The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations

A Man Ahead of His Time – My GG Grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury (1827 – 1909)


My grandfather’s aunt Ella Kingsbury Whitmore wrote a book about her family’s life as pioneers entitled Salt of the Earth. It’s the Kingsbury family’s personal  Little House on the Prairie and recounts the events from Joseph and Hannah’s marriage in Vermont in 1850 to their life in the Midwest, first in Illinois and then in Iowa. If you check this blog often, you’ll get bits and pieces of that story from time to time.

Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury was a carpenter and he met his wife Hannah Brown when he was building a barn for her step-father John Robinson in Jamaica, Vermont.  Hannah’s father Orrin Brown died when she was young and her mother remarried. The headline picture on this blog is of the Kingsbury family of Osage Iowa – Joseph and Hannah seated in front of their four children – Emma, Wayland, Ella and Mary. It was probably taken in the late 1880s.

The family’s strong abiding faith in God and love of family shine through Aunt Ella’s account of daily life in the Kingsbury home. My grandfather, Joseph Bush Kingsbury (JBK) described his religious upbringing as something he never questioned until much later in life.  His father Wayland married a minister’s daughter (Flora Jane Bush, whose father Reverend Alva Bush founded Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa) so JBK and his brothers  had a strong religious upbringing. JBK’s diary from his time as a college student at George Washington University (1910- 1915) has numerous accounts of Sunday School meetings and other church related activities, in addition to his job as a stenographer and clerk in the Department of Agriculture.

JBK 1970My grandfather was 65 when I was born and he was a college professor at Indiana University.  I could talk to him about anything and he was a strong influence in all of my academic pursuits. Near the end of his life (he died in 1983 at age 92) I remember asking him about his belief in God and his religious views.  We had never talked about that but I always thought of him as “religious.” I was surprised by his reluctance to talk about his faith.  He said something like – “I think I’m just about ready to talk about that,” but it was a conversation we never had.

Somehow his reluctance to tell me about his faith journey made a stronger impression on me than if he had said, “Yes there is a God, Jesus is His son and you should believe that.” Coming from him, I probably would have. I think JBK understood the benefit of someone struggling with their own ambivalence in matters of faith and finding their way without accepting what they were told they should believe.  I think he was right about that.

I have digressed from my original intent in writing this post, which was to illustrate the progressive views of my very religious GG grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury but in doing so, I’ve shared the even more important and progressive views of his namesake, my grandfather.

So as for the views of Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury – his daughter Ella writes:

“Father was not only deeply interested in the abolition of slavery and of the liquor traffic, but also in woman suffrage. He thought his daughters were as capable as his son of expressing their convictions on matters of local or general interest. Their ‘in-laws’ were equally forward looking and progressive.”  (From p.55 of Salt of the Earth by Ella Kingsbury Whitmore)

I’m proud to be from a long line of progressive men.





Author: kakingsbury

I finally took the leap and started a blog in mid-March 2014. I currently maintain three blogs "All Things Kalen" "The Family Letter Blog" and "Trovando Famiglia." Trovando Famiglia is about my husband's family, particularly the original four Giorgio brothers who immigrated to western Pennsylvania from San Vito Chietino, Italy in the late 1800s. The Giorgio boys and their descendants have been the focus of my genealogical research over the past two years. The blog allows me to share family stories and photographs. Thanks for checking me out!

2 thoughts on “A Man Ahead of His Time – My GG Grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury (1827 – 1909)

  1. Hi Kalen, My grandfather and grandmother were not religious at all, at least when I knew them. I lived with them in Omaha for a couple of months when I was 3&1/2 (also met Annie Walker K when we passed through Osage – she was dressed in white with a high collar long dress) and saw them regularly after they moved to Sturbridge in 1957. I know my aunt Dee said my grandfather had a remarkable bass/baritone singing voice and would sing at church in Osage and was often asked to sing at special occasions such as funerals, but I never saw or heard of them going to church during, ever. Grandma didn’t even have a memorial for grandpa. So when she died we had one for both of them at the UU church in Needham which was the church I grew up in and ironically likely founded by siblings, children and or cousins of our Kingsburys when they separated from Dedham in 1711. They bought plots for cremated ashes in the Needham Cemetery too. Simple bass plaques on the ground courtesy of the US Military because grandpa was a lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps in WWI… c

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Chris –
    Thanks for leaving a comment and sharing your grandparents’ take on religion. I’ve often wondered how the strong religious upbringing affected the original Kingsbury boys and their offspring. My sense is that while it initially gave them a strong foundation and perhaps a strong sense of self and courage to explore the world, their life in the world and their strong intellect, tended to pull them away from the church. But from JBK’s letters, especially after he retired, I know the church was an important part of his life.

    I think my father and his brother Deane are the best examples of opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m pretty sure my father was agnostic and I think Deane and Nancy’s faith is incredibly strong and important to them. My parents did not go to church while I was growing up so I went with neighbors and friends – sometimes to Baptist churches, sometimes to Catholic mass in Latin, sometimes to Friends’ meetings. When Rick and I married it was important to both of us to find a church that we wanted to join and to get married in it. So we became Presbyterian and I remember that JBK being Presbyterian was a factor in that choice for me.

    Maybe some more of our Kingsbury kin would like to weigh in on the subject! The lines are open….


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