Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a quiet man

Most families include ancestors, maybe only a few, who achieved distinction — those whose actions made them famous or, it might be just as likely, notorious in their time. The majority lead lives which leave little trace. These men and women are obscure, not in any pejorative sense, but rather, in the shadows of the distant past, they are hard to make out.

I've written before about an ancestor of mine who opposed totalitarianism with simple human dignity, another who stood up for the rights of others in peril of his own. I've also written about nineteenth-century ancestors who achieved wealth and position but who were nonetheless liberal advocates of those who were poor and powerless.

Quite a few near and distant relatives served in military campaigns. Some of them fought for and others against British colonial rule in the American Revolutionary War. Similarly, some wore the Federal uniform and some that of the Confederacy during the Civil War. One served in the Navy from the Civil War through the end of the Spanish-American War, ending with rank of Rear-Admiral. Another took on great risks as a frogman in the South Pacific Theater of World War II.

Less heroically by far, I have one relative who was banished from his home town for having solicited sexual favors from a young woman he knew, man of contrary personality who was frequently at odds with his neighbors and fellow townsmen. There's another, silversmith, who was imprisoned for stealing from his landlord and who devised a small sculpture commemorating the event.

Still, most of the ancestry lacks such prominence. Their lives were less memorable and, not surprisingly, they are less remembered.

This circumstance was put somewhat elegantly by a man, Jeremy Pine, who had this to say about a distant relative:
Samuel Thorn, oldest son of Thomas and Abigail (Borough) Thorn, was born 4/11/1762, in the Thorndale farmhouse where it is likely that all his boyhood days and years of his youth were passed. So long a period has passed by since his decease that almost all recollections of him as a man have also vanished, there being no one now living in 1902 who ever saw him. We who are living in the early part of the twentieth century may never know his personal characteristics, whether he was a social person, a popular individual or otherwise, for memory dies, and beyond simply the dates recorded in his family bible and in the books of the monthly meeting of Friends of which he was a member there is little to write about him.

Success without advancement has been the general condition of the branch, and social and unassuming manners are attached to its members in general, although in a few instances a touch of haughtiness has, in a measure, separated some of the cousins from many of the family.
It may be fitting that I can learn nothing about Jeremy Pine or the writing from which this is excerpted. I found it on John Coutant Thorn's set of web pages: Descendants of William Thorne

{This is the Haddonfield Meeting where Samuel Thorne and his family worshiped; source: History of the Society of Friends in America, by James Bowden's, vol. II, 1854.}


Here are some of my previous blog posts on family history:

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