Friday, November 16, 2007
Moses and Priscilla, Sophronia and Almira
Those of us who practice family history always find in the complex web of creation men and women who had to die to give us life, a cause for reflection if ever there was one. These are the spouses of our ancestors who died accidentally, of disease, in childbirth or in war and whose deaths resulted in later marriages by the survivors --- and thus in us.
The tombstone here marks the grave in the Corydon Cemetery of Moses Warren Prentiss, the first husband of my great-grandmother, Chloe (Boswell) Prentiss/Brown.
The inscription is difficult to read, but when I was a kid it was easier to make out “Moses W. Prentiss, died Jul. 6, 1865, age 38 Y, 5 M, 11 D” and then a short poem:
“Remember friends as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so must you be.
Prepare for death and follow me.”
Moses died on a hot July day more than 140 years ago, blown sky-high when the coal- or wood-fired boiler used to power a portable saw mill then working in the woods on Wildcat Creek just north of Corydon exploded. We don’t know for sure why, but that sometimes happened when a boiler threatened to run dry and workers too impatient to wait for it to cool down added cold water --- a fatal mistake if the boiler had the slightest flaw.
This was an explosion that reverberated down the generations. Visiting many years ago with Cousin Glen Chapman, who lived just up the road with his wife, Pansy, from the farm where I grew up, he recalled that his grandmother, Hattie Olivia (Garnes) Tracy, only 4 in 1865 but playing nearby, remembered the blast all of her life and was scared to death for as long as she lived of steam-powered equipment.
Moses’s untimely death left Chloe, then 31, with four young daughters, Eva, 10; Laura, 7; Sarah Olive, 3; and Emma, 9 months.
That was a time hard for us to conceive of now, when there were no social welfare programs other than family, life insurance was almost unheard of and the great majority of southern Iowans were separated from poverty only by the good health of a husband, father and provider. About the only option for a young widow was remarriage, but who in the world would take on the support of Chloe and her four daughters, left in poverty?
As it turned out, my great-grandfather would --- and did. A fierce old Presbyterian (with a twinkle in his eye), Joseph Brown, too, had known his share of sorrow. His first wife, Hester Eldridge, died of tuberculosis during May of 1850 in Miami County, Ohio, leaving him with seven children ranging in age from 2 to 13 who he raised single handed. He brought all but one of his children to Iowa and nearly 20 years later, in 1869, married in Washington, Iowa, a widow near his own age --- Penelope Dawson. But she survived less than a year, dying of an apparent heart attack during the early morning of July 5, 1870, almost five years to the day after Moses was killed.
As it happened, Joseph’s brother, Archibald Steele Brown --- then living at Cincinnati in Appanoose County --- had married Chloe’s aunt, Mary Boswell, and they introduced him to Chloe and her daughters. And so on the 17th of November 1870, just a little more than four months after Penelope’s death, Joseph and Chloe were married at the Methodist parsonage in Corydon and during February of 1871, loaded all their belongings and Chloe’s daughters, too, into wagons and headed for a new life first near and then in the little town of Columbia just north of the Marion/Lucas county line northeast of Chariton.
Four years later, when Joseph was 64 and Chloe was 41, my grandmother, Jessie Frances (Brown) Miller, was born --- on the 19th of January, 1875.
So that’s why Moses Prentiss is important to me --- had he not been killed 142 years ago I wouldn’t be here, nor would my 13 surviving Miller first-cousins. And we owe the same odd and sorrowful debt to Hester, whose grave was lost when the family cemetery in Ohio was destroyed, and Penelope, buried in Woodlawn, the old city cemetery at Washington.
I sat out this fall in a minor form of tribute to visit as many of Moses’s kinfolk as I could find, and will tell herewith something of their story.
The first stop on a beautiful October day was at Zion Lutheran Cemetery, on a prairie rise just northeast of Douds-Leando, villages astraddle the Des Moines River in Village Township, northwest Van Buren County, Douds on the north side and Leando (originally Portland), on the south.
Moses’s mother, Priscilla, is buried at Zion and remarkably --- considering that she died in 1847 --- her tombstone survives in pristine condition. Its inscription reads, “Prescilla, wife of Robert Prentiss, Born Jan. 28, 1792, Died Aug. 1, 1847.”
In all likelihood, this was not Zion Lutheran Cemetery when Priscilla died, but just a neighborhood burying place close to her home (the cemetery reportedly dates from 1835). The Zion Lutheran congregation was formed a little later, during 1849, as the first Lutheran church in Iowa that from the outset conducted its services in English. When Zion Lutheran Church (now Zion Bible Church) was built at the top of the hill north of Priscilla’s grave, the old cemetery was enlarged to the north and west and took the congregation’s name.
Priscilla's grave is located in the extreme southeast corner of the Zion Lutheran Cemetery which, in the top photo here (taken looking southeast from the parking area) would be to the far right.
Priscilla, whose maiden name was Warren, and Robert Prentiss were married 25 January 1816 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and had a family of eight children: Sophronia, Warren (who died young), Almira, Alphonso, Mary Lovica, Alonzo Robert, Moses Warren and Margaret. Moses was born 2 February 1827 in Cuyahoga County.
Some time after 1830, but before 1840, Robert and Priscilla and at least six of their children moved west from Ohio to Village Township, Van Buren County, where they located north of the Des Moines River in the neighborhood of what now is Douds/Leando. Leando, on the south bank of the Des Moines, was at that time known as Portland and with Iowaville, upstream on the river's north bank, was one of northwest Van Buren county's major villages.
Their daughter, Sophronia, however, became in Ohio a member of Joseph Smith’s emerging Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and after her baptism at Kirtland at his behest followed thousands of others, including my Miller family, to northwest Missouri where, the prophet taught, New Zion would arise. It was reportedly at Far West in Caldwell County, where the Mormons were headquartered at that time and the foundation stones of a great temple were placed, that Sophronia married another convert, John Henderson Reid, on 4 December 1837.
As the Mormons were driven from Missouri during the next two years, John Henderson and Sophronia Reid and their first child, Joseph Sidney Reid, fled east across the Mississippi to Quincy, Ill., where the infant died, and then traveled upriver to Nauvoo, where the Saints regrouped, rebuilt and briefly thrived. Sophronia’s sister, Almira Prentiss, joined them once they were settled in Nauvoo.
Robert and Priscilla and family seem to have prospered in Van Buren County and by the time the 1850 federal census-taker called at Robert's home on 22 October, his real estate holdings were valued at $1,000, a substantial amount for that time. Their neighbors included a number of Mormon refugees who had come up into southeast Iowa rather than resettle at Nauvoo, including another family connection of mine, Robert Rathbun, that pioneering Mormon blacksmith and elder, who landed prior to 1840 at Iowaville, now a ghost town but then a thriving village.
The Mormon population of Van Buren County soon would become far larger.
After a very few years, life in Nauvoo became intolerable as Illinois natives organized to drive the Saints out, murdered Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, and Brigham Young, with little other choice, decided to lead the Saints west to the Great Salt Lake valley in Utah, as far from their enemies as possible. John Henderson, Sophronia and Almira received their endowments at the new temple in Nauvoo on Feb. 6, 1846, then fled across the river to find refuge in Van Buren County with Robert and Priscilla.
Van Buren County filled with refugees as 1846 progressed. Those who had been able to outfit themselves continued through southern Iowa, including Wayne and Lucas counties, on trails to way stations at Garden Grove, Chariton, Mount Pisgah and beyond. But many others who had little more than the clothes on their back settled down to earn enough money to continue the westward trek. A good many of them died here. The prophet Joseph Smith’s aged uncle and aunt, Asahel and Elizabeth Smith, for example, died at their temporary home near Iowaville and were buried with a number of other Saints in the Iowaville Cemetery.
The Reid family suffered a succession of tragedies in Van Buren County. Both Sophronia and her infant daughter, Elizabeth Louisa, born 30 June 1845 in Nauvoo, died on the 17th of October, 1846, and were buried in the Leando Cemetery, located in a clearing alongside a creek just south of town. In December of that year, John Henderson Reid married Sophronia’s sister, Almira. On 8 August 1847 Priscilla Prentiss died and less than a month later, Amelia also died --- on 1 September, perhaps in childbirth, although that is not clear. Amelia was buried near Sophronia at Leando and Robert Prentiss apparently marked his daughters’ graves, as he did his wife’s, since the inscriptions on the identical Reid stones, now eroded to illegibility, clearly identify them as daughters of Robert and Priscilla.
The tombstones of Almira, Elizabeth Louisa and Sophronia Reid are shown(from left) in the foreground here, looking northwest across the Leando Cemetery, back in the woods along a small creek just south of the village.
Several other Prentiss children also married during the 1840s in Van Buren County: Margaret, at age 15, to Benona Freel on 15 May 1845; Alonzo Robert to Christiana M. Ream on 16 July 1846; and Mary Lovica on 25 January 1847 to David Robbins.
Moses, still single, helped his father farm and worked as a carpenter, a profession in demand in Van Buren County at that time.
But during 1850, gold fever struck and several Van Buren County men headed west to California that fall, including Moses, his brother Alonzo and his brother-in-law Benona Freel. The 1850 census of California records Benona and Moses as miners in the Peru vicinity of Eldorado County during December and Alonzo, mining on the middle fork of the American River, also in Eldorado County, during January of 1851.
All three men returned home safely to Van Buren County within the next year, but it does not appear that any found fortunes in the gold fields.
Upon returning to Van Buren County, Moses began to court the eldest daughter of a family that had arrived in Village Township during the spring of 1850 from Point Pleasant, Mason County, Virginia (now West Virginia). Chloe Boswell, born 23 August 1833 not far from the banks of the Ohio River, was the first of seven children of Peachy Gilmer and Caroline (McDaniel) Boswell.
Moses and Chloe were married in Van Buren County on 18 March 1852 and set up housekeeping near their parents in Village Township. Supposedly one of their first purchases was the massive cherry bureau, bought second-hand, that greets me from across the bedroom here every morning when I awaken 155 years later.
Two years later, Moses and Chloe --- and presumably the bureau, along with Peachy and Caroline and their family, Benona and Margaret Freel and family and others pulled up stakes and headed west to Wayne County. Moses and Chloe and Peachy and Caroline settled on adjacent farms about two miles north of Corydon along Wildcat Creek.
The Freels soon headed even farther west, to Nebraska, and Moses and Chloe reportedly followed them at some point prior to 1860. The family story holds that after a time in Nebraska Chloe became so ill that Moses was convinced she would die. He wrote to her parents, and Peachy resolved to go to his daughter‘s side. It was spring, according to the story, and the Boswells had only one horse --- needed by the Boswell boys, Reed and Ellis and Tommy, to do farm work. So Peachy set out on foot and walked to Nebraska.
As it turned out, Chloe did not die, but the family had enough of Nebraska. So they loaded up the wagon and with Peachy aboard headed home to Corydon.
Moses was killed only a few years later, and this chapter of the Prentiss story ends.
So far as the rest of the Prentiss family is concerned, father Robert reportedly survived until just after 1870, but I can find no trace of him after about 1852 --- so where he landed is a mystery I’ve not resolved. Mary and David Robbins also are mysteries.
Alfonso married a widow, Sarah Weldon, during 1854 in Missouri, then moved to Kansas. He reportedly died in Kansas during the early 1860s leaving one son who died as a young man.
Alonzo reportedly survived until 1892 or 1893, but I know next to nothing about him. He was last sighted by me during 1880 as a 55-year-old widower, a laborer, living with his niece, Almira (Reid) Hall, in Idaho.
Margaret and Benona Freel prospered and raised a large family in Nebraska. She died in Richardson County during June of 1894 and Benona lived until 1901.
John Henderson Reid, following the deaths of his two wives, moved into Robert Rathbun’s Iowaville House hotel at Iowaville where he lived single for a couple of years until his surviving daughters, who had been named Sophronia and Almira after the Prentiss sisters when they were born during the Junes of 1842 and 1845 respectively, were a little older. Reunited, they headed west to the Council Bluffs area, finally en route to Utah.
Almira married an Englishman, William Wood Hall, during October of 1858 in Pottawattamie County (she already had a young son, Josephus, from a failed marriage to Enos Huddleston consummated when she was about 15,but he reportedly abused her, she fled and he filed for divorce). And Sophronia had married Truman Root Barlow during 1857, but he died in Pottawattamie County during February of 1858 leaving her a very young window.
In May of 1861, Almira and William Wood Hall, young Josephus and Sophronia crossed the Missouri from Council Bluffs on a steam ferry with all their possessions and headed west. John Henderson Reid probably had intended to accompany them, but became ill. He died a year later in Pottawattamie County.
In June, the Hall party joined the David H. Cannon company comprising 57 wagons and approximately 225 souls for the trek to Utah, reaching the Salt Lake Valley during August.
And so, more than 15 years after the flight from Nauvoo, Almira and Sophronia finally were home. Sophronia reportedly married as his plural wife her brother-in-law, William Wood Hall, and had a daughter --- but both died during 1870 near Ogden, Utah.
Almira moved about in Utah and Idaho with her family, outliving William by more than 30 years; and died 25 July 1912 at Lago in Bannock County, Idaho.
Please note that after this entry was written, descendants of Sophronia (Prentiss) Reid kindly shared the text of the autobiography of her daughter, Almira Jane (Reid) Huddleston/Hall, which clarifies and will allow me to correct much of the information presented here about Robert and Priscilla (Warren) Prentiss and some of their children. Until that happens, however, this entry is under reconstruction and will remain that way until this note disappears. FDM, 27 March 2008