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Ancestors, Community, and the Vote

After this week’s tumultuous election, I began to reflect on why I may have voted the way I did. I hope I objectively examined the issues and voted for those candidates who would best represent my views. Yet I cannot help but think that my upbringing and surroundings played a part in influencing my opinions.

How did my ancestors think, and what did I hear discussed at home as I grew up? Over years of genealogical research, I have assembled some information about the political leanings of my forbears:

  1. Caleb Reed (1818-1903), an Illinois farmer. According to the history of Coles County, he was a strong Whig although he never sought political office. The conservative Whig party (1833-1854) was organized by the politician Henry Clay in opposition to the Jacksonian Democrats, and they derided Jackson as “King Andrew”. Appealing to large landowners, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the President and favored economic protectionism. They opposed Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Many Whigs gravitated to the Republican Party after the demise of the Whig Party. I wonder whether Caleb voted for Republican Abraham Lincoln, a fellow resident of Illinois, in 1860 and 1864. Lincoln’s parents lived near Caleb in Coles County.
  2. John Carter (1790-1841), another Illinois farmer and neighbor of Caleb Reed. Originally from Tennessee, John had served in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson. I do not know how he felt about Jackson and his policies. Was John a Jackson Democrat?
  3. Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986), a policeman, later an electrician, who grew up in Montana and lived in several western and Midwestern states. He professed strong support of the Democratic Party.
  4. Grace Riddle (1896-1976) and Martha Mattila (1906-1977). I find it amazing that when these women, my grandmothers, were born, women did not have the right to vote. That did not come until 1920. Even so, neither of them talked about politics, and I do not know if or how they voted.
  5. Joyce Bentsen (1929-2000), a schoolteacher from Minnesota. She never disclosed how she voted, but over the years she expressed admiration for Minnesota Democratic native sons Walter Mondale and Hubert “The Happy Warrior” Humphrey.
  6. My Dad, a petroleum landman. During my lifetime, he usually has expressed conservative views and leaned Republican, not surprising for an oilman. Yet he proudly cast his first vote in a Presidential election for Harry Truman in 1948. He told me that his mother kept a photograph of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt in their home.

These family members obviously did not agree about politics, so I received mixed messages at home. What about the influence of my community?

  1. I grew up in Wyoming, a politically conservative state. This week nearly 70% of their electorate voted for Donald Trump. Although Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote, they did not do so for progressive reasons. Without women counted as citizens, Wyoming could not reach the requisite number of voters to qualify for statehood in 1890.
  2. Today I live in the purple state of Colorado where I have been for over 30 years. I reside between very-conservative Colorado Springs, and very-liberal Boulder (referred to by the locals as “The People’s Republic of Boulder”). Ironically, the Libertarian Party was founded in Boulder, so we have that influence as well.

These conflicting views around me all contribute to my political views. I hope I did a good job synthesizing them before I cast my vote this year.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 34—Mary (Polly) Templeton (1792-1857)

My family does not have much information (yet!) about our ancestor Polly Templeton Carter. For all I know, data on her may be just a few steps away in my office. A couple of years ago I inherited the genealogical work of my dad’s cousin, and perhaps she documented some of Polly’s life. If so, the information still sits in notebooks and file drawers I have not yet had a chance to review.

For my own part, I have not done any work on the Templeton family.

Mary Templeton, known to us as Polly, was born in 1792 in eastern Tennessee. I do not know the identity of her parents.

Polly grew up in Tennessee, and there she married John Carter on the ninth of February, 1815. After their first child, Susan, was born later that year, they moved on to Wayne County, Kentucky. Between 1816 and 1829, they had seven more children, including my second great-grandmother, Jane.

We do not know how Polly and John learned that new lands had come available for settlement in southeastern Illinois. We do not know why they decided to uproot their large family and make the move. We just know that they became “Pioneers of 1830” who settled near Ashmore, Coles County, Illinois.

Their last child, Catharine, was born there in 1832.

The family settled into pioneer life, and all went along well until John became ill. He passed away in 1841, and Polly was widowed at age 49. She never remarried.

She seemed to have moved around some after that. In 1855, she lived alone in Edgar County (next to Coles County), and she kept $180 worth of livestock.

Over the next couple of years, she performed acts that left the only records we have of her life. She presented an inscribed Bible to her daughter Jane in 1856. In 1857, she executed a Bounty Land Claim for her husband’s long-ago service in the War of 1812.

Polly passed away on 11 November 1857 in Coles County at the age of sixty-four. She was buried next to John in the Ashmore, Illinois cemetery.

Polly died intestate, but she did leave an estate that needed to be administered. Her son Joseph was named Administrator in 1858. Her monies were distributed to her heirs with $39.57 going to each:

  1. Susan Austin (daughter)
  2. Catharine Young (daughter)
  3. Solomon Collins (son of deceased daughter Thena)
  4. Nancy Boyd (daughter)
  5. Shelton Carter (son)
  6. Jane Reed (daughter)
  7. Joseph Carter (son)
  8. John Carter, minor (son of deceased son Bailey)

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 33—John Carter (ca. 1790-1841)

John Carter, my 3rd great-grandfather, came from a prolific Carter clan. We do not really know the identities of his parents, but his father may have been named Caleb Carter.

John hailed from Greene County, Tennessee, one of numerous Carters in the county. Various sources report his birth date as 19 July in 1783, 1784, 1790, or 1793. His daughter Jane’s family Bible provides the 1790 date.

According to his widow’s claim for bounty land, John was drafted for the War of 1812 in February 1813 for the term of three months. He continued in actual service for six months. Her claim states he served as a private in the company of Captain Hyle under the command of Colonel Gibbs. At the time, his residence was Greenville, Tennessee.

After the war, John wanted to marry a neighbor girl, Polly Templeton. On 9 February, 1815 in Greene County, he executed an affidavit saying in part: on the 7 day of this instant he obtained a lacence (sic) of clerk of sd county to marry him the said Carter to Polly Templeton and further states that he lost them.” John signed the document with a mark, indicating that he could not write.

John did marry Polly that same day at Greenville, Tennessee. The first of their nine children arrived later that year:

  1. Susan (1815-1884)
  2. Shelton (1816-1890)
  3. Nancy (1818-1901)
  4. Bailey (abt. 1820-1847)
  5. Thena (1823-1855)
  6. Janete or Jane (1824-1907)
  7. Joseph (1827-1903)
  8. Elizabeth (1829-1848)
  9. Catharine (1832-1885)

After Susan’s birth, the family moved on to Wayne County, Kentucky. They lived in that state a number of years. When some lands opened up for settlement in Illinois, the Carters pulled up stakes and moved again. They became “Pioneers of 1830” in the about-to-be-formed Coles County, arriving on April 10 of that year. They settled east of the village of Ashmore.

Initially, John worked sometimes as a blacksmith in addition to farming. When other blacksmiths moved into the area, he gave up that trade and focused on his farm.

By 1841, John had become ill and knew he was dying. He asked that his funeral service be conducted on the Sabbath after his death. He requested the Scripture from the second Epistle of Paul to Timothy: 6-8. He said, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the Faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only but unto all those also that love his appearing.” He instructed his children to “do the best you can and try and meet me in heaven.”

John passed away on July 19, 1841. He was buried in the Ashmore Cemetery, Coles County, Illinois.

A DNA Test Pays Off

Some time ago I asked my dad to take a DNA test. All my brick wall ancestors lurk in his side of the family, so I keep hoping a DNA match will turn up to help resolve questions on these family lines. Dad does not use a computer, so I manage his DNA accounts for him.

Over time, we have worked with a few of our identified matches trying to figure out how we are related. Generally we have identified a common ancestor and then gone our separate ways. Most of these people seem to have done DNA testing mostly to learn about their ethnic heritage, not because they have a deep interest in genealogy.

That changed a few weeks ago. A third cousin contacted us because her DNA test identified a match to us. We exchanged some information via e-mail. Then we agreed to a phone call to talk over our mutual family history. We learned that we live within driving distance of each other, and we both know a local professional genealogist. We decided to meet for lunch.

Yesterday we shared a meal and spent two hours exchanging more family information. We agreed to work together in our research on our Reed and Carter family lines.

I am thrilled to have a new research partner for this branch. For years I had worked with a couple of my dad’s cousins on these same lines, but both of them have passed away now.

Advice I received years ago has paid off again. Vern Tomkins, a former President of the Colorado Genealogical Society always said, “Keep contacting your cousins. You never know what they may have.” And then there is the corollary stated by Terry Quirk, a former Vice President of the Society, “Contact the oldest and sickest ones first.”

My newly-identified cousin and I are not particularly old or sick, but I am sure glad she contacted me.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 16—Jane Carter Reed (1824-1907)

Jane Carter, also known sometimes as Janete, was born on December 15, 1824 in southern Kentucky. Her parents John Carter and Mary (Polly) Templeton lived along Harmon’s Creek in Wayne County. Jane had 8 surviving siblings: Susan (b.1815), Shelton (b. 1816), Nancy (b. 1818), Bailey (b. 1820), Thena (b. 1823), Joseph (b. 1827), Elizabeth (b. 1829), and Catharine (b. 1832). Her parents moved the family to Ashmore, Coles County, Illinois in 1829 when Jane was still a small child. Her father lived only a few years after arriving in Illinois, passing away in 1841 when Jane was sixteen.

During Jane’s youth, the Presbyterians held a revival in Ashmore and organized the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Jane joined that church at the age of 18 and remained a member for 65 years. Perhaps she acquired some of her religious devotion from her mother Mary who on April 15, 1856 presented her daughter with a Bible containing the following inscription: Presented to Jane Reed by Mary Carter, her mother. Daughter this I present to you as the gift of God. And I hope you and Family will read and ponder well the truths contained in it.

In some ways this was a strange gift because according to census records, none of Mary’s children could read or write. When Mary died a year after presenting the Bible, Jane inherited $39.57, the equivalent of about $1100 today.

Jane married Caleb Reed in Coles County on February 22, 1844. Together they ran a farm and had a family of eleven children. They knew tragedy as three of their young children passed away: Thomas B. at one year in 1854, Mary at age 8 in 1855, and James at age 2 in 1864. Twenty years later they lost two more children: Emma Jane and George both died in 1886. A few years later, one more child predeceased the parents. Albert died in 1890.

At some point, Jane and Caleb retired from the farm and moved into the town of Ashmore. Their daughter Martha lived nearby, and they visited often. After Caleb died in 1903, Jane lived another couple of years alone. Often after supper, Martha would send her youngest son Hugh Wright over to carry in wood and do other chores for her. He would sometimes spend the night if Jane wished. This went on until he overheard an uncle tell her it was unnecessary to feed Hugh. He promptly left and refused to go back.

Jane spent her last days at the home of Martha and Jim Wright where Martha cared for her. During her final illness no one tried to keep her from knowing that the end was near. She made all her own last arrangements. She asked Mrs. Brown, who lived nearby, to help with her laying out. She wanted the promise that after she was dressed, Mrs. Brown would run her hand beneath her and smooth her dress because “I can’t abide a wrinkle”.

As she breathed her last breaths, she asked her son-in-law Jim Wright and granddaughter Amanda Pearl Wright to sing a hymn. They chose When Our Ships Come Sailing Home. When they thought she was no longer breathing, they stopped, but she roused and commanded them to continue. After a while longer, she died from inanition due to influenza.

After her mother died, Martha wrote this in a letter to one of her daughters: Jane Reed died April 30, 1907 at 15 minutes after 7 o’clock [aged 82 years, 4 months, 15 days]. Her children: Sam, John, Tom, Ida, and Martha were all there. Funeral was at two o’clock May 2, 1907. Her casket cost $130 and the flowers were ten dollars.

Funeral services were held from the family residence, the Rev. Jonathan Williams officiating. She was buried at Ashmore Cemetery next to Caleb.