Thursday, May 5, 2016
Nineteen and Counting
When the genealogical records mentioned that William Gordon fathered nineteen children back in the 1800s, it calls to mind—at least in modern memory—those reality programs examining the logistics of large families. While large families may not be the norm today, they certainly were in previous centuries, and our William Gordon was not to be outdone in his capacity.
However, rest assured his accomplishment in this arena was courtesy of the assistance of not one (weary) wife, but two. His first wife was the former Mary Carroll, daughter of Anthony Carroll who, after serving in the British navy, had emigrated to the western reaches of what was then still Virginia, settling in Morgantown. Before she died, Mary bore William eleven children, a mammoth task in its own right.
After Mary's passing in 1812 in Greene County, Pennsylvania, William remarried. With his second wife, also named Mary, he had an additional eight children—all of whom, with the exception of the youngest, George, were born in Greene County.
After having followed his father from his birthplace in Maryland, moving first to Monongalia County in what was then Virginia, then to Greene County, Pennsylvania, William was not satisfied to remain settled at what became known as the old Gordon homestead. Shortly after the 1830 census, William convinced all his family (except for daughter Nancy, who had by then married a man who chose to remain in Greene County) to move once again. This time, their destination was Perry County, Ohio.
The caravan westward of the Gordon clan might have seemed a daunting move, although some reports seem to indicate that it was accomplished by clever command of nearby rivers. At any rate, the party included most of those nineteen children—George, not yet born, arrived in Ohio on his birth in 1832—with the exception of the daughter who remained behind, and two sons who may have served as advanced guard in going ahead to scope out possible property purchases.
Indeed, William and Mary (Carroll) Gordon's eldest son, James, did make a transaction for three parcels of land in Perry County, dated August 15, 1837, according to General Land Office Records. In addition, Perry County marriage records from the 1830s onward were liberally peppered with mentions of grooms sporting that same surname. By the time of the 1850 federal census, out of a population of just over twenty thousand people, Perry County tallied at least forty eight Gordons, with ten of them born in Pennsylvania and twenty seven of them born in Ohio from 1830 onward. While not all of them are likely descendants of our Gordons, I'd be fairly confident that a good majority of them were either born to this family, or married into it.
What seems most awkward about this large family, though, was not so much the fact that William moved westward with seventeen of his by then mostly grown children, but that the sheer numbers—plus the spread of ages from eldest to youngest, added to the division of one wife's children from the other's—created some interesting effects, moving forward a few generations.
For instance, part of my husband's family is descended from James, the eldest son of William Gordon and Mary Carroll, while another part claims as their ancestor the eldest son of William Gordon and Mary Cain, his second wife. The actual marriage resulting from the joining of descendants of those half siblings didn't occur for another three generations, making it quite unlikely that the newlyweds in question were even aware of the connection.
Only a genealogist, of course, would discover such an aberration.