Well, actually more to the point – Adultery, Prostitution, and Divorce. This may not be the best blog post topic so close to Valentine’s Day, but it’s all intertwined, so here we go. In one branch of my family tree, the trail gets very messy and confusing. Southwest Virginia has numerous families from different origins who have similar birth dates, and exact same names, living in the same place. It makes ancestry research terribly difficult. So one day while I was researching a potential ancestor on the internet, I came across her name in an excerpt of a book called “The Great Catastrophe of My Life: Divorce in the Old Dominion“. The book is about how there weren’t any divorce laws in place for people in the colonial and antebellum eras for remedy of bad marriages. The book tells many stories of both men and women stuck in bad marriages in Virginia, and their attempts to get relief from the courts. It’s really quite interesting. But it was also quite surprising to find an account of the relationship of two of the people I was researching! I got the feeling I wasn’t going to like what I was going to read. I was right.
“But few adulterous wives proved as brazen as Fanny Walling Bishop. “
Reading further, we learn that Fanny had multiple illegitimate children, roamed the countryside sleeping with men, and had no respect for the sanctity of marriage. The Bill of Complaint filed with the Scott County Circuit Court by her second husband William Bishop claimed that she lived with the Indian Nation in Tennessee or Georgia for several years, and eventually returned to Scott County, VA and moved into a cabin on William’s property where she began running a house of prostitution. There was certainly no lack of drama in the 1850’s! So, although not exactly what you want to find out about your potential ancestors, it was pretty fascinating reading. But even after all my research, it is still impossible for me to confirm or deny whether Fanny Bishop is part of my family tree. Maybe someday DNA will tell me the ultimate truth.
Click here to read the transcribed versions of William Bishop’s Bill of Complaint, Witness Depositions, and Divorce Decree. Click here to see the original documents.
The early colonial French settlers and traders had the most unique relationship with the Native Americans. The French made an effort to get along with the Native Americans, going as far as learning the native languages and customs. What’s more, they didn’t attempt to change or convert them, or take their land. They had a good relationship that benefitted both. The Native Americans traded their furs to the French in exchange for goods such as weapons, horses and tools. The French could then return to France to sell the furs for a lucrative profit. The Native Americans shared their knowledge of the best hunting grounds for the prized furs of beaver, mink and otter; and considered the French as friends. The French and Native Americans intermarried, and during conflicts and wars, the Native Americans often sided with the French. As other European settlers arrived in North America, they sometimes consulted the French for advice regarding dealing with the natives, but none achieved the friendly relations that the French forged with the Native Americans. Also, the French were documented as having communicated with the Melungeon people of the SWVA and NETN regions. I’m going to talk more, a lot more, about the Melungeons later.
Fairly early in my research, I wanted to learn more about the early Native Americans and how they lived and what their world was like in the early days. That’s when I stumbled across a book about the Juan Pardo expedition and exploration of the late 16th century. Juan Pardo was a Spanish conquistador who arrived in South Carolina in 1566 with a mission to find a shorter route to the Mexican silver mines. He and his men believed that they would be at the silver mines in Mexico once they crossed the Appalachian Mountains. Obviously, that didn’t work out, but in the meantime his expedition traveled throughout South Carolina, North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee and had many interactions with the Native Americans. The expedition had a “secretary” of sorts who recorded many of their adventures. The Spanish took the “conquistador” title seriously. They made many demands of the Native Americans, forcing them to convert to their religion, to create and maintain storehouses of food for them, swear loyalty to them, and used them for translators, guides, hunters, and spies. Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great relationship. There are numerous stories of battles, murders, stealing of women, taking of dogs for food, and other assorted and sordid tales. The book was a good read, both entertaining and educational. The actual title of the book is “The Juan Pardo Expeditions, Exploration of the Carolinas and Tennessee 1566-1568” by Charles Hudson. It’s available in digital format on Amazon and other providers.
One of the first things I discovered when I started my ancestry research is that I have a LOT to learn about history. I was never a big fan of history in school, but when it’s tied in to your own personal history, it somehow becomes much more interesting! Not only that, it’s necessary. If you don’t have a decent understanding of the historical happenings for the era you’re researching it makes the work just that much harder. I’ve learned quite a bit about many historical aspects and I really enjoy it.
I traced several branches of my family tree back to 1600’s Germany, and in some cases earlier. I saw their petition to leave Germany, and their arrival in America. Their sea journey was in 1714. That’s a long time ago, and it really got me to wondering where they got the courage and commitment to do such a thing. Their home in Germany is still standing today, the patriarch had skills as a toolmaker and a good job. Why did they come here? The best answer is most likely religious.
I read online somewhere that the journey from London to Philadelphia could take nine weeks during that era. I really wondered about the ship navigation. The seafarers of that time most likely used a compass and a cross-staff or back-staff. The cross-staff is little more than a yardstick in my opinion. So it boggles my mind that these people left behind everything they knew, got on a ship that will be at sea for nine weeks, is using a yardstick for navigation, and is taking them to an unknown land. They amaze me. Would I have the courage to do such a thing? I doubt it. They have my greatest respect and admiration for their courage, stamina, and persistence. I’m glad they came.
At my age, which we’re not going to discuss, I have been shocked and horrified about how very little I know about my ancestors. I started out my research knowing little more than my grandparents names. As a child, sometimes my grandparents would share family stories with me, but I usually didn’t take them seriously, or I was only half listening. Such a shame. So now I’m paying the price, literally, with multiple memberships at ancestry research websites. The websites have been great at providing official records which have filled in many, many gaps. But what’s missing is the backstory of their lives, the drama, the real stories. In order to get those, you have to connect with your “kin” and share the information–the stories, myths and legends. To find the right kin, it helps to have the DNA testing also. That is what helped me the most in finding the right people in the world to talk to about “my people”. And it’s really been the best part, because you hear things about your ancestors that you would never have dreamed of. And sometimes you can corroborate it with official records. So, I still have a long way to go in my research, but the journey is the best, most fascinating part!
I created this blog in the summer of 2016, but I never posted anything. I couldn’t decide exactly how I wanted to use the blog. So you might be wondering why I created it in the first place? I DON’T KNOW! I just felt like it I guess. But now it’s February 2017, and I’ve finally decided what to do with it. I’m going to use it to explore both my personal roots in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, as well as general Appalachia stories from generations ago. I’ve come across some VERY interesting and amazing stories; some related to my ancestors, and some that were not – but are great stories in their own right. Plus, I’ve started collecting some Appalachian crafts and I may share some of that here as well, along with some excellent mountain music, and other fine things. Once spring and summer arrive, I may wander off into talking about flowers and birds and things like that, but I won’t stray too far.