Rhoda Stayed Home

Pastel entitled Wash Your Hands and Stay Home June, 2020

I am a cancer survivor with the successful removal of a canceroid tumor in my lung. I avoided any infections, colds and covid by washing my hands and staying home. It was a long recovery without being around people. The entire world is affected and I read about entire societies in upheaval, unrest, and frustrated. DNA matches led my latest research back to Mom’s side of the family and stories of the Winter of 1816 or the Year Without a Summer Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death and then to stories of the Civil War 1860-1865, another time of unrest.

Elizabeth (my great great grandmother) and Esther Blair were sisters, born in Jericho, Vermont. They were teenagers and had no internet and no newspapers. On May 26th, 1816 a complete eclipse of the sun occurred and then an eclipse of the moon on June 9th. Then the sun darkened and days of gloom, May frosts killed off the emerging crops, snow fell on June 6th, temperatures plummeted to below freezing in July, followed by a killer frost in August. During the entire season the sun rose each morning, shedding little light or warmth, leaving hardly a trace of it having passed over the face of the earth. There were no oats to feed the work horses or corn to fatten the hogs. Hailstones beat the blossoms off all fruit trees. A 120 day drought set in, creating fearsome forest fire conditions and more smoke and gloom. With the food shortages came disease outbreaks, widespread migration of people looking for a better home and religious revivals as people tried to make sense of it all. This was caused by the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and the ash was the cause. The sisters would not have known this. They were cold, frightened, hungry and poor! Would you look to find your God or turn away to astrology and fortune telling? It was a time of the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival, designed to remedy the evils of society before the anticipated Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth married Wendell Miller on July 23, 1818 in Waterford, Pennsylvania where the family had moved after that winter. That was as far as they got before their money ran out. Their oldest was Alexander B. Miller, born April 17, 1820 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Blair’s sister Esther married Gideon Ormsby Jr. in 1814 at Jericho and moved to Geauga, Ohio where all 6 of their children were born. Fittingly for this story, the Geauga River was named for an Indian word meaning raccoon. Esther’s 4th child was Rhoda Emaline Ormsby who was born June 6, 1822, a cousin to Alexander. Here the family joined the Mormon Church. Both Esther and Gideon received Patiarchal Blessings in Kirland, Geauga, officiating was Joseph Smith, 1831. Rhoda’s brother John Harper Ormsby married Betsey Ann Corrill. Her father was an early member and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and an elected representative in the Missouri State Legislature. Corrill wrote his 50 page booklet in 1839 and his reasons for leaving the church. He was excommunicated along with John Harper and Betsey. Not all of Esther’s children left the church. Her oldest daughter, Louisa, married and died giving birth at the age of 23 at Quincy, Illinois. In 1838, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints fled persecution and found shelter in Quincy, before looking for a permanent home in Nauvoo, Illinois.

By 1842 the two Blair sisters, Elizabeth and Esther were reunited as Esther and Gideon moved back to Wisconsin. In 1847, many of the Blair, Ormsby and Miller families were the first settlers at Oxford, Marquette County, Wisconsin. They helped plot the town and one of the streets is called Ormsby Street! On August 6, 1848 in Dane, Wisconsin Rhoda was married to Alexander Miller the son of Elizabeth. Alex on the census was listed as a stonemason with a family of 6: Clarence P, 1850, David C 1852, Lucy A 1852, Fanny or Francis J 1853. Gideon Ormsby Miller 1857 and Betsy 1862. Elizabeth and Esther would have held these joint grandbabes until Elizabeth died October 21, 1854 and Esther one year later, both buried in the Oxford cemetery. In 1860, Civil War broke out. Alexander’s two twin brothers, Josiah (my great grandfather) and Joseph Miller, had marched off to battle at the beginning of the war. Joseph died February 12, 1863 in St. Louis, Missouri. Josiah fought the entire war and was honorably discharged in Texas. Alexander B Miller was drafted on February 14, 1865 at the age of 44, into the 48th Regiment “E” and left for St. Louis on March 22. They moved through Warrenton and to Paola, Kansas. On April 1-13 Alexander was on provost duty at Fort Scott, overlooking the Marmaton River on the bluff. The Provost Guard were military police of the Union Army . In the field they acted as the security detachment. They provided men to guard captured Confederates, provided security against Confederate guerrillas and raiders. They were the only law enforcement for civilians. The Union Army looked for men to be fair and honest in their dealings with the soldiers and the local civilian populace. Alex was 1st Sergeant which means he had 100 men in his troop and helped guide troop movements and kept men in position by example and force of command. He would have seen many escaping slaves cross the river into Kansas. He was in a skirmish at Fort Scott near Miami, Missouri, where he was injured and discharged for disability, August 4, 1865. He would recount stories of the freed slaves carrying their children through that river away from Missouri which had been a slave state. Rhoda stayed home and did her part, looking after the children ages 15, the twins 13, 12, 8 and a toddler of 3. Did Rhoda shed some tears as Alexander left for a cause he truly believed in? Did she teach the children to sing, “When Daddy comes marching home again”? 60% of the Wisconsin troops lost their lives at the battles of Gettysburg, Bull Run and Antietam fighting during the Civil War. All together 12,000 Wisconsinites lost their lives but even more came home wounded or sick. Farmer’s wives took over the fields, raising Wisconsin’s primary crop, wheat, for the Union’s needs. Imagine Rhoda when Alexander did come marching home!

With the war over the Alexander and Rhoda family were on the move west. In 1870 they were in Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque was one of the 100 largest urban areas during this time. Poor Germans came to the city to work in the manufacturing centers, and the Miller family were part of them. Are any of Alexander’s stone buildings still standing there? Perhaps the city became too crowded for them, or adventure called? Alexander and Rhoda next took a trip by covered wagon to Oregon a trip of 1936 miles. Imagine that?

Their son Clarence P married Isabel Collins and remained in Iowa until after his wife’s death in 1910, then for 10 years he joined the family near Portland. David C. married Jane Alexander and lived in Nebraska. Fanny married Isaac Demeritt at age 15 and was pregnant when he died, aged 22. She decided to leave his family and went with her parents by wagon and her son Robert Demeritt lived with Alexander and Rhoda until she remarried Lyonel Sayre who adopted her son. Lyonel was loading lumber from a wagon when he was seized with a weakness and the cause of his death was heart failure. Franny died the next year. Gideon married Frances Graham and remained in Iowa. Lucy married James Hite in Multnomah, Oregon and remained near her parents. Elizabeth or Betsy was last located on the 1880 census in Dubuque, Iowa.

On July 1, 1889 Alex asked for his pension from the Civil War, listed as invalid. This family continued west and ended up at Salem, Oregon near Portland and Alexander died March 30, 1896 and Rhoda died October 18, 1898. I loved doing this research into Alexander and Rhoda, as I too stay home, but for a different reason! Their story of trials and strength and courage encourages me.

It was through David C Miller that I have a DNA match of 21cM/3 segments that sparked the research for this story. His son was named John Ormsby Miller and one can find the Ormsby name in many generations.

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