Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Veterans Day genealogy:

Veterans Day is an invitation to reflect upon war and military service.  Myself, I’ve never been a soldier - never was taught to kill or die for god or country. 

My father, Richard Brown, was a young school teacher in the 1960’s, and so he was never sent off to the war in Vietnam.

My grandfathers, Porter Brown and William Gilchrist farmed the land in Pennsylvania, even as the Second World War swept 16 million Americans into military service.  You need to look further back to find a soldier.

My great grandfathers, Fred Brown, Roy Metz, George Gilchrist and Jacob Tewksbury – farmers, hotelier, teacher –
 never sailed for Europe in the Great War.  Instead they farmed, taught school, raised families.

So too did their fathers and fathers-in-law, Cyrus Brown, John Metz, Samuel B. Metz, Jacob Heddings, Bayard Tewksbury, James Sanford, George Atkins.  These Pennsylvania farmers, carpenters, lumberman would have known the War between the States, even if they were too young to go and join a regiment.  William Gilchrist was old enough, but he broke both his legs in a tree felling accident before he and his friend could run away to enlist.  He was bow-legged ever after, and his friend never returned from the southern battles.

Did my Scots-Irish great great great grandfathers, Francis Gilchrist and John Brown ever take up arms in the North of Ireland?  There’s no record of it.  Nor any record that William Brown or Martin Fleming or Isaac Wagner or John K. Metz or Samuel K. Metz or Matthew McClintic or Heddings left their farms to wear a uniform.  Nor Ben Tewksbury, or Zedekiah Gardinier, or Joseph Burrel Sanford, William Watkins or Ben Holgate.

In that generation of three times great, the only trace of a uniform persists in a family tale of my grandmother's great-grandmother, seduced by a boarder, a French soldier named Philips in 1847.  He was driven off at gunpoint by her father, Roger Haynes.

At least, among the four-times great grandfathers, there are finally guns being pointed at other men.  And a pocket watch that sits upon my bookshelf was carried by a grandfather of that generation, William Brown, in the skirmish that was dubbed the War of 1812. 

But otherwise the list of four-times great grandfathers grows to a thicket, and there’s little sign of soldiery: Amos Tewksbury, Henry Benson, Jacob Gardinier, Samuel Alexander, Elias Sanford, James Woodmansee, Robert Gilchrist, Samuel Ralston, Thomas Brown, John Brown of Strabane, Edward Holgate, Robins Douglas, Robert McCoy, Joseph Fleming, William Hazlett, John Wagner, William Schilling, John Metz, Eli Wakefield, James McClintic.  These were mostly men born into the new United States in the years after the Revolution when there was little call for warfare.

It’s only in the previous generation, 7 generations back, among my great great great great great grandfathers that soldiering makes any real appearance in my ancestry, notably during the War for Independence.  Benjamin Haynes fought the Lenni Lenape in the valleys of the Delaware River – and is said to have crossed the Delaware with Washington. Barnard Worthen carried a rifle for Massachusetts in the Revolution, and Jacob Gardinier was wounded in the battle of Oriskany in 1777.  Doubtless, research into the records would show more of this among 64 branches of ancestry. 

Perhaps it is not surprising, given how the Indian wars and the Revolution were the last to play out across the landscapes of the Northeastern US.  It was the last time that war occurred at the farms and villages of my forbears – where they didn’t have to go and meet it somewhere else.  It seems remarkable that with so much of history written of blood and bullets, so many men should live, like myself, without ever having been a soldier.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of that.