Silas I. and Elizabeth Jane Shearer
Silas Igo Shearer, twenty-four years of age, Company K, 23rd Iowa Infantry.
When I think about Penelope, I have to remember that if she had not lived through the savage attack by Native Americans and had not been rescued by a compassionate Native American who used his native remedies and skills to keep her alive, I would not be here. That realization is unsettling, to say the least. I am grateful to Tisquantum and to Penelope herself, for the inner-strength she obviously displayed to get through such a trying time in her life.
Our roots go deep and our branches wide, and every spring new sprouts show their faces to the sun. Our tree grows dense and full, but always with room for more growth and with an indelible imprint of what came before. Our roots are sturdy, bold, and are there to feed the branches and leaves with renewed life. And like the Ancient Bristlecone, we live on.
©Copyright 2002 by Linda Pendleton,
All rights reserved.
How Deep Our Roots!
Uncovering Leaves With a Click of the Mouse
By Linda Pendleton
It was in the early 1970's when I began my genealogical family research, focused mainly on my father's family. I already knew quite a bit about my maternal family as my grandmother had shared a lot of facts with me. I believe curiosity to know more about the genes I have been given spurred me on but I also had the desire to find the cause of my paternal grandmother's early death. She died in 1926 at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind four young children: my father age five, my aunts, age two and six, and my uncle age twelve. The cause of her death was unknown by my family, or at least never clearly defined by the great grandparents while they were alive.
Research was somewhat difficult because I lived in California, half way across the country from Iowa where they had lived. Phone calls had to be made and many letters had to be written to county and town clerks, newspapers, historical societies and other sources of information. I was lucky enough to find a researcher in Iowa who enjoyed doing genealogical searches for others. She was determined and hard working and came up with invaluable information for me, including my grandmother's cause of death and her obituary. My grandmother had died from miscarriage and blood poisoning. As sad as that was, it was somewhat of a relief to hear that it was not some rare inherited disease.
I was to discover that my Aunt Isa, my father's youngest sister, was also gathering genealogical information on our family and we shared our findings. During my research I "accidently" made contact with an elderly first cousin, whom I did not know even existed. She had been doing family research for several years and gave me copies of family photos and even an original handwritten letter to her father from my great-grandfather who had died before I was born, so I only knew him through the "eyes" of my father. In 1985, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with my new found cousin in San Antonio, Texas. It was a delightful time. There was a very comfortable connection between us, and even a similarity in some ways. I found it quite amazing.
By 1986 or so, I had set aside my genealogy research and it was not until April of 1999 that I returned to genealogy. I had no idea that a year later I would still be working on it. It became a much larger project than I had envisioned and at times I was almost obsessed with it, spending long hours researching at the computer. I gathered a great deal of information, most of it due to the availability of data over the Internet: Census, Ship Records, Birth-Death and Marriage Records, Obituaries, Biographical Sketches, Town Histories, and such. The Internet, through available genealogy message boards, also put me in touch with several distant and unknown cousins who were doing research on various branches of our family and we exchanged information. It was exciting each time I discovered new family information.
One of the highlights of my research was when I discovered a collection of my great-great grandfather, Silas I. Shearer's Civil War letters home to his wife and family during the war. He was a Union soldier, Company K, 23rd Iowa Infantry. He enlisted in August of 1862 and was discharged as a Sergeant at the close of the war. If it had not been for the Internet, I would not have known of the book. I discovered it at a University Library database. As a result of contacting Silas' great grandson, Harold Brinkman, who published the collection, not only did I obtain several copies of the book, but Harold put me in touch with a second cousin, also a descendant of Silas and Elizabeth Jane (Shenkle) Shearer. Cathy lives two hours from me and has been researching the Shearer/Shenkle families for nearly twenty years. Her information has been invaluable and we have had a lot of our family history to share with one another.
When I received the book, "Dear Companion, the Civil War Letter of Silas I. Shearer," I opened to the inside picture of Silas and Elizabeth Jane Shearer, a very nice looking couple. But it was Silas' picture that touched me so very deeply. I immediately began to cry, and I continued to cry for nearly an hour and a half as I sat and read the book through my tears. I was profoundly and emotionally moved by "meeting" my great, great-grandfather. I'm not sure I understand why he has had such an emotional impact on me but it has been intense and continues, and even now tears are with me as I write this. I do believe in reincarnation and have since a young girl of eight or ten. (And probably long before that as the belief was a "knowing" rather than anything that consciously came into my awareness). This occurrence with Silas has reinforced that belief. I also believe that within our DNA, our genes, are "pieces" that have been carried forward from the past.
Copyright 2015 by Linda Pendleton
To date there have been two other highlights of my research. Since I was a young girl, I respected and admired Abraham Lincoln. He was one of my heroes. In later years, I also found a fascination with the spiritual side of Lincoln. There is no doubt the man was a Spiritualist, attended séances, received messages from the other side, often in dreams but also through mediums. His interest in that area only strengthened the bond I have always felt with him. I discovered that bond goes even deeper than I had imagined. We are related. Sixth cousins, four times removed. We share a great-grandfather: his fifth great-grandfather is my ninth great-grandfather. A distant relationship, but a relationship, none the less. I was thrilled and delighted to discover that fact.
O ancient Tree so gnarled and bold,
How strong you stand, how long you hold,
'gainst bitter winds across your face-
All perils that contest your place-
So much of life that you have seen,
So much of strife where man has been,
From tools of stone to fossiled bones,
You've seen the flames, you've heard the groans,
The Patriarchs have come and gone,
While you, O Tree, have struggled on.
To understand Eternity,
I need but talk with thee, O Tree.
I have a ninth great-grandmother, Penelope Stout, who has had books and poems written about her and monuments honoring her. Penelope (Thomson) Van Princis Stout was born in 1622 in Amsterdam, Holland. In 1642, Penelope married Kent Van Princis and shortly thereafter they sailed for America hoping to make their home in New Amsterdam (New York City).
Her husband became deathly ill during the sailing, suffering from extreme high fever and delirium. Nearly sixty days into the journey their ship encountered a storm and ran ashore in the rocky shoals off the coast of New Jersey, thought to be Sandy Hook. It is believed that most, if not all, of the passengers were able to safely reach shore.
Soon thereafter, the passengers decided to set out for New Amsterdam, but due to the unconscious condition of Kent Van Princis, Penelope and her husband were left behind.
One can only imagine the fear that Penelope must have had there on the isolated beach alone with a husband nearing death. By morning, Penelope's fears became reality. Several wild men with feathers sticking up from shaved, coppery heads attacked with tomahawks and knives, and swiftly, in one blow of a tomahawk, took the life of Kent Van Princis. Penelope was partially scalped, slashed across her abdomen, deep enough and long enough to reveal her bowels. Her shoulder and arm were slashed and her injured body was left to die there in the dense woods not far from the beach.
But amazingly, she did not die. Somehow she managed to hold her bowels in her abdomen, and apparently in grief, and pain, she lay there in a hollowed out tree for seven days, surviving on tree sap and fungi. On the eighth day a dog ran to her, followed by two "wild men." The story goes that the younger of the two Indians wanted to kill her (possibly at her own request) and put her out of her obvious misery but he was over ruled by the older Indian. The older Indian throw his dear skin coat over her and lifted her from the ground causing her to faint. The next thing Penelope recalled was that her pain had lessened and she had mud packs on her wounds. She opened her eyes to see she was in a bark dome house upon a reed mat. She could smell food, hear children playing, and realized she was in an Indian village. Much to her surprise the older Indian who had carried her there, could speak a little English. He was Chief Tisquantum, of the Lenni Lenape tribe, members of the Algonquian language family and now known as the Delaware. The Chief was said to have been named for a noble ancestor.
Penelope spent many weeks being nursed back to health and a trust and friendship grew between Penelope and the Lenni Lenape tribe members, especially Tisquantum. The Chief spoke a little English and insisted that Penelope teach him more. So he learned more English laced with a Dutch accent. When she was well, Tisquantum took her to New Amsterdam. Penelope and Tisquantum remained friends until his death some years later. One time, a few years after their parting, he warned Penelope of a planned Mohawk attack, again saving her life. He often visited, bringing gifts, and shared meals with Penelope and her family.
In 1644, Penelope married Richard Stout, an Englishman. They owned land plot No. 12, in Gravesend, Long Island, now part of Brooklyn. They had ten children: seven sons and three daughters. Their first child, John was born in 1645. Richard Stout died in 1705 at the age of ninety-five. Penelope died in 1732 at the age of one hundred-ten. At her death, she left five hundred and two descendants!
Richard and Penelope Stout were two of the founders of Middletown, Monmouth, New Jersey. In November 1665, Richard was recorded as one of twelve holders of the Monmouth Land Patent. Ten years later, he deeded sixty acres to each of two sons and three daughters. A monument has been erected in Penelope' honor in New Jersey and there is a Penelope Stout Commemorative Coin honoring the First Lady of Monmouth, 1622-1732. The coin also depicts Tisquantum.
Two of Silas Shearer's brothers, Andrew and Elias, were prisoners at Andersonville, Georgia, and returned home to Iowa in 1865. Silas' brothers, Simeon and Bartemeus were not as lucky and died during the war.
Silas' letters led me to want to learn more about the Civil War as I followed his military maneuvers. Silas put me there with him as he wrote of the battles, the hardships, the challenges. As a good farmer, he often noted prices of goods, spoke of the weather, spring time, the growing crops, and palatial Southern mansions. He wrote of politics, the death of Lincoln, a camp song or one of his own poems, the proficiency of Black Union soldiers, and the many things that colored his daily life as a dedicated Union soldier. I was able to go on-line and do further research into the battles he wrote of, following the path his Company took as they encountered the Rebels-all the way from Camp Burnside, Des Moines, Iowa to Vicksburg, Mississippi and everywhere in between from 1862 to 1865.
Five hundred and two descendants in eighty-seven years! Is it even possible to imagine the number of people who have descended from Penelope, this brave and incredible woman, in the three hundred and thirty-seven years since 1645? I couldn't even begin to guess. The only thing that may have slowed the number would be the smaller families of the more recent decades. Noted mystery writer, Rex Stout (1886-1975), creator of the "Nero Wolfe" series, was also a descendant of Penelope and Richard Stout.
Working on the genealogy of my family lines, going back five hundred years in time, and watching the branches as they have spread out and grown in many directions, finding cousins all over the country that are related at some point in the ancestral line, all reenforce the belief that each and every one of us on this planet and all those that have come before us are connected. In our family line, we are principally of Swiss and German background with a little English/Scot/Irish thrown in. I have been disappointed that I have not been able, so far, to take two direct lines back to Europe, in all probability, England. It is apparent that our German ancestors left Bavaria during a time when many suffered religious oppression and other oppression, and not too many years after the Protestant reformation by Martin Luther. The Palatines immigrated from their German homeland to America in great numbers during the 1700's. And a number of my ancestors where among them, most settling in Pennsylvania, and became known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
I was surprised to find that I had a large number of ancestors who fought in the Colonial war, and most not too long after they had arrived in this country from Europe. Three of my sixth great grandfathers and five of my fifth great-grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary war and one fifth great-grandfather supplied wheat to Washington's Army. I am a daughter of the American Revolution and would be eligible to join the prestigious DAR. I don't know that I will but it is nice to know that I could if I so choose. Four of my fourth great-grandfathers fought in the War of 1812. My ancestors had a big part in forming America into what it is today. I'm also proud of Silas and his fight for his country as a Union soldier. I think I would have been a little disappointed to have found a Confederate soldier in the woodpile as I've always favored the Union side. My father was a veteran of World War II.
I also have discovered how "normal" my ancestors were. They have been hard working successful people, mostly farmers. Several were involved in civic duties of one kind or another, and apparently most were politically active and interested. Silas I. Shearer, was a Justice of the Peace, Postmaster, School Board member and member of County Board of Supervisors. One great, great-grandfather was a School Director. Most were church members, predominately Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalists, Brethren, Lutheran Reformed and there is some indication of Quakers.
Among the many leaves of my tree I discovered a couple of more connections to noted people who also happen to be authors. I have a very distant connection to Edgar Allen Poe, through my Day and Poe ancestors. And in this current generation, former Colorado Senator and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, Gary Hart, is my fourth cousin, once removed. In 1961, Gary Hart, along with his parents, petitioned the District Court of Franklin County, Kansas, for a legal name change from Hartpence to Hart. Gary is also an attorney, specializing in International Law, and an author of fiction and nonfiction. He has written fiction under the name of John Blackthorne.
One of my great, great, great grandmothers was Hannah Hartpence and I have traced the Hartpence's back to about 1700 in Germany. The family arrived in America in or about 1751.
With the help of the information now available on the World Wide Web, I have discovered close to fifty family surnames and currently have a database of close to 2,000 individuals, after beginning my search with only four names, Abrams, Shearer, Jacobs and Spera. My search has taken me all over Europe. I have sailed the ocean, walked the sandy shores of New Jersey and New York, at Philadelphia took the oath of allegiance to a new homeland, floated upon rafts on the Ohio River, rode on horseback along isolated trails, drove wagons across unknown land, encountered killer epidemics, buried loved ones, fought wars, guarded against Indian attack, cleared land, built homes of logs, fought off wild animals, farmed the land and planted crops, raised livestock, worked the coal mines, fought for miners' rights, taught English to fellow Italians, built churches and communities, moved on westward, and always looking for more promise in a promised land.
The lives of my ancestors were often filled with grief, as the loss of children was prevalent. There was at times turmoil within families; there were children out of wedlock; there were siblings suing siblings; children suing parents; children written out of wills; and women struggling for their rights as a surviving spouse; threats of Indian attack; all the hardships of life in primitive areas; political diversity; religious conflict; and wars. But the common element, the essence of who they were, was people who possessed an inner-strength, ambition, and a determination to live a good and prosperous life of freedom and dignity. My family comes from a strong line of good people. Hopefully, each of us of the recent generations have brought forward within us a small piece of each of them, and that will move on to our descendants.
The migration trail across America was very similar in all my family branches. Often New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana, to Illinois, to Iowa and later, on westward. At times, branches of the families were in the same general areas: my maternal grandparents emigrating from Sicily in the 1880's, to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, and finally, California; my children's father's family in Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, and then California; others in such areas as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, etc. It seems amazing that with the small pioneer population of many of these areas that we are not blended more than we are.
As a writer, this genealogical research has been invaluable. It has given me a greater understanding of history, of motivations, of determination, and the driving forces that move mankind forward in his evolution. Bits and pieces of many of the "characters" that make up the diverse family tree of mine will find their way onto my written pages in some form or another. Our ancestors, yours and mine, are not dead people-just a name and date--they are very much alive and still as vital as they ever were. And they will not be forgotten, because there is no way they can be, they are ingrained within us, whether we recognize it or not.
And for those not interested in who came before, it matters not. Everyone who has lived upon this Planet Earth leaves a mark, no matter how large or small, and someone, somewhere, noticed.
Our roots go deep and within them are contained struggles, accomplishments, pain, joy, pride, disappointments, values, customs, survival, failures, and love.
I am reminded of what I wrote several years ago about the Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees, the oldest living things on earth. Their home is high on the White Mountain Range of California, at an altitude above 10,000 feet. The White Mountains are part of the Great Basin, a 190,000 square mile expanse stretching from the Sierra Nevada Range on the west to the fringes of the Rocky Mountains. Each mountain range within the Great Basin has a linear character and is separated from adjacent ranges, to the east and west, by wide valleys.
The sight of the Ancient Bristlecone Pines awed me. Some of these pines, with their gnarled and twisted branches and trunks, have for more than 4,600 years fought the harshest of weather conditions to maintain life.
These trees have experienced every extreme during those thousands of years. Time and again beyond counting, the cold drenching rains have come down in torrents and slammed against their bodies. The long winter snows have piled high around them, forcing them to struggle heavenward for the warming rays of the sun. Ice storms have burdened their branches, with temperatures so low that the ice stays hard and frozen for long periods, forcing them to wait patiently for the ice to melt and run down across their gnarled bark to the ground to nourish their life-sustaining roots. And how often they have stood in the hot sun and felt the rays burning through the thin air, baking their needles and sapping their being of essential energy. There is forever and ever the unrelenting, howling wind that keeps their bodies twisted and bent as they fight to keep their balance, to keep their precious hold on life, at times shuddering to their roots as bolts of lightning shred the air around them.
The struggle to maintain life is never ending and it has gone on day after day, year after year, century after century and millennium after millennium. And the cycle continues as the tree delights in producing cones with the hope that the cone will bring forth fertilized seeds, and that a small spark of their continuing life will dig roots into the sweet earth, to begin anew the only thing they know, survival.
It is hard to imagine that many of these trees have stood on that mountaintop and struggled so gallantly to maintain life for such time out of mind-since more than 2,600 years before the man called Jesus walked this earth. They were there even before Moses stood on that other mountaintop and heard the words of God. These trees put down their tenacious roots several hundred years before the birth of Abraham, first of the Jewish patriarchs. Even the 969-year life span of Methuselah, who is said to have lived longer than any human, is short compared to the life span of these pines-and they are still going strong.
As I had stood on that mountain with life before me that was older than our written history, I was moved. I wondered what of our history these trees knew. What had they gathered into themselves from the mass consciousness of centuries after centuries of life upon this planet? If only they could share their knowledge with us, help us to understand who we are, why we are, and if we can continue to be, here on this blue planet called Earth. I would love to know what they "know" from atop that isolated mountain that seems to be a little closer to heaven.
I had picked up a pine cone from the ground. It had looked as if it had been carelessly cast aside, but I knew it had not. I held it for a few minutes in the palm of my hand to savor its energy. I knew it had a plan. It would survive, in any way that it could, and in whatever form it will. It was a part of a family of survivors and it knew its purpose.
Sometime later I wrote:
For Additional Reading:
"Dear Companion: The Civil War Letters of Silas I. Shearer"
Edited and Published by Harold D. Brinkman, Ames, Iowa, 1995.
"Four Women in a Violent Time" by Deborah Crawford
1970, Crown Publishers, NY, ISBN 0-517-50313-1
"Colonial Women: 23 European Who Helped Build a Nation"
by Carole Chandler Waldrup
1999, Mc Farland & Co. ISBN 078640664X
"Penelope: The Story of the Half Scalped Woman"
A Narrative Poem by Penelope Scambly Schott
University Press of Florida, 1999
"Rex Stout: A Biography" by John McAleer
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1977.
"Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?"
by Nettie Colburn Maynard
First published 1891.
For Genealogical Research: