“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hannah, my Great, Great, Great, Grandmother

I admit it, I have a deep fascination with my heritage. I think it comes from the fact that I moved away from my family when I was 9 and have had little contact with any family since then. Well, I did have contact with my mother and father and brothers, but no one else. The reason for that fact will be the topic of another post....

Anyway, I come from a family of LDS, Mormons. Which means I have some family history accessible to me through the family genealogy. Following my mothers death in 2004 I acquired some records of family history and learned a bit about my ancestors. One great, great, great grandmother, in particular, resonated with me.

She was born on April 4, 1839, in Pendlebury, Lancashire, England. Her parents, Isaac and Charlotte, named their daughter Johanna. Shortly after her birth the family moved to Clayton in Manchester. Hannah was one of four children (two brothers named William and James, and a sister named Harriet), plus a child named Jonathon whom they acquired in 1834; although the records do not state how or why.

Hannah was baptized into the Church Of Latter Day Saints on May 9, 1857. She and Jonathon, the young boy raised in her family, were married on December 20, 1957 in th Manchester Cathedral. Their marriage, in this Cathedral of the Church of England, caused them to be "excommunicated" from the LDS church, apparently for being married in this a Cathedral of the Church of England. However, they were reinstated quickly.

On May 23, 1863 Hannah left England for the USA. They sailed on the Antarctic from Liverpool. With her were her two children, William (3 years old) and Harriet, an infant. Her first born son, also named William died shortly after birth. Her husband, Jonathon, remained in England earning a living to support his family while they relocated to the USA. In this case, the wife and children were moving across the ocean to settle in a community that understood and embraced their same faith.

As it turns out Hannah was four months pregnant when she left England. The boat trip across the Atlantic was arduous. The ship was old and leaky. The drinking water was bad. Many people died on the trip, either from poor food or measles. It appears that young Harriet, Hannah's daughter died on the trip, for no record of her exists after the trip.

The ship arrived in New York harbor on July 4, 1863. The Civil War was in full swing and the emigrants were in great danger. Many young men were drafted into the army as soon as they left the boat. Hannah continued her journey moving through New England, crossing the Niagara Bridge, and then taking ferries across the Great Lakes. Arriving in Chicago they then took a cattle car to St. Joseph, MO and then a steamer to Florence Bench, Nebraska. An ox team was waiting to take them from French Bench to Salt Lake City. This team had been waiting a month for her arrival. The team arrived in Salt Lake City in September. Hannah was 8 months pregnant. Her son, my great great grandfather Jacob, was born, Oct. 9, 1863.

A year later Jonathon arrived in Salt Lake City. Jonathon and Hannah had 13 children, 9 of which survived. Hannah died on Jan. 23, 1883, from complications following the birth of her 13th child, the baby died as well. (Think about it, she had birthed children on two continents for over 20 years).

What impresses me about this woman, my great-great-great grandmother, is her strength. She travelled, by herself, with two young children, and 4 months pregnant, from England to Salt Lake City, Utah. She was in her last tri-mester and traveling via ox and wagon from Nebraska to Utah - over the Rocky Mountains (no small feat). And she did it all for her faith.

Jonathon arrived in SLC on September 20, 1864. Later he married other women, living a life of polygamy. He married a woman named Amelda on April, 24, 1874. Hannah died in 1883. Jonathon married a third woman, Sarah Susannah around 1885. Jonathon was accused and found guilty of polygamy in 1886. He served 3-1/2 months in jail, was fined $150.00 and had court fees of $52.25. Later Jonathon and Almeda divorced. Jonathon died on July 1, 1896 and is buried in the Salt Lake City cemetery. In this same cemetery are buried my grandparents, an aunt, and my mother, not to mention countless other relatives from generations back. (It is a beautiful cemetery on the side of a mountain over looking the entire SLC valley).

I often think of this grandmother. Of her faith. Of her willingness to suffer through great challenges for her faith. Of her leaving the Church of England for the LDS church, church of my childhood, the church was I baptized into, the same baptism accepted by the Episcopal Church when I was confirmed in 1990. The same church that ordained me in 1999.

I often wonder how this same grandmother, in her love of family and faith, would feel about her great-great-great grand child being a priest, a woman priest, in the very church she left. I live in awe of her strength, her witness, her faith...and only hope that she would love me as I am and understand.

Now, I am a woman who left the very faith that these early pioneers risked life and limb for. I cannot imagine how Hannah must have felt being on her own, so vulnerable and tired, and yet so strong. I remember being 8 months pregnant, barely able to move. I can't imagine walking down the valley into SLC in that condition. I can't imagine leaving my husband, the father of my children, a continent behind, while I moved with our children to a new land, a new home.