>This was saved from my old blog in a post made in May 2009.
A bunch of us were talking on Twitter today about Memorial Day, Civil War battlefield preservation, etc., and that led into discussing the interesting things our ancestors did. My friend Tiffany, in particular, was talking about how difficult it is to trace slave families because they basically don’t exist on paper except sale receipts and plantation inventories. It reminded me of some of the odd things that have gone on in my family since coming to North America in 1638. So here are some oddities in my family.
– My name was supposed to be Jessica von Meis. My father’s side came from German nobility (and my mother’s side came from English nobility) but my great-great grandfather was a horse thief in the Oklahoma Territory. Since he was mixed race, German and Cherokee, he would have been hanged on the spot. So what he did was he took the alias Jones and disappeared. I’m directly descended from him, so my legal name is Jessica Jones. I carry the name of a criminal’s alias.
– On my mother’s side, Maximilian Jewett was my first ancestor to come to North America with his brother, Joseph, in 1638. They landed in Boston and Max founded the town of Rowley, Massachusetts, in 1639. Rowley was in Essex County. That should sound awfully familiar to Jonathan and Jordan Knight fans. Massachusetts has been in my blood since day one and I have a LOT of Massachusetts and Essex County family stories over the last three hundred years.
– Supposedly one of my ancestors was one of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in Massachusetts but I haven’t looked into it to confirm the stories. I know. That’s something to be really proud of; my ancestor sending all those innocent people to be hanged.
– I’m not the only author in my family. I’m also related to Sarah Orne Jewett, who was a 19th century author from Maine. Had she been a man, she would be as legendary as Emerson, Hawthorne, Twain, etc., and she was friends with all of them. She was also close with Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln. I’ve been told I look a bit like her (pictured below). You can still buy her books on Amazon and such. I took my professional name, Jessica Jewett, in her honor.
– My particular line of the Jewett family left Massachusetts and Maine in the 1840s and migrated West, which severely angered the Jewetts who remained in the East. It’s such an issue that my line of Jewetts is still not formally part of the Jewett Family Association of America. We are the black sheep. Massachusetts Jewetts and Maine Jewetts kind of look down their noses at us still, 150 years later. Along the migration West, there were Jewetts who married Ewings in Ohio. Ellen Ewing was General Sherman’s wife, so I am related to General Sherman, known for “burning” Atlanta (pictured below). My great-great-great grandfather Jewett settled in Boonville, Missouri, in 1850 and bought 600 acres on the Missouri River. It was a timber farm and every generation of Jewetts up until my mother lived on that land. The family still owns part of the 600 acres.
– In the Civil War, my closest blood ancestors were my great-great uncles Henry and William Rulon. French Huguenots. Henry and William served in the 13th US Infantry, regular army, under my other ancestor, General Sherman. Henry and William were guards at the Alton Military Prison where Confederate prisoners of war were housed.
– There were nine Jewetts captured and sent to Andersonville during the Civil War, which was one of the most infamous prison camps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andersonville_National_Historic_Site). Nine went in, only two lived to tell the story. The other seven died of things like dysentery and “chronic diarrhea,” according to the records I’ve seen. They were dumped into mass graves.
– While the vast majority of my family fought for the Union in the Civil War, a branch of my family was in the Confederacy too. We owned a pretty decent sized plantation in Kentucky before the war and owned somewhere between twenty and forty slaves. My great-great-great-great grandmother was mistress of the plantation and taught her “kitchen girl” to read even though it was illegal at the time. She had ten or so children. The story goes that her husband, my great-great-great-great grandfather, “drowned” but we’re not sure if it was an accident or suicide. At any rate, my granny went off her rocker. Like, she was certifiable. She eventually abandoned her ten children, the fortune was lost, the plantation was lost and the children were all adopted out or sent to orphanages. One of them ran away and became a Confederate drummer boy. My great-great-great grandmother – Crazy Granny’s daughter – was adopted out and later married a Rulon (mentioned above) and that’s how they’re my uncles. So chronic issues like depression and anxiety and panic attacks run in my family way, way back through multiple generations.
– After the Civil War, my great-great grandmother was kidnapped. She was about nine months old and her parents took her on a steamship on the Mississippi River. Her mother, my great-great-great grandmother had to use the bathroom, so she asked a woman on deck to hold her baby for a minute. In those days, it was perfectly okay to leave your child with a stranger. Well, when she came back, the woman was gone and she took the baby with her. The whole ship was searched and the captain finally said that nobody was getting off the ship until the baby was returned. They found the baby lying by herself on the deck or on the shore – I can’t remember exactly.
– My cousin in Missouri was an apprentice at the undertaker where Jesse James was taken when he was killed in the 1880s. Jesse’s casket was built by my cousin, his body was bathed and dressed by my cousin, and he assisted in the embalming. He took the necktie Jesse was wearing when he was killed and it remained in my family until World War II. We don’t know what happened to it after that. Pictured below is Jesse in the casket that my cousin built.
So those are some of my odd family stories. I have a zillion more.