It’s the first photograph in the album my mother made for me 30 years ago. All this time, I’ve thought she was someone else.
The picture of the elderly woman is glued onto stiff cardboard, with the name and address of a Chicago photography studio at the bottom. Across the lower part of the photo is scrawled “Grandmother Dickerman.”
The next picture shows my great-great-grandmother, Louisa Dickerman Davies, in robust middle age, with her daughter and several friends. Somehow I always assumed “Grandmother Dickerman” represented Louisa in her waning years, even though my mother provided captions on a set of pages in the front of the album.
It was only this week that I looked closely at the captions and realized the old woman in the first photo is my great-great-GREAT-grandmother, Eunice Steward Dickerman. How discouraging to think I’ve been ignorant of her identity all these years—and yet how delightful to add her image to my pantheon of ancestors!
She was one of a series of five Eunices, and tracing their descent takes us on a miniature jaunt through 18th and 19th century American history.
Eunice the first (maiden name unknown) was the wife of Dr. Reuben Jones, a hotheaded patriot whose activities are described in a history of Rockingham, Vermont. He participated in a demonstration in which Vermonters resisted the Tory court, leading to the Westminster Massacre. Two of the patriots were killed, supposedly the first blood shed in the Revolution. Reuben was in favor of setting out to kill the Tories responsible, but cooler tempers prevailed.
In 1777, he addressed the Continental Congress to agitate for Vermont’s independence not only from England but also from New York and New Hampshire, resulting in the creation of the Republic of Vermont. (In 1791, Vermont became a state.)
Reuben served as a surgeon in the Revolutionary War. In 1785, he was imprisoned as a debtor. He escaped and was returned to jail, despite an attempt at rescue by his friends. He finally settled on the New York side of Lake Champlain, where he died in 1833, at the age of 88.
Reuben and Eunice’s daughter, Eunice Jones, married Vinal Steward, a minister and the son of a Revolutionary War lieutenant from Connecticut.
Vinal and Eunice’s daughter was Eunice the third, the woman in the photo. She was born in 1809 and migrated from Vermont to Ohio with her parents, who both promptly died in a typhoid epidemic in 1822. Thus orphaned at 13, my great-great-great-grandmother seven years later married Jasper Dickerman, who had also arrived in Ohio with his parents, traveling from Connecticut in 1815.
Eunice and Jasper named their first daughter Eunice. She died unmarried at the age of 30. Her sister Louisa, who married Civil War diarist William Davies in 1862, also gave the name Eunice to one of her daughters. Eunice the fifth died of tuberculosis at 18, and at that point, the name was retired. Part of her legacy was the family’s concern for her sister, Mary Davies, my great-grandmother. To ensure the health of Mary’s lungs, she was sent on a sea voyage, and the diary of her trip to Wales in 1892 is a family treasure. (See this blog post about her diary .)
Despite the untimely deaths of three of her namesakes, Eunice Dickerman lived to the hoary age of 84, passing away in 1895. She must have been close to that age when the photo was taken, revealing a woman of grit and determination. As an inheritor of Revolutionary War sentiments and a survivor of frontier living, the early deaths of her parents, and the Civil War, she is a fine forebear for me to look back upon.