Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Alexander Sampson (1689?-1730? ) A Man of Wealth & Mystery

A Link or A Miss
According to one of his great grandsons George Sampson of Cincinnati (elder brother of Calvin Sampson), Alexander Sampson was a native of England. "In 1724, when a young man, he visited this country for the benefit of his health, intending a speedy return. But becoming fascinated with the charms of a young lady of Boston - Rebecca Shattuck by name - he determined for her sake to remain on these shores." This account is backed by memoirs of Lemuel Shattuck of Boston, which say "Mr. Sampson is said to have been a reputable gentleman from London, who had visited this country for the benefit of his health, with an intention of a speedy return; but meeting with the beautiful Miss Shattuck, her attractions were too irresistible to allow him to carry out his purpose. He married and remained here." But according to family historian John Adams Vinton, Alexander Sampson was likely a child of Caleb Sampson of Duxbury, Massachusetts based on "probable evidence" which he does not elaborate on. So which is the truth? Or can both be? Was he a son of Mayflower descendant Caleb Sampson who was raised in or spent part of his life in England? After all, this was before the founding of the United States so even the Mayflower Sampsons would still have been British subjects. Regardless of the lack of verifiable proof, the popularity of the name "Alden" in subsequent Sampson descendents suggests that the "Mayflower link" (through Caleb Sampson and Mercy Standish on up to John Alden) was a popular belief among subsequent Sampsons of this line.

Cupid's Playful Arrow
Sources say that Alexander Sampson was born around 1689 and came to America in 1724, when he was 35. And within that same year he fell in love with the charming Miss Rebecca Shattuck, daughter of Dr. Joseph Shattuck, an eminent physician in Boston, and was married to her on October 6 by the Rev. Cotton Mather. So Rebecca Shattuck, a Bostonian born in 1711, was only 13 years of age when she became the wife of Alexander Sampson. She is praised in various sources, said to have been "of precocious development, and of remarkable beauty" as well as "a woman of rare beauty and loveliness of character." Alexander and Rebecca had three children, Elizabeth b.1728, Alexander b.1729, and John b.1731. The second child, Alexander, is the father of Stephen Sampson, who is the father of Calvin Sampson, who is the father of Clarissa, John B. McGown's second wife.

An End that Everyone Agrees On
Regardless of which version of the Alexander Sampson life story one looks at, the single point that all agree upon is the manner in which that life ended. George Sampson is quoted as saying that "upon a pleasure excursion in Boston Harbor, he was knocked overboard, and devoured by a shark." Likewise, the memoirs of Lemuel Shattuck say that "while upon a pleasure excursion in Boston Harbor, his boat was attacked by a shark, and he was tipped overboard and devoured." And according to Lucinda Shattuck, "While on a pleasure excursion one day in Boston Bay, his boat was capsized, and Mr. Sampson met a most horrible fate; being devoured by voracious sharks. This most shocking catastrophe almost killed his beautiful wife." Slightly different nuances but essentially the same story - Alexander Sampson met his end at the jaws of a shark, perhaps an ancestor of one of the Great Whites that roam the New England coast today.

Unfortunate Fortune
Upon the demise of Alexander Sampson, his wife and children no doubt inherited his American assets without problem, but the "large interests in the London docks" that he had in England were quite another matter. Said Lucinda Shattuck of her uncle, "This man's fortune was said to be very large, but inaccessible, especially to outsiders, as it could only be reached and obtained by a long, tedious and expensive course of law, through the English courts of chancery. One of the heirs in this country, a Mr. Sampson, of Cincinnati, went to England to make enquiry and investigate, and learned that the estate had been appropriated by the British parliament to the London dock company, and the money put into the bank of England in a different installment; that the amount was large and had lain there drawing interest for more than forty years, but could not be obtained unless the heirs could legally trace their ancestry, and establish their exact connection with the last possessors of the property. He found the fortune so hedged in, and requiring so much time and money to get at it, that he gave it up. We, therefore, other and more distant heirs, brother Seth and myself, canvassed the matter thoroughly many years ago, and finally concluded the obstacles were too many and insurmountable, and the expense too great and too far beyond our means, so we likewise surrendered the prize, and let the 'land sharks' devour the nobleman's fortune also."

A Link After All
Those who were looking for a link to the "Mayflower" through Alexander Sampson, clinging to the chance of a genealogical breakthrough, well, there is some good news and some bad. The bad news is, no breakthrough as of yet pertaining to Alexander Sampson. Whether you believe it or not is up to you. The good news is, the young and lovely Rebecca Shattuck was the daughter of Joseph Shattuck (1687-1729), who was the son of Rebecca Chamberlain (1665-1728), who was the daughter of Sarah Bugby (1630-?), who was the daughter of Edward Bugby (1594-1668), a pilgrim who sailed from Ipswitch on the ship "Francis" and arrived in Boston in 1634. So although lacking the name value of the "Mayflower," we can still claim a line dating back to one of the earliest pilgrim families.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Census of 1830

The 1830 census was begun on June 1, 1830. The enumeration was to be completed within six months but was extended to allow completion within twelve months. The 1830 census was the first for which the government provided uniform, printed forms to enumerators for the purpose of recording answers to census questions.

The following questions were asked by enumerators:
Name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, 80 to 90, 90 to 100, over 100; number of slaves and free “colored” persons in age categories; categories for deaf, dumb, and blind persons and aliens; town or district; and county of residence.

The census for West Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania, shows for the household of "Alexander McGowen", 1 male 5-10, 1 male 10-15, 1 male 20-30, 1 male 40-50, 1 female 10-15, 1 female 15-20, 2 females 20-30, and 1 female 50-60.

The 1 male 5-10 is unknown. The 1 male 10-15 is John B. McGowen b.1815. The 1 male 20-30 is Christian Detwiler b.1803. The 1 male 40-50 is Alexander McGowen b.1781. The 1 female 10-15 is Harriet McGowen b.1818. The 1 female 15-20 is Sara Jane McGowen b.1813. The 2 females 20-30 are Leah McGowen b.1808 and possibly Fanny Detwiler b.1800. The 1 female 50-60 is Magdalena b.1779.

Meanwhile, the census for Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, shows for the household of "Calvin Sampson", 1 male 5-10, 1 male 30-40, 1 female 5-10, 1 female 10-15, and 1 female 30-40. There is a good possibility that the male 30-40 is Calvin Sampson; the female 5-10 is Clarissa born 1821; the female 30-40 is Hepzibah. The male 5-10 is probably William L. Sampson, Clarissa’s younger brother. The female 10-15 is unaccounted for.

Census of 1820

The 1820 census was begun on August 7, 1820. The count was due within six months but was extended by law to allow completion within thirteen months. The following questions were asked by enumerators:
Name of family head; number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 18, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence. Additionally, the 1820 census for the first time asked the number of free white males 16 to 18; number of persons not naturalized; number engaged in agriculture, commercial, or manufacture; number of "colored" persons (sometimes in age categories); and number of other persons except Indians.
The census for West Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania, shows for the household of "Alexander McGowen", 2 males 0-10, 1 male 16-18, 1 male 16-26, 1 male 26-45, 3 females 0-10, 1 female 10-16, and 1 female 26-45.
One of the 2 males 0-10 is John B. McGowen b.1815, and the other is unknown. The male 16-18 as well as the male 16-26 would be Christian Detwiler b.1803. The 1 male 26-45 is Alexander b.1781. The 3 females 0-10 would be Harriet b.1818, Sara Jane b.1813, and Elizabeth b.1810. The 1 female 26-45 is Magdalena b.1779. Fanny Detwiler b.1800 should be 20 years old, but is not accounted for in this census.

Census of 1810

The 1810 census was begun on August 6, 1810. The count was due within nine months, but the due date was extended by law to ten months. The following questions were asked by enumerators:
Name of family head; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence.

The census for West Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania, shows for the household of "Alex McGowen", 2 males 0-10, 1 male 26-45, 1 male 45 and older, 2 females 0-10, and 1 female 45 and older.

Of the 2 males 0-10, one is Christian Detwiler b.1803, and the other is unknown. The 1 male 26-45 is Alexander McGowen b.1781. The 1 male 45 and older is unknown. The 2 females 0-10 are Fanny Detwiler b.1800, and Leah McGowen b.1808. The 1 female 45 and older is possibly a mistake for Magdalena b.1779, or could it be someone else? The younger McGowen children (b.1813, 1815, 1818) would not have been born yet. The name "Elijah Bull" also appears on the same census page; possibly the father of Harriet's future husband.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rev. Alexander McGowen (1781-1857) Immigrant, Plasterer, Preacher

Side By Side
In the Elverson Methodist Cemetery, in what was once known is the Springfield Methodist Episcopal Church, are two graves side by side. One is that of the Rev. Alexander McGowen, and the other, his wife Magdalena Bruner McGowen. They are now part of the "landscape" of early Pennsylvania history; a history that they and their compatriots, originating from diverse homelands in Europe, created as they converged in the new world.

From Antrim O'er the Atlantic
Pennsylvania was a land of opportunity; a favorite destination for the Scots and Irish in the early 1800's, and for Swiss and Germans before that. So when young Alexander McGowen, born about 1781 in the Parish of Ramoan, County Antrim, came of age, he was also likely filled with dreams of a better life in America as he boarded the ship for his trans-Atlantic crossing. To this day, many McGowans live in the northern part of Antrim in the area known as "The Glens", in towns like Ballycastle, Toberbilly, Moyarget, Moss-side and Bushmills, who may very well be the offspring of the McGowan clan that Alexander had bid farewell to.

Destination and Destiny
Alexander arrived in Pennsylvania on July 16, 1807, which was a tenuous time for British-American relations. The USS Chesapeake Incident had occurred only a month earlier, and America was in the process of closing its ports to British vessels. The details are lost to us, but soon after his arrival, he became acquainted with the family of Ulrich (a.k.a. Owen) Bruner. The Bruners were of Swiss Palatine origin, and had immigrated to the new world a generation earlier. They were an influential family both in terms of the local economy and the local church in Chester, Berks and Lancaster counties. Perhaps it was Alexander's joining the Methodist church that led to his eventual marriage with one of Bruner's daughters, Magdalena, within the same year. Magdalena had been recently widowed, with two children. Fanny and Christian Detwiler retained the surname of their real father, but evidence suggests that Alexander cared for them as much as his own biological offspring. A total of six children were born between Alexander and Magdalena, one of which died in infancy. John Bruner McGowen, born 1815, was Alexander's only biological son, and the first child born after Alexander was naturalized as an American citizen on August 2, 1813. As Alexander had left his home town decades ago in search of a better life in a new land, eventually John B. would likewise seek a more fertile environment to build his own house upon, taking him "out west" to Ohio.

Plasterer, Preacher and Matchmaker
Alexander was a plasterer by trade, documented as being engaged in the rebuilding of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Morgantown, Berks County, Pennsylvania, and being paid a total of $250 for his efforts. He was also an active figure in the Methodist movement, becoming one of the first trustees of the Springfield Methodist Episcopal Church and the second class-leader, preaching as a lay minister until the time of his death. And like all people did back in those days, he farmed to feed his family, and the family provided helping hands. Alexander and his farm are mentioned in the family history of the Klingaman family: "When Betsey, or Elizabeth Klingaman was a young woman, it was customary for young ladies to take their spinning wheels around among the farmers and spend a week or more in doing up the spinning. At 'Elac' sic Alexander McGowen's she became acquainted with James Queen (sic Quein) a young man of sterling worth. Shortly after that, in 1811, they were married at James O'Neaill's." It was one of the descendants of the Klingaman family, Mr. Jim Turner, who researched and uploaded Alexander McGowen's grave to Find A Grave nearly two centuries later.

A Modest Yet Meaningful Legacy
In his will, dated April 9, 1852, Alexander McGowen leaves his wife Magdalena an estate of $1,700 with interest to be paid to her annually. Aside from this, he leaves $100 to his son John B. McGowen; $150 to his stepson Christian Detwiler; $30 and his carriage to his stepdaughter Fanny Detwiler Sypherd as well as $10 to each of Fanny's children. To his son-in-law, Jacob Bruner (husband of Elizabeth McGowen) went "Clark's Commentary", and the rest of his books were divided between sons-in-law John P. McCord (Jane McGowen's husband) and Elijah Bull (Harriet McGowen's husband) who are also named as executors of the will. And in a codicil dated August 18, 1852, he leaves $10 to each of Christian Detwiler's children. Samuel Shingle and Israel Finger witnessed both the will and the codicil.

With his only son and step-son moving away from home, one might be tempted to conjure up images of a lonely old man with perhaps only his wife to keep him company. But looking at census records for West Nantmeal Township will tell a different story. There never seems to be a shortage of other "unknown" souls living in the McGowen household, and one mustn't forget that his daughters and sons-in-law were living close by to offer them companionship in time of need. Alexander died on December 22, 1857. Magdalena joined him nearly 10 years later. Side by side in eternal rest, it seems safe to say that Alexander and Magdalena lived good and meaningful lives, and helped to enrich the lives of others in doing so.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rev. John Bruner McGown (1815-1862) Plasterer, Preacher, Soldier

In His Father's Footsteps
   Born June 18, 1815, John Bruner McGown (or McGowen depending on the time frame), was the only son between Alexander McGowen and Magdalena Bruner McGowen. He was raised in West Nantmeal Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania (present day Elverson) along with his four biological sisters and two half-siblings from Magdalena's previous marriage. Like his father, he became a plasterer by trade and a preacher by calling.

The Call of the West
   In 1836, twenty-one year old John Bruner McGown left Pennsylvania through the port of Philadelphia, traveling to New Orleans and then northward to Cincinnati and finally Urbana, Ohio. From there he wrote to his half-brother Christian Detwiler who was 12 years his senior, urging him to come to Ohio, where they could farm without picking up hunks of stone. The following year, Christian Detwiler and his family made their westward move, meeting up with John McGown at the home of John Kenaga who had moved from Pennsylvania a few years ago. John Kenaga's wife, Fanny, was a niece of Magdalena. John McGown went into business with Christian Detwiler in Urbana, offering plastering services as Detwiler, McGown & Co. On March 14, 1838, John McGown married Margaret Kenaga, the sister of John Kenaga, but happiness was short-lived as he lost his newborn daughter and then his wife in the span of two months in 1839 to what was most likely scarlet fever.

   A map from 1858 shows a property registered to "Alexander McGowan" East of Urbana Township, and just across the street from a property in the name of "John Kenega." One might deduce that the McGowan property was where John B. lived, first with Margaret, and later with Clarissa Sampson, daughter of Calvin Sampson from Massachusetts. On October 11, 1840, Clarissa became John McGown's second wife. She was six years younger than John, and eventually gave birth to 11 children, most of whom lived long and fruitful lives. In 1854, John's half-brother and business partner Christian Detwiler died of blood poisoning brought on by infection. John carried on as a professional plasterer, lay minister, and it is also said that he taught music on occasion (such an Irish thing to do!).

The Footsteps of War
   On April 12, 1861, far away in South Carolina, the first shots that sent America spiraling into civil war rang out at Fort Sumter. Ohio's role in the Underground Railroad would attest to the fact that it was for the most part anti-slavery, but for many months, Ohioans showed little interest in the war between north and south, since they considered themselves as westerners. As it became clear that the "rebellion" was unfortunately not coming to a swift conclusion, the people of Ohio began to organize. The 66th Ohio Voluntary Infantry was mustered in at Camp McArthur on the southern outskirts of Urbana, on December 17, 1861, including Company G to which John was assigned. His initial rank was Private but was quickly promoted to Sergeant (see photo), perhaps because of his age. At 46, he was a fatherly figure among many only half his age. His regiment got their marching orders a month later on January 17, 1862, and departed to the bitter cold of snow-covered Virginia.
   What compelled John McGown to leave the comfort of his home and love of his family to volunteer for the war effort, we can only guess, however in light of his faith, one might assume that he felt some sense of "duty" to assist in the spiritual well-being of the younger recruits that were joining from his neighborhood. Or, on a more personal level, maybe he wanted to be the able bodied male from his family to volunteer instead of his son Lemuel, who would have been 20 years old at the time.

Praying, Marching, Facing the Enemy
   Endless days of marching, camping, provost duty, and more marching passed, and freezing cold gave way to sweltering heat. John wrote home to family as well as his neighbors back in Urbana, including that of his mess mate, young Abraham Hefflebower. Family tradition has it that John was awaiting papers to be assigned to the position of Chaplain when his regiment was given orders to advance on Port Republic on May 25, where forces of Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson, the brilliant Confederate tactician, awaited them.
   In a letter, John McGown wrote "I know we sometimes have our fears that our prayers are unavailing. I am fully aware that the enterprise in which we are engaged is one of extreme uncertainty. We may be permitted to reach our homes again and embrace those we have left behind; or it may be our lot to fall upon some battle field... and never again impress those warm lips with friendly kisses. But I am glad there is a brighter land beyond this veil of tears. Sorrow may continue for a night, but joy will come in the morning. Oh how much wickedness there is in the army. I pray God for the safety of our men, and for their eternal salvation..." So it may be either ironic, or befitting, that it was John himself who took a "minie ball" in the chest whilst defending an artillery position called the "Coaling" for his mates at the Battle of Port Republic on June 9, 1862, in the first real battle faced by the inexperienced 66th OVI.

Tears for the Departed
   Joseph C. Brand, agent of the Underground Railroad that helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom, and then regimental quartermaster for the 66th OVI, wrote in a letter dated June 27, 1862, to the widow Clarissa McGown, "He fell quite near me, from a musket ball in his breast. I was fearful it was fatal, and after he was taken back some ten steps from the line of battle, I dismounted to see him. I found him dying. He recognized me, was calm, quiet, and died without a groan or struggle. I asked him if he was wounded badly. He put his hand upon his breast, and I opened his bosom, was it was fatal; and so told him. He moved his head, as much as to say that he was conscious of it. I took him by the hand. I bade him farewell; told him he was dying in a good cause; that he had discharged his duty nobly, and all would be well with him soon. He was sinking very rapidly, and as I turned to leave him his eyes gradually closed in death. The most painful part is yet to be told. After a most desperate and terrific fight, the fortunes of the day turned against us, and a hasty retreat compelled us to leave the dead, and many of our wounded soldiers as they lay upon the battlefield." After the chaotic Union retreat, any efforts to assist the wounded were further hampered by Union artillery fire from across the Shenandoah River, meant to harass the Confederates. The 66th OVI suffered the second-highest number of casualties out of the eight Union infantry regiments engaged, with 20 dead, 75 wounded, and 110 captured or missing.
   Upon learning of John's tragic demise, his sister Harriet, wife of Elijah Bull residing back in Pennsylvania, penned this poem: "There is a place on Virginia soil, I love above all others; Its on that dreary battle field, Where lays my only brother. Far from his home and kindred dear, On Southern soil he fell, Without loved ones to shed their tears, Or bid the last farewell. Now Angels wake his corpse, The night birds sing their song, While kindred spirits hover around, Our dearest brother John." Services for John were held at the Second Methodist Episcopal Church in Urbana, where his brethren from I.O.O.F. Urbana Lodge No. 46 (now defunct) attended en masse.

Together Forever
   Today, at the Oak Dale Cemetery in Urbana, next to the grave of Clarissa Whiting Sampson McGown can be found a much smaller gravestone with the inscription "SGT. J. B. McGOWN CO. G. 66TH OHIO INF." and a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) star nearby. This could mean that the body of John B. McGown was eventually recovered and transported back to Urbana for burial. Or they could simply be markers in recognition of John's final and ultimate contribution to the Union's cause while his body rests at Staunton National Cemetery as one of the 521 "unknown soldiers." Either way, looking at the couple side by side (including the size disparity that somehow hints at a matriarchal relationship) gives the visitor a warm sense of familiarity, reassurance, closure, and rediscovery.

(P.S. It may also give us some comfort in knowing that young Abraham Hefflebower who John McGown had mentored, survived the war. He was married in 1870 to an Urbana woman, and lived in Champaign County until his death in 1875. Seven years later his widow, left with three children, in an irony of ironies, married a man who had served in the Confederate army who then legally adopted all three children.)

Just as my ancestors set sail over the open sea...

...I have just started this new blog. Well, maybe not so dramatic. But this is a new experience for me and I hope I can learn something meaningful from it. My main interest is the McGowan line (or McGowen, or McGown, or M'Gown as it may have been spelt at any given time) which came over from County Antrim in Northern Ireland when my ancestor Alexander McGowen arrived on the shores of Pennsylvania in 1807. But naturally there are many other lines that have merged into what I am (and maybe you are) now, including Bruner, Sampson, Shattuck, Detwiler, Bull, McCord, Dana, Lethbridge, Adrian, Rhodes, Jeffers, Emery, and many more who I am equally interested in. I've just set sail. Here's hoping that my journey will be filled with wonderful discoveries.