Thursday, August 6, 2015

Remembering My Mission

It is all very well and good to discover the context in which my husband's fourth great grandfather served during and after the War of 1812. Uncovering the history of the several captains under whom he served certainly illuminated my understanding of the times and places of his service. But that was not my original intention when I first launched into that study.

What I really was seeking was an explanation of just how John Jay Jackson, who ended his tour of duty in a fort near Saint Louis, had met up with the woman who was to become his bride. That woman happened to have recently lost her father, and with her widowed mother, somehow—incredibly, in my mind—had journeyed through the wilderness from her home in central Ohio to the fort where she eventually met John Jackson.

What would have possessed two women to make such a journey during those times? After all, this wasn't a story of two friends deciding to take a flight across country for a resort vacation together. Such a journey in the early 1800s—especially after a war—was bound to be a risky venture.

As it turns out, though, I've partly become a captive of my own assumptions, for believe it or not, even in those western outposts and traveling along with expeditions pressing further into the unexplored territories west of the Mississippi, women were part of the company.

I got my first glimpses of reports faulting my assumption while searching for further biographies on Jackson's many captains. The first hint—and one example of how the women were right there, alongside the men during those pioneer days—was found in the narrative mentioning the massacre in Indiana territory and Captain John Morris' tragic loss. The "Pigeon Roost Settlement" included not only women along with the men, but several children, as well. It wasn't just soldiers and adventurers who headed west in those early days. It was families.

But Sarah Howard Ijams was not traveling to Saint Louis with her entire family. After all, she had just lost her father. This would not be an instance to compare with her situation.

A 2001 book published by the Montana Historical Society, Wheel Boats on the Missouri, which we had reviewed while checking into details on Charles Pentland, gave a few more clues about women out west, including these orders from Brigadier General Henry Atkinson (on page 71):
The company women left behind by the companies forming the brigade, are to be quartered in the Fort and protected by the commandant of the Post, in their allowances and priviledges [sic] agreeably to Army regulations, and that no mistake may arise in the absence of the Company Officers they will respectively make out monthly returns for their company women entitled to rations, and deposit them with the Ass. Commy of Subsce who will issue upon them respectively.

A footnote followed up with the explanation at the bottom of the page:
The order refers to the laundresses who lived at the fort. Many of them were wives of enlisted men.

Another clue about the presence of women in these unexpected circumstances came from an online reprint of Sally A. Johnson's "Cantonment Missouri, 1819-1820," originally appearing in the June, 1956, edition of Nebraska History. Page 125 mentioned the weather diaries kept by the two surgeons of the Rifle Regiment and the Sixth Infantry, explaining the need to be aware of the extreme cold temperatures of the winter months.
It was essential in such weather that the rooms, occupied not only by the soldiers but also by their women and children, be heated.

The Johnson report explained that, in the course of service at that outpost of the Yellowstone Expedition, "whiskey was a regular portion of the rations issued to the U.S. soldier." Apparently, that largesse extended to those working alongside the company, as well, for
On February 15, 1820, Sarah Fox, a washerwoman of Light Company B, was tried before a regimental court martial. She was charged with "throwing and depositing in front of the Quarters of Light Company A 6th Infantry, and within the limits of its own police, a quantity of foul and dirty water on or about the 14th..." The prisoner, pleading guilty, was sentenced to a stoppage of her whiskey rations for ten days, which rations were then appropriated for the use of the company to which she belonged. She was also ordered to be present when her sentence was read at the first Regimental Parade.

Readers may be relieved to note that, according to the footnote on page 128 of Johnson's report,
In consideration of her former correct conduct and general good character, the part of her sentence as regarded her appearance before a Regimental Parade was remitted.

So, what does this mean? That women were present at these military outposts on the edge of the wilderness? Does this mean that Sarah Howard Ijams and her widowed mother were so destitute after William Ijams' passing, that they sold themselves down river as laundresses at the fort in Saint Louis?

That may not be so far-fetched a conclusion as it seems at face value. According to the website of the historical re-enactment group of the Regiment of U.S. Riflemen, not only women but even children could be "officially attached" to the army, drawing pay and rations—although as we've already seen, they were
officially part of the military unit and as such subject to military rules and discipline.
First lesson learned in all this, for me at least, is to never rely solely upon my assumptions that the way things are now is the same as they've always been. A follow-up corollary is to use the same skills developed over years of historical and genealogical research to provide a self-serve primer on the fuller context of the time period, its customs and norms, no matter what new realms I'm entering.

Face it: I delved into this puzzle about John Jackson and how he met his wife, knowing very little about the military and almost nothing about the War of 1812—other than that a coalition of very generous groups and individuals were committed to making a digitized version of the pension papers freely available to all. By harnessing the power of the Internet, I'm now starting to have the slightest inkling of what might well have happened to connect two individuals from nearly-opposite sides of a fledgling country.

Even so, something more seems to be missing from this story. I still haven't found the answer to my question... 

Above: Crossing the River Platte, 1871 oil on canvas by Thomas Worthington Whittredge; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. All very interesting, Jacqi. Even in war, SOMEBODY has to do the cooking and laundry. So it makes sense that troops would drag the women along, although I had never thought about that before. The presence of children surprises me. I guess they were just part of the package.

    1. True--I think children were seen in a much different light back then. Besides, what else were they going to do? It's not like they could leave them at day care during their shift...

  2. Ah yes. The "camp followers" - something that stopped around WWI. I had forgotten the obvious!

    Thank you for presenting an explanation for the woman's presence!

    1. I can't get over how blind-sided I was by my own assumptions, going into this one. This certainly was an edifying foray into military history for me. Sometimes it helps, when we sniff out a discrepancy in a story, to linger and explore the details.

  3. Women were an important part of life in the fort:) My guess is that she was part of a group of people...relatives or like minded folk....and they may have tarried at a fort:)

    1. Well, just learning that this was a possibility was step one in the research process!


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