Thursday, March 13, 2008

James Hanna, Revolutionary War Hero

James Hanna is a bit of a hero of mine. Here's what we know of his life:

He and his family set sail from Ireland the the American Colonies during the 1700s. James and his twin brother were the oldest of the children. Within a couple of years of settling here, both of their parents passed away. I believe James was about 14 when his parents died. It's unclear whether he was adopted or indentured, but he seems to have been looked after by a family from the area where they settled. Some information I uncovered hints that many members of their church body from Ireland came over at about the same time, so the family may have been people they knew from the old country.

James' young adulthood seems to have been interrupted by the Revolutionary War. I don't know the details at this time, but an ancestor of mine listed James' involvement in the war on her successful application for membership into the Daughters of the American Revolution.

After the War, James was apparently living in Buck's Country, Pennsylvania. He married Hannah Bayless (this poor, unfortunate woman whose married name apparently became Hannah Hanna) and the two of them almost immediately moved to the Kentucky frontier, traveling together on the back of a single horse, if the stories I've uncovered are true.

Upon settling in Kentucky, they became members of (or helped to start) a local church, and became parents of several children. The most famous of these children seems to have been Samuel Hanna, one of the founders of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Hanna family lived in Kentucky for many years.

They moved to Dayton, Ohio, when that area was just beginning to be opened to settlers. It seems that a group from their church moved to Dayton to start a church there. Soon after they moved, Hannah passed away. The information I found states that she was the first person buried in the Dayton cemetery. James apparently remarried and had as many as 4 more children with his second wife.

Samuel Hanna, mentioned above, was one of the older children. By the early 1820's, Samuel was living in the Fort Wayne area, which was right on the edge of the frontier at the time, very primitive. I read a story about a family who were traveling through Fort Wayne in a covered wagon with all of their possessions, headed west. They found themselves in need of funds and sold the cast iron stove they'd brought with them to a Fort Wayne resident. Such a thing was not easily obtainable on the frontier and apparently people came from far and wide just to look at it.

In 1827, James made the trip from Dayton to Fort Wayne and started a Sunday school in the town where his son Samuel was living. That Sunday school grew and eventually became the First Presbyterian church of Fort Wayne.

When James Hanna died, his obituary stated that all of his children had followed him in his faith and that most of his male children were deacons or elders in their respective churches. It makes me wonder if he went to the towns the other children lived in and started Sunday schools there, too. I have not researched the other lines, being a descendant of Samuel, but if you know anything, feel free to comment here.

There are so many details left unknown, considering the long life and many accomplishments of this man. What details we do know tell us of a hard-working man who valued his family and his faith.

Monday, March 10, 2008

James Chilton, My Pilgrim Ancestor

I was very thrilled to discover I was descended from Pilgrims. Then I learned their sad story, and someone even tried to convince me I shouldn't be able to really say I'm descended from Pilgrims. I'll explain it all below and then you can decide.

James Chilton was born in England, probably in the year 1556. He was, as far as we can tell, the oldest passenger on board the Mayflower. But I'm getting ahead of my story, or rather, his story.

James and his wife had ten children, three of whom died young. They lived in Sandwich, Kent, in the year 1609, when his wife (whose name has been lost to history) was charged with the crime of attending the illegal secret burial ceremony of a child. The church of England had banned ceremonies that were not performed according to their rules, and this was apparently one such ceremony. To escape prosecution and/or further persecution for their beliefs, the family left England and settled temporarily in Holland, along with a group of English separatists.

We know their life in Holland was not entirely peaceful, because James and his oldest daughter, Isabella (the daughter I trace my lineage through), were bystanders who were caught in a riot in 1619. James was injured badly enough to require the services of a doctor, and a written police record of the incident was filed.

The following year, James, his wife, and their youngest daughter, Mary (then 11 or 12 years old) sailed on the Mayflower. The older children were then adults and therefore living on their own, no longer part of their father's household. At the time of the sailing, Isabella was already a mother, and the daughter I'm descended from was already born. Isabella's married name was Chandler, and she and her family came to America on a later boat. This is why some say I can't say I am descended from Pilgrims.

The boat dropped anchor off the shore of present-day Massachusetts and some of the men set out in a smaller boat to explore the land. Due to the weather, they were unable to actually start building a settlement on land until March, so they lived on the Mayflower for the winter. It's not known if James Chilton was part of one of the groups that went exploring. These men faced the harsh conditions head on, jumping into the surf to toe the boat onto the beach, sleeping in their wet clothes around a campfire with only a coat to keep warm. Exposed to the snow and cold, wet rain and frost.

The passengers wrote up and signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620, to establish a temporary self-government. This document, which described their purpose: "for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith," was signed by James Chilton and the rest of the free male passengers. But the harsh conditions were already taking their toll, for James died on December 8, 1620, while the Mayflower was anchored off Princetown Harbor. Five other passengers died that same month, and half of the passengers died that first winter. Mrs. Chilton was among those who died later that winter, leaving Mary all alone in the New World at the age of 12. Tradition holds that Mary was the first to set foot on Plimoth Rock, though that is more of a tradition or legend than proven fact.

So James' story is a sad one, but he accomplished a great deal. He stood up for his beliefs and risked his life so his descendants could live in freedom in America. He brought them up to know the Lord and serve Him. Apparently, only 2 of his daughters came to America, but between them they had 11 children who carried on the family's faith, if not the name.

James and his family paved the way for many more boatloads of people to come after them. They made it possible, and risked their lives and gave up their homes to do it.