Friday, August 7, 2015

Frederick Francis Franklin - an Englishman in the Midwest

1 Frederick Francis Franklin, 2 Francis Edwin Franklin, 3 William Frederick Franklin,
4 Edna Bethel Franklin, 5 Judith Ann Copeland

As is usual in researching our ancestors born before the 20th Century, documented facts are scarce - even with today's technological progress.  What kind of life did 19 year old Frederick Franklin lead in London?  How did he meet his bride?  We do know that 26 year old Maria Johnson was described as a spinster on their wedding day, that he was  a boilermaker and his father a shoemaker.  What could have happened during the following  three years that resulted in making an earth-shattering decision to migrate across the sea, leaving their home, family and friends behind? 

Besides the obvious curiosity about Frederick's life, more questions surfaced recently when a family genealogist looked closer at the' birth dates of the people purported to be Fred's parents.  Things didn't add up - at all - especially when one compares  Frederick's birth date to those who are commonly accepted as his parents. If we stick with the story, Fred would have been born when his mother was 3 years old and perhaps even before his father.  Family genealogies also show his parents died in New Zealand.  Really?   Are these the right parents?  Don't think so but that's a project for the future.

What we do know for sure is that in 1848, when Fred was 22, Maria 29, Sophia Mariah, 2  and Charlotte Amelica 7 months old, they boarded the Devon, a 260.5 foot long sailing ship. What compelled them to leave their life and loved ones behind is not known. It may have been simply because they craved adventure and opportunity, but the truth is that it probably had much more to do with the atmosphere in England at that time, which was rife with poor economic conditions, religious intolerance, political upheavals and demeaning social gradations.

They obviously would have boarded the ship with both trepidation and excitement as they pictured what life would be like in a new land.  Little did they know that the trip itself was going to tear their family apart and cause incredible pain. It is known for sure that the ship was blown off course and - instead of landing in Baltimore, where they were probably headed - they eventually landed down the coast in New Orleans. The average length of time for such journeys was 43 days but this trip probably lasted longer because of the weather and heavy seas. 

Living conditions on board were primitive. Passengers slept in narrow, closely packed bunks located below deck. During storms, the door would have been latched closed, leaving passengers with little light or fresh air to relieve the stench of vomit and filled chamber pots. Constant jousting about from gale force winds made even standing difficult.  On the worst days, passengers could not even stay in their beds to sleep, but went sliding about the cabin.  Food was minimal and tasteless, and seasickness was a constant companion for many travelers.

Burial at sea
Although some could adjust to the constant rocking and bouncing of the ship, others spent the entire trip nearly bedridden with nausea. Days passed slowly for those afflicted. Occasionally, emigrants with overwhelming seasickness would starve to death during the voyage, and the young Franklins were not immune to such suffering as they helplessly watched their baby, Charlotte, sicken, die and be given up to the sea.. Whether Maria died of a broken heart or had become very ill herself during the journey, she barely got to port before she too died in January of 1849.

The next phase of the Franklin's journey was actually the beginning of a whole new life for the re-configured family. It probably started on one of the steamers plying the Ohio River from New Orleans to Cincinnati, Ohio.  The fares were cheap but the comforts few. Deck passengers usually outnumbered cabin passengers three or four to one, and most of the sweaty bodies  were squeezed among the cargo crates.  It's no surprise then that in those close quarters, disease was not only rampant but was carried to unsuspecting communities along the steamers’ routes.  

It's easy to imagine what Fred went through during that part of the journey as he not only grieved for his wife and baby, but had to keep his little one safe at his side while trying to minimize the abundant danger she faced from disease.  And of course there was always the possibility that her daddy would also be lost to disease and she would be left to fend for herself in this strange new world.
Francis Edwin  - first child of  Fred and Adelia

There is no record of how Fred met 17 year old Adelia Anna Eaton, a New Jersey girl.  We do know that her father had died several years before and her mother had remarried a Mr. Ricketts of Maryland.  It certainly is possible that they met on the steamer because it was only seven months after landing in New Orleans that they married on August 27, 1849.  Adelia remained an important cog in Fred's life until her death in 1901. Not only did she raise the child her husband had brought to the marriage, but gave birth to nine of her own. After their first child's birth in 1850, the family moved south to the Louisville, Kentucky area, where they settled in for 20 years.

“But the times, they were a-chainging”, as the 1964 song sung by Bob Dylan so aptly put it. A war was breaking out which would split up the country and its people's loyalties to each other for generations. It's never been confirmed that Frederick, who was in his 30's at the time, had joined the Union Army; but there are records of a Frederick F. Franklin joining the 5th Regiment of the Kentucky Infantry, which was based in the Louisville area where "our" Franklins lived. It's also interesting that during those war years, there was a significant gap between the births of their 5th and 8th children - not to be resumed until after the war ended. 

Whether-or-not this was “our” Fred serving in the Union Army, there is no doubt that life was not serene for anyone at the time, especially since Kentucky was a border state, with many a “brother against brother” scenario being played out. Although originally declaring itself neutral, that changed after the Confederacy tried to force the state into supporting its side of the war, which forced the legislature to petition the Union for assistance, thereafter assuring that it was solidly under Union control.

The 5th Regiment of the Kentucky Infantry was organized in 1861, mustered out in 1865, and was based in Louisville after the attempted invasion by the Confederate Army.  Surprisingly for a state that had to quickly catch up on the war effort, they were able to hold their enemies in check until reinforcements arrived from Ohio and Indiana, and became the site of fierce battles led by such military leaders as Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest (who eventually became a scourge to the Union side). 

Like many others who had suffered through the war, when peace finally came to the land, the Franklins decided to make a fresh start in a new environment. They found the home they had been searching for 80 miles away, across the Ohio River where they eventually settled down on a farm in Ripley County, Indiana, raising their children and enjoying their many grandchildren. This area turned out to be a good place to settle and, to this day, many of their descendants still live in the surrounding area..

Franklin 50th anniversary party
In 1899, a celebration of Fred and Adelia's 50th anniversary was held at their home with their six living children, 23 grandchildren and a number of great grandchildren participating in the festivities. The couple was gifted with a beautiful family Bible which inscribed dates of marriages, births and deaths of family members over a period of many years.   

Adelia was the first to die in 1901 at age 69 and 77 year old Fred succumbed three years later.  Despite the hardships and tears they had  experienced over the years, there was much to celebrate about the life they had put together.

Fred was memorialized in his obituary through the following poem written by an unknown author:
“We smoothed the curls of his silken hair, on his marble brow with tender care
And laid his hands in a final fold on his peaceful heart, so still and cold.
We kissed his brow with a sad farewell, and the anguish we felt none can tell;
We laid him to rest on earth's snowy breast to sweetly sleep the sleep of death.
We laid away his cane and his empty chair, and folded up the garments he used to wear.
The task God assigned him on earth is done. His suffering is over, his crown is won.
We weep for the form we see no more, Oh guide us, Father, to that bright shore
Be the first to greet us as of old, When the pearly gates of heaven unfold.