Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mary Houston Berry (1840-1909)

It is often hard to learn much about our female ancestors other than that they kept house and bore children (and, too often, died in childbirth). Fortunately, the life of my great grandmother Mary Houston Berry is pretty well documented. She died long before I was born, but I remember some stories about her. I also carry her mitochondrial DNA since she is my Mother's Mother's Mother.
Mary was born with the name Mary Elizabeth Berry, but as a young woman she dropped Elizabeth and began using Houston as a middle name. It seems that her grandmother had a good friend named Mary Houston, so I suspect the name change was to honor this woman. Mary Houston Berry (hereafter MHB) was born 15 Feb 1840 in Winchester, Clark Co, Kentucky, the first child of Thomas Joseph Berry and Caroline Elizabeth Cast. Her father Thomas Berry was probably also a native of Clark Co., but I haven't traced his background precisely. I think it is very likely that he was one of a large extended Scots-Irish Berry family who spread west from Virginia and the Carolinas after the Revolutionary War. The Cast family (also spelled CASS or CASSE) was from Yorkshire, and the family story is that the patriarch of the North American Casts jumped ship in Philadelphia about 1740 and eventually settled in North Carolina.
Almost all of my ancestors were farmers, but MHB grew up as a "town" girl. In 1850 the family lived in Winchester where her father Thomas was a carpenter. By this time MHB had three younger siblings - a sister Martha and brothers Amon and James (Jimmy). A young carpenter named John Bell was living with the family, possibly as an apprentice. Sometime before 1860 the family moved to Ashland, KY which was a small town on the Ohio River across from Ohio and near the West Virginia line. While in Ashland MHB attended the Ashland Academy, which opened in 1856. It is possible that she was in the first class. Here are some excerpts from the catalog:
"Greek, Latin and French are taught. Fine English scholarship can only be obtained through the medium and mutual connection of those languages...The Natural Sciences embrace Physiology and Hygiene, Botany, Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology and Philosophy. Mathematics embraces a full course of mathematical science...The school knows no sectarian or political distinctions. It is opened with Divine Worship every morning..."
The Ashland Academy was founded and overseen by the local Presbyterian minister, and Thomas Berry was a devout Methodist, but obviously was ecumenical enough to take advantage of the opportunity for his children to receive a good education.
In the 1860 census, MHB was 20 and living in Ashland with her parents and three younger siblings. Thomas was still listing his occupation as carpenter and, as was the case in Winchester a young carpenter (Augustus Richmond, age 17, from Germany) was living with them. Thomas was a trustee of the local Methodist Episcopal Church (later called First Methodist), and since a new church building was completed in 1866 I assume that Thomas probably was directly involved in the construction.
The Civil War must have been a very emotional time for MHB. In 1865 her younger sister Martha died (cause unknown), her two younger brothers fought on opposite sides (I will post separately on this), the headmaster of Ashland Academy resigned abruptly in the middle of the 1865 school year, and MHB and her friend and fellow alumna Luella Poague were "drafted" to run the school. Last but not least MHB met and fell in love with a "traveling salesman" (my greatgrandfather William Joseph Anderson - see the previous posting) who was working for the Confederacy. They were married in 1866 by the Methodist minister, Rev. Sully Brass. Here is a description of Rev. Brass, written by the Presbyterian minister:
"The M. E. Church South [later the First Methodist] was...served by an eccentric Englishman, who lived at Fulton Forge. His name was Sully Brass. He rode a horse, had a flaming red-head stall[ion] on his bridle and a large saddle blanket of the same vivid color".
MHB lost both her Mother Caroline and her first-born (Annie Ellington Anderson, b. 17 Jul 1867) in 1868, and Thomas, now a widower, moved with his daughter and son-in-law to Morganfield, Union Co., in western KY. The family had connections there, since Thomas's brother David was already established at Morganfield. William Anderson started a grocery store there and in 1870 the household included William and MHB, their two sons Joseph (1 1/2) and George (newborn), and Thomas J. Berry whose occupation was now listed as lawyer (!). In addition to the immediate family there were several other people in the household: Eliza Blue (70) and Rachel A. Blue (33 and perhaps Eliza's daughter), William Mann (16, and occupation listed as druggist; probably an assistant to William), Louisa Vontress (15, black, occupation domestic servant), Richmond and Betty Lyons and their son James (55, 48, and 5, black, servants). It must have been an interesting house! Rachel Blue is listed as owning $13,000 in real estate, while William Anderson owns none. Perhaps William was renting the store from Ms. Blue. As to Ms. Vontress and the Lyons family, I don't know whether my greatgrandparents were taking advantage of hiring recently freed slaves as cheap labor, or perhaps were providing shelter and employment as a kindness. This is worth further research.
Thomas Berry died not long after the census in 1870. The grocery store was evidently not a great success, and the Andersons moved to Texas in 1876, with their two sons and daughter Caroline Jane Anderson (my Grandmother, b. 18 Dec 1871). Tradition (undocumented) is that they were on the first train to Fort Worth (July 19, 1876). In any case, they lived at Lancaster, Dallas Co. for a few years and then moved to Tolar, Hood Co. where they spent the rest of their lives. William became a farmer in Texas, and by 1900 owned his farm (with a mortgage) outside of Tolar at "Anderson Heights".
Thanks to a few surviving letters from MHB (to her niece Fanny Bain Berry, and her daughter Caroline Jane Anderson) we have some idea how hard it was to make a living on a small farm in Texas. In a letter to Caroline (Aug 25th 1902) MHB she describes the oppressive hot wind, the good news that the bee-gums are full of honey (but she is afraid to rob the hives so is waiting for the men to do it) and that she has a dozen eggs to sell in Tolar the next day, and bad news that the heat and wind were damaging the cotton crop. William died two years later, in 1904 and I believe (but have not been able to document) that MHB then moved into Tolar. In any case she continued to correspond, and her last letter (that I have seen) was to her niece Fanny Bain Berry, on 4 April 1908. She was enjoying the pleasant spring weather and seemed to be active socially, visiting and receiving visits from family and friends. She also included some information for Fanny about the Civil War service of Jim Berry (MHB's brother and Fanny's father) and told Fanny that an old comrade of Jim's had suggested that MHB and Fanny both join the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I don't think that Mary Houston Berry ever joined the UDC; she died 24 Feb 1909 and is buried with her husband at the Stroud's Creek Cemetery, Tolar, Texas.