Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Legend of Margaret Gatton

Growing up, I was told that my great-grandmother Margaret Gatton immigrated by ship from Ireland during the potato famine. As I started my genealogy research, I questioned it. My grandmother Gertrude Baker, Margaret’s daughter, was born 10 Aug 1890 in Blue Creek Township, Paulding County, Ohio. She was the eighth child of Andrew Baker and Margaret Gatton. Even if Gertrude were the oldest child, it didn’t seem likely that her mother was born in the late 1840s.

One day my Aunt Kate asked me if I knew who the woman in an old photo might be. I was intrigued to see a stout woman in her sixties, with dark skin and hair. Her forehead was low, her eyes deep-set and her cheeks wide and high. Her age and the age of the photo indicated she might be Maggie Gatton. Later I received a photo of Andrew Baker and two of their sons. The shed in her photo appeared in his photo. Aunt Kate also told me that Gertrude made birch bark toys. According to Uncle Roy, my grandparents’ house in Kalamazoo was always full of Native Americans. My grandmother tamed wild birds and kept them as pets. It seems as though Maggie’s story was the opposite of that of a recent European immigrant. She was Native American.

Eagerly I researched Maggie and her family in available records. Maggie’s mother Emeline was the youngest daughter of William Berryman and Rachel Clawson, who lived in western Ohio. Emeline was born ca 1818, the youngest in the family, in Montgomery County, Ohio. When she was about seven, her family moved to present-day Logan Township, Auglaize County, Ohio. Emeline married her first husband Felix Devore 18 Sep 1836 in Allen County, Ohio. The couple had three known children, Bathshebq, Mercy and Abraham. Felix’s death has gone unrecorded so far.

Maggie's father Albert Galotine Gatton had been married previously as well.  On 15 Mar 1838 he married Hannah Wyckoff in Muskingum County, Ohio.  This is the earliest record I have for him.  He married his second wife Emeline Berryman on 10 April 1852 at Fort Amanda, Auglaize County, Ohio. It must have been recorded that way since the family farm was on the land once occupied by the fort. The family farm in Logan Township passed on to Russel Berryman, where the Gatton family lived. There Maggie and her siblings were born: Sarah Jane, 10 June 1853; Cornelia, 9 Feb 1855; Margaret, 1 March 1857; and Albert, 27 May 1859. On 22 July 1862 Albert Gatton enlisted in Company A, 81st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Civil War. He died 13 Jan 1863 in Corinth, Miss., of pneumonia, leaving no death certificate.

Was there any additional verification of my impression that my great-great-grandmother had Native American ancestry?

On 24 Sept 1850 Emeline was listed on the federal census as living with her brother Russel and their mother Rachel. In the place of birth column there is a little check mark in the rows for Rachel and Emeline. Eight years after they married, Albert and Emeline Gatton are listed with their children in Amanda Township, Allen County, Ohio, with the post office of Acadia. For each family member except Albert Jr., there is a check mark in the column for color. Seven years after Albert died, on 13 June 1870, the family was found still living in Amanda Township, but their post office was Spencerville. The members listed were Emeline Gatton, her children Bashabq and Mercy Devore, and Cornelia, Margaret and Albert Gatton. Also in the household were grandchildren Inez and Emma Sunderland and Lena and Charles Dennison. There is a little check mark in the occupation column in Emeline’s row. At the bottom of the page is recorded “No. of colored females _1_.” The only possible person it can be is Emeline Gatton.

Five different people very experienced in genealogical and Native American research, including the manager of a National Archives facility and a researcher working on the Schaghticoke Nation’s petition for federal recognition, have verified that check marks in a person’s row on the federal census generally means that a person was not all White. Sometimes there is even a script “L” at the bottom of the page for mulatto and a check mark next to it. However, one has to be sure that is how the enumerator is marking people who are different.

Emeline’s brother Russel was born before her in 1815. People found it surprising that he played with the Native boys and knew their language: “[M]uch of his boyhood was spent with the youthful warriors of these savage inhabitants. He understood much of their language, and spoke it to a certain extent at that period of his life, and he related that he engaged heartily in most of their sports and pastimes.” The family in general seemed to get along well with the Shawnee in the Wapakoneta area. In 1828, after a 15-mile trip down the river, William Berryman and his sons Thomas and Russel arrived too late to have their corn ground that day. “Several Indians invited them to share their huts or lodges for the night – they accepted the hospitality of one of the leading ones” and the next morning they shared their breakfast.  It might not be all that surprising if William's wife Rachel was related to the Native people, either directly as family or indirectly by being from the Shawnee nation or another Algonkin group, and Russel had heard the language used in the household. 

It seems quite plausible that Albert Gatton was one of Russel’s acquaintances originally and lived in one of the two nearby Shawnee villages. He was not necessarily Shawnee, however, and he could have once lived farther to the east. He may have been born with the name “Albert Galotine Gatton” or he may have adopted it later in life. On an 1831 treaty signed at Wapakoneta in nearby Allen County, not all the Shawnee men signing it had English style names. I am still trying to find out who his parents were and what Native nation he came from.

I’ve had people question the check marks and say they never heard of any Native blood in their family. My aunt and uncle also seemed reluctant to believe the information I found on their grandmother (although my cousins accept it). That is not surprising. The U.S. federal government in the nineteenth century considered Native people a conquered people and doomed to extinction. They were rarely thought of as being human, intelligent or civilized, let alone of the same social class. Laws were passed to make Native people move west of the Mississippi River. People of mixed Native ancestry were afraid of losing their land. Men wanted to support their families. Parents wanted their children educated and didn’t want them tormented by other children. If they wanted to live a decent life, they suppressed the family history.

I don’t know what my grandmother or her mother would have thought about the information I found. After living over 50 years in Ohio, Maggie Gatton moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband and family. There she died 1 April 1933.  Her daughter Gertrude married Earl Winchell ca 1919 and moved to New York State before 1933. My grandmother died 14 Sep 1960 when I was just over a year old. I’d like to think they’d be pleased with the effort I made to find the people who were important to them.

Grandmother Gertrude Baker Winchell

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