MARY ELIZABETH GATWOOD-ATEN MY 2X GREAT-AUNT

Mary Elizabeth Gatwood was the daughter of William Gatwood and Elizabeth McCracken, who were my 3x Great-Grandparents.  Mary was the fifth child born into the family. There was a total of thirteen children, seven girls and six boys; two of the girls died as infants. She was born March 10, 1815. She spent her early childhood in Wellsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia).

On February 5, 1835, Mary Gatwood married Aaron Aten. Aaron was born in 1808. His parents were William Aten and Jane Anderson. Aaron came from a large family. He was both a farmer and teacher.

In 1838 they lived in Washington county, Ohio. This was the summer that Aaron and other members of his family traveled west to Illinois, looking for a better life. In a letter that he sent back to Mary, he tells her that things are not great, but he feels that the quality of land for farming was very good. There was an abundance of land available and the soil was rich for planting. Crops were selling for a good price.  He had not gotten a job as a teacher while there, but he was sure there would be positions as a teacher available in the future. The letter made me think that he must have been very lonely without his family. His brothers were scattered to different areas and there was no easy method of communication for them to know whether they had gone back to Ohio or met with some terrible illness or accident. He tells Mary that he has not heard anything from them or about them and wonders what she could tell him about his brothers. Of course, he also wanted to have word about her and the children. Everything seemed to work out and the Aten’s would relocate to Illinois.

When Aaron and Mary left Ohio in 1840 they had two small children. After their move to Illinois they added eight more children to the family, including one set of twins. Aaron would teach and farm for the rest of his days. He died in 1889. Mary would live until 1907. When she died at ninety-two years old, she had outlived her husband and all but one of her ten children.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN-THE LAWYER

I have been known to extend my family a bit. As an example: this is a story about a “shirt-tail” relative.

Hazel Norris was the Grandmother of my Brother-In-Law; my Sister’s husband. Hazel’s Great Grandfather was James Norris.

The time was August 29th, 1857. The place was “camp ground” in Mason County, Illinois. There was a tent revival nearby. Often when there were revivals happening, men who had no interest in the revival, sat up their own tents and had a “whiskey camp”. They would get drunk and act like fools. Sometimes they would fight amongst themselves.  On this night, James Preston Metzker was hit with a piece of wood as well as a slung shot (the dictionary describes this as a weight on the end of a cord or chain). The two men who were fighting with Mr. Metzker were: William “Duff” Armstrong and James Norris. That evening Mr. Metzker got on his horse and rode home. During the ride, he fell off his horse several times. After his arrival home, he was checked by a Dr. who said he had a fractured head in two separate places. James Preston Metzer died two days later. Did he die from the piece of wood that was used by Mr. Norris? Did he die from the slung shot used by Mr. Armstrong? Did he die from the several falls he took from his horse, riding home?

James Norris and William Armstrong were both charged with murder. The men would be tried separately. The first trial was against James Norris. In October, 1857 James was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in the Joliet penitentiary.

The second trial, for William Armstrong was not as swift. His father died while he awaited trial. There was a well-known lawyer named Abraham Lincoln who notified the widowed mother of Mr. Armstrong that he wanted to defend her son pro bono. Years before, Lincoln had stayed with the Armstrong family. He was studying law at the time and had no money. He remembered their kindness and wished to “repay”. This trial would be on May 7th,1858 and moved to Cass County, Illinois. The trial became known as the “Almanac Trial”. There would be books, news stories and plays written about this trial. It is possible that this was Abraham Lincoln’s most famous case.

Although there were many witnesses who testified, Mr. Lincoln was only interested in one. Charles Allen testified that he saw Duff Armstrong strike Metzker with a slung shot and he could clearly see the act by the light of the full moon and he was at a distance of 150 feet. Abraham Lincoln used an almanac to show Allen lied on the stand when he claimed he had witnessed the crime in the moonlight and that the moon on that date could not have produced enough light for the witness to see anything clearly. Based on this evidence, the jury acquitted Armstrong after only one ballot.

James Norris was pardoned several years later, in 1863. He had served six years of his sentence.

JESSE ARNOT – MATERNAL FIRST COUSIN, 4X REMOVED

Jesse Arnot was the son of William Truesdale Arnot & Mary Garten and was my maternal first cousin 4x removed. He was born November 15th, 1812 and died May 11th, 1896.

The family lived in Monroe Co. Virginia.

Another fact of interest is that after Jesse’s mother died, His father married Lucinda Handley. She was the daughter of William Hanley and Margaret Henderson. When Jesse married, he married the sister of his step-mother, Elizabeth Mary Handley.

Elizabeth’s father was devoted to the study of the planets and taught her about the mysteries of astronomy. At the time, this was not a subject that was commonly studied.

Mary worked tirelessly for the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was an asset to ministers and other important people. It was said that she was wise in her judgements. She, along with her husband, Jesse, were instrumental in the establishment of the Methodist Orphans Home in 1865. She devoted much of her time and energy to this cause for the remainder of her life.

Jesse and Mary were married in Monroe County, Virginia. They had three daughters:  Mary (Alfred Bradford) Ann (Michael Murphy and Margaret (Samuel Hendle).

Jesse and his brother Anderson left Virginia and relocated to St Louis, Missouri, where they opened a livery business. They had the only four-horse hearse in the Midwest.

When President Abraham Lincoln was killed, the mayor of St Louis asked Jesse to lend his hearse for the funeral.

The hearse carried the body of the assassinated president from the train station through Springfield, Illinois to Oak Ridge Cemetery.

It is said that Jesse wanted to drive the four horses with just one hand and tied the reigns to enable that. He also tied his tie in the same way; this is now known as the four-in-hand knot. As time has passed, Jesse, who was always an ordinary business man, became a folk character.

SHELDON STANFORD DELONG-FIRST COUSIN, ONCE REMOVED

Sheldon was the first of six children (four boys and two girls) born to John Charles Delong and Mabel Esther McHarg. Sheldon was born 7th of March 1912. His father was a farmer in Fairfield County, Ohio and later in Perry County, Ohio.

Other than being a farm boy in Ohio, I know very little of Sheldon’s life; however, I think it is noteworthy to tell the story about how Sheldon died.

I have mentioned in other writings the importance of newspapers. In a small article in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette newspaper, there was a column titled “twenty Years Ago”. I read the following:

“Sheldon S. Delong, 30, former Fairfield resident and son of Mr. and Mrs. John Delong, Glenford, was among the missing as employees in the explosion which sheltered a shell loading building at the Elwood Ordnance plant near Joliet, Illinois. Officials at the plant, gave the parents no hope of their son’s body being recovered.”  

After seeing this column, I had to know what happened. I knew from the date it was WWII period. I had lots of thoughts going around in my head and I had to investigate this event.

From Wikipedia:

Plant explosion

Though both plants were designed with safety as a primary concern, at 2:45 a.m. on June 5, 1942, a large explosion on the assembly line at the Elwood facility resulted in 48 dead or missing and was felt as far as Waukegan, Illinois, over 60 miles (97 km) north. Assembly Lines were located in separate buildings which were separated by substantial distances limiting major damage to the facility as a whole.

From a United Press newspaper article written at the time, “Explosion shattered buildings of one of the units of the $30,000,000 Elwood Ordnance plant gave up the bodies of 21 workers Friday. Army officials said 36 more were missing from the blast that could be felt for a radius of 100 miles. Another 41 were injured, five of them critically, from the explosion that leveled a building…. Not one of the 68 men inside the shipping unit when the blast occurred escaped death or injury.”

After many years (2002) there is now a memorial to honor these men. The monument can be found at the Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois.

Our heros are not always found on the battlefields!