Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 8)


St. Mary's of the Barrens Roman Catholic Church, Perryville, Missouri.
If you are just joining us and interested in the Beam family in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, you need to go back to Part 1. We have moved on to other history regarding my family and its tenuous connection to the birth of bourbon. Because that connection is so tenuous, this series contains very little bourbon content.

Although as an adult I lived in Kentucky for ten years, I never knew of any family connections to the Commonwealth. Last time, in Part 7, we learned that, much to my surprise, my great-grandfather, Homer Cowdery, was born in Vanceburg, Kentucky.

Now we come to my dad's mother, who was born Myrtle Gertrude Tucker in St. Mary, Missouri, in 1896. St. Mary is a city in Ste. Genevieve County, hard by the Mississippi River about 70 miles south of St. Louis. You don't need to be a historian to figure out that all those 'saints' mean many of the earliest European-American settlers to the area were Catholic. 

Grandma Cowdery was Catholic, albeit not observant. Dad was baptized Catholic but couldn't remember ever going to church as a kid. He never considered himself Catholic although he married a Catholic and we were all raised in the Church. Mom's family was very Catholic and they were the family I grew up with. We were in Ohio and dad's family was all in Missouri or Illinois, so we saw them rarely.

My Grandma Cowdery, Myrtle, was the daughter of Joseph Kendrick Tucker and Nancy Mildred Pritchett. Joe and Nancy were joined in Holy Matrimony on April 2, 1894, at St. Mary's of the Barrens Roman Catholic Church in Perryville, Missouri. (Pictured above.)

St. Mary's of the Barrens was mother church of the Tucker clan, so Joe and Nancy probably would have been married there even if they weren't living there at the time. We know they were in nearby St. Mary when Grandma was born two years later. At some point the young family moved to the big city, St. Louis.

Joe was a carpenter. He died in a workplace accident in 1919. He was 48. At the time of his death his eldest daughter was pregnant with her second child, my dad, who was baptized with the name of his late grandfather, and so became Joseph Kendrick Cowdery.

When I was young, dad told me Great-Grandpa Tucker fell off a scaffold while working on an addition to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (i.e., Budweiser) in St. Louis. He fell because he was drunk. (In later years, dad disavowed the story.) Dad would have known because his father, James H. 'Jim' Cowdery, was working on the same job as a laborer specializing in concrete. Grandpa Cowdery and Great-Grandpa Tucker were colleagues in the construction trades and that's how grandma and grandpa met.

Dad was known as Joe through high school, but took the opportunity to switch to Ken when he started college. He always signed his name "J. K. Cowdery" but was known as Ken. Kendrick is my middle name too. My cousin, son of dad's older brother, got it as his first name. 

Dad remembered his childhood in St. Louis in great detail but never learned much in the way of family history. I was only 11 when grandpa died but I remember asking him about family history. He said he didn't know any. "The Cowderys are just all-American mutts," was how he put it. 

But this is about Myrtle, dad's mom. She told him she was of Irish descent. Therefore, when I was growing up we celebrated mom's German heritage with pork roast and sauerkraut on New Year's Eve and dad's Irish ancestry with corned beef and cabbage every January first. I always believed I was one-quarter Irish. (My DNA says I am 4% Irish.)

Grandpa died in 1962 and grandma died the following year. After that my Uncle Tom, dad's older brother, discovered Grandpa Homer's name in a genealogy book he found in the New York Public Library. In 1978, a distant family member had that book republished and we all got copies. The Cowderys, it turns out, were very English. (My DNA says I am 30% English and 14% Welsh, almost all of it from Dad.)

But that was the Cowdery line. I still knew next to nothing about grandma's line, the Tuckers. I always thought the Irish claim seemed odd because Tucker is not an Irish-sounding name. A few years ago, I began to research the Tucker side of the family. The more I learned, the more it became clear that the Tuckers were not Irish. Grandma may have assumed they were because they were Catholic and most of the Catholics she knew growing up in St. Louis were Irish. It is possible her mother, Nancy, claimed Irish heritage. But Nancy's maiden name, Pritchett, isn't Irish either. It is the Anglicized version of a Welsh name. Her mother's name was Martha Anderson, also not very Irish.

As for the Tuckers, they definitely were Catholics, but they were English Catholics with a storied history centered around the church pictured above. 

While another of my ancestors, Jacob Cowdery Junior, was fighting for Connecticut in the American Revolution, my ancestor Joseph 'Short' Tucker was doing the same for Maryland. 

‘Short’ Tucker was born in Virginia, perhaps as early as 1739, but moved to Maryland in his youth. His Revolutionary War service on Maryland’s behalf is well documented, as is much of his life thereafter. 

A century earlier, back in England, George Calvert, First Baron Baltimore, had applied to England's King Charles I for a royal charter for what was to become the Province of Maryland. The colony was named to honor the Queen, Henrietta Maria. Although England then was officially Protestant, its queen was Catholic, a princess of France by birth.

Just as the Massachusetts Bay Colony of my Cowdery ancestors was founded as a haven for Puritans, Maryland was a refuge for Catholics, England's other oppressed religious minority. 

In Maryland, Short Tucker joined the state militia. After the war he joined a group of Catholics who wanted to quit Maryland for the western frontier. Maryland by this time was no longer the haven it was intended to be. As more Protestants moved in, outnumbering Catholics, they began to bedevil their Catholic neighbors.

Short was born in Virginia, where Catholics were scarce, so it is possible he or his parents were converts. He was very devout, as converts often are. 

After the Revolution, lands in the North American interior were opened for settlement and many veterans received land grants in return for their service. A group of about 60, including Short Tucker and his young family, formulated a plan to relocate to Kentucky, taking advantage of the 'corn writs' being offered to veterans. They planned to settle close together for mutual support and in hope of forming a parish and attracting a priest. 

The first group of about ten families left in 1785, led by Basil Hayden. They and subsequent Marylanders settled in what today are the Kentucky counties of Nelson, Marion, and Washington, popularly known as the Kentucky Holy Lands. Among other accomplishments, they were some of the founders of Kentucky’s bourbon industry. Among them was Jacob Beam, ancestor of Kentucky's whiskey-making Beams.

They were successful in attracting priests. The French Revolution was underway and many religious fled from there to America to escape the violent anti-clericalism that was part of that movement. Many of them came to Kentucky, either to stay or on their way further west into the American interior.

This is getting a bit long so we will continue it next time, in Part 9.

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