A look from Belarus at America’s Thanksgiving 2012

Life of Martin Luther, Art: H. Schile via Wikimedia Commons

The world is filled with so many lands of opportunity that, for me, it’s a wonder that anyone stays in one place for very long. Some people do, of course. They find a reason to become entrenched in a community, and never set foot very far from the front door. Indeed, Immanuel Kant, the famous and influential ethics philosopher, is said to have not gone more than 10 miles from his home city of Konigsberg, present-day Kaliningrad, throughout his entire life.

For some, the trigger to see the world is more extreme than others. For Robert Browne, it took religious persecution to prompt him to leave England’s shores. Browne was born in the tumultuous period in Europe known as the Reformation. Churches across northern Europe rebelled against the leadership of the Pope in Rome, citing corruption and a perceived lack of adherence to Biblical scripture, a document at the time so jealously guarded that its eventual translation into Modern English carried a penalty of death for William Tyndale, the translator. Browne saw all this, and was naturally drawn to those who sought to reform even the nationalized and independent Church of England, propelling it further away from what was seen as “Papist” doctrine, and more toward an interpretation of the Bible by individual congregations. Eventually, he went so far, too far as it turned out, as to try to create a separate Congregationalist church from that of the Anglican Church, a denomination organized by King Henry VIII under the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Browne was lucky to leave England with his life. He and his followers were given the chance for exile in the Netherlands. In 1581, they settled in Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, one of the seven provinces that successfully rebelled against the Holy Roman Empire and created a Protestant state that tolerated differing religious beliefs. That he lived encouraged others to follow in his footsteps, including a number of like-minded individuals from the village of Scrooby in northern Nottinghamshire.

The voyage of the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock is one of the most important migrations in history. What made it important wasn’t so much its size or the distance it spans. What became more important was the timing, the nature of the resulting colony, and the further migration it inspired. In some ways, it acted as a steam valve to the growing pressure cooker that was England in the first half of the 17th century. The future nature of the church in England had become a battleground between the people and the monarchy, and things were moving slowly but surely toward confrontation, even after the Mayflower set sail. Would the confrontation that resulted in the rise of Oliver Cromwell and beheading of King Charles I have been faster or slower without Plymouth and its younger sister, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is anyone’s guess. But there is no guesswork about the voyage of the Mayflower leading to English dominion over North America, and its loss soon after to the Independent United States.

This article, of course, is written on the occasion of the 391st anniversary of the so-called “First Thanksgiving,” celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared the holiday an annual day of thanks in the midst of what was a time of great national stress. Even though for the most part this is an American holiday, its ideas of giving thanks to God for that which we are most appreciative is one that can and probably should be embraced by humanity. Some parts of the world do, indeed, celebrate the holiday based on their local traditions. Even Belarus has a harvest festival that celebrates the success of its state-run farms. But a day to remind people to be thankful about the good things they have in life (whether few or many) is certainly not a harmful idea, in my eyes.

For me, personally, what makes the holiday special is that there is a family tie to one of the passengers who sailed on the ship. In honor of his contribution to the voyage of the Mayflower, and so that hopefully his memory isn’t forgotten again in my family, as it had been for a number of generations by the time I was born to this world, I wanted to trace our lineage, as I know of it today. My family hasn’t taken the steps required yet to join any of the Mayflower descent societies, but I’m sure that happy occasion won’t be too far in the future.

Thomas and Alice Cosford Rogers

The Mayflower in harbor. Art: William Halsall via Wikimedia Commons

About ten years before Rev. Browne was sent into exile, in the tiny Northamptonshire town of Watford, a young boy was born to a husbandman named William Rogers and his wife Eleanor. The couple named their son Thomas. During a period in which Giles Fletcher (also from Watford) secured the privilege of taking part in a special trade mission to Russia in 1588, the boy led a fairly unremarkable life, at least until at age 26, when he married in the late harvest days of 1597 Alice, the 24-year-old daughter of another husbandman, George Cosford. Even though it may have seemed to him that Rogers would never go so far as Fletcher had in his world travels, George was apparently impressed enough by his new son-in-law that he made him executor of his estate in a will drawn up four years later.

Sometime around 1617, as the young Thomas and Alice Rogers raised two sons and two daughters out of infancy (two other sons didn’t make it that far), the family found reason to move to Leiden in the Rhynland province of Holland, the city where a Browne-inspired community from Scrooby settled in 1609 after becoming disappointed by King James. Rogers was probably not as religious as those in the exiled community were, but he nonetheless bought a home amongst them on Barbarasteeg early in 1617, and appeared to have the intentions of staying and developing a camlet textile business. By the following summer, he accepted citizenship in the Dutch city.

Meanwhile, the congregation in Leiden, having gone through eight years of depleting their savings and associated sufferings, was slowly dwindling. The economy was not as great as had been hoped upon arrival, and most of the young people had left for other more successful places, either back in England or elsewhere abroad. Future Plymouth Governors William Bradford and Edward Winslow started looking further afield for a better home for their separatist congregation. Eventually, they settled on Virginia, and began to raise money for the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was probably the case that Rogers wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped with his business. The idea of a new colony in what was still a relatively unknown land isn’t something that a sane person would want to take part in, unless there was very little in terms of better choice. Then again, the same could have been said of Fletcher when he set out for the Muscovite court of Feodor the Bellringer some 30 years earlier. Suffice it to say that in April 1620, Rogers sold his house and placed his wife Alice (who took on the Dutch variant of her name “Elsgen”), youngest son (John, age 14), and two daughters into rented accommodations, while he took his eldest son, Joseph (age 18) with him to the New World. In the middle of the summer, Thomas and Joseph boarded along with the other members of the Leiden congregation onto the ship Speedwell, and departed the European continent at Delfshaven. The smaller ship met with the larger Mayflower off Southampton, and the two ships set out for the New World.

However, near Plymouth port, the crew of the Speedwell reported a leak that they said couldn’t be fixed. After an inspection by the expedition leaders, it was decided the Speedwell wasn’t seaworthy, and it was sold at the harbor. After jettisoning some 19 travelers from Leiden, the remaining passengers of both ships (102 all told) filed aboard the Mayflower, and with hardly any space to move about, they watched the English coast fade away in the distance.

They voyage of the Mayflower is of course a well-documented trip. Everyone knows that the ship made good time for the first half of the journey, then hit a major storm and was driven off course from Virginia. Its damaged cross beams in mid-ship nearly caused the crew to turn back, but Capt. Christopher Jones pressed on and delivered the colonists to their “New Plymouth” colony within the Massachusetts Bay. Being too late in the year to return, the ship anchored off the coast while a great sickness overtook both those on land, and those staying in the ship. Sometime in January or February, Thomas caught the sickness and died. Only Joseph Rogers managed to be present at the 3-day harvest celebrations generally regarded as the “First Thanksgiving.”

John and Anna Churchman Rogers

Restored Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. Photo: Nancy via Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, the Mayflower set sail back to England after the remaining colonists decided that they would stay in the New World, despite losing so many of their number in the first winter. When the news returned to Leiden of the fate of Thomas, no doubt it devastated his widow, Elsgen. Her struggles are mostly unknown to us today, but it is believed that she never returned to England.

John Rogers, the younger son, likely also never returned to England, but he was seen in Plymouth Colony as early as 1630. By 1633, he was doing well enough to make it onto the colonial tax lists for that year. After the next year’s harvests, he purchased land in present-day Duxbury, just north of Plymouth. With many of the colony’s leaders choosing to establish farms there (Myles Standish, William Brewster, and John Alden all had homes in the town when it was incorporated in 1637), John was in good company, and as an eligible bachelor, probably had his choice of ladies with which he could marry.

Unfortunately, very little is known of the woman he did marry at the church in Plymouth in the spring of 1639, Anna Churchman. However, John was certainly productive after the wedding. He teamed up with his brother, Joseph, the following year in clearing a 50-acre farm for the family at nearby Marshfield, a handful of miles further north. Somewhere along the line, he picked up surveying skills and was hired by Duxbury to establish the route of a new highway in the town in 1644. Taking on this job appeared to be a great first step towards politics. By 1657, he was selected to be a deputy to the colonial General Assembly at Plymouth.

Meanwhile, John and Anna had established a small brood of children of their own, with three girls and one boy. Each eventually married and had children of their own – Hannah married first a Tisdale, then a Terry, and finally a Williams; Elizabeth married Nathaniel Williams; and John married a Pabodie, Hobart, and Cobham girl in succession. Abigail, meanwhile, married 36-year-old John Richmond in 1663 (the first of John and Anna’s children to be married), a man some 15 years her senior.

John continued to receive accolades, meanwhile. The year before Abigail’s wedding, Plymouth granted him land at the new settlement of Taunton in honor of him being “an ancient freeman” of the colony. He was appointed constable in Duxbury in 1666, and in addition to accumulating large amounts of land across the colony, he took up weaving as a business in his later days. Finally, in 1692, he passed away.

John and Abigail Rogers Richmond

Neck O Land Cemetery, located within the confines of the old Richmond property in Taunton, Massachusetts. Photo: Marc N. Belanger via Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after her wedding, Abigail moved with her surveyor husband John Richmond onto land his father, Col. John Richmond, had purchased about a mile southwest of Taunton’s town green, a grant called “Neck O Land” located between the Mill and Taunton rivers along present-day Summer Street. Col. John, who made money through Bristol shipping interests of which he was a part, had fled troubles in the English Civil War (one family history suggests that he shot his brother, Henry, by accident when he had come to call upon him in a Royalist uniform prior to some battle) and settled in the town that he helped found in the late 1630s.

John, the son, was something of a town leader during his young adult life. As Abigail’s father had done, he took up surveying, which led to his eventual selection as a member of the town’s council. He also helped found the town’s iron works, which were started in 1657. For Abigail, John’s situation seemed to offer the ability to provide quite a lot for a young family.

Perhaps the biggest event in the couple’s life was the eruption of King Philip’s War. This began as a result of the rise of Metacomet (later called “King Philip” by the colonists) as Grand Sachem (or Chief) of the Wampanoag Confederacy in 1662. This was the same tribe that had helped the original settlers of Plymouth in their second year in the colony. While Metacomet’s father, Massasoit, lived, the English were given the freedom to develop their colony however they liked, and the old chief vowed to maintain friendship between the two people. Metacomet, however, saw the English moving in too fast, and through their diseases and purchases of land, he considered them to be a threat to the native Confederacy.

The trigger for the war wouldn’t go off for another 13 years, however. It took the suspicious death of John Sasssamon, a mediator between Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag, and the resulting executions of the three men suspected of his murder, to bring down the widespread attacks by King Philip upon the English colonists.

During the war, John Richmond, the Younger, perhaps played a role in the town defenses (not a lot is written of his actions during the war), but he was better known for serving as the commissioner for the distribution of 10 pounds of relief money donated by the people of Ireland to the town (Taunton’s allotment of an overall charity drive for the colonists who suffered in the war). When the fighting came to an end, the Richmonds continued to build their family, eventually achieving a total of five sons and two daughters. The son named John Richmond was born at the start of the winter of 1673, just before King Philip’s War, and grew to adulthood in Taunton, where eventually both his father and mother died (the former in 1715, the latter in 1727) and were buried.

John and Hannah Otis Richmond

James Otis, Sr., Attorney General of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (appointed 1748). Art: John Singleton Copley via Wikimedia Commons

The next John Richmond along the lineage was the first to be born in America. He grew up in the years after King Philip’s War, a period in which although English and native relations were strained at best, the English nonetheless maintained a controlling hand. His teenage years witnessed the attempt by the Crown to turn New England into one huge dominion, an experiment started by King James II that fell apart along with James’ reign in the face of the “Glorious Revolution” of William and Mary. In the aftermath of these events, Plymouth Colony was merged into the Massachusetts Bay Colony to create a new Province of Massachusetts Bay, headquartered at Boston. This would be how the colony would be administered until the American Revolution and Independence.

After most of the trees had shed their leaves in 1709, John took the hand of Hannah Otis in marriage. Born in Scituate, she was the cousin of Attorney General John Otis, whose father would found one of the upper class families that would later become known as the “Boston Brahmin” set. The Brahmin families formed the core of the New England establishment, imposing their style on everything in first the colonies, then in the fledgling United States. Their way of talk is imposed even today on the way that Bostonians are stereotyped in their speech (“Pahk the cah in Hahvid Yahd”). As a result of this relationship, John and Hannah’s generation probably marked a certain high point in social standing for this lineage. Hannah died by 1739, while John lived to the year 1760.

The Richmonds of the American Revolution

The Taunton Flag, first flown in October 1774. Art: via Rogers Park Retro blog

The next John Richmond was the eldest of the children of John and Hannah Otis Richmond. Not much is specifically known about him, other than he married twice – first to Dighton Myrick (a Welsh descendent), and then to Phebe Dunham.  Dighton provided most of the children that John sired, but Phebe provided the next John Richmond in the lineage, born in 1749, just after King George’s War ended.

New France still posed a somewhat formidable rivalry to the English in North America when John and Phebe’s son John was born, though with each passing war, English dominion had become somewhat less rivaled. By the time he had become a teenager, this youngest John had witnessed the final end of New France, when at the end of the French and Indian War, the Province of Quebec was annexed. The resulting situation in 1763 left the Province of Massachusetts Bay deeply and safely in English territory.

However, the cost of successfully concluding the war and imposing the peace with regiments stationed in the Americas took its toll on the British treasury. In response to this financial crisis, the Crown saw fit to impose a series of direct taxes to pay for what was seen in London as the benefit of protection enjoyed only by the colonists there. Naturally, this sort of attitude by London didn’t sit well with the colonists, and over the next two decades, protest turned to military action as the colonies erupted in rebellion.

Taunton, by October 1774, had become something of a hive of rebellion. Following the passage of the so-called “Intolerable Acts,” the town council ordered the raising of a protest flag, the British Red Ensign with the words “Union and Liberty” emblazoned across its lower half. The town made it clear with this flag that it was siding with those who intended to defend the rights of the colonists against the growingly unpopular taxes imposed on them. Word of the flag spread first to Boston, and then through newspapers to every part of the colonies. With tea protestors burning ships in Chesapeake Bay and British soldiers seizing powder from magazines in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it wasn’t but a half year more before the opening act of the American Revolution took place in Lexington and Concord.

John Richmond, the son of John and Phebe, does not appear in too many records of the period.  By the time of the Declaration of Independence, he appears to have been married to Celia Lincoln, who produced their eldest child, John, at the start of 1777 in Taunton. He would have been in his late 20s at the time. Following the path left by their children’s birth locations, it looks as if the family remained in Taunton through at least 1779, transplanted briefly on the far side of Rhode Island in Woodstock, Connecticut at the beginning of the 1780s, and then returned to Taunton around the end of the war in 1783. By 1787, at the birth of Ichabod Lincoln Richmond, the family finally moved away from the coast to the Berkshires. Ichabod Lincoln was born in Chester on April 10 of that year, according to Massachusetts State Vital Records.

It appears that John and Phebe died around 1778 while the family was still in Taunton, though records do not identify where they passed away or were buried. Celia, a descendent of Thomas Lincoln, the miller progenitor of the Taunton Lincolns (born in Norfolk, England, back in 1600), was apparently the daughter of Ichabod Lincoln and Hannah Codding. It was this Ichabod that our Ichabod Lincoln Richmond was apparently named for.

The Berkshire Richmonds

Memorial to the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese in Cheshire, Massachusetts. Photo: Makeitalready via Wikimedia Commons

As state after state began ratifying the U.S. Constitution, General George Washington was elected by unanimous vote in the Electoral College as the first President of the United States in late 1788. Ichabod Lincoln Richmond was hardly a year old when Washington first took office, and he was still a boy, aged 9, when he stepped down in March 1797 at the end of his second 4-year term. The event might have made something of an impression on him had it not been for the untimely death of his father a month earlier.

John Adams, a lawyer and Revolutionary leader from Boston, succeeded Washington after serving both of the first President’s terms as his Vice President. However, the town in which Ichabod Lincoln grew up in, Cheshire, Massachusetts, was probably not particularly thrilled with this turn of events. Adams was a Federalist, and his rise to power triggered a bitter rivalry in American politics between those of the Republican-Democrat left, and the Federalist right.

This culminated in a Federalist defeat in 1800, with the election of Thomas Jefferson as the third President of the United States. In Cheshire, most of the townsfolk were opposed to him at the start of the political campaign, as his rivals regarded him as “an infidel of the French Revolutionary school.” However, Baptist pastor John Leland made a spirited effort on the Republican-Democrat’s behalf, and when Jefferson won the election, Leland credited himself with having made the victory possible (even though his actual influence was, in fact, somewhat small).

Leland urged his congregation, all Republican-Democrats, that if they owned a cow that they should bring every quart of milk and every curd it would make on a selected day in 1801, during which time he would put it all into a great cider press that was converted into a cheese press. In it, he made what was at the time the world’s largest cheese wheel. Weighing between 1,200 and 1,600 pounds, and measuring 4-feet wide, and 15 inches thick, the cheese was so heavy, it had to be transported by sleigh during the coming winter. On New Year’s Day 1802, Leland presented the cheese to President Jefferson, who expressed surprise and gratitude at the gesture. The cheese continued to be served at the White House throughout the remainder of his term.

The widow Celia Richmond was still in Cheshire for this event. Whether she was part of Leland’s congregation or not is a bit difficult to ascertain, but it wasn’t until 1803 that she supposedly remarried in nearby Adams to Sampson Mason, a widower with a daughter of his own, Hannah. Apparently, Ichabod Lincoln Richmond (age 18) and Hannah Mason (roughly age 14) more than embraced their newfound relationship, as about three years later, in 1806, the two step-siblings also married, and then went west.

My initial guess is that this was where the Mayflower heritage of my family was forgotten.

Zebul Mead Thomas and Curance Ann Richmond

Tri-State marker between Ohio, MIchigan, and Indiana. The Indiana side is within Steuben County. Photo: Frank12 via Wikimedia Commons

The information for the children of Ichabod Lincoln and Hannah Sampson Richmond is a bit sketchy. For instance, one source suggests that Curance was born in New Hampshire in 1826, while another suggests Herkimer, New York, as a birthplace. In any case, by the late 1840s, the Richmonds were in Michigan (“Lincoln Richmond” would be listed as living with daughter Minerva Lazell in the 1850 census in Bridgewater, Massachusetts). Curance (age 21) married farmer Zebul Mead Thomas (age 49), a widower whose first wife, Chloe Howe Thomas, died the year before from complications less than a month after giving birth to her last child. Zebul’s mother, Ascenath, descended from the Mede family of Somerset, England, whose history can be traced back as far as the late Crusades Period. She married John Thomas in the period following the Revolution, when keeping records and family histories was considered to be a Monarchist trait or tendency.

In September 1848, the couple lived in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Following the path left by their children’s birthplaces, by 1857 (the year that Martha Asenath Thomas was born) they were probably in Flushing, Michigan. By 1861 (the year John Zebul Thomas was born) they had relocated to Jamestown Township in Steuben County, Indiana. They were still there in 1865, when Heman Mead Thomas was born. As Zebul was well in his 50s, he likely didn’t serve in the Civil War ongoing in those years.

The only records that hold any clue about the eventual locations of death for Zebul and Curance appear in census records. In 1870, the two appear in Yellow Creek Township of Linn County, Missouri. In 1880, Heman Mead Thomas (apparently mistaken by the taker for a girl in his records, age 15) appeared to be cared for in the house of N. and C.A. Dunn in Jackson, also in Linn County.  In short, it appears likely Heman’s mother remarried in her sunset days.

Heman Mead and Elnora Perue Thomas

Alberta farm workers prepared for Spanish Flu in 1918. The pandemic reached even into the heart of the so-called “Empty Quarter” of North America. Photo: via Libarary and Archives Canada

By 1890, Heman Thomas, age 25, married Elnora Perue, almost 15, in Maryville, a rural community in Nodaway County, Missouri. Less than a couple months later, the young mother gave birth to Katherine, the couple’s eldest child.

Following the trail left by their children’s birth places, the family moved to Dotham in Atchison County, Missouri by 1892 (the year Grace Viola was born), and then migrated westward to Laramie Wyoming between 1896 and 1898 (the years Alice Elnora and William Mead are born, respectively). By 1915, when Alice Thomas married John Alva Jackson, the family had relocated to Boulder, Colorado. Alva Mead Jackson, my grandfather, was born a year later (and still a full year before Heman and Elnora’s last child, Mabel).

This was yet another period of war, but it was a war taking place overseas, one that hardly touched the lives of those living in Colorado and Wyoming. However, a great event that did affect people in this part of the United States had begun in January 1918, with the first detection of a disease that would later be called “Spanish Flu.”

Its origin is unknown, even today. The name came from the high level of coverage given to the disease by the Spanish press. Given that there were no press blackouts of anything that might be considered damaging to morale in the middle of the Great War, and given that Spain was a neutral country, the reports emerging from the country gave reason for authorities to lay the blame on Spain. In actuality, it appeared in the United States even sooner than in that Mediterranean country.

By March, Fort Riley Kansas was hit fairly bad as the first case was diagnosed in New York.  By August, the disease mutated into a more virulent strain, first reported in Boston within the United States. By October, this strain had reached Laramie, Wyoming. Both John Alva and Alice Elnora Jackson died of the disease late in the month there within two days of each other. (A few weeks later, the pandemic finally reached Spain, and took on the name it is known by today.)

The children of the deceased couple, Alva Mead and Alice Elnora were taken in by Heman and Elnora, who raised them as their own. However, Heman’s heart began to give him trouble in 1920. Another 16 years later, he contracted bronchial pneumonia and died in Middleton, Idaho, not far from Boise. Elnora, being considerably younger, lasted quite a few years more, eventually passing away from heart disorder in 1962. As such, she outlived her daughter’s eldest son, who was killed in the line of duty as a police officer in Pasco, Washington, in 1955.

Back to the moment

Rigging on the Mayflower II, reproduction of the original (scrapped in the early 1620s) Photo: Pundit via Wikimedia Commons

Today, in Belarus, my family will celebrate Thanksgiving in as close to the way it is celebrated in the United States as we can get. We will have turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce (no canned stuff – it’s not sold here), popcorn, black olives (despite the fact that no one likes them), and homemade pumpkin pie. In place of yams, we will serve beets. And we will celebrate it with the families of both the descendants of Joseph and Irina Bernatowycz Szadura (along with Irina, who is still with us).

Our family is perhaps further east than the easternmost point that Thomas Rogers ever went. (Giles Fletcher, his contemporary, might have been to this area of the world, though.) None of us have had to survive an overcrowded ship, nor live through a great sickness (at least so far, knock on wood). But we do have our reasons to be thankful, and we will celebrate them here, in this little corner of the world. Here is hoping that you and yours will remember your reasons to be thankful on this holiday (or whatever equivalent day you celebrate) as well.

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