“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.”

Anthony Brandt


By Gerry Roe edited by Betsy Cross Thorpe

Gabriel Elkins is my third-great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family.  He was born August 12, 1755 in Culpepper, Virginia.  He died Jan. 5, 1842 in Paris, Texas.

It’s not clear how many times Gabriel married, but it is recorded that he fathered at least twenty children.  His first wife was named Stacy Dillard.  Stacy died at a young age. He then married a woman named Mary Pendleton who also died young. Gabriel  later married a woman thought to be Stacy’s niece, my third-great-grandmother, Sophia Dillard. I don’t know if he had any other wives.

Gabriel fathered at least eleven children with Stacy, one known child with Mary and eight or more children with Sophia, including Susannah Elkins my second-great-grandmother.

I have a very large number of distant DNA cousins.   Now that I know about Gabriel Elkins and his many, many children, I understand why.  He definitely wins my Family Tree Award for Ancestor With the Largest Number of Offspring.

#52ancestorsin52weeks   #52ancestorsin52weeksLarge


By Gerry Roe

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing so gentle as real strength.”  Francis De Sales

This large White Oak is known as the Birthing Tree. It stands on Sparta Highway in Warren County Tennessee, on property obtained by Gabriel Elkins around 1818 as payment for his service in the War of 1812. It was named the Birthing Tree because of the number of children born in its shade to women who were members of wagon trains from North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia that were continuing to Alabama and points west. If an expectant mother was about to give birth the wagon train would stop in the vicinity of the tree and her wagon pulled under it and left there to afford her shelter and shade while she waited to deliver her child.
The tree is eighty-five feet tall. It has a crown spread of one hundred and twenty five feet and is believed to be close to three hundred years old.
The above is an adaptation of a piece written by a Warren County historian known only as “Mrs. Massey: Her version can be found in the book titled History of Warren County.


Since time immemorial the oak tree has been recognized as a symbol of strength.  I often ponder the might of the sturdy oak.  I marvel at how long it lives.  So it came as no surprise that when my niece and I considered  which of our  female ancestors most symbolized strength we  decided on  a woman with a close familial connection to the mighty white oak known as the Birthing Tree.  We chose my great grandmother, Emily Manus Isaacs, daughter of Susannah Elkins Manus, granddaughter of Gabriel Elkins the man who once owned the land where the Birthing Tree stands.

With roots in Warren County Tennessee and their place in my family history, to me, that old white oak tree and Emily Isaacs are very much the same.
I am a retired nurse. I worked as a health care professional for forty-eight years. I spent an additional eight years as a volunteer nurse. With all my years of experience in health services  I can state with confidence my belief that my great grandmother Emily Isaacs was a physically strong woman. She delivered twelve children over the course of twenty-seven years. She did so without the benefits of pre-natal care available to women today. Sadly four of her twelve  children lived only a very short time past birth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
I can’t help but wonder what she knew about childbirth before she delivered her first child.  
 I venture to say she only knew what she was taught by family members and friends, and then later what she learned from personal experience after she delivered her first child.
Emily lived to be seventy -six years old.  She spent close to one fourth of her adult life pregnant.  She spent over half of her adult life raising children.  Those two facts help bolster my belief that she was a physically strong woman.

Most likely her way of life changed very little while she was with child. She still had her household duties to perform even after she had delivered. For each delivery after the birth of her first child there was always other children to care for.
 Her family relied on her to  keep the household going and there were many physically challenging  chores for her to do. Hauling water, carting firewood, preparing meals, disposing of kitchen slop and dirty dishwater, emptying and cleaning chamber pots and hoeing and weeding the kitchen garden were just some of the chores women like Emily were expected to do every day.
Yes, I believe Emily Manus Isaacs was a strong woman and it makes me   proud to see her  name so near to mine on our massive family tree.

Home births remained the norm in my family for many years to come. I was born in 1944, in Kings Daughter Hospital in Greenville Mississippi, the first in my direct line to be born in a hospital. In 1948 my youngest brother Henry Alan Roe was born in Mrs. Butler’s maternity home, in Cottage Grove Oregon. He was one of the one thousand and five babies that were born during the ten years the home was in operation.

From that time forward almost all the babies in our family were born in hospitals. One notable exception is my great-great niece Mary Elizabeth, the daughter of my great niece Ruby Elizabeth Thorpe. Mary was born at home, in Nashville Tennessee. She was delivered by her grandmother, my niece, Betsy Cross Thorpe. Ruby went into active labor soon after was sent home from Vanderbilt Hospital by a health care worker who determined that she wasn’t close to delivery.
Proof that in my family Strong Women still persist!!!