Sunday, September 03, 2006

White Eyes

The only grandparents I ever knew were my mother's parents, Bud and Carlie Steele. I remember my grandfather as someone who was almost always physically attached to a camera of one sort or another, more often than not a movie camera. He had seventeen grandchildren and I'm sure that quite a bit of what little time I spent with him is now part of some massive home movie archive in the hands of my mother's younger sisters.

Bud Steele was the only son of Ira Steele. The Steele line is easy to trace because of a genealogy called The Descendants of George Steele, put together by William Welfley in 1909. That genealogy contains precious little information about the women married to this long line of Steeles.

Bud wasn't really my grandfather's name. He was born in 1899 and all of the census and other official records list his given name as Cleon Virgil. He sometimes used his initials, C.V., but mostly people called him Bud. He had a younger sister named Gladys. His father, Ira, described himself as an "Evangelical Clergyman" in the 1930 census, although I think he earned his living as a carpenter. The name Gladys makes good sense for the daughter of a 'clergyman' I guess, but I think it's difficult to make a case that Cleon Virgil really qualifies as a Christian name.

I did some research into the name Cleon and I find it a little hard to believe that many people at the dawn of the 20th century were all that familar with the history of Athens during the Pelopponesian War. I got out a battered old copy of the plays of Shakespeare and looked up Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Cleon had a good-sized part in that play. He was Pericles' main rival, a fairly light-weight villain, seriously overshadowed by his wife, Dionyza, the sort of woman who hires a hitman to rub out her daughter's competition for a spot on the cheerleading squad.

Ira, the Evangelical clergyman, married a woman named Laura Price. Laura was the youngest daughter of Alexander H. and Lydia Anne Price. The Price family, like the Steeles, appears to have moved from Ohio to South Bend, Indiana during the Civil War. My mother, who passed on seven years ago today, was always convinced that she possessed some small portion of Native American ancestry and she used to have a picture that was taken of her grandmother, Laura (Price) Steele, along with Laura's older sister, Emma. She showed me that picture a number of times. The complexion and bone strucure of the Price girls was such that they could easily have passed as perhaps half Native American.

My mother and her older brother, John, both had dark hair, brown eyes and complexions with enough melanin to tan quite readily during Indiana summers spent swimming in Lake Wawasee where the family owned a lakeside cottage. Their younger sisters have brown hair and much lighter complexions, taking more after the blue-eyed Swiss Germans on my grandmother's side. The story my mother would often tell about Grandma Steele was of returning to South Bend after a summer on the lake. Grandma Steele took steel wool to the skin on my mother's elbows, back and neck, trying to remove all of that 'dirt' she'd accumulated over the summer.

I've recently learned quite a bit more than I had expected to know about my great grandmother, Laura Steele nee Price, thanks to online census records. Her mother's maiden name was Lydia Anne Cordray and she was born in 1834. According to the 1850 census, she appears to have been the oldest daughter of Nathan C. and Mary Cordray, who lived in Crawford Township in Coshocton County, about twenty miles north of Zanesville, Ohio. She was sixteen in 1850. Her father, Nathan, was born in 1799 in Upper Old Town, Allegany County, Maryland. His parents were Isaac and Mary Cordray, who resided in Coshocton in 1850 with Nathan and his family. Census records for 1800 in Upper Old Town, Allegany, Maryland, list Isaac as an inhabitant between 30 and 40 years of age. He was born in 1769 and his wife, Mary, was born in 1772.

It's not clear when the family first arrived in Upper Old Town or when exactly they moved from Maryland to Ohio. Up until 1803, when it entered the Union as a state, Ohio was a place where you and your friends could paddle your canoe instead of carrying it. Upper Old Town, near present day Cumberland, was where the Potomac narrowed enough so you could cross without getting your moccasins wet. George Washington established a fort there and used it as his headquarters while he and General Braddock tried to persuade the French army to abandon their forts in western Pennsylvania and Ohio during the French and Indian War. The Potomac at Upper Old Town marked the border with West Virginia, though it was only a handful of miles from there to Pennsylvania. Bedford, PA, where the Steele family settled originally, is on the Juniata River about twenty miles north on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Coshocton, Ohio, is where two smaller rivers join to form the Muskingum River which flows south through Zanesville into the Ohio at Marietta, the first permanent American settlement in the Ohio Territory, established by the Northwest Ordnance of 1787. The fort at Marietta gradually extended its reach up the Muskingum to Coshocton. Many, if not most, of the original settlers in this area were people who were promised land grants in the Northwest Territory as compensation for military service in the Revolution and later in the War of 1812. The entire Muskingum basin was initially designated as Washington County, not to honor George Washington, but because the development of that region was his personal project.

By 1850 Washington County had been subdivided a number of times and the area around the town of Coshocton had become Coshocton County, which was divided into about 24 separate townships. The census of 1860 shows Nathan Cordray and his wife, Mary, were still there in Crawford Township along with their youngest daughter, Mary B. Cordray, age 10. Grandpa Isaac and his wife, Mary, were no longer part of the household. Isaac would have been 91 in 1860 if he had lived that long. Lydia Anne, at age 26, had long since met and married Alexander Price in 1860. They, along with Lydia Anne's three brothers were all living elsewhere. And Crawford Township had grown to more than 1,500 inhabitants, many of them newly arrived German immigrants. By 1870, Nathan and Mary were living with their oldest son, Edward, in South Bend.

Something else is noteworthy about the 1860 census. If you look carefully at it you'll notice that the person listed as the enumerator for Adams, Crawford, Mill Creek, Oxford and White Eyes Townships is someone named Nathan C. Cordray, my great great great grandfather. The document I've linked is a mortality table. Part of the enumerator's job was to compile a list of everyone in the township who died within the previous year. If you look real carefully, you'll notice that Nathan Cordray's task was perhaps complicated by the fact that Lucius Howard, the doctor over in Keene Township, was murdered in January by a jealous husband. Nathan recorded 42 deaths in the five townships he enumerated, all from natural causes, although one poor child, a three year old, did die from burns suffered when he was scalded by an overturned pan of boiling water on the stove.

One of the townships Nathan Cordray enumerated was called White Eyes. The township was named after George White Eyes, a Delaware Indian, who founded Coshocton as an Indian village during the French and Indian War. Coshocton was White Eyes' name in the Delaware language. George was one of the very few chiefs who sided with the Americans during the American Revolution. Most of the chiefs favored the British. The Continental Congress thanked White Eyes for his efforts in 1778 after he proposed that Ohio should enter the Union as its 14th state, reserved exclusively for native Americans.