Friday, August 13, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 9)


American Vincentians established St. Mary's of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri, in 1818. It has served as an educational institution, a Vincentian house of formation, and a Vincentian community residence. 

For the story of Mansfield and Beam's Mill, you have to go back to Part 1. We have moved on to Kentucky and my many-times-great-great-grandfather, Joseph 'Short' Tucker.

Short did well during his years in Bardstown, Kentucky. A 1793 tax roll for Nelson County shows him owning 15 head of cattle, five horses, and about 250 acres of land.

But he was restless. 

At that time, the land on both sides of the Mississippi River bordering what is now Missouri and Illinois was under French and Spanish colonial administration. Looking to expand the population, Spain invited American Catholics to settle there. One of the Maryland Catholics in Kentucky, 20-year-old Isidore Moore, was chosen to scout the possibilities. He looked at land on both sides of the river in 1792, again in 1797, and for a third time in 1800. There in the grasslands south of Ste. Genevieve he found something he liked. The area became known as 'the barrens' because it had so few trees.

Soon Short and some neighbors were on their way to western Illinois, where they lived briefly before crossing the river into what is now Missouri. The site for the settlement, what is now Perryville, was selected by Short Tucker and two other men. The names of Perryville and Perry County were chosen much later to honor O. H. Perry, the 1812 naval hero we talked about in Part 6. In those early days it was simply called 'the barrens settlement.'

The first rough cabins were built and occupied by 1803. In that same year, the community formally became part of the United States due to the Louisiana Purchase. Missouri became the 24th state in 1821.

As had been the case when they arrived in Kentucky, one of the group's top priorities was to attract a priest so they could properly practice their Catholic faith. 

In those days, clerics of all stripes often made harrowing journeys to tend their far flung frontier flocks. One such circuit preacher was Father Marie Joseph Dunand, a Trappist priest fleeing the French Revolution. He first visited the Barrens settlement in 1809, stayed at Short Tucker's home, and said mass there for the community. Father Dunand promised that if the settlers built a church he would visit them more often. In two months the church was ready and Short traveled to St. Louis to remind the priest of his promise. Dunand knew the 100-mile journey was difficult but since Short was about 70 at the time and Dunand was 30 years younger, he felt he couldn't very well refuse.  

Joseph 'Short' Tucker was active in the church community until his death in 1816. 

As the Barrens community grew, it renewed ties with the priests of the Vincentian Order who had built the group's first church and school in Kentucky. Father Charles de la Croix, a skilled architect, designed a new church and school for Missouri modeled on the recently completed Seminary of St. Thomas in Bardstown. They named it St. Mary's of the Barrens. The Vincentians were soon joined by Sisters of Loretto, also from Kentucky, who ran the school.

Short Tucker had been joined on his westward trek by several of his sons, one of whom was named Thomas. His son, William, had a son named Narious (maybe spelled Nereus), who was the father of Joseph Kendrick Tucker, the carpenter who died shortly before my father was born and after whom my father was named. 

According to the U. S. census, Joe and Nancy were still farming in Ste. Genevieve County's Saline Township in 1900. We don't know exactly when or why this Joseph Tucker left the Barrens community to become a carpenter in St. Louis, but that was the beginning of the 20th century, when people everywhere were leaving farms for cities. My grandparents met in St. Louis and were married there in 1916.

The 1900 census also shows that Nancy, my great-grandmother, was born in Kentucky, as were both of her parents. It is another Kentucky connection I didn't know I had. How she wound up in Missouri is another story yet to be discovered.

Myrtle Gertrude Tucker Cowdery Mansfield,
1948 (photo by her son, Tom Cowdery)

Joe and Nancy had four children; my grandmother, Myrtle, another girl named Genevieve (like the county), and two boys. According to Dad, all three of them were con artists. Genevieve, he said, was quite good at it. When grandma died one of his Tucker uncles stole a bottle of Four Roses from her house that was rightfully Dad's. 

Great-Grandma Tucker (Nancy) remarried and became Mrs. Felix Demonget. He ran the buffing and polishing department of the Hess & Culbertson Jewelry Co. in St. Louis. I met her once, in St. Louis, when I was very young and she was very old. 

Grandma Myrtle and Grandpa Jim divorced and both remarried. Grandma married Manny Mansfield and they lived in Sausalito, California for many years. Dad visited them there during the war, on his way back to the Pacific. She returned to St. Louis after Manny died and ran a small boarding house. Grandpa's second wife I knew as Grandma Helen. As they all lived in St. Louis and we lived in Ohio I didn't know any of them very well. 

So this may be a good place to end this saga. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the stories, Chuck. I was born & raised in northeastern Ohio, Clinton & Canal Fulton to be exact, but moved to northeastern Illinois as a boy. We attended a church camp in Mansfield, Camp Mowana, and I have many fond memories of it and the little towns I grew up in.