I have started this post a dozen times, but something always holds me back.
I believe it its the same impulse that often holds me back, and that is: I am searching for words that are sincere, helpful, relevant, kind (or at least not mean), and humble.
And sometimes you can’t meet all those criteria, so you pick a couple and go with that.
So I am choosing sincere, helpful and relevant.
Where to start?
The internet is full of people who want to give you a piece of their mind.
But are they willing to give a little bit of their love, their life, their time for you?
Oh, I’m sorry. Am I being too pie-eyed hippie? Honestly, I don’t think that is possible.
Because either there is love and eternal evolution, or there is hate and the stupifying comfort of the status quo which leads to nothing but festering rot.
Which brings me to what I have been mulling over since May.
I am the direct descendent of slave-holders, and I refuse to toe the family line and honor these individuals as some kind of misguided heroes.
Father’s Day is Sunday and is going to be “fun” and by “fun” I mean “painfully restrained as I try my best to not fight with my dad about my right and responsibility to look askew at the gunkier parts of our family history.”
So, let me lay it on the line: I am a Daughter of the Confederacy (with some notable exceptions on my mother’s side) and yet I hold that the Confederacy were traitors and we ought to strip their name off every single military base. And, yeah, that means you…
In this, I echo the words of one of the direct descendents of Robert E. Lee, calling for all of Lee’s statues to be taken down. Amen, brother.
And I am quite serious about my Southern heritage. Got kinfolk running all around West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, as well as Kentucky (which is a borderline state since it technically fought for the Union but still had about 35,000 Confederate soldiers and Jefferson Davis rising up from within its borders). Take, for instance, this man: Ransom Mauldin, my 3rd great grand-father.
There are parts of his history which are impressive. He is pictured here with a patented invention that was a rival to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. He was also a post master, a Confederate prisoner of war, and fathered entire counties of Mauldins in Texas.
But he was also a slave-holder. The federal census of 1850 shows he owned three other human beings in the years prior to the Civil War. And so, I say, to hell with him.
You want a true American hero? Then let me pull a few of those out of my hat instead.
Andrew Thomas Porter is my 5th great grandfather. He was a schoolmaster specializing in mathematics and astronomy before serving his country in the Revolutionary War. He was only one among many, many men in his family to do so.
He rose to the level of Colonel during the war, and Major General afterwards. He was so well-regarded as a soldier that not only did Washingon put him in charge of artillery at the Siege of Yorktown, but Lafayette sang his praises to anyone who would listen, and President James Madison wanted him to be his Secretary of War.
You want someone to be proud of, to name your army bases after… I have a suggestion.
And it doesn’t stop there. Andrew’s son George Bryan Porter was the father of Andrew Jackson Porter. He attended West Point, became a captain during the Mexican-American War, and served under McClellan during the Peninsula campaign.
But wait! There’s more!
More? Yes, more!
The grandson of Andrew Thomas Porter’s daughter Mary Jane “Polly” Porter married into the Mauldin line, which had already married into the Dougan line (who are, like the Porters, a huge and intertwining family of Ulsterian Scots… who are really Irish), and that is my particular line which has no other particular claim to fame. Except that the Dougans were patriots down to the very last son, just like the Porters. Which is why I am proud to say that James Robert Dougan is also my 5th great grandfather.
Another great suggestion to name a military installation after.
Most of the Dougans and Porters moved out of both Lancaster and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (hey-oh, I have some Quaker ancestors, just saying) as well as Randolph County, North Carolina, and into Franklin County, Tennesse and Fayette County, Kentucky and then on into Wayne County, Indiana.
Those who stayed behind drifted further south, and in some case, became slave-owners.
I mentioned notable exceptions on my mother’s side, and they also derive from the lineage of Andrew Thomas Porter. His daughter Elizabeth Rittenhouse Porter married another storied soldier of the era, Major Robert Porter Parker.
(And yeah, I know, all the names are confusingly similar. Trust me, if you want to spend some time hammering out my family history from Donegal County, Northern Ireland to America, then you better have two weeks all together to commit, a bucket to pee in, and a large ball of string with which to guide yourself back out of the labyrinth).
Continuing on. One of the daughters of Robert Porter Parker and Elizabeth Rittenhouse (Porter) Parker, a woman named Elizabeth Ann Parker, married Robert Smith Todd. They were all living in Kentucky when Mary Ann Todd was born in December 1818.
And if that name, Mary Todd, sounds familiar, it should.
So… yep. Honest Abe is my second cousin four times removed, by marriage. Howdy, cos!
I feel duty-bound to mention at this point that Mary Todd’s family also had slaves. It’s a corruption that found its way into many families who lived either in the South or in the borderline states like Kentucky. Doesn’t excuse anything, but I want to be transparent.
And, truly, it isn’t much of a connection, in the grand scheme of things. I am probably more closely related to this man, James Doohan of Star Trek fame, than any of the offspring of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.
But it shows you how easy it is, in just one American family (in this case, mine) to choose the “better angels of our nature” and treat all people as equals, or fall back on depravity and devilishness and treat some people as less than.
And now, after all that, another poem about a musical instrument. I have also released a new collection of poetry on Amazon recently(ish). Enjoy!
to think about
how much I wanted
to wrap my lips
and breathe into you
all the sounds
wished your mouth