29 April 2014

#17-52ancestors: Mean Patsy

#17-52ancestors: Mean Patsy

Martha "Patsy" Jones

Some family stories beg to be explored in depth. Sometimes facts confirm the story, sometimes historical facts argue loudly with the legend. Sometimes, the lack of records, original sources, along with the passage of time, leave the researcher with nothing but wisps of a family history and dozens of unanswered questions.

Many fairy tales have the same basic storyline about a mean stepmother, but Cinderella is probably the best known — you know, the beautiful, fair maiden forced into a life of being the unofficial slave for her evil stepmother and her two miserable daughters. The mean stepmother legend may date back into the medieval ages when women frequently died in childbirth and were replaced by a second (third, etc.) mother. Due to the importance of property in those days and the laws about it passing to the first-born male, those first-born children, especially sons, certainly might have been victims of nastiness and resentment by their stepmothers. One of my family lines has a “mean stepmother” tale that has puzzled and frustrated me for years in a quest to learn the truth.

Hezekiah Ray (1780-1870) married first Elizabeth “Betsy” Putman (Putnam) (1772-1811) in Union County, South Carolina about 1802 and by her had four, perhaps five children. Betsy died, probably in childbirth about 1811. In her father’s will which was probated 6 January 1812 it is mentioned that $30, equally divided, was to go the children of his daughter, Betsy, whose husband is named as Hezekiah Ray — when they come of age. [Union County, South Carolina Probate Records, Box 7, page 2, Will Book A, p. 269, dated 6 January 1812]. By estimate that $30 (or about $7.50 per child) would not have been worth a great deal more in 1830 when the youngest child came of age (21). It was certainly no fortune worth fighting over. Whether the four sons of Elizabeth Putman (Putnam) Ray ever received anything from their maternal grandfather’s estate has not been determined.

In 1812 Hezekiah Ray had four sons, all under 10 years of age by his first wife. As was typical in those times, Hezekiah quickly found another wife when Betsy died. She probably was a woman from a nearby family. Her name was Martha “Patsy” Jones and at least by 1814, they had started their own family.

A migration from Union County, South Carolina to Bedford County, Tennessee by several families took place between 1810 and 1820, probably shortly after the War of 1812, and among them was Hezekiah Ray, his new wife (Patsy Jones), and their growing family. About this time the waters become muddied as the stories about the second wife and her stepsons are related — told by the sons of the first marriage and retold by their descendants. The only consistent portion of the legends is that they called their stepmother “Mean Patsy.”

One version claims the four Ray boys were left with relatives or neighbors in South Carolina with their father returning for them a few years later. Another version is that all removed to Bedford County, Tennessee about 1816 and the boys were “farmed out” to other families because they did not get along with their stepmother.

By 1830 they had all married and moved to other Tennessee counties with the exception of the eldest son, Jason Ray, who remained in Bedford County and became a Baptist minister.

Jason Ray (1803-1880)

In 1881 several elders of the Baptist church published “In Memory of Elder Jason Ray.” He had died in December 1880. In it they mentioned that “the boyhood of this good man was envied by none. He fought the battles of early life as a neglected orphan. They were hard battles. He served an apprenticeship that was filled with privations and sufferings such as few boys meet. Of the trials . . . he often  talked and wept, after age had hollowed his cheeks and whitened his locks, sorrows of his youth were fresh, undimmed . . . In 1825 he was happily married to an orphan girl Miss Verlinda Smith, who was quietly faithful to her marriage vows through the light and gloom of a long and trying pilgrimage. Two years after his marriage he [Jason Ray] professed faith in Christ, and joined the Baptist church . . . He was a member of the congregation that worshipped at Flat Creek [Bedford County, Tennessee] and was its pastor for many years.”

Elder Jason Ray’s stepmother was “Mean Patsy.”

Jason Ray certainly was never an orphan by legal terms. While his mother died about 1811, his father did not die until 1870, so the reference to him being a “neglected orphan” begs to be explained more fully.

What kind of a father would have allowed his second wife to mistreat his first-born children? And was “Mean Patsy” really the horrible stepmother vilified by him and his siblings? If so, why?

Is there another side to this story, and if so, will I ever discover it?

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