Category: The Uncommonly Common (page 1 of 2)

Scotch-Irish of Maine in the 1700’s

Note: this chapter of The Uncommonly Common is about the Maine Scotch-Irish and their early life in Maine.

In trying to imagine what life must have been in the early 1700s, I found In trying to imagine what life must have been in the early 1700s, I found the Wheelers’ History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell helpful with insights into our ancestors lives. We do know that when James Wilson, his wife Jean and children arrived there was almost nothing.

“In Brunswick…there were in 1718 no dwelling places for the families, except within the walls of the fort…A little before that time, three families settle in Topsham; all of whom were afterwards destroyed in Lovewell’s war.”1 The Wilsons may have arrived in 1719, only a year later. The Indian wars heated up in 1722 and we see Jean leaving the area with the children immediately afterwards.

Families lived far apart initially and only could travel by water as there were no inland avenues.

These Scotch Irish “were usually called “ wild Irish” by the native New-Englanders. It is said of these early settlers that “they used to peek out through a crack or partly opened door, to see whether their callers were friends or foes, and that the same habit of peeking out through a half-open door to see whom their callers may be, is noticed to this day in their descendants.” These settlers were nearly all poor, and often suffered for the necessaries of life. They had to work hard for their living, and dress in the plainest manner.”2 

They were understandably not happy: “During the period embraced by the Indian wars, the character of the people differed materially from what it afterwards was. Instead of gayety and dissipation, a melancholy spirit prevailed. Almost the only topic of conversation with the people was in regard to their troubles with the Indians and the individual difficulties of their situation. Their chief relaxation consisted in singing psalms and doggerel rhymes. The only news that reached them was of cruel murders, by the savages, of their friends and acquaintance, or else of the wonderful escapes and marvellous exploits of the latter.”3

Churches were not established until much later in the 1700s (though there were meeting houses at first) so they were again denied communal worship in the new world. I assume they were pragmatists – unlike the other colonial settlers at the time like the Pilgrims whose religion figured so prominently in their desire to settle (and conquer) the New World. Their life in Ireland would have been a preview for this lifestyle – since their communal and church life was dismantled before they left.

A few tales survive that frequently described one aspect of life in Maine – Indian encounters. One involved David Alexander, father of William who married James Wilson’s daughter, Jennet. William and a friend of him were set upon by Indians: “The boys’ outcries at length attracted the attention of the settlers up and down the river, and his father being first to comprehend the true state of things outstripped all others in going to the relief of his son, guided partially by the voice of the lad and partly by the zigzag trail of the furrowed earth which was a conspicuous mark and was made by the boy’s stubborn obstinacy and resistance. The father at length came in full sight of his son and was hastening to his rescue when the Indian, letting go the lad, fired, killing Mr. Alexander, who fell instantly dead. The son, the moment he saw his father fall, ran. and the Indian, fearing pursuit, desisted from attempting his recapture.”4

Bolton’s description of these Scotch Irish settlers is truthful even though a bit lyrical: “The Scotch Irish have never claimed that they brought literature or art to these shores. They knew little of the former and nothing of aesthetics. Diaries and letters of the migration period do not exist and perhaps never did exist. Let us speak frankly. Every race brings to our western civilization a gift of its own. These people from Ulster cared very little for the beautiful, with the single exception of the wonderful and beautiful Bible story.”5

He goes on to say: “The Scotch Irish could not see that the severe lines of a cabin are softened by a sumac against the south wall or a creeper at the corner. They did not trim the edge of the roadway that led to the front door. In short, utility required nothing of these things and utility was their law. For the same reason, if the soles of their feet were tough they saw small need of shoes in summer. Their bare feet, however, gave something of a shock to century-old New England. This rude development of taste was based possibly upon a primitive state of education.”6 

So utilitarian, no-frills, not educated (I prefer that to uneducated) – just survivors as our ancestors needed to be or else we would not be alive today. Bolton phrases this way: “It is evident that whether we view the Scotch Irish pioneers from the standpoint of education, or culture, or material success of the larger kind, they were in 1718 in their proper place when Cotton Mather consigned them to the frontier.”7

I only started looking at the role of the Scotch Irish after I had worked my way through numerous generations and thousands of descendants. I think this is why so much of early Maine was so hard for me to comprehend; it is a story very different from much of what we know about the early colonies. We are fed a diet of heroic ancestors and doings and never introduced to real life. Even the tragedy of Jamestown is more interesting. Talk of the “seasoning” that the English had to undergo, getting used to the heat of the south, the oft-told romanticized tale of Pocahontas – it all adds up to a marvelous tale. The story of James Oglethorpe, a social reformer, who founded the colony of Georgia is another tale that I, as a Georgia native, was raised with. Not only did he rescue debtors from prison but he also laid out a well-thought out city in Savannah. As anyone who been there knows, it is a gorgeous city with incredible history. Comparing those stories to Indian horrors? Not much of contest there! Once again, however, someone had to do it and the Scotch Irish settlers of early Maine performed their duty well.” target=”_blank”>Wheeler’s History of Brunswick,Topsham and Harpswell, Maine helpful with insights into our ancestors’ lives. We do know that when James Wilson, his wife Jean and children arrived there was almost nothing. 

“In Brunswick…there were in 1718 no dwelling places for the families, except within the walls of the fort…A little before that time, three families settle in Topsham; all of whom were afterwards destroyed in Lovewell’s war.”1 The Wilsons may have arrived in 1719, only a year later. The Indian wars heated up in 1722 and we see Jean Wilson leaving the area with the children immediately afterwards.

Families lived far apart initially and only could travel by water as there were no inland avenues.

These Scotch Irish “were usually called “ wild Irish” by the native New-Englanders. It is said of these early settlers that “they used to peek out through a crack or partly opened door, to see whether their callers were friends or foes, and that the same habit of peeking out through a half-open door to see whom their callers may be, is noticed to this day in their descendants.” These settlers were nearly all poor, and often suffered for the necessaries of life. They had to work hard for their living, and dress in the plainest manner.”2

They were understandably not happy: “During the period embraced by the Indian wars, the character of the people differed materially from what it afterwards was. Instead of gayety and dissipation, a melancholy spirit prevailed. Almost the only topic of conversation with the people was in regard to their troubles with the Indians and the individual difficulties of their situation. Their chief relaxation consisted in singing psalms and doggerel rhymes. The only news that reached them was of cruel murders, by the savages, of their friends and acquaintance, or else of the wonderful escapes and marvellous exploits of the latter.”3

Churches were not established until much later in the 1700s (though there were meeting houses at first) so they were again denied communal worship in the new world. I assume they were pragmatists – unlike the other colonial settlers at the time but like the Pilgrims whose religion figured so prominently in their desire to settle (and conquer) the New World. Their life in Ireland would have been a preview for this lifestyle – since their communal and church life was dismantled before they left.

A few tales survive that frequently described one aspect of life in Maine – Indian encounters. One involved David Alexander, father of William who married James Wilson’s daughter, Jennet. William and a friend of him were set upon by Indians:
“The boys’ outcries at length attracted the attention of the settlers up and down the river, and his father being first to comprehend the true state of things outstripped all others in going to the relief of his son, guided partially by the voice of the lad and partly by the zigzag trail of the furrowed earth which was a conspicuous mark and was made by the boy’s stubborn obstinacy and resistance. The father at length came in full sight of his son and was hastening to his rescue when the Indian, letting go the lad, fired, killing Mr. Alexander, who fell instantly dead. The son, the moment he saw his father fall, ran. and the Indian, fearing pursuit, desisted from attempting his recapture.”4

Bolton’s description of these Scotch Irish settlers is truthful even though a bit lyrical:
“The Scotch Irish have never claimed that they brought literature or art to these shores. They knew little of the former and nothing of aesthetics. Diaries and letters of the migration period do not  exist and perhaps never did exist. Let us speak frankly. Every race brings to our western civilization a gift of its own. These people from Ulster cared very little for the beautiful, with the single exception of the wonderful and beautiful Bible story.”5

He goes on to say:
“The Scotch Irish could not see that the severe lines of a cabin are softened by a sumac against the south wall or a creeper at the corner. They did not trim the edge of the roadway that led to the front
door. In short, utility required nothing of these things and utility was their law. For the same reason,
if the soles of their feet were tough they saw small need of shoes in summer. Their bare feet, however, gave something of a shock to century-old New England. This rude development of taste was based possibly upon a primitive state of education.”6

So utilitarian, no-frills, not educated (I prefer that to uneducated) – just survivors as our ancestors needed to be or else we would not be alive today. Bolton phrases this way: “It is evident that whether we view the Scotch Irish pioneers from the standpoint of education, or culture, or material success of the larger kind, they were in 1718 in their proper place when Cotton Mather consigned them to the frontier.”7

I only started looking at the role of the Scotch Irish after I had worked my way through numerous generations and thousands of descendants. I think this is why so much of early Maine was so hard for me to comprehend; it is a story very different from much of what we know about the early colonies. We are fed a diet of heroic ancestors and doings and never introduced to real life.

Even the tragedy of Jamestown is more interesting. Talk of the “seasoning” that the English had to undergo, getting used to the heat of the south, the oft-told romanticized tale of Pocahontas – it all adds up to a marvelous tale.

The story of James Oglethorpe, a social reformer, who founded the colony of Georgia is another tale that I, as a Georgia native, was raised with. Not only did he rescue debtors from prison but he also laid out a well-thought out city in Savannah. As anyone who been there knows, it is a gorgeous city with incredible history. 

Comparing those stories to Indian horrors? Not much of contest there! Once again, however,  someone had to do it and the Scotch Irish settlers of early Maine performed their duty well. 

—————————————————————————-

1William Durkee Williamson, The History of the State of Maine: from its First Discovery, AD 1602, to the Separation, AD 1820, Inclusive, Vol. II (Hallowell: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1832), 88.
2George Augustus Wheeler, M.D. and Henry Warren Wheeler, History of Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell including the ancient territory known as Pejebscot (Boston: Alfred Mudge and Sons, Printers, 1878), 205.
3Wheeler, 206.
4Wheeler, 208
5Charles Knowles Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (Boston: Bacon and Brown, 1910), 301-302. 
6Bolton, 303.
7Bolton, 306.

The Uncommonly Common is still a work in process. If anyone finds any errors, I beg you to inform me!

Uncommonly Common Now Widely Available

You can order it through Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon.com. That means it should be available through all book lists and even your local library could order it.

Ask for it!

On Line Resources for Uncommonly Common

insta_cover_hardback.inddIt truly is done now and going to the printers this week. I am gobsmacked and filled with trepidation but I can endlessly proof this and never publish. There will be errors.

I have added additional digital resources here for the book which can be found at the following links. All are PDFs and you can read in your process or save the files to your website. They will open in a new window.

Table of Contents:
http://cvillegenie.com/pdfs/wilson_toc.pdf or shortened  http://goo.gl/JklxFm

Zoomable Maps:
Full Topsham Map
http://cvillegenie.com/james_wilson_family/wilson_images/topsham-full-wheeler-map.jpg or shortened: http://goo.gl/jZIDD8

Topsham Roads, Now and Then
http://cvillegenie.com/james_wilson_family/wilson_images/topsham_map_roads.jpg or shortened: http://goo.gl/Nc7qUF

Index of Names:
http://cvillegenie.com/pdfs/index_of_names.pdf  or shortened: http://goo.gl/uiJR6q

When it’s all over…

The book is done. The Uncommonly Common is as finished as it’s going to get. Except for some expected edits, I have no more research and writing to do. After 18 months, I get to relax. Or not.

I’ve been living this world for so long now, it’s become my alternate reality and my escape. I am left bereft, not elated to have finished.

It’s really time to recap the experience and look at what I have ended up with.

The Journey

I started this whole process by simply signing up on ancestry.com. This is an addictive thing in case you have not tried it.  I took it to extremes by trying to document all descendants of each original ancestor. One family line was just too massive to even think it. One family line had too little to keep me busy. Another needed some work but didn’t appear interesting. And then the Wilson line. Different, mystifying and totally new as I did not know my Dad’s family was from Maine initially.

I got finished running through what I could find out thru ancestry but was left with so many questions. By that time I was hooked on genealogy and wanted more. I researched the profession, signed up with the National Genealogy Society that was meeting that May only an hour away from me in Richmond, and looked into professional certification. I starting learning how to do it correctly.

Then I decided to write a book for several reasons. One, I am first and foremost a writer who turned to web design to make a living. Two, I had a lot of information I wanted to do something with. And three, I wanted to know more, seriously, and do some on the ground research.

I made two trips to Maine and got my hands on nearly every scrap of information I could find on those first three or four generations of the Wilsons.

The Results

I have written a book that is ready to print. I’m a writer, a graphic designer and a genealogist so I have a 350 page book ready to go in Indesign. (6 x 9)

This is NOT a normal genealogy. It is a story of a Topsham, Maine, family from 1719 to today. I tracked all the descendants of James Wilson who came to Maine in the Robert Temple ships. Though he died in 1743, his children were at the right age to populate and usher Topsham into incorporation and the founding of Maine as a state. So they were the inn keepers, the saw mill owners, and the dam owners…oh, yes, and major land owners.

Though James Wilson is one of my ancestors, I am a Georgia girl who, until 18 months ago, didn’t even know about this part of my heritage. The book is a journey of discovery, a comparison of north and south and is written with one over riding purpose: to be a readable and maybe even enjoyable book. I cover all descendants that I could find up ’til about 1900 for most lines and then take one line (yeah, my own) all the way to present day.

There are also two chapters about two different individuals. One is a descendant who became a sheriff in the 1850s near Gainesville, Florida, and one who deserted during the Civil War and ended up settling in the Virginia mountains near me. Both are interesting tales!

This was written to genealogical stand of proof. I have documented the facts, occasionally described the process and provide the reasons for my conclusions when the proof is not substantial  or is an interesting tale.

The finalized Table of Contents is here. Though the writing is finished, I will be continuing to edit up until publication as information is still drifting in. I have proofed the footnotes (I haven’t done a count but there are over 500) and done several read through and editing sessions but I will be doing more of that in the coming weeks and months.

I’m now looking for a publisher. Of course, I will self-publish if I have to but prefer to work with a publisher in order to get the marketing effort that I cannot manage by myself. Publishing just to get it into print is not the goal. Publishing in order to get it into the hands of readers is.

My Conclusions

Not only was this the right thing for me to, spending hundreds of hours, precious money and a lot of thinking, but it was also the best thing to do. I am in my element doing what my education prepared me for and what I was designed for.

Finding my “roots” made me whole. I am no longer an outcast in a southern society but a hybrid who fits into both the north and south equally. I feel like Maine is my real home (just for six months out of the year – not  a snow girl!) and look forward to spending more time up there in the future.

As my web design business normally is not full-time (as intended), I have the time to spend to get my genealogy business into a profitable condition. Starting a new business has its own benefits and my entrepreneurial spirit is rejoicing. Adventure!!

When It’s All Over

There is a beginning. A new phase of life for me. A new business.  And a book, The Uncommonly Common.

 

 

Topsham Maps

I’ve been busy getting the Wilson book finished and I’m getting really close. One thing I’m working on is a set of maps for the book and corresponding files on this website. The web files are much larger of course. All you have to do is use the zooming function of your browser to view closer. I’ve left them large so that you can really look at the details.

The large 1768 map of Brunswick and Topsham is here: http://goo.gl/jZIDD8

Map with today’s roads superimposed on Topsham & 1764 roads: http://goo.gl/Nc7qUF

 

And the Book is Ready for Editing and Proofing

As of today, the main writing task is done. The research will never end; that's just the way genealogy works. As new data becomes available, changes, additions, deletions have to be made to a family tree. It's an incredibly fluid thing. 

Just this weekend I ran across evidence of that when dipping back down in to my great grandparent's generation, suddenly both of their graves popped up on Findagrave.com. There are no pictures yet but the additions give me final proof of the birth and death dates and a confirmed physical location.

The rate information is being digitized is speeding up with new databases being made available online. The bad news is that you are never done. The good news is you get to dig forever! 

A lot of editing and proofreading awaits me but now I can start looking for a publisher and I can relax and enjoy my next trip to Maine. I hope to find more pieces of the puzzle on my next trip but all I have to do is plug in those bits. I shouldn't have to do major rewriting or even add any more people into the tree. (famous last words!)

My research and writing over the last few days has made me realize how lucky I am personally that my father and his father survived. Though I knew there was a constant theme of tuberculosis deaths throughout the generations in Maine, my family landed in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the late 1800s. I kept seeing occasional deaths but when I got into my great grandparents' generation, I realized that tuberculosis had become a scourge.

Tuberculosis reached its heights after industrilization began. Instead of associating with a limited amount of people, workers joined large groups making it easier to get TB. The overcrowding and lack of sanitation in the industrialized residential areas also had an major impact.

By the time my family moved into Lynn, there were only three living adults and only two that had children. My great great grandfather's brother, Henry, was the other. He and his wife had three children, all born in Lynn. His wife died in 1883 from bronchitis supposedly but then his daughter died in 1897 and son in 1901 from tuberculosis. The third daughter never had children.

My great great grandparents had ten children between 1870 and 1892. Two died young, two women never married but 17 grandchildren were born by 1909. The oldest son had four children. One of those four died at age 12 in 1908, followed by her mother in 1918 and sister in 1925. They were all tuberculosis deaths. 

Meanwhile, the second son lost his fourth daughter in 1904 and his wife by 1909. Since the daughter only lasted a few months with TB, it's entirely possible that the wife also died from tuberculosis. At some point between 1900 and 1910 my great great grandparents must have realized how dangerous Lynn was. They had witnessed the deaths of at least four grandchildren and one daughter-in-law by 1908. 

They left, moving to Candia, New Hampshire, and back to a farming existence. The third son, my great grandfather, left the state by then, heading for Philadelphia and New Jersey and he didn't lose any children. None of the other children lost spouses or children to TB. By the time the three youngest went out on their own, they were able to truly thrive and prosper though it did take one or more generations for that to happen with their siblings.

I've said from the start of this project that the Scotch-Irish were survivors and that's what my family did.They survived. And I'm glad they did. 

What’s in a name? – chapter 1

Note: this is chapter one of the book, The Uncommonly Common.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

The Backstory

I really hated my Shakespeare class in college.  I had hoped I would gain some appreciation for the “Bard” but it was so boring!  Yet, when I reached for a quote to use, lo and behold, up pops the above phrase from Romeo and Juliet. 

Shakespeare was asking a question that has come to haunt me in my adult years.  He wanted to know does the name make the man (or woman as in my case).

Names do come with connotations for most of us.  The more recent phenomenon of giving boys or non-sex names to girls recognizes that Jane Doe is obviously female but Madison Doe could be a guy.  Parents frequently do this to give their “girls” an edge in today’s still male-dominated world.

Here in the South we still call grown men by kid’s names, Tommy, Billy, Jimmy.  Washington, D.C. never got used to “our” Jimmy Carter.  It was, for many, a way of subtly being able to put down a president even though this southern practice is not intended to mark or disparage an individual.

When I met my husband, Tommy, I figured I would change that cute little name to Tom or Thomas.  I ran into an immediate problem.  He is not a Tom or a Thomas to me.  He is a Tommy—you know, that cute little freckle-faced kid from down the block..  Something that is an endearment for me is what everyone calls him.

Growing up as a Delia in Gainesville, Georgia, in the 1950’s and 1960’s was fraught with name problems for me.  First, because there were no connotations to my name.  There was not anyone I ever met there who had my name.  In fact, I met my first other Delia at age 20 in college.  I have met very few since then.

I did occasionally see my name in print: the Irish maid in so many stories from years ago was so frequently named Delia.  A maid!  Not the heroine, not the story’s main character, a maid, for heaven’s sake.  Oh, dear.  What is in a name?

Additionally, I (okay, my name) was the subject of 2 hit songs back in the early 60’s. (Waylen Jennings sang about “my” adultery and murder in “Delia’s Gone”.)  Then in the 1970’s or 1980’s a soap opera character was christened Delia.  I did not even check to see what they had done to me that time.

My teachers could not pronounce my name correctly (I was too embarrassed to teach them how to say it).  The other kids used my name as a taunt: I was obviously a good victim.

My name is always being misspelled.  I get called Debra or Delilah or Julia or Belia in writing or out loud.  (My handwriting probably does not help this process.)

Once I started my own business back in the ‘80’s, I decided to use that uniqueness to my advantage and to teach the world how to pronounce and spell my name.  “I will take this opportunity teach the world!  I will become pronounceable, spellable!”  I ended up constantly spelling my name anew to customers, vendors, sales people.  Constantly, they were apologizing for mangling the pronunciation.  I have received uncountable apologies, more than enough to make up for the teachers’ and children’s misuse of my name in those early years.

But, now, the unthinkable has happened.  It started some years ago.  Somebody named a company Delia’s.  This company sells clothing and such to pre-teens and others of tender age.  Type “my” name in a internet search and this company hogs the scene!

Then a specific author rose to some prominence, Delia Ephron, sister of Nora Ephron, movie director.  Nora brought us the movie, You’ve Got Mail, and has helped to bring her sister to wider acclaim. 

Now you say that’s not much.  How could this be problematic for me?  Well, it seems like all of a sudden every author in the world has decided to include a Delia in their opus.  I do read voraciously but now I can check 10 books out of the library and find my name in 2 or 3! 

Now for those of you who are accustomed to seeing “your” names in print, you cannot fathom how truly disconcerting and upsetting this is for me.  For most of my life, my name virtually did not appear in print.  If Delia was mentioned, it was me someone was talking about me, like in a newspaper article.  I was important, unique and fortunate to have something different.  My own name.

As always, I read along, enjoy my fiction, my escapism.  But now, I am getting jolted out of my fantasy, my stories.  Hey, my name again!  Hey, what does this mean about me? I’m not the Irish maid any longer.  I’m not so unique.  My lifelong self-assumed identity does not work anymore.

I’m just Delia, one of many fictional characters who exist only in other authors’ imaginations; for you see, I still rarely meet other Delias.  People are only beginning to name their children with my name.  It remains a more common name for my great-grandparents’ and my grandparents’ generations.  

Well, I guess it is a step up, from total obscurity to a type of infamy.  Today I am only a figment of someone else’s imagination!

And there is the family tree…

I was named after my great-grandmother, Delia McCarron Wilson, from Ireland. I think somewhere someone said it was a family name, but since I cannot find evidence of her existence before she married my great-grandfather, I have not been able to prove that. 

I always assumed that Delia was a very common name in Ireland but I was informed by a techie Irish friend of mine that it is not so. Delia appears to be more common in British Isles than here in the states but not by much. 

It turns out that Delia in Ireland may well be a nickname for someone named Bidelia, Biddie, or Bridget. So much for an identity grounded in my “name”.

And then there is the rest of the family tree.

I am a Wilson – one of those Maine Wilsons. Well, I declare! I had no idea until December of 2013. For some unknown reason I had decided my family up New Jersey / Massachusetts way were all immigrants from Ireland and Poland. 

Nope, the original James Wilson came here about 1719 landing in Maine with his wife and children. Such a common name, Wilson. Can that really mean anything?

In my digging through my Maine family tree I do see the introduction of Delia – as a shortened form of Cordelia, Predelia and many more interesting and forgotten names. I was able to pinpoint where in my family women were named Delia instead of using a nickname of Delia. Oh, well, I am now firmly grounded in my roots.

So Delia Wilson. An uncommonly common name. 

And you’ll come to see that the commonly-named Wilsons of Topsham, Maine, are not so common after all.

Thus begins the tale of the Wilsons of Maine, a story of Maine, Massachusetts, and New England from the Mayflower until today.

The Wilson Tree is Online Here!

The Wilson tree is now online here on cvillegenie.com. You no longer have to have an ancestry.com membership to view the tree. It’s without photos and may have its content changed before it settles down but now anyone can view what I’ve been working on!

Though this is all of the descendants of James Wilson and some extra ancestors of those descendants, this is not the definitive end result of my study. Only the book, The Uncommonly Common, has verified information. I have not verified information for persons born after 1900 in most cases.

Living people are shown by name but without any information. If you find incorrect content or living peoples’ info being displayed, click on the Suggest tab on the profile of the person that needs correcting and send me a note.

I don’t expect this to be perfect but I will continue to update this material as I am able to.

Would you like to help? Got photos you want to add to a profile? Want to get to be able to work on profiles of your immediate family? I would love to have you involved. Contact me!

Just want to look around? Click here to view the James Wilson tree online.

And the Work Proceeds…

I’ve been incredibly busy since my return from New England while trying to incorporate all the new “stuff” I found and figured out while I was gone. I’ve got several blog posts planned – just haven’t had time to write them!

I’ve gotten some parts of the book pinned down and having decided on a structure (which still may change before publication), I now have a partial table of contents that I can release for those who are interested.

Since I’m formatting and typesetting as I write, the decisions are being made on the fly but I believe I’ve created an arrangement that will allow me to deliver the genealogical information in a format that will be easier to follow than traditional genealogies. After all, what I want is something that folks can read – while not having to figure out where in the world they are at the same time. (I haven’t had readers to test this out yet – and I will need readers before it goes to print. If you are interested, please contact me.)

In general each of James’ children get one chapter. Some of their children get their own chaper. There are two chapters that tell some great stories about two Mainers who went south, one to Virginia and one to Florida. I also give strong weight and a chapter to my third great-grandfather and the families of us second and third cousins, the ones I found during this journey.

The table of contents are in a PDF format so you can download it or read it online.  You can view the Wilson book table of contents here.

Damn Yankee Gone South!

I had a chance to get to the local Family Search Center here in Charlottesville this morning. I was interested in finding out what they had that I could access. So I found that out and found a cousin (by marriage) at the same time. First, the cousin, Dottie Nicholson Sullivan was manning the center with her husband Wayne. She mentioned her family difficulties in tracing the Nicholsons back out of Virginia. I said, "Nicholsons? We may be related!"

She explained and, lo and behold, she is a descendant of a related family branch of the Wilsons, not directly related to me but to Clara Frances Nicholson of Madison, Virginia. Clara married the great-great-grandson of Edward Paul Dyer who was born in Topsham, Maine, in 1841.

Edward's story is interesting and quite unique among the Wilsons because he's one of the few who went south in the 1800s. He went to Virginia during the civil war with the 16th Maine Regiment. His story was thoroughly examined by Henry W. Bashore who wrote Old Rag Mountain, Rebirth of a Wilderness, in 2006[1]. Edward's story is one of two about Wilsons who went south included in my book.

The Shenandoah National Park

Bashore's book is about families displaced from the Shenandoah National Park in 1935 to return the land to the wilderness you see today on the Skyline Parkway only 30 miles or so up the road from here. The park meets all expectations but the story of its birth from this family's point of view is a sad tale indeed.

"Money didn't buy Shenandoah Park," said Randolph Shifflet, who was 8 years old when government men torched his family farm. "It was bought with tears, heartaches, grief and hardship."

Bashore goes on to say

"Your next visit to the park will have a fuller, deeper meaning for you if you consider the heartaches and hardships the mountain people endured when they were removed from their homes and their land. Because of their sacrifice, we have the privilege of enjoying the natural beauty of the mountain streams, forests, canyons and the majestic views from the mountain peaks." [2]

I couldn't said it any better myself. It's just gorgeous here in middle Virginia. We have views of the mountains – not overwhelming views but quick glimpses as you turn a corner or crest a hill. This is the first time I've lived near mountains since 1968 and it's one of the reasons why we live here. It's really hard to describe the lift I get every time I get rewarded with a mountain view just riding around town.

Virginia – Where All Us Southerners Originate From

Having the park so close is another benefit and it never occurred to me that I would find family ties to the park or even to Virginia. When we moved here in 2008, I was not interested in genealogy. I knew my mother had some family information but she had never delivered it to me.

Turns out I have major roots here in Virginia. The Elam family were some of the original settlers in the Bermuda Hundred shortly after the Jamestown colory failed. The Vances' first appearance in the New World was in Rockbridge County, Virginia in the late 1700s. The Maynards came through Mecklenburg County on their way to Edgefield, South Carolina, in the mid to later 1700s.

My husband family (without the Yankees) is even more typical. Every one of his ancestors came early to Virginia.

It just seems only right to have a Wilson connection to Virginia as well!

Edward Paul Dyer

Edward was born 16 Oct 1840[3] in Topsham, Maine to Charles Dyer and Mary Ann Margaret Alexander. Margaret's great grandmother was Jennet Wilson, the only known Wilson daughter of James Wilson. This is the original Wilson family that arrived with the Robert Temple ships in Maine in 1719.

Jennet married William Alexander and they moved closer to the ocean to Harpswell, Maine, to establish a family dynasty of their own. Many of their descendants were sea captains and it was their family I traced first after starting the Wilson project. Margaret, in fact, had two brothers, Joseph and Thomas, who were captains. Both their gravestones have that fact engraved on them.

Edward's mother was barely sixteen when she gave birth to Edward. I couldn't find a marriage or divorce record for Margaret and Charles but Margaret married William S Michaels on 4 April 1843[4] when Edward was only two so it is likely that William was the only father he had known. Charles died when Edward was just six years old.[5] His mother, Margaret, died 3 Jan 1861.

The next year both Edward and his half-brother joined the military together on 14 Aug 1862[6], the first day of service or the 16th Maine Regiment. Half-brother William was only 16 and lied about his age in order to be able to enlist.

We do know that William's death occurred 18 Feb 1863[7] in Virginia. There are no details – he may have been wounded before that. Edward is listed as deserting on 20 Jan 1863.[8] That is right after the disastrous Battle of Fredricksburg. The actual day was a horrible one for all of the 16th regiment. They were on the march in some incredibly bad weather with rain, under equipped and having just lost 13,000 men at Fredricksburg.

From A.R. Small's 16th Regimental History:

"January 20. A long wearisome march was now before us. The threatening rain came down in torrents. At 12:00 noon, we took up the line of march in the direction of Falmouth, crossed the railroad, continued up the Rappahannock until 9:00 p.m… The storm increased in power, and torrents of rain drenched us. In the darkness regiments and brigades became separated, companies went astray and whole divisions of troops were in helpless confusion."[9]

Desertion in the Civil War

Did Edward inadvertently get separated and lost as some have theorized? Or did he truly just desert? That question will probably never be answered but it is important to understand that desertion then was not unusual nor was it the shameful thing it became later. Not only that but the desertion rate of Union soldiers far exceeded that of the Confederates.

"The daily hardships of war, deficiency in arms, forced marches (which sometimes made straggling a necessity for less vigorous men), thirst, suffocating heat, disease, delay in pay,~ solicitude for family, impatience at the monotony and futility of inactive service, and (though this was not the leading cause) panic on the eve of battle – these were some of the conditioning factors that produced desertion. Many men absented themselves merely through unfamiliarity with military discipline or through the feeling that they should be "restrained by no other legal requirements than those of the civil law governing a free people"; and such was the general attitude that desertion was often regarded "more as a refusal . . – to ratify a contract than as the commission of a grave crime." "[10]

That same article states in December of 1862, " no less than 180,000 of the soldiers listed on the Union muster rolls were absent, with or without leave." from the Union army. After the Mud March of January 20? If Edward deserted, I expect he was in good company with understandable reasons and no shame attached to his actions then. Add in the fact that his mother was dead and that he might have known about his half-brother's injuries and pending death and you have a recipe for desertion.

One of the tales told in Bashore's book is that Edward was "wrestling and playing around near the camp boundary. As they wrestled they moved closer to the camp boundary and eventually just walked awary from camp." A truly benign tale and just as possible as running away from the action though the weather on the 20th was certainly not conductive to such behavior. Just because his desertion date is listed as January 20, however, does not mean that is the actual date he left.

Working through all the family tales is the fun part of this story and there are many tales, not all chronicled in Bashor's book. Will we ever know the truth? Probably not but the information I unearthed during this research does help to discount some of those tales handed down from generation to generation.

— edited 13 June 2015

  1. Bashore
  2. Bashore, 3.
  3. Edward Paul Dyer, death certificate no. 3715, Virginia Bureau of Statistics, Richmond.
  4. "Maine, Marriages, 1771-1907," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F4F3-496 : accessed 15 February 2015), William S. Michiels and Margaret Alexander, 04 Apr 1843; citing Brunswick,Cumberland,Maine, reference ; FHL microfilm 10,595.
  5. Maine State Archives; Cultural Building, 84 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0084; Pre 1892 Delayed Returns; Roll #: 32
  6. Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
  7. Maine State Archives; Cultural Building, 84 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0084; Pre 1892 Delayed Returns; Roll #: 75
  8. Historical Data Systems, comp.. American Civil War Soldiers [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.
  9. A. R. Small, The Sixteenth Maine Regiment in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Portland, Maine, B.Thurston & Company: 1886), 92.
  10. Desertion in the Civil War Armies, http://www.civilwarhome.com/desertion.htm, accessed 15 May 2014.
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