Saturday, January 15, 2005

Family stories

Last summer on a visit to my parents, I discovered a typescript of the reminiscences of my great-grandfather, Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe. This ancestor was born in 1808 and died in 1895. In 1955, my uncle typed up the reminiscences as a present for his siblings. I had no idea it existed until last summer, though it turns out my brother Mark (yes, he got the full name, missing one "e") has a copy of it.

I nabbed the book and have been transcribing it into my computer so I can send it out to other descendents. This ancestor was the Episcopal Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, the father of 18 children (three wives in succession, and only 11 of the children lived to adulthood). The span from my great-grandfather to me is huge because my grandfather was the youngest of the 18, my father was the youngest of 6 and I'm the youngest of 7.

Anyway, as I transcribe the reminiscences, I'm keeping my eye out for stories. Here are a few snippets:

MADewH was baptised at age 3. After the baptism, he was taken home by a servant. He says that then was "all my fine toggery taken off, so that I was left with only a little undershirt on, and when she had gone to get other garments, I slipped out and went into the church again, which was only two doors distant, showing in a very early day my predilection for the church service. My father, hearing the pattering of my little feet, looked in his consternation at my condition, wrapped me in his kerchief and carried me home."

He grew up and went to Middlebury College for a short while, then to Brown University, became a teacher and then was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He was married in 1834.

My great-grandfather's first wife was delicate, so they went to the Caribbean to try to coax her back to health. On the voyage, they went through the Horse Latitudes. The Horse Latitudes were named this because when ships had horses on board, often the horses didn't survive the rough seas there and had to be thrown overboard. There was a horse on board, but it was saved because they put it in a sling and padded the stall so it wouldn't be hurt. The ship was struck by lightning at one point, and the topmost spars rattled down onto the deck. That trip took 4 weeks, instead of the 10 days it should have.

The trip was a failure: my great-grandfather's wife died. He wrote, "In the last few weeks of my wife's continuance, I could scarcely leave her at all, as I had no female friend who could wait upon her [...] and after my wife's breathing ceased, it fell to my lot to close her eyes, and to get out from her trunk the apparel in which she should be clothed. On the next morning, my friend, Mr. Sargent came in to see me, and I shall never forget, he read to me the 103rd Psalm in a very solemn and impressive way. That was the only ministration of a consolatory nature which was given to me at that awful juncture."

He returned home (as did his wife's body, preserved in a cask of rum), grieving terribly. This is one of the saddest parts of the reminiscences, though he did go on to live a full life.

I've still got about 20 pages to transcribe. My brother Mark tells me there's some interesting stuff in the next section, about a missionary trip to San Francisco in 1871.

4 comments:

true thomas said...

Wow! What an incredible gift...so, I'm thinking we need to hear the first person tellings of this epic story....

Wynn Bexton said...

This is fantastic! I am an instructor for a Memoir's group and these stories, especially from ancestors, are so very important. wynn bexton

PriscillaHowe said...

First person tellings? From the Bish himself? Whew! That would be interesting. While we're at it, maybe we could get comments from Uncle George, who typed these up in 1955 (and who died in 1977).

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Bishop spelt his 3rd name "deWolfe". He himself changed the flexible spelling of his family name (D'Wolf, DeWolf, etc.)to suit his taste, as he felt it "lent tone".