With Winter Storm Juno bearing down on New England, it seems like a good time to write about my great great grandmother Hannah Brown who was born in Vermont in 1830. (Even though it is a week early for Challenge #5) No doubt she had her fair share of plowing through snow during her childhood in Vermont and perhaps plowing of a different sort when she and her husband Joseph Kingsbury began their life as pioneers in the Midwest; first in Illinois in 1852 and five years later in Fayette County, Iowa where they secured a quarter section of land, built a log cabin and began farming.
Hannah was the youngest of three girls born to Orrin Brown and Mary Read Cheney. Her father died when she was only 3 years old and her mother remarried a few years later. Mary and her second husband had four sons (Clark, John, William and Nathaniel) and one daughter Lucy Ann. The 1850 census for Jamaica, Vermont shows 19 year –old Hannah Brown living with her mother, step-father and half siblings.
Hannah met her husband Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury while he was building a barn for her stepfather. Hannah and Joseph married on October 4, 1852 and they moved west that same year. Their first child, Mary Lucinda, was born in Cherry Valley Illinois in1853. In 1857 they moved to Iowa and began life on the prairie where their next three children were born, Fannie Ella (1857), Wayland Briggs (1859) and Emma Brown (1861).
I have a book written by Hannah’s daughter Ella Kingsbury Whitmore entitled Salt of the Earth. She published the book in 1944 in Monrovia California and dedicates it to the descendants of Joseph B. and Hannah Brown Kingsbury. She wrote the book at the request of her daughter to capture some of her memories of life in the Midwest. It describes her childhood growing up in Iowa and provides a detailed account of daily routines – everything from making soap and candles, making and washing clothes, and the importance of music and religion to her family.
On page 12 Ella writes of her parents when they were young:
“One can picture the young Vermont couple, Joseph with his dark hair and eyes, tall, and thoughtfully serious, Hannah, short and plump, blue eyed and earnest, as they grew interested in each other. Her voice was a rich soprano, full and true through the years, such as is rare. His was bass, sweet but not strong, and before many years, was but a whisper. His love of music was deep.”
Their wedding was a simple ceremony at the minister’s home with Hannah’s older sister Mary and her husband as witnesses. The young couple left for Cherry Valley, Illinois where they had relatives, as soon as they married.They carried all of their worldly possessions, “a strong tool chest, filled with carpenter tools, a small trunk of Joseph’s make, containing his wardrobe and a ‘big box’ of Hannah’s store of clothes and bedding, and keepsakes. They had youth and health, and habits of frugality and industry, and a good share of the rare quality, common sense.”
After a few years in Illinois, the family visited Vermont with their first child, Mary Lucinda.
“A daguerreotype picture of them at that time shows three earnest, thoughtful faces. The young mother and little daughter have their dark hair parted over their broad foreheads, and smoothly combed over their ears, not very different from the style of young people today.”
From the story of Joseph’s tall silk wedding hat dropping to his shoulders when he put it on, and the reference to Hannah and her daughter’s “broad foreheads,” I think it’s a safe bet that my “bulgy Kingsbury brow” as my husband lovingly calls it, might actually have come from the Browns and not the Kingsbury side of the family.
In 1881, Joseph and Hannah sold the farm and moved into the town of Oelwein, which was a new railroad town. They eventually moved to Osage and Joseph worked with his son Wayland in the family hardware store. The hardware store in Osage stayed in the Kingsbury family until the mid-1950s, with Wayland’s second son Frank as the final owner.
Hannah and Joseph stayed with Wayland and his four sons after the death of Wayland’s first wife, Flora Jane Bush in 1900. Ella writes:
“Father and mother willingly gave up their quiet home and went to that of the desolated family. They were glad that they were wanted, and could still be useful. When the children were told that grandpa and grandma were coming to stay with them, and they would all be careful and try not to tire them, Joseph said gently, ‘We will be quiet, we are used to walking on tiptoe.’ And what little Joe said, was sure to be acceptable to his small brother Dean.”
Ella recalls her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary as a grand celebration held at the home of Mrs. N.J. Berger. Grandchildren played violin and piano and recited verses. Their children and friends shared stories of Joseph and Hannah’s life together. There was a picture taken in the yard with 34 people in it (sadly, not reproduced in the book) and the next day 24 family members went to the photography studio for a more formal picture (also, not reproduced).
Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury died in September 1909, a month before their 57th anniversary and Hannah later moved to the home of her son Wayland and his second wife, Annie Walker Kingsbury. On August 24, 1914, Hannah wrote to her daughter Ella, then living in California:
“I am settled with Wayland and Annie again, with no prospect of unsettling, and I am satisfied. Shall try to be cheerful and agreeable and useful, as far as I am able.” After describing her day at church she continues: “Dean received a letter from a girlfriend in Washington, with a clipping containing a whole lot of names of Americans that were stranded in Europe, and Joe’s was among them, as also the two friends that were with him. They were in Nuremberg. We have to keep satisfied with ‘watchful waiting’ for awhile, probably. Oh, the cruelty and meanness of such a war.”
Hannah died when she was 84 and her daughter Ella describes her as brave and helpful to the end. In one of my favorite lines in the book she writes of her mother:
“No self-pity, no whining, no grumbling, do I recall. Trustful and true to the last. To her it was humiliating to be a leaner. A lifter was her habitual character.”
Good advice – the world could use more lifters!