Thursday, May 9, 2019

Mothers' Day Reflections

With Mother's Day this week, it seems relevant that I reflect on Isaac Beckley Werner's mother, Margaretha "Rebecca" Beckley Werner.  Shortly before his mother's death, Isaac recorded in the upper-left corner of the fly-leaf of his journal that his mother was still living.  She died on April 22, 1893, two years before Isaac's death.

Death of Tecumseh in 1813

Rebecca, as she was commonly known, lived during exciting times in America.  She was born September 11, 1812, during the years of the War of 1812, in which Britain had imposed a naval blockade to hinder neutral trade with France during the Napoleonic Wars.  The United States challenged this as illegal under international law.  Furthermore, Britain supplied Native Americans with weapons used to raid American settlers on the frontier, intending to hinder further settlement.  Particularly well known is the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815, when British forces, unaware of the Treaty of Ghent having been signed on December 24, 1814, invaded Louisiana.

Rebecca married William Werner on November 15, 1842, when she was 30 and he was 40, his 41st birthday one month later.  Gold had been first discovered in California the previous March, but that initial gold rush was primarily Mexicans from Sonora on a small scale.  Universities were expanding across America, including Willamette University in Oregon, Wesleyan University in Ohio, the University of Notre Dame in Ohio, and The Citadel in South Carolina.
Assault on New Orleans in 1815

Rebecca was widowed June 13, 1865, and she and her daughters continued to live in the family home on their farm until the spring of 1868, when they moved into Reading, Pa.  On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S.  Grant at Appomattox Court House, and on April 14 (Good Friday) President Lincoln had been assassinated--tragic and tumultuous times.  By the time she and her daughters moved into Reading, the War had ended, but in February of 1868 Andrew Johnson, who had assumed the office after Lincoln's death, was impeached, his acquittal by one vote in the Senate not occurring until May.  Ulysses S. Grant had been elected President on November 3, 1868, but on December 25, before leaving office, Johnson granted unconditional pardons to all Civil War rebels.

Union Officers
After her younger daughter married, Rebecca made her home with Ettie's family until Rebecca's death in 1893 at the age of 80.  The 1880s were exciting years, with electric lights and telephones coming into use and "sky-scrapers" being built.  Rebecca had moved to Kansas when Ettie's husband was called to pastor a church in Abilene, and while Eastern Kansas and living in town may have allowed Rebecca more conveniences than Isaac experienced in his rural community, it was surely less sophisticated that Eastern American cities.  Perhaps Rebecca enjoyed the new 1887 'liquor-free' drink of Coca-Cola in Prohibitionist Kansas!

Sadly, although Isaac and his mother both lived in Kansas in the 1880s and early 1890s, I found no evidence that he was able to share a Mother's Day with Rebecca.  The responsibilities of his farm, the early risks of claim jumpers, the expense of travel, and his poor health in later years seem to have made a reunion impossible.

As you gather with family to celebrate Mother's Day this year, perhaps it would be fun for the mothers among you to share with children the changes over the decades of your own lives.

Remember, you can enlarge images by clicking on them.


The Blog Fodder said...

She certainly lived in interesting times. Did Isaac's diary mention how often he saw his mother?

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

In 1870-1871 Isaac's journal describes his years in Illinois as a druggist. There is a 14 year period during which he did not write in the journal, but he gave no explanation. In 1884 he was in Kansas and resumed writing in the journal, never missing a day until he filled the journal in 1871. He had arrived in Kansas in 1878, and after selling his drug store he joined a milling partnership in the same Illinois town. Within all of this information, there is no mention of his having seen his Mother. His twin brother came to Kansas once and stayed two nights. He wrote in his journal every day, and although he mentioned letters with his family, there is no mention of his ever leaving his claim for more than an overnight marketing trip or trip to town. I don't believe he ever saw his Mother, at least not after coming to Kansas.