It’s story time, children. Gather round and let uncle Boyce tell you a captivating tale about personal hygiene, courtship, frontier values, and addiction–all among your ancestors in the early 1800s. That’s right: more than 200 boring years ago. Listen closely to this tale about your seventh great grandmother, the long-dead Anna Wilson (1739-1825), and the fateful day that she was introduced to the man who was to marry her grand daughter, Mary Kithcart.
First, at the risk of putting you to sleep right off the bat, indulge me in a little boring background! You are probably wondering how you are related to Anna Wilson, about whom no one has written in 150 years. Well, the connection is on your grandfather Boyce Thompson’s side, through his grandmother, Elizabeth Boner (pronounced Bonner, you knuckleheads!) Don’t believe me? Check out the chart at the bottom of the page.
Anna was born in 1738 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her father, James, immigrated there from Northern Ireland. She married Barnett Cunningham in 1760. They had 10 children, including Elizabeth, your sixth great grandmother, who married Joseph Kithcart and had 10 children herself.
People had a lot of children in those days. Most people didn’t practice birth control. Since so many children died at a young age–medicine wasn’t as good as it is now–people had a lot of children to make sure someone would inherit the farm and feed them in their old age. And many deeply religious people secretly worked on a commission basis for their church, though spiritual well-being, not money, changed hands. Having kids was a great way to spread God’s word! But I digress.
Anyway, Anna and Barnett apparently took a break from having children in 1770 (she already had five in 10 years!) and left the place they lived. It had a funny name, Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, and it was located in the southeast part of York County on the beautiful Susquehanna river, a region that according to history books was settled by the Scotch and Irish.
Anna and Barnett, who fought in the Revolutionary War (but that’s another story!), moved to a farm in Tyrone township in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This part of the county was known as the “neck” or the “forks” because it was located between the Youghiogheny River (that’s pronounced Yuck-a-gainey, but it’s actually anything but yucky) and Jacob’s Creek on the east.
It was there that your sixth great grandmother, sweet Elizabeth, was born. Elizabeth was two years old before her parents could have her baptized–what they were thinking, lord only knows! Both her mother and father were members in good standing in the Presbyterian church at Peach Bottom. They had taken their papers with them to Fayette County.
As fate would have it, a very worthy young Presbyterian minister, Rev. James Power, came out over the mountains to look after the early settlers. His mission was to organize churches, ordain elders, and baptize children who had been “deprived of the important ordinance.” In 1774, he organized the new church of Tyrone and baptized Elizabeth–it was lucky they had their papers. Barnett Cunningham became a church elder and the first meeting house was built on a piece of his land. Isn’t that interesting? No? Why are you frowning?
Anyway, people back then got married early. Elizabeth married Joseph Kithcart when she was only 19 years old, and the couple quickly got to work having children–10 all told. Your 5th great grandmother, Sarah, was the oldest, born in 1792. She married William Andrews. But the story that I want to tell you is about her sister, Mary, who was born six years later, in 1798.
When Mary was only 17, she was engaged to marry a fine and learned gentleman, Robert Andrews Sherrard, who who left behind a finely written family history book from 1854. Robert described himself as a new man after he returned home to Run Mills in November, 1815, having won Mary’s hand.
“I was now always in good humor; always merry, courteous, kind, affable, blithesome and gay, and while awake and by myself, most of the time whistling or singing. It was evident that all this change was brought about by female influence; and if it were not for that influence, man would be but a rough, uncouth being.”
That, my children, is something that you should always remember. Women, with a few notable exceptions, are the better half. Many of your greatest ancestors believed so. Never forget that meeting the right one will bring you great happiness, and also probably hone your skills as a whistler. You may even wind up blithesome and gay…..Stop laughing.
Poor Richard didn’t have a lot of time for merriment, for he had a marriage to prepare! He decided a month later to turn to returned to Fayette County to make the final arrangements . Along the way he stopped in Brownsville, where his cousin, John Johnston, kept a wholesale tailor shop “with cloths, vestings, trimmings, and hosiery.” Though Richard had left his measurements with Johnston a month and a half before, the wedding suit was not done. Richard had to wait two or three days, all the time wishing that he could be with his precious Mary, who was only 17.
Unfortunately, during his protracted wait the studly Richard’s beard had grown so thick that he required the assistance of a barber. To make matters worse, he found upon inquiry that the barber was sick. Luckily, cousin Johnston knew where he could obtain a razor. But when poor Richard tried to scrape the coarse hair from his face, he found the blade too dull; he could only shave off half his beard. What would Mary and her parents think if he showed up looking this way? It’s hard to imagine the hardship in the days before disposable razors!
“I was therefore obliged, however grievous the disappointment, to put off my visit to Mary for that evening, but she was not looking for me, as there was no particular day set for my return at the time I left her. I therefore made the best of my way to Uncle David’s, and got my brother David to be my barber.”
That also meant a change of plans on the Sabbath. Robert accompanied his brother David to the Laurel Hill meeting house to hear the Rev. Mr. Guthrie preach, instead of going with Mary to Mt. Pleasant to hear the Rev. James Power preach. A change of plans indeed. Robert wound up asking Rev. James Power to perform his wedding ceremony.
Children–are you asleep? Please wake! The exciting part is coming up, the part where we get to meet your seventh great grandmother, Anna Wilson.
When Robert finally arrived at the Kithcart’s, probably in Fayette City, he found, much to his dismay, that Mary was not home; she was staying with her sister, the afore-mentioned Sarah Andrews, your 6th great grandmother, who is pictured above. Her mother (Elizabeth Cunningham) and grandmother (Anna Wilson) were also away on a visit. Lucky for Robert, everyone returned before the close of the evening. Robert doesn’t mention what he did all day while he waited for everyone to return. He may have admired his outfit.
“I had on the new suit, and thus being dressed up, I cut a very decent and respectable figure,” he wrote. “But this was the first time that I and Mary’s grandmother [Anna Wilson] had met, and at first sight it appeared that she formed a poor opinion of me, as the intended husband of Mary Kithcart. The old lady considered me too much of a foppish fellow, and, as I believed, for no other reason than that I was neatly and well dressed from head to foot, far beyond what she expected.”
“She had heard from Mary’s mother that Mary was to be married to a young man from Ohio, and the old lady being an old frontier settler, associated all that belonged to the frontier with frontier customs, and knowing that Ohio was at that time, in 1815, a frontier settlement, she had embraced in her association the hunting-shirt, moccasins, and the log-cabin.”
After Richard learned the opinion Anna had formed of him, he did all he could to ingratiate himself into her favor. He attended to all her foibles and whims–even her addictions. “Knowing that she used snuff pretty freely, I always, before going to see her, purchased a quarter of snuff and took it as a present, and by these means I soon had her to boast of me as Mary’s husband.”
And so ends this enthralling tale about your seventh great grandmother, the snuff-using and judgmental Anna Wilson, a woman you would have never known had Richard not penned this tale. I’ll tell you more about your sixth great grandmother, Elizabeth Cunningham, some other night. I know you can’t wait.