Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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52 Ancestors #21 – James L. Keel, Galvanized Yankee

Most of the Confederate soldiers captured at Gettysburg were taken to Fort Delaware; my great-great-grandfather Private James L. Keel was one of them. We call him Grandpappy Jim.

KEEL James L - Captured at Gettysburg - July 1863Keel was born in Martin County, North Carolina on 18 March 1846 and was 15 years old when he enlisted in Company H, North Carolina 1st Regiment on 24 June 1861 in Williamston, North Carolina. He made extra money working as a teamster and was paid bimonthly from 1861 through April 1863.

The 1st North Carolina served everywhere during those years, fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia in Mechanicsville, Sharpsburg, and Chancellorsville, and marched with General Robert E. Lee to Gettysburg in July 1863, where Keel was captured. He was marched with 11,000 other prisoners to Fort Delaware, a Union fortress on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Within 10 days, he swore the Oath of Allegiance to the Union and became a prison guard in Ahl’s Independent Battery as an alternative to being a prisoner of war in an overcrowded, disease-ridden prison.

Seven companies of “Galvanized Yankees” were recruited from the prison pen at Fort Delaware in the summer of 1863. They got their name from the color of galvanized steel, which is gray steel coated by blue-tinted zinc, much like a rebel soldier wearing a blue Union uniform.

 

Jim Keel was 18 years old and described as having a light complexion, light hair, grey eyes and standing 6 feet and ½ inch tall.   At some point between August 1863 and March 1864, he married a local Delaware City girl and was granted a short leave of absence at the end of March 1864 to visit Philadelphia with his wife. Due back at Fort Delaware on 4 April 1864, he failed to report and was listed as a deserter on 1 May 1864.  His wife, which the North Carolina family did not know he had, said he was drunk when she put him on board the ferry to return to duty.

He was apprehended on 16 June 1864 on board the oyster schooner  Rainbow in Chesapeake Bay at or near Delaware City and was tried for desertion by a General Court-Martial convened at Fort Delaware on 12 July 1864.  Keel was sentenced to forfeit all pay and allowances from 8 April 1864 and to serve the unexpired term of his enlistment at hard labor at the Dry Tortugas, Florida. While a harsh sentence, he could have been sentenced to death.

Keel Court Martial Sentence

Except he didn’t.  Instead, he returned to company duty with all pay and allowances due from the date of his desertion, as directed by “Special Order No. 324 dated September 7, 1864, Headquarters, Fort Delaware.”  He went back to being a prison guard and mustered out with Ahl’s Battery at Wilmington, Delaware on 25 July 1865 receiving all due pay and allowances.

So what on earth happened?  Why was this deserter (or traitor, if you looked at him from the perspective of his former Confederate comrades in arms) suddenly returned to duty with rank and back pay? Who was this mysterious “wife” that we knew nothing about and what happened to her? So many questions and no one had answers!

After wondering for 40 years, we now have his court martial file from the National Archive. While it doesn’t really explain the wife at all, we know that Keel pleaded “Not Guilty” to desertion but did not present any evidence in his own defense. But there was a bigger legal issue going on than whether he was a deserter: in the opinion of Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General of the Union Army, Fort Delaware’s commander Gen. Shoepf did not have the authority to call a general court martial, so the sentence was overturned.

Keel’s file includes a 4-page letter from Joseph Holt to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, laying out his argument that the prison did not constitute a Brigade and therefore was not legally able to convene a general court martial. It bounced around to other officers for their review and input, ultimately leading Stanton to agree with Holt’s original opinion. This decision was telegraphed to Gen. Shoepf at Fort Delaware

Telegram From Sec of War

And just like that, Keel was released back to his service.

Revocation of Keel Court Martial

James Keel disappeared for a few years after the war ended. I wouldn’t have wanted to return to North Carolina, either, after changing sides – but he was not the only one in his county. He may have been with this first family during these years, though to date I have found no record of a marriage in the Delaware City area. But at least the mystery of why he was not sent to Dry Tortugas, Florida, has been solved – and was the subject of a legal decision to boot.

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52 Ancestors – #20 Medical Language

I had a plan for writing this week’s theme of Other Language. But then life intervened.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-veMy 90 year old father fell on May 1st and hit his head on a low brick retaining wall. It was a bloody mess. We went to the ER and he got staples to close the wound, fluids, and a CT scan which was negative. No one mentioned concussion and the list of things to watch for was, in retrospect, woefully limited. After a few days he was sleeping more, eating less, and having more verbal confusion. When we brought him in to get his staples out, the doctor  decided a brain MRI was in order to see if there was something going on to explain the changes we were seeing.

Last Saturday, Dad was able to drive his golf cart and had dinner at the club with my brother. Sunday he wasn’t feeling well. Monday, the day of the MRI, he was unable to stand and dress himself. The MRI showed a subdural hematoma, bleeding or fluids on the brain, pressing on the areas that control speech and motor functions.

So now we entered a new world of neurology. Terms like “confusion” that mean one thing to lay people mean something else to doctors. The hospital is crowded, busy, and really loud, the worst possible environment for elderly neuro patients. Surgery to drill a hole in his head to drain the fluid was quickly deemed unrealistic for Dad, given his age and condition. When a neurosurgeon says “no surgery” when their job is to operate, that says a lot. Not operating brings its own risks, as we have no idea what happens next. We don’t know if the bleeding will continue or subside and reabsorb on its own. It will be 6-8 weeks from the fall to assess the full long-term changes.

We scrambled to find a care facility in a matter of 30 hours. Thankfully my brother was here and we could do it together. The first place, while certainly competent, dropped my heart and my head screamed, “No, no, not that for my Dad.”  The doctors mentioned skilled nursing hospice – another word that threw us for a loop. I know about hospice, of course, but almost always in the context of life-ending cancer. I know hospice care happens at home, in a care facility, or in their own facility. But did that mean Daddy was dying?  What were we planning for?  Why weren’t they being more precise or at least explain? And why weren’t they saying the same things when we asked?

All the places we looked at have their own vocabulary that conforms with Medicare terms. No matter what, we were basically told Dad would transfer in as a rehab patient because Medicare pays everything for the first 100 days. How did this relate to “skilled nursing hospice”?  I don’t know. I got more confused with almost every person we talked to.

SerenityPrayerDad is indeed in a rehab section of a facility that offers levels of care including rehab, skilled nursing, and memory care – and he doesn’t want to be there. We don’t know how he will respond to rehab but any recovery is dependent on working hard. He hates being in “one of those places” and my heart hurts to see him there, lost and confused. We may have him for a short time or for years.

In a heartbeat, my life changed. After two and a half years as live-in caregiver, I need to find a new normal, and learn to just let go what I cannot change, which is pretty much everything relating to Dad. My nephew reminded me of the Serenity Prayer and the power of accepting things we cannot change, even if we don’t like them.

Please say a prayer for my daddy, for comfort and strength and patience. I need some, too.


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52 Ancestors – #19 Grandmother Susie Keel Myers

Everyone in town called her “Miss Susie.” I called her Grandmama.

KEEL Susie - c1940 - NC

Susie Keel Myers, c1940 – Norfolk, VA

Susie Lanier Keel was born 31 August 1906 in the rural community of Everetts in Martin County, North Carolina. She was named for her aunt Susie (Sudie) Peal Lanier and her middle name became a family tradition, passed down to daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.  Susie was the seventh child born to farmer William Jesse Keel and his wife, Sarah Annis Peal. Of their eleven children, only four survived infancy, and she and her older sister Mary Magdalene (Maglene) Keel were particularly close.

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Susie and Maglene Keel, c1909 – Martin County, NC 

SCAN0013 (2)She wanted to be a teacher when she grew up and history was her favorite subject in school, she told my father.  According to the 1940 census, Susie completed four years of high school, two years more than her husband, William Marvin Myers. They met in Robersonville, NC, at the movies and something sparked between the social farmer’s daughter and the quiet man from Hertford. They were married at the Baptist preacher’s home in Williamston on 23 July 1926.  Grandmama told me that what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t come. I believe that was because she was pregnant; her first child (my dad) was born seven months later.

Bill and SusieSusie spent her life in Martin County, raising sons William and James and daughter Jeanette, and burying a fourth child (Joseph) who died at seven months. When first married, she and her little family lived with her parents, Bill and Sarah (Sade) Keel. By the 1940 census, though, the head of the household was her husband, not her father. Both parents continued to live with her until their deaths in 1948 and 1952.  This was not unusual for the generation or the community.

But money was tight.  Bill Myers worked for the local tobacco company and Bill Keel hunted and fished, providing food. Susie also worked most of her life, sitting in the window of the local dry cleaners doing sewing alterations. She also brought work home, doing piecework for a local dressmaker.  Once when I was feeling guilty about hiring someone to alter my own clothes, I realized that she made a living because people hired her, and that she would probably approve of my helping someone else survive.

SCAN0027

Susie Myers at Alpha Cleaners, Williamston – c1980

Grandmama not only raised her own children, she also raised two of her grandchildren after her daughter remarried in 1960. She and my grandfather opened their home to a new generation, as they had opened it to an older one years before. I was jealous of them because they spent so much time with her and I only saw her about once a year; trips from New Jersey to North Carolina didn’t come easy.

Susie Keel Myers loved her God, her family, and her friends. She cooked wonderful Southern meals and drank gallons of sweet tea on the porch, visiting with friends and family. She grew up in the Primative Baptist Church but spent her adult years as a member of the Williamston Presbyterian Church. She loved to sing, especially hymns, and was a good and supportive friend, respected and loved by her family and community.

MYERS Susie, William, Tom, Bill and Rob - 1985 - Emerald Bay

William Myers, Tom Myers, Bill Myers, Susie Myers, Rob Myers – Emerald Bay, TX – 1985

Grandmama died on 10 December 1987 at age eighty one and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Williamston next to her husband and sons and close to her parents. My life is richer for having had her in it.


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52 Ancestors – #18 Closeup on Aunt Jinx

My Aunt Jinx was family in every way but blood. She was my mom’s oldest and closest friend, although actually she was my aunt’s friend first; Mom was the youngest of the trio. Still, the three of them were thick as thieves and stayed close all their lives. Here they are about 1944 and again forty years later at my brother’s wedding:

JaneAnnFlanders, VirginiaWhite, PegFlanders

Jane Ann Flanders, Virginia Wight, Peg Flanders – Manasquan, NJ – c1944

Jane Anne, Peg, Jinny - August 15 1983

Jane Ann Helms, Peg Myers, Virginia King – Houston, August 1981

Virginia Wight King was passionate about her family, her faith, and her friends. She and my mom cleverly managed to live very close to each other as young married couples raising families in 1950’s New Jersey.  I grew up thinking that her daughters were blood relatives and was so happy to have girl cousins to play with. I still consider them to be family.

MYERS Anne Keel Baptismal Certificate 1954Aunt Jinx was my godmother, a responsibility she took seriously all her life. I was baptized in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Newark, the same church where my parents were married and my mom was both baptized and confirmed. Aunt Jinx pledged to see me make my confirmation before a bishop and never felt that my Presbyterian confirmation counted in quite the same way, so she was thrilled when I decided to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church during my senior year in college. She sent me a prayerbook and a long, thoughtful letter about how much her faith meant to her during hard times. I’ve kept it for 40 years because it really spoke to me about who she was as a spiritual person and my godmother, about what her faith meant to her and how she lived out her life.

AuntJinxConfirmationLetterSnip1976
She was passionate about education and taught English at Monmouth College for years.  Sometimes I would worry about grammar and punctuation when I wrote her, but being in touch was more important than being completely correct – I hoped.  She would remind all of us to “Be a Lady” or “Be a Gentleman” whenever she closed a conversation, especially in her wonderful letters. We still say it with a smile and remember her when we do.

Aunt Jinx also had a wicked sense of humor and a rich, wonderful, smoky laugh. I can picture her with my mom sitting over endless cups of coffee and cigarettes, talking and laughing for hours. Her daughter Carol and I did the same in England years later over cups of tea (and minus the cigarettes, at least for me).  We are a second generation of shared history and memories. I will remember her always, though, at Manasquan.

The last time I saw her was, at my grandfather’s funeral in 1983. She was local to him and proudly introduced me to her parish priest, who conducted the service, as the newly elected vestry member of my church. She had a wicked smile as she did so, knowing that Fr. Hulbert didn’t think women should have such a role. But she did. She was proud of me for just being me and she always let me know I was loved and supported.

Virginia King died in 1994 after a hard-fought battle with emphysema, a lady to the end. Her funeral brought family and friends together, including my parents who drove from Texas. We would not have missed this chance to support the family or say our goodbyes to someone who lives in our hearts.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

May her soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


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52 Ancestors – #17 Peel Cemetery in Bear Grass

Some of my ancestors are buried in small private family cemeteries out in the country; others found their final rest in crowded historic New York cemeteries. Some have elaborate headstones to mark their passing; others are in unmarked graves, while still others have stones that are no longer legible, worn down by time.  Many others are lost or rather, have not yet been found.

In August 1979, I drove around Martin County, North Carolina, with my grandmother, Susie Lanier (Keel) Myers, and her sister Mary Magdalene “Maglene” (Keel) Taylor. Our quest: the family cemetery behind the old family homestead farm, which I now know is the Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass. Their mother was Sarah Annis Peal and this was where “her people” were buried.

KEEL Susie and Maglene - August 1979 - Williamston NC

Susie Keel Myers & Maglene Keel Taylor, August 1979, Williamston, NC

Aunt Maglene was deaf as a post and sat in the back seat of the big green Pontiac as we drove. Her sister, my grandmother, kept up a loud conversation with her in her thick Southern accent about points along the way. “No, Sister, that’s not where he was born, it was over yonder behind the school on the road next to the farm.”  Since I had no idea where we were or where we were going, it was hard to follow the conversation. And they argued about almost everything so I wasn’t sure what to believe anyway.

Grandmama turned down a dirt road next a farm house and headed back to a wooded area. “Should we be going this way? It looks like someone’s home,” I said. “Oh, it’s alright. We’re family,” she replied.  We pulled up and parked next to the woods and walked inside a quiet sheltered area with a few old tombstones poking through piles of leaves under the shade of tall trees. It didn’t look like a cemetery at all.

PEEL Stanley - Tombstone - NC Beargrass-1902

Grandmama and Maglene got very quiet as they walked, obviously looking for something that they were not finding, and asking each other where “the stones” were. “What stones?” I asked, since I saw some standing, all for people whose names were new even if the stones were old. “Our brothers and sisters.”  These old ladies in their late 70’s were looking for the graves of their seven dead siblings who died in infancy, who they knew were buried in this place, but who couldn’t be found. They were shaken.

But clearly the graves hadn’t disappeared overnight. “When were you here last?” I asked them, which started a competitive conversation about cemetery visiting, only to reveal that the last time either of them had been to this family cemetery was over fifty years before when their grandmother Jane Elizabeth (Stalls) Peal was buried there in 1921. I remember wondering who they thought was going to care for the graves if they didn’t do it; clearly no one else had thought of it, either. This was a private family cemetery, not a publicly maintained one. If family didn’t care for it, it wouldn’t – and obviously didn’t – happen.

PEAL Mariney J - Tombstone - 1922 - NC BeargrassWe cleaned up what we could and I photographed some of the grave stones we found. I wish now I’d taken all of them, but I was young in terms of genealogy research and it simply never occurred to me. I’ve never returned but wish I could, though I’m not sure I could find it again without my guides in the big green Pontiac. I would bring rakes and tools to clean up the space and clean the stones, and photograph them to share on FindaGrave, which only has two memorials listed as of today. There were no images of the cemetery or of either grave until I uploaded these.

I must add that this Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass shouldn’t be confused with the Peele Family Cemetery or the Peel-Griffin Family Cemeter, both in Farmlife, Martin County. There are plenty of Peal/Peel/Peele’s to go around and they are all related if you go back far enough. But my Peel Cemetery is still a mystery.  I want to find the graves of those great-aunts and uncles who died as babies. I know they are there; they just need to be found. I wonder who else is buried with them, lost to time.


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52 Ancestors – #16 Storms

encased in iceMy father obsessively watches TV weather forecasts and special inset maps during bad storms, at least until the power goes out. He watches the maps of radar that show every documented lightening strike and calculates storm direction and power. Knowing what’s coming allows him to be prepared.

Our ancestors didn’t have Doppler Radar or National Weather Service alerts tracking storms and warning of flooding and torrential rains or high winds. There were no weathermen telling them to get into a windowless room in the center of their homes when tornadoes were coming.  Of course, our ancestors also didn’t have days and weeks without power because they didn’t have electricity, either.

Instead, they learned to read clues in nature, to master the meaning of the cloud formations and colors of the sky. They smelled the air and could tell when rain or snow is coming. They paid attention to muskrats and bees, migration patterns of birds and insects, the sound of crickets – and some of them used the Old Farmers’ Almanac which was first published in 1792. They had to be prepared all the time.

525SChestnutinSnow

Storms and weather disasters normal in one area are not the same in another. But you learn to live with what you have, whether that’s hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, or earthquakes. As your “normal” changes , so do your expectations and preparations. Move from one area to another, though, and you have to learn a new normal. You learn how to prep for power outages, what nonperishable foods to have stocked in the pantry, to have enough cash and cat food and full bottles of prescriptions, and to fill the car’s gas tank before the storm hit. You have a storm cellar or know what to do when you feel a tremor.

The storm is coming. You know it, you’ve prepared, you’re hunkered down at home, sometimes with battens or wood covering windows to keep them from breaking. You have candles, battery-powered lanterns, maybe a generator. A hand-cranked radio. All electronic devices are charged up. You watch the Weather Channel until the TV flickers and goes out, then you just wait it out. You hope the howling winds don’t knock over trees, especially into your house.  And you are grateful to be warm and dry and safe as long as possible.

I like blizzards as long as I’m not out driving in one. I respect the power of hurricanes and have seen the incredible damage done by raging winds and water to homes and lands and people. Tornadoes terrify me as do earthquakes. Nature can be cruel and at best, tolerates us. We can learn something from our ancestors about living in tune with the world around them. I think I will go watch the sky.

sky


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52 Ancestors – #15 Income and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Paying taxes requires money and for most of us, that money comes from working or savings of some kind, perhaps an inheritance. This week’s prompt is about taxes and I’m fudging that to talk about income that was used to pay those taxes.

In 1977, I was thrilled to have my first full-time professional job with a salary of $8,000. Now that sounds ridiculous, but the cost of living was much less then as well. When my parents married in 1951, my mom earned $854/year as a secretary at Merck while my dad brought home a princely $248/month. They bought their first house for $13,000, paid for using a VA loan.

Let’s put that in perspective and look at the income of their parents from the 1940 census, just eleven years earlier.

1940censusFlandersIncome

My mom’s family lived in Newark, New Jersey, where her father was a salesman for a water meter company. He worked 40 hours a week with an annual income of $1,500. He owned an inherited paid-for house valued at $6,500. His wife was a housewife and there were six members of the household, including his mother, brother, and sister-in-law.

1940censusMyersincome

My father’s family lived in rural North Carolina, where both of my paternal grandparents worked 48 hours a week. Granddaddy was a “regular helper” at a tobacco company earning $1,500/year and my grandmother was a seamstress at a pressing club (now known as a dry cleaners), earning $650.  They owned their home and were paying a mortgage as well as supporting a household of seven, including both of my grandmother’s parents.

Mom’s grandparents lived in the New York City area and they had urban-type jobs. My Irish immigrant ancestor William Cooke was a shoemaker in Brooklyn; his son (and my g-grandfather) Robert sold paper. The Heginbothams were all hatters in Manhattan – hatters and milners and hat trimmers. Thomas Heginbotham‘s father William was a hatter in Cheshire, England, too, which is where he learned the trade.  William John Flanders was born in England as well, but he was a salesman – gentlemen’s clothes and gloves, going on the road as a “commercial traveler” by 1920. His father was a horse breeder and gentleman farmer from a long line of English fen-country farmers.

EstatesAdminDetailGenerations of my dad’s family were farmers on their own or rented lands. Most of them didn’t leave wills and their estates administration records are full of clues about their success. I love looking at inventories of their belongings – candlesticks and pots, spinning wheels and farm tools, feather beds, honey, and cows. And sometimes there are names of people casually listed as  property. Those are the records that stop me in my tracks.  This is part of an inventory of my 5th-g-grandfather, John Goodwin, who died in 1815. He is not the only North Carolina ancestor who owned slaves; although most did not, it’s still something I have to sort through.