Had I Known Then What I Know Now

When I was a kid growing up in Texas in the 1960s, I suffered from an identity crisis. While I didn’t know who I was, I knew who I was not. For one, I was not born in Texas, and that was a problem for some folks. I grew up fascinated by American history while having no idea where my ancestors fit in with the history of this great nation. Today, after years of study and research, I do know who I am, and from whence I came. So, had I known then what I know now, here is the report that I would have written in the fifth grade:

One of my ancestors was a Puritan from England who settled in Salem, Massachusetts. The house he built there in 1650 stands to this day and is part of a park in that city. His name was John Pickering (1615-1657).

Another ancestor was a soldier in the Continental Army stationed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777/78. His name was John McMullan (1740-1817). And another ancestor, Evan “The Patriot” Prothro (1742-1822), was a hog drover who kept the South Carolina irregulars well fed.

I have two ancestors who were soldiers during the war of 1812. One was a third Lieut. in the Georgia militia who served under Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1814. His name was David Dobbs (1791-1871). Corbett Pickering (1798-1878) served as a private in Montgomery’s Regiment of the Pennsylvania militia during the war of 1812, and he “made it as far as Danville.”

One ancestor won the title to land in a lottery in which Georgia gave away the land that had belonged to the Cherokee Nation. While he rose to the rank of Col. in the Georgia state militia, he owned slaves and worked them on a cotton plantation in Cobb County. His name was David Dobbs (1791-1871). His brother fathered a child by one of his slaves. A descendent of that child later became the first black mayor of Atlanta and has an airport named after him.

Another ancestor came over from France in the 1830s and traveled to Ohio via the newly opened Erie Canal. In Ohio, he and his family lived in a log cabin on a tidy little farm near Canton. His name was Jean Baptiste Francois Xavier Jeanin-Gaume (1807-1860). His father, Luc François Jannin-Gaume (1774-1860), had been a soldier in Napoleon’s Army who fought the Austrians in northern Italy.

In the 1840s, my German and Irish ancestors came over. Some, such as Martin O’Malley (1820-1873), settled on farms in Minnesota, while others took up residence in the booming cities along the Ohio River. Another German ancestor, Sophia Precht (1846-1885), lived in the Kleindeutschland neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhatten. Non-Germans called the neighborhood Dutchtown.

In the 1850s, my slaveholding ancestors in the South agitated for succession if they did not get their ways. They talked about state rights and nullification. While during that decade, my ancestors living in Louisville, Kentucky, were brutalized by political violence and were told they did not belong in this country. Joseph Kollros (1792-1864) later became a policeman in that city, and a brother of Richard Bannon (1818-1883) became a City Councilman. The Bannon brothers were members of the Fenian Brotherhood.

When the Civil War finally came, I had ancestors fighting on both sides. Francis “Frank” Gaume (1843-1917) was a 19-year-old farmhand in Ohio who volunteered and was wounded at the Battle of Stone’s River. Another of my ancestors, George C. Spiegel (1839-1925), also with the Union, was at the Battle of Gettysburg. And then, down South, there was a great, great-grandfather who was both a colonel. in the Georgia militia and a private in the Georgia State Guards, and who was captured in Greenville, SC, made a prisoner of war by Sherman’s Army and was humbled by ignoble defeat. His name was David Judson Dobbs (1835-1877). David’s brother was a war profiteer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who, to restore his civil rights, was forced to grovel before Pres. Andrew Johnson.

After the war, my northern ancestor left Ohio and went out west, settling in Kansas long enough to raise a family before heading out to Colorado to dabble in prospecting and then went further west to California, where he spent time as a fieldhand. His name was Francis “Frank” Gaume (1843-1917). He later died at the old soldier’s home at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

While down south, my ancestors in Georgia struggled to try and rebuild the culture and civilization they once knew. Their names were David Judson Dobbs (1835-1877) and Martha Josephine Prothro (1836-1928). Some of them left Georgia and went to Texas; finally, settling in the boomtown of Dallas. Their names were George C. Spiegel (1839-1925) and Sophia Precht(1846-1885).

In the late 1870s, one ancestor who had witnessed the horrors of war as a child left the country and went to Central America, where he made a small fortune in the jungles of Panama. His name was James Monroe Dobbs (1859-1922).

Finally, in the 1880s the DeBackers came over from Belgium and settled in St Marys, Kansas, where Dr. August DeBacker (1863-1921) taught biology at a college that had once been a Roman Catholic mission to the Pottawatomie tribe of Native Americans.

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