Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 July 2nd: Been a'Thinking -- About Religion and such?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about my Religious Melting Pot  and most people after reading this would not think that religion would be a topic that would engage me.  However, after spending the last month or so delving into the religious background of  the devout Wesleyan Methodist Mary Burn, her son, Jabez, a Temperance preaching Baptist minister, I've been thinking about how they affected the lives of their descendants, right on down to my generation.

Jabez  preached Temperance as early as sixteen years of age, and continued right up to his final years at the pulpit.  Then his son Dawson Jabez Burns took up the Temperance ministry of his father.  I have often wondered "why?"  Was old Joseph, the basket and skip maker, the vendor of worm medicine, also an alcoholic?  Or perhaps, Mary's family was marked by the "ole debil rum", or more likely good stout English ale?   Or did they just witness the detrimental effects on the men who worked long hours in the mills and mines and to whom employers plied with ale just to get them through 12, 14, 16 hour work days.  Church and parish documents, or even census reports,  are not much help in these kinds of questions.

I can surmise that Jabez the minister, as well as his ardent Chartist brother William Gibson Burns, had an effect on young James Peter McPherson, a flax dresser in the Dundee mills.  Now, McPherson may have been more smitten with the pretty black-haired Mary Burns than he was with the religion and politics of her father and uncle.  On the other hand, he was known to be politically involved in the Chartist movement, and when arriving in New York City in 1842, he quickly joined The Sons of Temperance.  The membership in Caledonia Division of The Sons may have been expedient and beneficial to the young Scots couple. On the other hand, James McPherson appeared to be a fervent member.

When I started transcribing his diarly, I expected to find some mention of church attendance --- but not one word.  He did make a pulpit cushion for the new Presbyterian church that was attended by most of his Scots friends.  However, on a Sunday, J. P. McPherson, was a home receiving guest, or visiting friends.  In fact, I only found a couple of times that he attended a meeting of The Sons after moving to Springdale, Wisconsin.  I found this strange, but was oddly comforted by his work with the Poor, as well a serving in positions of service within his community.

As I have followed his progeny through the years, religion in the family was generally dictated by the spouses.  For instance, J.P.'s son Jabez's wife, Mary Housel was an ardent Primitive Methodist, one of Daniel's Band. The Burmeisters were catholics and some, such as my great grand parents and grandparents, just dinna seem to be too interested in religion.  The family of Mary Burns McPherson, J. P.s wife, appeared to follow the Baptist teachings of her uncle Jabez Burns.  The family of the second generation Jabez were high church Episcopalians.  I don't know how this change came about; perhaps the wife Ella May Spedick Burns was Episcopalian; or perhaps as the family became more wealthy and influential, life as an Episcopalian suited their position; or perhaps there was a  religious epiphany that took place.  Whatever the reason, the Burns and McPhersons drifted away from the Baptist and Temperance teachings of the early 1800s.  How I wish I knew more ...... 

Of course, if I have misspoken, misread, or misinterpreted, I hope that I shall be apprised of such.

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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. I find the path of religious inheritance in families quite interesting and I agree that the wives seem to have a lot of influence. I often chuckle that my Catholic family has an equal measure of Methodists and Baptists while my non-Catholic family (pick which I was brought up as!) were as much Catholic as they were Presbyterian...in fact more so since the latter didn't attend church. A thought provoking post Joan.

  2. Religion and spirituality are subjects that riffle through my mind an a fairly regular basis. Strange, considering that I am a non-church goer -- and my Religious Melting Pot background.

    Thanks for reading and I always enjoy your thoughtful responses.