Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mary Mills-White, My 5th Great Aunt & Pioneer Ancestor

I don't have a photo of her, but then again, she died in 1877, so the headstone will have to do. Mary Mills-White is my 5th great aunt on my mother's side. Her parents, James and Rachael Mills, were pioneers who made the arduous journey from southern Maine to southwestern Indiana in the second decade of the 19th century. They arrived in what was then still wild country full of Indians and every kind of game, settling in the area that would become Princeton, Indiana, before Indiana was admitted to the Union. That would not happen until five years after their arrival in the Indiana wilderness.

Mary was only three when they began their journey, her mother setting up home in New York while her father and uncle ventured westward in search of new farming land. The story has it that the family dog accompanied the men on the journey, returning alone by harvest time back to the temporary farm in New York. Fearing the worst, Rachael Mills, an industrious woman, sold the harvest and made plans to return to their homeland in Kennebec County, Maine. Before she could start the journey back eastward, the way she had traveled with her husband and five young children earlier in the year, the men returned from surveying their future home in Indiana territory. The family then made their way south to Pittsburgh and west down the Ohio River by flatboat until they reached Indiana on New Year's Day 1811, or so the story is told by Berilla Mills-Greek in Gil R. Stormont's "History of Gibson County, Indiana" (1914, Bowen & Co.).

By the time Mary was 18, she had caught the eye of a handsome suitor, Isaac A. White, a young man born in Massachusetts, but reared just across the river in Friendsville (Wabash County), Illinois. He went by his middle name, Anson, and is also mentioned in Stormont's history.  According to Gibson County (IN) marriage records, the two were wed on Christmas Eve 1825. They remained in that county until the late 1830's welcoming at least six of their ten children into the world in Indiana. The other four children were born in Wabash County, Illinois. They remained in that county at least fifteen years before heading westward in 1855. Anson White is counted among the men in Wapello County, Iowa, on that state's 1856 Census. He would die two years later, leaving my Aunt Mary a widow with three children at home--twins Elizabeth and Sarah, 18, and Mary, 15.

On the 1860 U.S. Census, less than two years a widow, Mary is found keeping home in rural Sciola, in the West Nodaway River Valley, halfway between Des Moines, IA, and Omaha, NE. Twenty-four year old son, Samuel W. White, who would not marry for another couple of years, was home tending to the family farm and looking after his mother. He would soon enlist with the 9th Iowa Infantry of Company A, serving eight or nine months before becoming ill and being laid up in Nashville, TN. He returned to Douglas Township, Montgomery County, IA, buying a 100-acre farm nearer to Grant (just north of Sciola, where he lived with his mother before the war). By 1870, Mary had moved in with Samuel and his wife, Sarah Jane, near Grant, Iowa, where she would spend the last seven years of her life, helping to raise four grandchildren, the youngest of which was only 2 1/2 when she died in 1877. Mary joined her husband in a plot they had purchased in the back lot of East Grant Cemetery in Montgomery County, IA. That is where the headstone, above, was photographed in 2010.

Obviously, Mary inherited her pioneering spirit from her parents who made the roughly 1,260-mile trek from Maine to Indiana in 1810-11. She was among Gibson County's earliest families, then helped to shape Wabash Co, IL, and Montgomery Co, IA, living a robust life of 70 years, seeing a son go off to war in the South, only to come home with impaired eyesight due to sickness, to outlive her husband by nearly 20 years (the date on the headstone for her death is off by five years) and to help raise many grandchildren.

This year marks Indiana's Bi-Centennial, so I'll be sharing more about my pioneer ancestors who came to the Hoosier State before it's admission into the Union in 1816.

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