Wednesday, July 22, 2009

They Survived The Biggest Change In America

The 77th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks that we write about an ancestor who survived a disaster or other major occurrence in their life.
I have chosen to write about my great-grandparents, William and Margaret Bean, who lived in Monroe County, West Virginia.

At the time of the incidents I will be describing, West Virginia was just emerging as a new state, born from the beginnings of a civil war. The Bean family were Confederate to the core, especially the old patriarch, William Sr.

Born in 1792, his father is said to have fought under Lord Cornwallis in the American Revolution, and then he took the oath and became a full patriot. He received land grants in Virginia [now West Virginia] in what was then virgin territory. In 1804, William Sr. and his brother, John, being without a father [it is believed he must have died] were placed under indenture. William was to apprentice to become a blacksmith. The indenture is dated on his twelfth birthday.

But William, who came from indenture, married a good woman, and became a gentleman farmer. He purchased lands that totaled to more than 1600 acres in the county. He was tough, but he was fair. And the locals thought very highly of him.

When this part of the state split for lack of being able to choose "North" or "South", old William wasn't phased. He was Confederate through and through.

And so he thought, too, his sons. Especially William Jr.

But William, the younger, had other plans in mind.

William became a spy for the Union Army. And as such, he was actually enlisted into the Confederate Army with locals, a kind of 007 agent! He fought in several battles nearby. And then his unit began to march to distant areas to engage the enemy. And so it was on May 11, 1864 William was taken prisoner in Hagerstown, Maryland. He was shipped to the infamous prison at Elmira, New York.

William's family labeled him a traitor when they discovered he was working as a spy, and his own father threatened to disown him, saying he'd switched sides! But William's wife, Margaret, knew this was all a ruse on William's part. She packed up what household items she'd need with three small children, ranging in ages from seven years old to only 2 years of age, into a covered wagon. She hitched a team of oxen to the wagon, and took off, across enemy lines, completely across the state of West Virginia into Ohio. She stopped near present day Johnston's Island. She didn't have long to wait.

On September 2nd William was sent to Johnston's Island. Here was the Union Prison for Confederate Officers. William spent the remainder of the war at this post. It is believed that he helped to halt a breakout planned by the Confederacy, who had sent a ship up the river to liberate the prisoners held there.

William's official records were sealed under orders of President Abraham Lincoln on April 10, 1865. This is just ONE DAY after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and only 4 days before Lincoln was assassinated.

William and Margaret moved down to Cincinnati, where on December 15, 1866 their next child was born. John Monroe Bean. John was my grandfather.

Later that very same winter [1866-1867] they moved back to West Virginia. It is said that they very nearly froze to death in freak blizzards coming back. In a family of fairly tall and robust men, John was only 5'7" tall, and weighed a mere 150 pounds. He always stated that the winter he was born the family near froze to death on their move back to West Virginia, and it "stunted my growth".

I never knew William and Margaret. William later became a US Marshall and was shot to death not far from his home in 1890 at the age of 58. A scant year later Margaret succumbed to grief and died at the age of 65.

And John? Sadly, I never got to know my Grandpa either. John was an old man before he even started his family. My Dad was the thirteenth of fifteen children John fathered. John was 71 when Dad came along. Dad got the best of John, though, I believe! As an older man, he had time to sit and talk about the past and his family. Dad would listen with open mind, and open heart. To this day, I can sit for hours and listen to Dad tell me the stories of his own father, and the family history that was passed down to him.

John passed away in 1954 at 87 and one-half years of age. That was a few [very few] years before I came along. However, I like to think that I am keeping the memory of William, and Margaret, and John, and the many, many more that I study and learn about, alive. They live in my mind as brightly and as lively as they once did in person.

When I visit the cemetery, I am often found talking to them. Oh, I get some funny looks from people sometimes. And once, I even had a lady ask me outright if I was alright or should she call someone! [I quickly said I was fine, and "no, there's no need to call anyone", then skedaddled away before she DID call someone. Someone with a little white coat and padded cell maybe! Ha ha]

I believe they know I am keeping their memories alive. And I like to think that from their home in heaven they look down and smile.

At least, I truly hope so!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and how great that your Dad got to listen (and share) those stories.