Poor Protestant Grandma’s Catholic Gentry Heritage

The first English settlers arrived in Maryland in 1634.  My first Maryland ancestors arrived there sometime before 1643.  Hester Evans, my ninth great grandmother on my paternal grandmother’s side, was born that year in Charles County, Maryland.  So, my earliest Maryland ancestors arrived within nine years of the first settlement.

I find that amazing.  I especially find it amazing that I had no inkling of this deep history when my paternal grandmother was still alive.  All I knew about her ancestry was that her father’s side was vaguely Scots-Irish.  It turns out that was just her paternal grandfather’s side. Everyone knew my grandmother as one of the nicest people around.  My understanding was that her family had been poor.  She told me of growing up in the Depression and her father going out into the yard to shoot skunks for dinner.  But, deep in her ancestry – my ancestry – was a very different history.

Our Maryland ancestors had been, not surprisingly, English Catholics, though there were no known Catholics in any part of my family within the lifetimes of anyone I knew, at least not until my brother converted to the religion of his wife and children on his death bed.  It turns out that he was not the first person in our family to convert to Catholicism.  Susannah Barlow, who was born in Maryland in 1755, converted in 1796 after a serious illness in the frontier of Pennsylvania.  In fact, other ancestors of mine helped take Catholicism to western Pennsylvania. Daniel Delozier and his wife Ann Elder left Maryland for the frontier of Cambria County, Pennsylvania sometime after 1773.  Around the same time John Burgoon, whose father was a French immigrant to Maryland, and the convert Susannah Barlow moved to Cambria County.

My early Maryland ancestors first took on indentured servants to work their growing tobacco plantations.  Later, William Elder, who emigrated from Lancashire, England in the late seventeenth century, enslaved people to work his plantation.  But then, around the American Revolution, they abandoned slavery – I don’t know if they sold their slaves, lost them to debts, or freed their slaves – and moved to Pennsylvania, where slavery was soon outlawed.

It was there in the frontier of late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvania that my English and French Catholic ancestors began to marry my Scottish and English Presbyterian and Swiss/German Mennonite ancestors.  By my grandmother’s life, the memories of English Catholic Maryland and its slave-holding and tobacco plantations had been forgotten.  I’m sure my grandmother would’ve been shocked to learn that her ancestors had enough money to own slaves and plantations.  And anyone who knew Grandma would’ve been shocked to think that people who gave birth to her could’ve owned slaves.

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One Response to Poor Protestant Grandma’s Catholic Gentry Heritage

  1. Pingback: Technology Makes the Harshness of Life Invisible | Integral

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