Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Did You Know #40

Did you know that we had a relative that not only dreamed of becoming the President of the United States, but had a very legitimate chance of realizing that dream?

In the early years of our country James Israel Standifer moved among the legendary leaders of history. He was born in 1779 Virginia, the son of Israel Standifer and Susannah Heard and the grandson of James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins. The "Standifer" line can be traced back at least to John Standiford (1679-1720), the first in our line to have been born in America. According to an article written by Steven D. Byas (
Tennessee Historical Quarterly; Summer, 1991), the Standifer line is described as "an enterprising family with an avid interest in public affairs." *

A farming family, James Israel Standifer moved westward with his family to North Carolina and then on to Tennessee where they settled around Knoxville (frontier country in his day). In 1801 James married a young woman by the name of Martha, who just happened not only to be the daughter of William Standifer and Jemima Jones, and the granddaughter of James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins, but James' cousin. James and Martha (and indeed most families in those days) were not alone when it came to marriages between first cousins. Martha's siblings, Naomi and Isaac, were married to Israel M. Standifer (James Isreal's brother) and Elizabeth B. Standifer (the daughter of Luke, Martha's uncle). Although legal in that day, these marriages have led to much confusion as our generation seeks to unravel these families. This confusion is reflected in the inconsistent claims of various sources. With that in mind we will try to trace this family according to the best evidence I could find.

James Israel Standifer took up farming in Mount Airy, Tennessee, until he answered the call of his nation and marched  off to the War of 1812. Serving in the military James attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and participated in the famous Battle of New Orleans. Upon his return to eastern Tennessee, he turned his attention to politics. First he was elected state senator (1815-1821), and then he was sent to Washington D.C. where he represented Tennessee as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives (1823-1837). Standifer served alongside such notables as Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson; Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and David Crockett (he didn't really like to be called by the name "Davey").

One of the most interesting national issues of his day was the removal of the
Cherokee Indians from North Carolina/Tennessee area. Standifer first voted "yes" to President Jackson's proposal to relocate these Indians west of the Mississippi (just a little north of Cape Girardeau, where I live). However, the moment he realized that the Cherokee Indians would be removed by force, Standifer became a vocal opponent of the plan. Sadly, not even Standifer could prevent the infamous "Trail of Tears," the forced removal of these tribes.

Congressman Standifer was also intimately involved with the presidential election of 1836 as an opponent of Martin Van Buren. After this election
Standifer returned home to Mount Airy for a visit with his large family. When it came time for him to return to Washington, Congressman Standifer reportedly told his wife that "he might just run for president himself in 1840."  Then he set off on his horse and he never saw his family again. Stopping off at the home of a friend near Kingston, Tennessee, a man by the name of Colonel Joseph Byrd, Standifer "died, suddenly, on August 20, 1837." It was reported that Standifer died of pneumonia. That claim, however, did not seem to fit the official claim that his death was "sudden and unexpected" (most people who die of pneumonia do not die "unexpectedly"). Others insisted that Standifer was assassinated.

News of
Standifer's death shocked Washington. It was not just the surprising fact that Standifer had died, but they were troubled by the persisting mystery concerning his cause of death. Amid the flourishing rumors both Houses passed resolutions calling for thirty days of mourning in Standifer's memory. In the House of Representatives John Bell, who would later run for president against Abraham Lincoln, announced the news of Standifer's "sudden" passing. Bell said that Standifer was a man "remarkable for an equanimity of temper," and a man with a "reputation for honesty which he nobly earned, and continued to maintain by the most scrupulous regard for truth and justice in all his transactions, public and private." In the Senate future President James K. Polk commented about Standifer's "truthfulness, even in the midst of their deep political division."

So how is Congressman James Israel Standifer related to our family? He was Mom's fourth great-grand uncle (the brother of her fourth great-grandfather). Here are the details:

Israel Standifer and Susannah Heard
Cong. James Israel Standifer b.1779 Skelton Daniel Standifer b.1752

Archibald Standerfer Sr. b.1775

Franklin H. Standerfer b.1820

William Standerfer b.1841

Zacharious I. Standerfer b.1871

Mercedes Ruth Standerfer b.1872

Mary Jean Ethington Bragg b.1928

Since James married his first cousin, Mom was also related to Martha Standifer. She was Mom's first cousin 6 times removed:

James J. Standifer and Martha Watkins
William Standifer b.1757 Israel Standifer b.1740
Martha Standifer b. 1783 Skelton Daniel Standifer b.1752

Archibald Standerfer Sr. b.1775

Franklin H. Standerfer b.1820

William Standerfer b.1841

Zacharious I. Standerfer b.1871

Mercedes Ruth Standerfer b.1872

Mary Jean Ethington Bragg b.1928

* Note: like so many family names, the Standerfer family name takes on a wide variety of spellings. It would not be until James and Susannah's grandson, Archibald, that the spelling "Standerfer" enter our direct family lineage. But that is not so say that Archibald, or any of his ancestors would not occasionally be referred to by the name "Standerfer."


James Standifer, Sequatchie Valley Congressman
, Tennessee Historical Quarterly; Summer, 1991.
Rootsweb forums, Family of James M. Standerfer II 

Carol's Commentary - Adeline's Letter

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Mom

In Loving Memory
Mary Jean Bragg
January 15, 1928 – September 30, 2011

As we sat beside our Mom in the final days and hours of her earthly life, I noticed a single tear making its way down her cheek. Surrounded by those she had devoted her life to care for, and as we were reflecting on now distant memories of our lives together, there was no way of knowing if it was a tear of joy or of pain. She knew, but she could not tell us.

I caught that tear, and as I held it in my hand it struck me as to how many other tears she had shed without our awareness. The tears of joy of a child playing with her brothers and sisters in the Ethington home near Allenville. Or the tears that only her mother could sooth after she fell and skinned her knees. The happy tears of a redheaded teenage girl in love with a man she recently met, who had just returned from the War and with whom she would spend the remaining years of her life.

The painful tears of a mother giving birth to a newborn child, a scene repeated thirteen times over two decades. And it was our tears, as babies, that she soothed as she sang the beautiful hymn, “I come to the Garden alone … “, as a lullaby. There would come tears of sympathy to be shed over her own little boy or girl, as they struggled to cope with their own skinned knees, held tightly within her loving embrace. She would become thirteen different “Mom’s,” being to each of us what we individually needed.

She no doubt has shed many tears of sadness over the unwise choices of her children, our successes and our failures. There were the tears that nearly every parent knows, those we may associate with the old adage, "This will hurt me more than it will you." Perhaps tears of loneliness as she awaited a call that didn't come, or longing for a visit we never thought to make.

And countless must have been the tears shed over the worry and care on Bonnie's behalf. To the amazement of the doctors who last attended her, Bonnie’s life was extended over five decades, thanks primarily to Mom and Dad’s deep devotion and loving care.

There were tears of grief as death claimed, one by one, the lives of her own parents, brothers and sisters, and tears most of us can't begin to fathom, those of a parent coping with the death of her own children.  In our minds’ eye we can visualize Bonnie standing at the gates of heaven, calling to Bob and dancing with joy saying “Mom’s coming! Mom’s coming!”  What a joyful reunion that must be.  Dad has said that he prayed God would allow him to live to make sure Bonnie was cared for, and after she was gone that he might do the same for Mom.  His prayer was answered. It may just be that Mom did such great battle with death and dying because she shared that prayer of taking caring of him.

Over the years Mom and Dad built not just a "house" but a home we all enjoyed regardless of the physical house we may have been living at any particular time. And she knew the joyful tears of seeing her children leave the home to start a new life and build a new family of their own. These were soon soothed with the happy tears reserved for Grandparents (many times over), Great- Grandparents, and then Great-Great-Grandparents.

Throughout the years of her long life Mom would work alongside Dad in the field, the garden, and the home to provide for those who would grow to love them most. Like the woman honored in Proverbs chapter thirty-one, "Her husband has full confidence in her" as she, in return, would bring "him good, not harm, all the days of her life" (verse 11-12). How often did we see her exhausted from a long day's work offered "with eager hands" (verse 13), helping to provide whatever we needed, day or night (verse 15), feeding and clothing us with tireless energy (verses 16-19). Even after adulthood she continued to care for our needs, such as the care given to Charlie as he recovered from the wreck near Bethany.  She would, in various ways, do the same for each of us. Such devotion is captured in a chorus of the Randy Travis song Angels:
Are you telling me that you’ve never seen an angel?
Never felt the presence of one standing by?
No robe of white, no halo in sight
You’ve missed the most obvious thing
Man, are you blind, just look in your Mother’s eyes.

Throughout the years, and especially most recently, it became increasingly obvious just how proud Dad was to be her husband. In these past few days we have seen his incredible tenderness, protection and care for her, making sure that they could end their lives together with the same love in which they began it sixty-five years ago. It was a love strong enough to last all of their lives, and is passed along to each of us. But if time could be relived, we would undoubtedly seek to give her fewer occasions for the sad tears, and fill her life with joyful ones. While it is too late for that, it is not too late for us to resolve to do that for each other and for those we meet along life’s path.

Now Mom’s hands have ceased their work, her physical suffering has finally passed, and her eyes are no longer blurred by tears. Our lives, however, remain a testament of praise, "gateways" through which we continue to praise her (verse 31). And we thank God, who promises to wipe away all tears, for the many memories she leaves in her passing. We agree with Proverbs that "She is worth far more than rubies" (verse 10).

Mom’s tear did not linger long in my hand that day, but its resulting impression is indelible.