Friday, June 24, 2011

The Story of Ruth...Well, Sort Of ( Part I)

I am here on Cape Cod writing today's blog entry, specifically South Yarmouth, MA. This is where Ed's maternal grandfather Uriah Crowell, and his family come from. The Crowells are one of the original families in Yarmouth. Ed's 5th great grandfather, Abner Crowell, died aboard a British Prison Ship in Newport Harbor during the Revolution. I have mentioned that story in an earlier Henrietta post.

During the Revolution, the British used ships as floating prisons. These ships were packed tightly with American patriots captured and held there in chains below decks in the worst conditions imaginable. When France allied with the Colonials, they positioned these ships directly in the mouth of Newport Harbor and sunk them, one after the other, blocking access to the harbor. On one ship, the Grand Duke, Ed's 5th great grandfather, Abner Crowell, was being held prisoner. He died at sea, just one of scores of others in these prison ships, on the 8th of February 1778.

Abner was 51 years old and the father of 8 children by his first wife Sara O'Kellia at the time of his death. Sara had died three years before, leaving Abner to care for the four or five of the youngest children still living at home. The youngest of all of them, Judah, was Ed's 4th great grandfather. He was just 9 when news of his father's death was received in Yarmouth. Abner's martyrdom on the prison ship is a captivating story, but that's not my focus today.

Judah, now an orphan, was at home living with his step mother, Ruth Nickerson Crowell. Abner had remarried less than a year before he was killed. His new wife was a widow and also a mother of four young children of her own when she married Abner. Her youngest was just  4 and her oldest 10. When Ruth became widowed for the second time, she was left destitute caring for her four and another four or five of Abner's children still at home. And Ruth was pregnant with Abner's child. She gave birth to her son Simeon Crowell 4 months after Abner was killed. Judah was 9 years old and an orphan living with a step mother he barely knew, sharing shelter, clothing and food with 9 others. His stepmother had all she could handle to raise her own children, not to mention all his older brothers and sisters, and soon another little baby would be born, too. One wonders was there any time at all for young Judah? The life he must have led would probably break most of us.

But today's story is not about Judah's survival, either. In fact, my original intent was to write about Simeon, Ruth and Abner's only child. His was quite a story, worthy of a blog, to be sure. I found out at the local library yesterday that Simeon Crowell, born months after the death of a father he never knew, was totally devoted to his mother and wanted to do what he could to make her life easier. As a little boy of just 10 years old, he did the only thing he could think of to lessen his mother's burden. He went to sea. As a mother, I am not sure how that would have eased my burden, but I suppose just one less mouth to feed would have made a difference for poor Ruth.

Simeon was 26 years at sea before he returned a well respected Captain in his own right. His mother was still married to her third husband,Gershom Phinney, whom she had married three years before Simeon left. Ruth was 61 and before Simeon left she and Gershom had a boy, Gershom III.

Simeon, married and started a saltworks business in Yarmouth. During his world travels as a ship captain, he had seen and heard many things, but something he heard at a church spoke directly to him. He brought that message back with him and in 1824 he started The Bass River Community Baptist Church, which was just around the corner from where we stay in South Yarmouth. He donated the land the church sat on and became their first minister. Sometimes called the "Lord's Barn" it was described by a local resident this way: "it was quite high in the walls; was shingled roof and sides; had no steeple or belfry of any sort and was innocent of paint, both within and without".

Bass River Community Baptist Church today
 It was a crude structure, but was a vast improvement over having the meetings in various homes of congregants. And, true to the Baptist tradition, the early members of the church, when the weather permitted, were immersed in Bass River. Simeon's mother would live until she was almost 80, outliving her third husband. She is buried in the cemetery behind Simeon's church.

Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney's grave.

Like I said, the story today was supposed to be about Simeon, and he was an interesting guy who survived hard times and turned his life into a testament to the belief that life is what you make of it, no matter what you're handed. He was a survivor, something I see over and over in Ed's family tree. But something else came to light when I went to find out who Ruth Nickerson Crowell was before she was a Nickerson or a Crowell. Who was this woman who was left with all of these children, some of them her own and some belonging to a husband she lived with for only a few months before his sad demise? I was very curious about her.

I found out that she was baptised Ruth Hinckley in 1743. She would have been about 34 years old when she married Abner. Her first husband, Thomas Nickerson IV, had died when she had three sons of his, and one on the way, born months after he sea.

And that, my friends, is where the really interesting story was found.

But, you'll have to wait until next time for that story. So, stay tuned...