Monday, December 7, 2009

Women Who Hang Together

Silent sentries on my dining room wall watch over me and guide me while I'm sewing. They inspire me and I find them great company. Many of my quilting hours are filled with speculation about their daily lives. Let me introduce you.

Lucy Nichols, my great-great grandmother, came from Bridgeport, Connecticut to California. She was a true 49'er. She and her husband somehow made their way to St. Joseph, Missouri in 1849, leaving their six year old son, my great-grandfather, William Nichols, in the care of Lucy's parents. Lucy's mother would not allow them to take William on that dangerous trip because she feared Indians would surely scalp him. Lucy and her husband, Eli, arrived safely in El Dorado County and sent word to Lucy's mother to pack little William off to California. The six-year-old boy traveled by boat, alone, wearing a tag around his neck with his name and contact information about his parents. He crossed the isthmus of Nicaragua and sailed up the California coast, arriving in San Francisco a day ahead of schedule. No one was there to meet him. Fortunately, a kindly couple had taken him under their wing and took care of him over night, delivering him safely to his parents the next day.

William grew up in California and married his California-born bride in Shingle Springs in the late 1860's. His wife, Christina, hangs below her mother-in-law.

I don't know much about Christina Wagner Nichols, except that her father was said to be very mean . She died in 1898 of pneumonia when my grandmother was twelve years old. Her husband remarried the stereotypical wicked step-mother, so my grandmother and her little brother left home to live with an older sister in Placerville.

Amanda Schooley, my great-grandmother (mother to my paternal grandfather, Ernest William Blair), looks down from the upper right hand position. Amanda was born in Ovid, New York in 1842, one of eight children born to Nancy and Ezra Schooley. Ezra left New York to seek his fortune in California in 1850. Unfortunately, he died "about ten miles short of the diggin's" from the "disease of the country" which I take to be dysentery. Coincidentally, years later but before I had dug up this family history, I bought a home in El Dorado Hills, about ten miles from Coloma, just off the road that leads to Coloma, where Ezra Schooley is buried.

Amanda Schooley was a middle child in the brood of eight and just a couple of years older than her cousin Frances (Fanny) Seward, who lived in Auburn, New York. Fanny's mother Frances, was the wife of William Seward, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of state.

Frances' (the elder) picture is in the lower right hand corner. Amanda had great respect and love for the Sewards and spent a great deal of time in their home, until she left for California in 1861. In 1862 she married James Blair and they settled in Pollock Pines where they operated Sportsman's Hall -- an inn and changing station for teams crossing the Sierra to bring supplies in to the Comstock silver mines in Nevada and to bring silver out to be shipped east. Later, James and his brother John made their fortune in the lumber business.

Frances Seward was an amazing woman. She was a great champion of public education, prisoner's rights, and emancipation. The Seward home was an underground railroad station and just down the road -- South Street -- from Harriet Tubman's farm. The Sewards held (and forgave) the mortgage on the Tubman farm. Frances died in June, 1862, just a couple of months after the terrible attack on her husband and son that coincided with Lincoln's assassination. Fanny, the daughter and Amanda's companion, died in October of the same year.

So, I sit and sew and speculate on their lives. More musings about them another time.

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