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Mahala and the Dunbar Family

My great-grandmother, Laura Riddle (1853-1933), had a cousin on her mother’s side named Mahala Dunbar (1850-1939). The two women were about the same age, although Laura grew up in Michigan while Mahala lived in Ohio. I am not exactly sure how Mahala fit into the family.

She first appeared as a nine-year-old girl on the US census in 1860. She resided in Stow, Ohio, the hometown of the Dunbars from the early 1830’s. Mahala lived as the only child in a home where the head of household was a 45-year-old woman who worked as a weaver. Ancestry.com indexes the woman’s name as Robin that year, although it could be Rebecca.

Our family had no Robin that I know of, but we did have a Rebecca Dunbar (Laura Riddle’s aunt) who was the same age as the woman on this record. The final member of this Dunbar household, listed last, was an older man named Benjamin Dunbar who worked as a common laborer. Our Rebecca Dunbar did have an older brother named Benjamin. On this record Robin/Rebecca was born in Maine, and Benjamin was born in Massachusetts.

Ten years later, in 1870, this little family was still intact although this time Benjamin was listed as the head of household. Next came Rebecka, who kept house. This time, both were listed as born in Massachusetts. Nineteen-year-old Mahala lived with them. The family lived next door to another Dunbar sister, Rhoda Burnham.

These census records raise several questions:

  1. What was the family relationship of Benjamin and Rebecca Dunbar? The question was not asked by census takers in those years. Were these two our siblings, Benjamin and Rebecca? Or did Benjamin have a wife named Rebecca? If so, his sister Rebecca has not been found elsewhere on the census records for those years. Nor has a marriage record for Benjamin to anyone named Rebecca been found. He had married Lucy Jaquays in 1846.
  2. If Benjamin and Rebecca were siblings, which one was Mahala’s parent? Was she the legitimate daughter of Benjamin and Lucy or the illegitimate child of Rebecca? Again, the records for these years do not tell us her relationship to the head of household.

Recently, I ordered Mahala’s obituary from the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Ohio to see if it contained the answer. No help there. It did not list her parent’s names, only that she was born Mahala Dunbar. It did offer some details about her life.

Mahala was active in her community. She joined her local Church of Christ congregation when she was fifteen and participated there for the rest of her life. She was a charter member of the Darrow Street Grange in Stow. When she passed away in 1939, she was the last surviving charter member of the Women’s Missionary Society in Stow.

Mahala had married a widowed Civil War veteran named Alson Wetmore. She did well in this. The Wetmores were a prominent family in Stow, and their ancestors were founding fathers of the town. William Wetmore had been guardian for Benjamin, Rebecca, Rhoda, and their siblings when their father died in 1832.

Alson Wetmore was lucky to survive the Civil War. After being confined for a time in the notorious Andersonville Prison, he had barely escaped with his life on the trip home. He was a passenger on the ill-fated steamer Sultana when the boiler exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis at 3:00 a.m. on April 26, 1865. Fortunately, he lived to eventually marry Mahala.

Despite her own murky beginnings, Mahala led an admirable life and married well. Did she and her cousin Laura Riddle ever meet? I do not know whether Laura corresponded with her mother’s Ohio family. Her life would have been enriched in knowing her cousin Mahala if she did.

 

 

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