Saturday, January 5, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 1 - "First"

Abigail Royal Garrett
This week's #52Ancestors post is dear to my heart because I have the privilege of writing about one of my favorite ancestors: my great-great-great-grandmother, Abigail Royal Garrett (2 Jan 1823 - 23 Feb 1891). Incidentally, this post falls during the week of her 196th birthday.

I chose Abigail for this "first" prompt because she was the ancestor who started it all: the one who made me interested in genealogy. One of my best friends growing up also happened to be my 4th cousin. Because our family has lived in the same neighborhood since Abigail and her husband, John Clifton, moved to the area by 1870, we always knew that we were cousins. However, it wasn't until my third year of college that I began to question exactly how we were related. During a telephone conversation one evening, I asked my cousin (named Garrett - after Abigail, as it turns out) if he knew who our common ancestor was. And as it happened, he did know! His mother had long been interested in genealogy, and had told him how we were related. I got curious and decided to see if there was any information about her online. I came upon this webpage about Abigail's hometown in England, which included a page about her family and about her specifically. When I saw the photo of her and read about her life, it was like a spark igniting: I instantly had to know more. I had to know how I was descended from her, who her parents were, and her parents' parents, and so on.... And the rest, as they say, was history (or, indeed, genealogy).
The Garrett House in Ludham, Norfolk, England

Abigail Royal Garrett was born in Ludham, Norfolk, England on 2 January 1823, to Royal Garrett and Hannah Vincent. The Garrett family was a moderately affluent one, and were well-known and well-respected in their town. According to census records, their income primarily came from farming and owning/operating The Baker's Arms. They had a large house, and several employees.

Abigail had five brothers: Israel Royal, Jabez, Abiathar, Nathan Vincent, and Jethro Littlewood; and three sisters: Dorcas, Miriam, and Merab. (Abiathar ran the local mill in Ludham, and apparently taught the skill to Abigail's oldest son, Royal Jethro Larter, who opened a mill near where Abigail's family settled in Charleston, WV. The location is still called "Mill Creek" to this day.)

John Thomas Clifton
Abigail was first married to John Francis Larter on 20 September 1842. They had four children: James Garrett, Royal Jethro, Miriam Susanna, and Dorcas Hannah. In 1851, John Francis Larter immigrated to America on the ship "Savannah", presumably to establish a home for his family. Abigail and the four children immigrated one year later in 1852, and traveled in the company of John Thomas Clifton on the ship "Christiana". John had a wife and seven children left behind in England; perhaps he intended to do what John Larter supposedly did, and establish a home for them in America before sending for them.

This is where the story gets murky. Several different versions exist, but what is certain is that Abigail did not leave New York City with John Larter. Whether he had passed away, or simply abandoned them, is impossible to know. We also do not know where Abigail, John, and the children lived between 1852 and 1856. What we do know for sure is that they settled in West Virginia by 1856. John and Abigail married on 8 June 1856, despite the fact that John's first wife was definitely still alive in England. On the marriage record, they both referred to themselves as "widowed." They originally settled in Boone County, WV but moved to Charleston, Kanawha County, WV by 1870.

John and Abigail had three children of their own: Hannah, Merab, and Ella. Their life was very difficult, and they often had a hard time even keeping enough food on the table. We know several details about their everyday lives because Abigail brought a lap desk with her from England, and over the years she and various family members saved letters they wrote to each other in it. The lap desk was "rescued" by my Great-Aunt Mary when my great-grandfather, Clifton Kessinger, passed away. Aunt Mary's daughter, the author Linda Lenhardt, transcribed these letters and published them in one annotated volume, along with family stories, poetry, and artwork by various family members, all descended from Abigail. The book is called "Cliftons and Kessingers: Their Kin, Their Letters, Their Stories," and is available on Amazon.

John passed away on 27 January 1879, and Abigail passed away on 23 February 1891. They are buried in the Old Circle of Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston, WV. The location of their graves is known; however, they do not currently have markers. I have long wanted to have markers placed for them, and I hope to accomplish that goal this year.

In one of her letters, Abigail wrote to her daughter, Hannah (my great-great-grandmother) that

"As I write, the want to see you all grows, worsens. Is it so with you?" 

My answer to that question is yes, absolutely. I so wish that I could have known Abigail. I admire her for her courage, her determination, and her great love for all of her children and grandchildren, which is so very apparent in her letters. I like to think that whatever I have of those qualities comes at least in part from her.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Abigail and John is as follows:

Abigail Royal Garrett (1823 - 1891)
3rd great-grandmother

Hannah Clifton (1856 - 1905)
Daughter of Abigail Royal Garrett

Clifton Kessinger (1872 - 1966)
Son of Hannah Clifton

Harold Warren Kessinger (1920 - 2012)
Son of Clifton Kessinger

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Harold Warren Kessinger

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic story! What an amazing treasure the family letters are.



Welcome to Rooted Heritage Genealogy! This blog is dedicated to both telling my ancestors' stories and to helping others to do the sam...