By Betsy Thorpe
“Ultimately, the great truths of family history don’t live in any book. They live in the hearts and minds of the living descendants.” Laurence Overmire
Two months ago, when I saw the word Water on the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks list of weekly writing prompts it reminded me of a story my grandmother Ruby Isaacs Roe, liked to tell about the day she was born. She was born on February 9, 1911, in western Kentucky, near the banks of the Cumberland River.
As the story goes, winter was colder than usual that year. It was so cold on the day she was born that the river froze. It froze solid. The ice was so thick that one man drove a heavy mule drawn wagon all the way across the river, from one bank to the other.
Two months in advance of when the Water prompt was due, I knew that was the story to tell. I would write of that cold icy day when my grandmother first arrived in this world. It was the perfect story for Water
Or so it seemed.
My plan started to change after last week rolled around. That’s when I wrote a blog post about my sixth great grandmother Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. I wrote about her for the 52 Ancestors weekly prompt, Nearly Forgotten. After I wrote the piece, I just couldn’t get her off my mind.
Every time I sat down at my desk to write about the day my grandmother was born, I was distracted by thoughts of Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. I couldn’t stop thinking about how in her young years she traveled 3,346 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to reach the Virginia Colony in the New World.
That’s a lot of water to cross over.
Young Elizabeth McKibben was among the first immigranst from Ireland to arrive in Virginia. The Scotch Irish Presbyterians began to arrive in the colony sometime around 1730. They mostly arrived from the city of Londonderry and other parts of Northern Ireland.
According to Eyewitness to history.com The passage to America was treacherous by any standard. Many of the immigrants were too poor to pay for the journey and therefore indentured themselves to wealthier colonialists – selling their services for a period of years in return for the price of the passage. Crammed into a small wooden ship, rolling and rocking at the mercy of the sea, the voyagers – men, women and children – endured hardships unimaginable to us today. Misery was the most common description of a journey that typically lasted seven weeks.
I can’t fathom all the unimaginable hardships she suffered. But, unless she was a small child when she made the voyage, she probably knew how miserable it would be long before she booked passage. I also don’t know if she was indentured when she arrived in Virginia. I truly hope not. I can’t imagine any way that she could have prepared herself for the horrors of that system. No matter her age.
I am on a mission to learn more about Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. Water played a role in her early story.
I am excited to uncover more about her and I am curious to see where my future writing prompts lead me.