One of the things I love about retirement is the time to follow one’s curiosity.
This morning I awoke at 5:15 a.m. There was no going back to sleep, so I arose, quietly closing the bedroom door behind me so that Attila could slumber undisturbed in the quiet, darkened room. I settled in the early morning darkness on my easy chair, opened up the computer and checked my email, and my Facebook account. I have joined the Group “The Golden Age Of Illustration” and enjoy it very much. Some of the images shared this morning inspired me to wander over to my own bookcase.
As a result I have been reading Mogg Megone, by John Greenleaf Whittier, from a book I purchased many years ago. The book is one I bought somewhere in the past, I don’t remember where, I was always buying a book whenever the opportunity arose. It is The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Complete With Illustrations, published in 1879. It includes a Note By The Author to the Edition of 1857. I might have purchased it at a yard sale in downtown Toronto, or a small, hole-in-the-wall book store in another city, or at a jumble sale, there are many possibilities.
The book itself fascinates me. There is an inscription, which I can not decipher in its entirety:
Sophy Blaller? Cronyn
My Dear Blossom
from her affectionate
This leads me back to the pertinent years in my personal history, as references to time usually do. It is an opportunity for me to honour a GGG Aunt, who it seems was quite an independent character.
In 1879 my GGG Aunt Lizzie was living on her farm with her Mother Mary Ann, a widow.
Lizzie had lost her father when she was around 7 years old, her sister Margaret was a newborn infant, and her brother John was nine years old, and he assumed adult responsibility on the farm. The farm was in Lanark Township, Lanark County.
Lizzie purchased the farm in 1865, when she was 42 years of age, from her brother John, who moved with his wife and family to Minnesota, USA. Lizzie, her daughter Jane, and her Mother Mary Ann operated the farm by themselves after that time.
Up to the point of purchasing the farm Lizzie’s life had been a struggle. In 1845, at the age of 22, Lizzie gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock, her only child. The child’s birth was not recorded in official records, so that the father was never officially identified. It seems possible, likely in my view, that her “Uncle Alexander”, her Mother Mary Ann’s brother, living on the neighbouring farm, might have fathered the child. Records are blurry, there is no primary evidence one way or the other, but it is likely that “Uncle Alexander”, after fathering Lizzie’s child, chose to marry her younger sister Margaret, who also gave birth to a daughter early the following year.
Five years after Lizzie bought the farm from her brother in 1865, in the summer of 1870, Lizzie’s daughter Jane, then 26, died of an inflammation of the lungs and heart disease. Within a year Lizzie had descended into a desperate depression, and she was admitted to the Rockwood Asylum in Kingston, Ontario, on February 9, 1871, for Melancholia due to “loss of a friend”, and would spend almost four years there before returning to the farm and her Mother. Within six months after Lizzie’s release from the Asylum, in 1875, she sold the farm to, who else, “Uncle Alexander”, with the agreement that she and her Mother Mary Ann might live there for their lifetime. It could not have been a happy outcome for Lizzie, who had fought hard to buy the farm, and to ensure that the legal documents pertaining to land ownership were properly worded.
Lizzie and Mary Ann carried on farming until a fateful Wednesday in mid-May 1883. Lizzie was 60 years old, her Mother Mary Ann was 80. 1883 was the year Krakatoa erupted, and time zones in Canada were established. 1883 was the year that Lizzie had had enough.
There is no record of what went through Lizzie’s mind that spring morning in May. All I know of the day is that is was not raining. Lizzie made a decision that day, which she carried out quietly and without fanfare, she hung herself from a tree on the farm.
Lizzie’s Mother Mary Ann struggled alone on the farm for more than a year, before deciding in 1884 to leave the farm and live with her daughter Margaret and “Uncle Alexander”, her son-in-law and likely her brother. It was a long journey from Lanark County to Parry Sound District where Margaret lived. Mother Mary Ann lived with her daughter Margaret for the next three years, passing away peacefully at her daughter Margaret’s home in 1887.
With Lizzie gone, and her Mother Mary Ann gone, “Uncle Alexander” took control of the farm in Lanark County. He disappeared from Parry Sound District shortly after that, some say he was murdered, others say he returned to his other wife Rachel, they married in 1861 in Lanark County, and lived a few more years until he was killed after being thrown from his mail wagon.
The true identity of Margaret’s husband “Uncle Alexander” will most likley never be determined, as he left no identifying records, no birth record, no immigration record, no death record, no burial record. I will always wonder about him, but knowing of some of the dark secrets my family holds close, I suspect that he is indeed both the uncle of Lizzie and Margaret, and the father of all of their children.
It is interesting to me that some of the male descendants are adamant that he is not the Uncle of the sisters Lizzie and Margaret, the brother of our GGGG Grandmother. However, they can cite no source that confirms he is not Lizzie and Margaret’s Uncle, as I can cite no source to confirm that he is their Uncle. Perhaps it is difficult for some to contemplate that a male ancestor would leave a pregnant woman to bear a child alone and out of wedlock, or commit adultery. There is no concensus on this issue.
The story here may be inaccurate in that “Uncle Alexander” might be a completely different person than the actual uncle of Lizzie and Margaret. But there are too many coincidences for me to interpret the known primary souces differently than I have. Both Alexanders were born around the same year, both moved from Lanark to Southwestern Ontario and lived there during the same years, and both supposedly died shortly after the death of Mother Mary Ann. There are a lot of coincidences, a lot of them, so my story above is what I am sticking with until primary documents indicate otherwise, which they well might, and I welcome them if they exist. But despite the research of some very capable family researchers, including myself, no primary documents have surfaced that will clear up this burning question in our family history. If records contrary to my premise present themselves I will change my story; and I will meditate and apologize to my ancestors, my GGGG Uncle, and my GGG Grandfather, who are conflated into the same person “Uncle Alexander”. I believe the truth requires no apology.
At the time that my copy of Whittier’s book was published, there was much turmoil for my ancestors. And now, 138 years later, there are echoes.
Date: 9:00 AM EST Saturday 4 February 2017
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 102.5 kPa
Dew point: -11.2°C
Wind: WSW 19 gust 29 km/h
Wind Chill: -12
Visibility: 24 km
Still let her mild rebuking stand
Between us and the wrong,
And her dear memory serve to make
Our faith in Goodness strong…”
From Gone, by John Greenleaf Whittier, page 171.