Telling my family's stories
My grandfather, Elmer Ritenour, used to claim that he (and, by extension, me) was descended from Mayflower pilgrims. He also claimed he was descended from an ‘Indian squaw’ who married into the Ritenour family. Sure, Elmer, we all said. Sure you were.
Well. The ‘Indian’ woman he was referring to turns out to be correct. Her name was Martha Ellen George, and she matches all the details he offered. You can check other posts about that.
However, the Mayflower connection was something I never believed. If I had a nickel for every person who claimed something like that, when the subject of genealogy came up, why, I’d have a lot of nickels, I would.
In doing genealogy on his Ritenour family, I basically run across two strands of people. There were the Virginians. The confederates. The ones that fled to Maryland and then to Illinois – these are the ‘Ritenours proper,’ so to speak. However, when they got to Illinois, they intermarried with a bunch of different kinds of people. Elmer’s mother, for example, Cora Moorehead, is pure Irish/Scots-Irish, from old pioneer stock in Illinois. Basically, it’s crazy hillbillies and woman who made bad life decisions.
His grandmother was named Minnie Mae Oberheim. You may recall that she was the unlucky girl who married Andrew Jackson Ritenour when she was 15 years old. Her father was a solid son of Bavarian immigrants named John Frederick Oberheim, whose father had immigrated to Illinois (via Pennsylvania) from a little town called Lemberg in western Germany. More on his family some other time.
Minnie Mae’s mother was named Emma Jane Lashelle. The last name has about a thousand and a half spellings. The most common are Lashell, Lashells, Lashelle. Emma’s father was named William Craig Lashelle, and had come to Northern Illinois from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he had been born in 1814. In Illinois, he married a woman named Mary Elizabeth Batchellor. She had been born in Bethel, Vermont, and had come out west with her father Dennis Fay Batchellor and the rest of the family. He was a profitable dry goods merchant and had some sort of patent on a corn harvesting machine. Mary Elizabeth died at the age of 54 in 1880 of typhoid, which is, in my personal experience, pretty much one of the worst ways you could die. It was quite common in Illinois during that period, as was cholera and lots of other fun things. William Craig buried her and picked up and moved to Ellis, Kansas with some of his sons. He was buried there in 1895 – I’ve visited the grave (tip: stay AWAY from the Kansas ants in summer!!).
Dennis Fay Batchellor was the son of Benjamin Batchellor and Elizabeth Fay, who were born and raised in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Note that middle name of Dennis Batchellor: Fay. In some families, children are often given the middle name of someone in their maternal line. The Batchellors were old bluebloods from Massachusetts, and one of Dennis’ direct ancestors, John Batchellor (b. Jan 20 1638 in Salem) sat on the jury of the legendary Salem Witch trials. In this case, Dennis was being named after his mother – Elizabeth Fay.
Elizabeth Fay was born September 3, 1783 to Lieutenant Daniel Fay and his wife Mary Paige. Lt. Fay, along with his father (Lt. Daniel Fay senior) was one of the chief organizers of the minutemen in Massachusetts during the revolution. Mary Paige was the daughter of Colonel Timothy Paige, who had been in both the French & Indian War and in the Revolutionary War. He served as a minuteman and commanded a company in the Massachusetts Bay militia, and served at West Point as well.
So now, suddenly, we get from little Minnie Mae Oberheim and her bad marriage decisions, all the way back to High-class, Revolutionary blue bloods in the Northeast. Some of this was known, in fact, in the 20th century, because Emma Jane Lashell’s obituary copiously mentions her prominent, revolutionary war connections (I’ll post it shortly).
Colonel Timothy Paige had married a woman named Mary Foster in 1754. She was born April 11, 1732 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. You see where this is going. Her parents were James Deacon Foster and Lydia Winslow, who married in Plymouth July 10, 1729. James Deacon was born January 24, 1705, the son of Chillingsworth Foster and Mercy Freeman. I’ll cover the Fosters at some other point – they were quite famous in their own ways. All of these people I’m mentioning here can be easily googled.
Mercy Freeman was born August 3, 1687, the daughter of John Freeman and Sarah Merrick. Sarah was the daughter of the Ensign William Merrick and Rebecca Tracy. William had served under Miles Standish and had been an important figure in the founding of Virginia and Massachusetts.
Major John Freeman was born 1622 in England, and, in 1649, married Mercy Prence in Eastham, Massachusetts. Mercy Prence was the daughter of the fourth governor of the Plymouth Colony, Thomas Prence, born about 1600 in Gloucestershire, England. He had arrived in Plymouth on November 9, 1621, serving as the assistant to the governor. Part of his responsibilities was to preside over trials as judge, including a trial of four men for robbing an Indian. He found them guilty and hanged them.
Thomas Prence, being of some status in the colonies, married the daughter of a particularly important person there – Patience Brewster, the daughter of Elder William Brewster. Like all the early Plymouth colonists, Patience had been born to her parents William and Mary in English, around 1600, and had made the voyage to Plymouth very early. She died early, too – about 1634 of a ‘pestilent fever.’
Although I think Patience Brewster was also on the Mayflower voyage, it is Patience’s father who is likely the source of the claim passed down to my grandfather about the Mayflower. Elder William Brewster was the religious and philosophical leader of the Mayflower pilgrims, and had come over in that very first voyage. Most of the best information on him is in the autobiography written by his friend and contemporary William Bradford.
So. Dagnabbit – my Grandfather was right after all. Here’s his descent, just in case you couldn’t keep all that in your head:
William Brewster > Patience Brewster > Mercy Prence > John Freeman > Mercy Freeman > James Deacon Foster > Mary Foster > Mary Paige > Elizabeth Fay > Dennis Fay Batchellor > Mary Elizabeth Batchellor > Emma Jane Lashell > Minnie Mae Oberheim > Earl Ritenour > Elmer Ritenour.
The line is quite well-documented – one of the best and firmest I have, corroborated with plenty of birth certificates, histories, marriage records, etc. Go figure.