in droves, hoping to better their lot.  Many of them were Confederate veterans.  Settled in 1887, Wynnewood, like most of the towns in Indian Territory, was populated nearly exclusively by people from the Old South states, and today the southeast quadrant of the state is still known as Little Dixie.

What about the significant numbers of Germans, Czechs, and Union soldiers/veterans in Oklahoma?  What about the socialists, progressives and populists? Don’t they count?

http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/articles/newspapers/news/goble.htm

http://www.travelok.com/article_page/germanhistoryinoklahoma

http://knowit.newsok.com/culture/german

http://www.tulsaworld.com/article.aspx/Immigration_At_Statehood_Many_early_settlers_spoke/070520_238_a19_iedit88381

http://digitalprairie.ok.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/culture/id/1900/rec/29

http://cvgs.cu-portland.edu/immigration/united_states/oklahoma.cfm

http://www.webbitt.com/volga2/census.htm

http://www.polka-on.com/?p=336

http://digitalprairie.ok.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/culture/id/1629/rec/17

https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Oklahoma_in_the_Civil_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Oklahoma

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Party_of_Oklahoma

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6toRK8T7zBU

http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-2896-state-motto-labor-conquers-all-things-has-a-history-with-socialism.html

http://religionandpolitics.org/2012/05/01/oklahoma/

http://projectfreethought.org/2012/11/a-different-shade-of-red-oklahomas-socialist-past/

http://bakuninmatata.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/history-of-a-red-state-oklahoma-hotbed-of-u-s-socialism-2/

http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/p/pr017.html

http://oddoklahoma.com/2013/03/20/progressivism-in-oklahoma-politics/

http://www.woodyguthrie.org/merchandise/oklahomagazette.htm

http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/p/po013.html

Westerly Migrations

My research on genealogy and family history has shifted gears, that being the proper metaphor to describe my recent family road trip.

The traveling party included my parents, my second oldest brother and myself; although my brother only came for the first half of the trip. It was a long trip, but I didn’t mind too much. I get along well enough with my parents and it was nice to spend some quality time with my brother who, these days, is usually busy with his own family.

It was a trip with family and largely about family. There was much discussion. I prodded my parents with many questions and took extensive notes. My motivation to learn about my extended family is that I didn’t grow up around them nor did I ever see most of them on a regular basis. They are strangers to me, strangers because of distance and time. Some of them, specifically three of my grandparents, were dead before I had become an adult.

I grew up feeling detached from family. As I wasn’t raised with extended family, I wasn’t raised with the belief being overtly instilled in me that there was much value to extended family, my own parents willingly having left their families behind other than for brief visits. There was never a sense of closeness. No big family reunions and holidays. No grandmother next door, no cousins in the neighborhood, not even distant relations in nearby towns.

My parents didn’t consciously choose this, but on some level I’m sure they understood the choice they were making for their children. They had conflict-ridden or even distant relationships with their own family, especially their parents, and so they did the opposite of prioritizing extended family. Career always came first, a choice that was easily rationalized out of a sense of parental responsibility and duty to self-development. This just makes my parents normal according to the standards of modern American society.

My parents have always wanted normalcy or a close approximation to it. They grew up with the nuclear family fantasy of those early black and white tv sitcoms. That is what they internalized and then modeled in their own adult lives. They just wanted to be good people, responsible adults, dutiful parents. It was a role that society told them to play and they played it well. I make these observations with deep empathy for I understand the pull of wanting to fit in and be accepted, to be perceived as a worthy human being and a valued member of society. It just so happens to be a role I’m not very good at playing. If not for depression, I very well might have followed right along with a career, house, wife and 2.5 kids.

The destination for the road trip was California. It was a journey that followed in the footsteps of family members before me, some of the family I never knew or barely knew. California is a state that for some reason was where several lines of my family ended up in or passed through, not unlike many other Americans. California, the land of new beginnings, the birthplace of the suburban dream.

While in California, my mom visited a cousin she hadn’t seen since childhood and I visited a cousin I hadn’t seen since childhood, two reunions from each side of the family. Along the way, we stopped in a town where my dad recalled visiting a great uncle (where a great aunt also lived nearby) and we stopped in another town where he once visited his mother after his parents divorced.

All of them had their reasons for leaving their families behind. My mom’s cousins ended up there either because their father was escaping debts or because it was suggested that a change in climate would be beneficial for some illness in the family. My dad’s mom simply went for the supposed perfect climate of the bay area, illness not being the motivating factor. My cousin has been there because he has a good job in Silicon Valley. My dad’s great uncle and great aunt moved there for reasons unknown.

California is a place that hasn’t held any personal significance, but this trip has changed that. Starting in the most southern area and heading up just past the Bay area, I was able to get a glimpse of what life is like there — the geography and history, the culture and ethnicities, the settlement patterns and imperial remnants. No doubt it is very much symbolic of America and the American Dream. A society on the move. A people of progress. Keep going West until you can’t go any further. Then what?

Origin of American Diversity

As a typical under-educated/mis-educated American, I’ve felt compelled to educate myself about American history, especially the complexities of early American history. As a descendant of Europeans from many generations ago, I’m interested about the early immigrations during and after the colonial period. Specifically as a descendant of non-English immigrants, I’m most focused on the ethnic/cultural diversity that formed America, thus setting the stage for everything that followed.

I’ve always been bothered by the white supremacists and their more mainstream cousins, the WASP supremacists. American supremacists often advocate a narrowing of all American culture(s) down to a single monoculture, a supposed original and unique American culture. The ironic part is that this is a very modern idea which goes against traditional European cultural diversity. Even the definition of ‘Europe’ has constantly been argued about since the concept was first mentioned. Some don’t consider the British Isles to be part of Europe. Also, the Finnish are genetically and culturally distinct from the rest of Europe and Britain. The British Isles alone consist of massive diversity caused by the interaction of numerous groups of people from all over Europe. There is little of the original native cultures left in most of Europe and the British Isles.

In America, the early non-English immigrants didn’t just assimilate to English culture. First of all, early America had a diversity of cultures and so there was no single culture to assimilate to. Second, most early immigrants were quite fond of their own culture and many resisted assimilation for generations. Third, many of the colonial governments didn’t seek to force people to assimilate.

Assimilation and the development of a monoculture only became central in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when immigration was curtailed and federal laws enforced a single language onto all public schools. Furthermore, there was the rise of the KKK which was a systematic terrorizing of anyone who didn’t conform to their view of American culture (whites as well as blacks). Anti-immigrant, anti-German, anti-Italian, and anti- all kinds of things commanded much attention from the political and economic elites. An age of conformity arose in early 20th century which came to fruition in the 1950s which is why conservatives idealize the monocultural 1950s instead of the multicultural 1850s or, for that matter, the 1750s.

The supremacists too often have sought to enforce their conservative vision onto all of American history, a romanticized revisionism that conveniently ignores all of the complex factual details. For example, they deny the democratic reformists of the revolutionary era and post-revolutionary era who pushed for radically liberal and progressive policies: feminists and socialists, slavery abolitionists and alcohol prohibitionists, working class free soilers and civil rights activists, Pennsylvania democrats and Whiskey rebels, etc. Beyond this, there were the Native Americans fighting for their own freedom and in some cases their own democratic societies, and there were black revolutionaries either fighting against the British empire or else the American slave-holders.

Early America, even before the revolution, included vast racial and cultural differences, vast religious and political differences, and vast inter-mixings of all of this in different combinations in different places (most American ‘whites’ probably have some non-European genetics, and most American ‘whites’ don’t know about this because mixed-race people tended to pass as whites whenever possible), but even the inter-mixings ended up creating ever new distinct regional cultures, religions and languages/dialects. It was only with the rise of radio and television’s national reach (and their use as vehicles of propaganda during the World Wars) did more Americans begin to think of themselves as a single unified culture, an imagined WASP culture that had always ruled over and united all of America; anyone at that time who thought otherwise wasn’t given a voice in the mainstream media.

I’m writing about this topic in order to begin to grasp the larger picture of how America began. I’ve been reading many books lately that have given me great insight, but I’m still processing that information. You can learn a lot by reading books as I’ve been doing, although almost all of the info I’ve been reading about can even be found in such easily accessible sources as Wikipedia (in fact, you’ll probably learn more accurate info and useful analysis from Wikipedia than you ever gained in grade school). In this Information Age, any American can learn about the intricacies of American history if they so desire.

This topic is a bit overwhelming, though. Some of the complexity of the subject can be seen just from a simplified map of colonial North America (1750):

Spain was the first to permanently colonize North America and claimed the largest portion of the Americas. The French later claimed a territory that challenged Spain’s dominance in North America. However, it wasn’t until Britain gained French territory that the largest battle of colonial empires would happen in North America. The British were slow to invest in their colonies, but because of Spain’s waning empire they were able to expand.

Here is a map of the changes that were happening in the mid 18th century:

“In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major colonization programs in eastern North America.[1] Many early attempts—notably the English Lost Colony of Roanoke—ended in failure, and everywhere the death rate of the first arrivals was very high, but key successful colonies were established. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups. No aristocrats settled permanently, but a number of adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen arrived. Ethnic diversity was an American characteristic as the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the “worthy poor” of Georgia, came to the new continent and built colonies with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles. Occasionally one colony took control of another (during wars between their European parents), but unlike in Nova Scotia they did not expel the previous inhabitants, but instead lived side by side in peace.”

Even ignoring the vast majority of North America controlled by Spain, France and Russia, the British colonies themselves were very diverse. Britain gained the New Netherland colony and renamed it New York, but the Netherland culture and political tradition was maintained: cultural diversity, religious freedom, freedom of speech, free trade, and a certain amount of racial equality in that free blacks could own land and businesses. Also, non-English immigrants (mostly Germans) formed the majority of the Pennsylvania colony. Germans were among the first immigrants in British colonies and their descendants now form the largest percentage of the US population. Germans and other Northern Europeans, by forming ethnic enclaves, maintained to varying degrees their distinct cultures and languages into the 20th century (the German Amish still maintain a separate culture and language; demonstrating their separateness, they commonly refer to outsiders as ‘English’).

All of the colonies were majority Christian, but other religious adherents could be found, specifically Jews and Muslims. Some were allowed to practice openly, even forming communities; others such as Muslim black slaves were among the first Americans to have religious freedom denied to them. To varying degrees, some non-monotheist slaves maintained their African religious practices. Interestingly, Jefferson included all religions as part of his vision of religious freedom:

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
~ Autobiography (1821), in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.

Another interesting point to consider is that blacks formed the majority in the Carolina colony and large percentages in other colonies as well such as Virginia which is the oldest British colony. Why this is interesting is that black slaves raised the children of the slave owners and thus it was blacks with their African culture that shaped the minds of generations of upper class white children. Some have theorized that elements of the South’s unique culture is African in origin.

Furthermore, consider the rarely mentioned fact that Asians have been in America since the 16th century. The largest early immigrations of Asians happened around the same time of the largest European immigrations. A lot of the American economy and infrastructure (such as the railroads) was built with Asian labor. Because of longstanding racial prejudice against them, Asians have maintained separate cultures, religions and languages since they first immigrated. The West Coast has had large Asian populations for a very long time.

Many things that we consider as American didn’t originate from the English. Classical liberalism was first implemented on a society-wide scale in Netherlands and the New Netherlands colony. Besides the multiculturalism of New Netherlands, the other model of American multiculturalism originated from the French who settled New Orleans where the French, German, Filipino, African and Native American cultures freely mixed. The style of the typical log cabin originated from Swedish immigrants. The common design of the Conestoga wagon used by most pioneers was designed by German immigrants. The freedom-loving cowboy culture was developed among Spaniard colonists and the children they had with Native Americans (think about that when a white Republican politician tries to prove his American character by playing the role of cowboy; also, consider Texas and the Southwest was originally a part of Spain’s territory and has always had a majority Spanish culture). The profitable commodities of corn and beans, of course, were agricultural plants developed by Native Americans. The Heartland culture of the Midwest is based on the culture of Germans and Scandinavians, and this Heartland culture was the breeding ground for American progressivism and municipal socialism. The Scots-Irish brought to America the values of military valor/bravado, strident independence/individualism and evangelical fundamentalism; they were some of the first Americans who learned how to effectively fight against and fight in the manner of Native Americans, techniques they would early on use to terrorize other colonists and later on use during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

The English tradition represents a very small part of American culture. Even England itself is a multicultural place and has been for a very long time. England was at various times controlled by, conquered by, or genetically mixed with other people from other countries. It was conquered by the Romans which is why Britains have African genetics. The Romans had to deal with the Germans who they never were able to conquer, the Germans having originated from Scandinavia. The German Vikings brought their culture, language and genetics into the British Isles (in fact, the English language originates from a Low German dialect, specifically from the language of the Angles and Saxons). Eventually, many Northern Europeans settled there and created a permanent culture. The Normans, for example, conquered England and it was the Normans that Southern aristocrats modeled themselves after. The Normans were Germans who had first settled in France before conquering England. Even though the early German colonies in North America failed, German culture(s) was essentially introduced again through the colonizing efforts of France and Britain.

An interesting factor to consider is how Europe has been culturally divided similar to America. Northern Europe was dominated by the Scandinavian/German/Protestant influence and Southern Europe was dominated by the Roman/Catholic influence. The highest concentrations of Catholics in the United States are where the Catholic French and Catholic Spaniards first settled:

Ignoring the French influence, I’ve always been fascinated by how the United States immigration patterns mimicked European ethnic regions. Many Northern Europeans settled the Northern regions of the US and many Southern Europeans settled the Southern regions of the US. This is how different regions of the US have maintained distinctive cultures throughout American history. Here is a map showing the ethnicities in America (those identifying as ‘American’ in Appalachia and the South are mostly Scots-Irish):

There never has been a single American culture. And it is unlikely there ever will be a single American culture. Or, at least, it would probably take a few more millennia of a melting pot to accomplish that.