Saturday, July 26, 2014

Family History 9: Wanting to be Rich

On the last day of the year, in December of 1935, my great grandfather Oscar Rich was driving around Indianapolis to collect rent on some property he owned when he suddenly died of a heart attack, his car crashing into a tree.

My mother was just nine years old. Her brother Paul was eight, her brother David five, and her youngest sister two. Sadly, all of my mother's family except my mother were already heading north from Elnora, Indiana when it happened, to visit him and Rena. (Frankfort Pilgrim College was still closed because of the Depression at that time). My mom, unfortunately, had stayed behind with a friend of the family so that she could take state tests at school that week.

It had been a bad winter and they had not been able to come up for Christmas, so they were on the way north on New Year's Eve at the very time that he died. When they arrived at his house, Rena was crying, knowing something was terribly wrong. Supper was ready and getting cold and he had never returned. My grandparents set out to find him and ended up finding him at the morgue.

They thought about getting my mother a ride up with a truck driver for the funeral but in the end decided against it. So she missed her grandfather's funeral.

Oscar was apparently quite a businessman. In 1900, just four years after he married Rena Wall, he was a farmer in Sullivan, Indiana. But in 1910 he was selling furniture. In 1920 he was running a grocery store, and in 1930 he was selling oil wholesale in Kokomo. I guess one of his sons (Garland?) was sheriff of Kokomo for a time.

I can't remember ever even meeting any of my relatives from my Grandma (Rich) Shepherd's side. I get the impression that they looked down on my grandfather for being a poor holiness preacher/teacher. My G-grandfather even used to beat my grandmother for sneaking out to the holiness church--apparently he wasn't a particularly religious man.

My grandmother was the oldest child and was expected to play the role of a second mother to eight other kids. I seem to remember that my grandmother's parents were even reluctant for her to marry at 29. The rest of the family reluctantly turned to my grandmother to take care of her mother Rena in the last years before she died. Even then there was some nervousness that my grandparents would taint their mother with her ideas.

In my book, my grandmother was a saint.

2. Somewhere in the family materials my mother has, there is a tale about an Irish ancestor stowing away on a ship to America, then changing his name to Rich when he got here for aspirational reasons. It's a fun story but, like so many such stories, it doesn't seem to be exactly correct.

Amazingly, the migration of the Rich family to Sullivan County, Indiana is almost exactly parallel to the migration of the Shepherd family from North Carolina, although the Rich element came even earlier. From what I can tell, George Rich came to Indiana from Orange County, North Carolina as a young man in his 20s. Who knows, maybe on the way he came into contact with the family of Abraham Hawkins, whose daughter Sarah he would marry in Lawrence County in southern Indiana in 1819.

George and Sarah would have Jackson Rich in 1825, all of whom would end up in Sullivan County by 1860. Jackson would also marry a Sarah and they would have William Rich in 1854. Then William and his wife Caroline would have my G-grandfather Oscar in 1875.

So several of my mother's lines were living in Sullivan County throughout the mid-1800s. The Shelburns arrived in 1837 from Kentucky. The Shepherds arrived in the 1840s from North Carolina.  Another branch, the Walls, arrived from North Carolina in the 1820s. Another branch, the Wrights, arrived from Virginia in the 1820s or 30s as well.

3. So George Rich came from North Carolina in the 1810s. His father was apparently Peter Rich, born in Orange County around 1770. He apparently lived out his life in that area, even though his son George migrated to Indiana.

Here's where it gets a little cloudy, and I just don't have the time to keep milling around. The records I've found suggest that Peter Rich's father, Thomas Rich, died at the Battle of Camden against the British in South Carolina, October 16, 1780. Another one of Thomas' sons, Jacob, ended up in Tennessee and mentions in a pension application not only that his father died (or was captured) at that battle but that his family records were destroyed by the Tories when his house was set on fire.

Here's the unanswered question. A lot of genealogies have this Thomas emigrating from Germany in the 1860s. However, I have never thought of the Riches as German. Probably that is the most likely conclusion, that his name was originally Reich and he came from the Rhineland. For the time being, I may have to go with that.

But there is another possibility, an outside horse, a Jacob Thomas Rich who emigrated from England (b. 1741), who also died in the Battle of Camden. That one feels right.

But alas...

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)

6. The Divisive Sixties
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

No comments: