My Word!
Number 4, August 1971
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And Then There’s Louise…

ONE CAN only wonder at what the living conditions in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries must have been that they drove uncounted millions to leave their homes and families for an almost unknown, virtually wilderness country, thousands of miles away! What a wrench parting must have been, for it was almost as final as death. Indeed, until well into the 19th century the emigrants had no assurance that they could even get word back to the ones left behind of their safe arrival in America. And safe arrival could not be assumed for in addition to the normal perils of the sea there was danger of attacks by pirates, for the men, of impressment, and, because of the almost complete lack of sanitation, of death from disease or infection.

The voyage lasted at least two months – more often three – and emigrants were required to bring with them the food necessary for the passage. Now just for the mental exercise, how would you prepare your family for three months away from the supermarket with no canning, no refrigeration? Yet in spite of all the terrors and hardships the journey entailed, there were millions willing, nay eager, to make it.

Our story concerns a little band of ten emigrants who left Llanbrynmair, in North Wales, to come to America in 1795. In the group were George Roberts and his wife, the Reverend Rees Lloyd, his wife and two children, David Francis and his intended wife Mary Rowland, Edward Bebb and Ezekiel Hughes, both bachelors. Edward Bebb was not a bachelor from choice for he had asked George Roberts’ sister Margaret to go to America with him but she had refused. Now there is a more romantic version of this story which you may prefer – that she promised to wait for him until he made his fortune in the New World, but I’m afraid the evidence won’t support it.

Our little group’s troubles began even before they got aboard the ship. They had come to the town of Carmarthan to take ship only to find that a press-gang was active in the area. At this time Britain was engaged in a very unpopular war with France. Impressment and other war measures had created a strong feeling of dissatisfaction among the people. (Does that have a faintly familiar ring?)

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When our emigrants arrived in Carmarthan they found thousands of people along the streets in an ugly mood. A friend of George Roberts advised them to hide for, he said, if the press-gang dared to seize anyone he thought a mob of as many as four thousand would form immediately and that then there would be bad trouble. The records available to me do not indicate whether anyone was seized or not but it is certain that non of the party we are concerned with here was taken. But then they had a dreary three weeks waiting for favorable winds.

Finally, the wind favoring their departure, they set out on August 6, 1795 in the brig Maria, a vessel of only 150 tons. The voyage was typical of the times. They were stopped by two men-of-war flying the French flag and they feared that they were to be made prisoners of war. But when the officers came on board it was quite evident that they were British and then it was feared that some of the men might be impressed; but strangely, after spending some time with the captain in his cabin, the officers left the ship without taking anyone.

Later, in referring to the incident, George Roberts wrote, “[The officers’] hearts were in the hands of our Heavenly Father.” After that, their slow passage was uneventful until, on their 62nd day out, a sudden, hurricane-force wind struck the ship while all sails were set. For perhaps five minutes it was touch and go, but by fast work the crew, with the aid of some of the passengers, was able to loose enough of the sails to keep the little vessel from capsizing. The squall was over as quickly as it had come up but as they rested from their exertions, the mate told Roberts that in all his years at sea he had never been so afraid.

At long last, on October 25, they sighted land. Within a few hours they were in Delaware Bay and by late the next night they were at dockside in Philadelphia. Finally, after a passage of 82 days, they could step onto American soil!

Upon landing, the members of the party went their separate ways. David and Mary Francis stayed in Philadelphia. George Roberts and Reverend Rees took their families to Edensburg, Pennsylvania, a Welsh settlement about two hundred miles west of Philadelphia. Edward Bebb and Ezekiel Hughes set out for the west where they hoped to take up land. Their objective was western Ohio, near Cincinnati, but when they got there they found the land had not been surveyed and was not open to settlers.

There was nothing to do but wait and they had to wait six years! Just how they spent all this time is not known to me but what is known is that as soon as he had secured his land Edward started back for Wales in hopes that he could bring Margaret Roberts home with him as his bride.

In all the years he had been away, Margaret had had no word from Edward so even if she had promised to wait (as the romantic version has it) I think it is not surprising that she had finally given up hope and married somebody else. So it happened, that at almost the same time Edward set out for Wales, Margaret and her new husband, her sister and brother-in-law with their two children were starting for America!

The voyage, begun in the late fall when storms are almost constant on the North Atlantic, was long and difficult. On the way both men and the little children died and were buried at sea. Most likely, their deaths resulted from drinking contaminated water, but in the romantic version of this tale the men were “done in” by the captain and mate, who had taken a fancy to the young women. Admitted, the seafarers of that day were a hard rough lot with ethics that left something to be desired, but in the year 1801 there were so many natural ways to meet death on an ocean voyage that I am inclined to give the ship’s officers the benefit of the doubt.

In any event, Margaret Owens (for that was now her name) and her sister landed in Philadelphia as widows. They left for their brother’s home in Edensburg as quickly as they could arriving there some time in January 1802. As it is almost certain they walked the whole way – possibly in the company of others – anyone at all familiar with Pennsylvania winter weather will realize that it must have been a very trying trip.

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Now the almost unbelievable happened. Edward Bebb walked into town on his way to Philadelphia! Then began what must have been one of the shortest courtships on record for on February 2, 1802, Edward and Margaret were married.

Their honeymoon? Why the journey back to Edward’s land, 500 miles through near wilderness. First they walked the 60 odd miles to Pittsburgh. There Edward bought a flatboat and on it they floated down the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Oh, if we only had the details of that trip what a story it would make! At Cincinnati they were almost home – less than 20 miles to walk to Paddy’s Run (now Shandon) where Edward’s land, with its little cabin, was located. What a wedding trip!

On December 8 of that same year their first child, a boy whom they named William, was born in that little cabin. Because he attained some degree of eminence (as will be recounted) his birthplace has been preserved. Louise and I went to see it a few years ago. As we looked at it we wondered how any room in it could have been made livable in the wintertime, much less warm enough to serve as a lying-in apartment. These early settlers were a hardy lot!

* * * *

Governor William Bebb Birthplace Cabin

With clapboards covering logs, a weather tight roof, and a modern heating plant, the cabin was lived in until 1959. At the time it was dismantled, moved approximately four miles to a county park, and there reconstructed. Most of the 126 original logs were incorporated in the restoration. Some of them were 18 inches square and 26 feet long!

* * * *

One thing the early settlers seemed to have had in common was a fierce determination that their children would have an education. By the time William was ready to go to school the settlement was still so young there had been no school established and consequently he (and a younger brother and sister) literally began their learning “at their mother’s knee.” Fortunately, Margaret seems to have been a good teacher and her children apt pupils. Later, schoolmasters came to Paddy’s Run and provided surprisingly good schooling.

At 18, William started teaching school. A couple of years later he met Sarah Shuck, another teacher; they fell in love, and were married in 1824.

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In 1828 the young couple started Sycamore Grove Academy on Edward Bebb’s farm. It was a boarding school for boys 10 to 14 years old and in many respects quite unusual. Although there was a dormitory, the boys were encouraged to take a partner, to build a log cabin, and to plant a garden of their favorite vegetables. Besides conducting the school, William was justice of the peace and when he heard civil or criminal cases he heard them in the assembly room with all the boys in attendance. Professor Stephen R. Williams (no relation) of Miami University in The Saga of the Paddy’s Run said of the school in 1944:

If I knew all the high points of ultra-modern education I think I could show that Bebb foreshadowed many, if not most, of them in his methods. The development of interest and of groups of related interests, as well as the project method with its plan, assembly, and completion, are all perfectly evident.

Although the school was quite successful (William wrote much later that he “…cleared 1000 dollars per annum”) he and Sarah closed it after only five years so he might do what he seems always to have wanted to do – study law.

In due course he was admitted to the bar and began a very successful practice. But William Bebb was a many-faceted person and I must digress to tell of an interest he held lifelong – Welsh immigration.

The Welsh are a cohesive people. Dr. Edward Francis, a great-grandson of Edward and Margaret Bebb as well as of David and Mary Francis, wrote in a letter to Louise’s mother some years ago, “Kinship among the Welsh can become very dilute but never lost….” Raised in this tradition, William’s interest in his ancestral people is not surprising. What may, at first, be surprising is the intensity and persistence of this interest but his letters make it abundantly clear – he was extremely enthusiastic about America and almost fiercely determined to bring his family’s countrymen to the United States to share its blessings.

One letter is particularly interesting and revealing. It was written to a relative who had asked his advice about coming to America. It was a long letter – a typewritten copy fills six closely-spaced pages – and it gives an amazingly clear picture of the United States as it was in 1837. At times he became quite lyrical as when he describes a morning in June. Listen:

June – the leafy month of June. Now the sun rises in the morning in all its glory on an unclouded sky and sheds his orient beams on herb, tree, fruit and flower glistening with dew… and here and there a butterfly like some living blossom of the air darts up and down its errant flight.

Sometimes he boasts – “In the last 18 years… we have paid off all our national debt, amounting to 120,000,000 dollars….” But no national debt! Who can blame him? Near the end of the letter he writes: “So soon as you land your children on the shore of the United States, you more effectively provide against want than if you could give to each of them a fortune in Wales.”

You would think a loving father would have packed his family off on the next boat! Strangely, the original of this letter is still preserved – in Wales – by the heirs of the man to whom it was addressed. But William must have written a great many more, even more persuasive, for over the years he, a cousin, Samuel Roberts, and another associate, E. D. Saxton, were responsible for no less than 100 of his parents’ countrymen emigrating to the United States.

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In 1845 William Bebb was nominated by the Whigs for governor of the state. He campaigned vigorously, speaking in every county in Ohio and, when it is borne in mind that this was done before there was a single railroad in the state, it looms as an achievement of some magnitude. The issue upon which the campaign was waged was the repeal of the “Black Laws,” laws denying Negroes complete access to the courts.

He was elected, the laws were repealed, and his administration seems to have been a successful one. Nevertheless, for reasons that are not now entirely clear, he decided not to run for reelection nor to reestablish the law practice he had had in Cincinnati. Instead, he decided to move his family to Illinois where he had obtained land holdings amounting to some 5000 acres. In a part of the country with nothing but a few canals and primitive roads this was a major undertaking for it involved moving not only household goods, but the implements and animals of a rather large farm.

William’s sons, Edward and Michael, (the latter a lad only 13 years old) were assigned the task of driving the herds of cattle and horses overland to their new home, a journey of about 400 miles. The rest of the family, with all their possessions, set out by water on a voyage that, to get to the same place, was to take them almost 1000 miles! First they went through canals to Toledo, then by lake boat around the lower peninsula of Michigan, finally arriving in Chicago. The last hundred miles was overland, presumably by freight wagons.

With his family established in Illinois, William turned his attention again to bringing Welshmen to this country. He and associates, Roberts and Saxton, secured several thousand acres in Tennessee for the establishment of a Welsh settlement. To enroll settlers he went himself to Wales in 1855, and his enthusiastic stories of life in America induced about 100 to set out for the Tennessee lands.

It is said that its founders had hoped the settlement would be able to demonstrate the advantages of a free society to its slave holding neighbors. But it was too late; polarization had already set in and just before the Civil War began there seemed no choice but to leave the area. The settlers scattered through the northern states.

Certainly America would be poorer without the contributions made by William Bebb and the other descendants of that little band that came over on the Maria so many years ago. There have been thousands of them and scores have distinguished themselves in many fields. But two have made such unique and valuable contributions that they merit our special attentions. Dr. Mark Francis, the first graduate (1887) of the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine, devised a way to immunize cattle against tick fever and thus made possible the development of the cattle industry in the southwestern states. In a speech delivered about 1915 the president of Ohio State, William Oxley Thompson, said that if that University, during its forty-odd years of existence, had done nothing but give Mark Francis to the world it would have justified all the monies expended on it by the state of Ohio.

Mark’s brother, Dr. Edward Francis (see page 8), was a dedicated research worker in the U. S. Public Health Service. Years of painstaking work culminated in his identification of tularemia (rabbit fever) – “A New Disease of Man” (1921). The American Medical Association awarded him its Gold Medal and Paul De Kruif wrote of his achievement, “It [tularemia] is the only disease worked out entirely by an American. There is no other sickness about which so little is left unknown.”

From people such as those in our little band of immigrants, of every race, from every continent, have come the glory and greatness that is the United States. What would we have done – what would we have been – without them?

And then there’s Louise, the great-great-granddaughter of Edward and Margaret Bebb and, for more than 20 years now, my loved and loving wife. What would I have done – what would I be without her?

Errata

On page 3 (next to last line) we omitted Reverend Rees Lloyd’s last name. Sorry about that Rees.

We learned too late that we had the wrong birth-date for our youthful herdsman, Michael Bebb (page 9). He was 17.

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It Has Been a Long Time!

When this was started I hopefully put “August 7, 1971,” my 67th birthday, for the publication date and embarrassment have caused me to scrap the whole thing but for the memory of a remark that Willametta Keffer once made to me. “In amateur journalism,” she said, “nothing goes out of date.” I hope she is right!

Most of the material presented here was drawn from The Saga of The Paddy’s Run, by Stephen Riggs Williams and The Bebb Genealogy, by Herbert Bebb (a grandson of Michael). Michael, incidentally, became a well known botanist and was the author of the chapter on the genus Salix (Willows) in the 1887 edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany.

I regret being unable to give proper credit to the artist for the picture on page 6. He is unknown to us.

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My Word! (and welcome to it) is published, much less frequently than I would like, for distribution to members of the National Amateur Press Association, and some others of my friends. Of this issue, copies are being sent to interested members of the Bebb family.

The Silver Shell Press
Robert S. Williams Jr. / Chevy Chase, Md. 20015

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