Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum

My mother's great grandfather, Michael Steele, married a woman named Charlotte Stradley, the daughter of a man who described himself as a "physician" in the 1850 census for Wabash, Indiana. That would be my great great great grandfather, Dr. Daniel W. Stradley. His grandfather came to America from England around the time of the Revolution and settled in Baltimore. Charlotte Stradley is the first ancestor I know of who was not either of German or Pennsylvania Dutch descent.

I recently located biographical records for her brothers, Dr. Ayres Stradley and Dr. Daniel N. Stradley, who both practiced medicine in and around Denver, Colorado at the dawn of the 20th century. The brothers attributed much of their expertise in medicine to training they had received from their father while growing up in Wabash. But they also cited lectures they had attended at established medical schools and apprenticeships they had served under the tutelage of other respected medical practitioners.

I try to imagine the frontier medicine practiced by this ancestor of mine, first in Zanesville, Ohio and then at age 35 in Wabash from 1849 on, where he spent the last forty-five years of his life, but I find it's quite a leap. Medical science made huge strides in his lifetime.

Born in 1815, it's not clear from his sons' accounts if he began life on the eastern seaboard in Baltimore or if his parents had by then already moved west to Ohio. Dr. Stradley's wife was also of English descent. Ayres Stradley III described his mother's father, Abner Bell, as a "hero of the War of 1812" and as a "minister of the gospel" .... "connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church." Ohio was certainly still very much life on the frontier in 1815, but much less precariously so after the War of 1812.

The Stradleys couldn't have picked a more interesting or exciting time to move to Wabash. The town was the last stop going up river before the series of more than a dozen locks along the Wabash and Erie canal connecting the headwaters of the Wabash with the headwaters of the Maumee in Fort Wayne. By 1850 a few of the packets and liners plying the canal were already powered by steam instead of mule drawn as they all had been when the canal first opened for business in 1835.

The Wabash and Erie meant that cargo and passengers could be moved entirely by boat between Lake Erie and any of the cities on the Mississippi, the Ohio or the Gulf of Mexico without braving the waves of the Atlantic. Canal boats could travel from Toledo on Lake Erie to Evansville on the Ohio near the junction with the Mississippi in about eight days. The canal era was to American transportation what the word processing and fax era is to the internet. Wholly obsolete in only four decades, the canal was George Washington's great dream of American progress. As a federally funded public works project, it was the 19th century's Hoover Dam.

The information concerning my great great great grandfather is a story in itself. I ran a Google search on the name Stradley shortly after writing my previous post about the death of Michael Steele's brother, Abraham Steele, at Andersonville. I knew that Michael Steele had married a woman whose maiden name was Stradley. The search led me to a site called Portraits and Biographical Records of Denver and Vicinity 1898. It was one of a number of books owned by Pam Rietsch, who transcribed and put them online as part of something she calls the Mardos Collection. She and her associates are active proponents of USGenNet, which apparently has made quite a bit of genealogical and historical information freely available online.

If Michael Steele's brother, Abraham, had survived his incarceration at Andersonville, he might very well have fulfilled his ambition to become a doctor. His father, Elias Steele, was married to a woman named Elizabeth Bickel. Her brother lived next door to Dr. Stradley in Wabash. When the Steele brothers moved from Ohio to South Bend, Indiana in 1864, their mother, Elizabeth, directed Michael and his oldest brother, Jeremiah, to go to Wabash and build a barn for her brother. They did. Dr. Stradley saw the barn, admired their work and asked the boys to build him a house. Michael had work to do in South Bend and couldn't stay, but Jeremiah remained in Wabash long enough to build the house for Dr. Stradley. A few years later, Charlotte moved to South Bend and married Michael.

No comments: