This Mother’s Day I wanted to write about a matriarchal ancestor–my third great grandmother on my mother’s side. This is her story.
The family lore we heard was that she was a red-headed if not a hot-headed woman who loaded up her family in a wagon and moved to Florida in 1848. Florida was only three years old a state, but Peniope McSwain Hamrick decided that her sons and daughters would have their best chance to thrive in a state of mild climate, fertile soils, and cheap land. I wish to remember her this Mother’s Day because, without her strong-willed temperament, we would not be in Florida today.
When I grew up in the 1960s, the old-timers said that the family got all the way from York, South Carolina to Monticello, Florida in wagons; and that they brought with them all their worldly possessions. It was a long migration, but their real problems came at the end when trying to get on to their new land. For that part of the trip, they used homemade wooden sleds to slide over the brush and low lying stumps left behind by the quick clearing. The older relatives said that the sleds set back of an old barn until they finally disintegrated several generations later.
Peniope’s sons, daughters and their offspring helped populate Jefferson County, Florida. You can find their names on plaques in the courthouse, at the library, and in her history books. One of her offspring is the current editor of the Monticello News/Jefferson Journal.
Descended from Peniope’s oldest son, I grew up in this county to which she entrusted her children. It seems she made a good decision for all of us.
A few years ago my niece (Peniope’s fourth great-granddaughter) met and married a man from the same area in the Carolinas from which Peniope McSwain Hamrick embarked. It wasn’t long before the Hamricks from that scarcely populated region realized that my niece was one of the Hamricks whose ancestors migrated to Florida.
An elderly Hamrick from there wanted to talk to her, but she waited until I came to visit before the two of us went to see him–I being the self-proclaimed amateur genealogist for this part of the family.
It was a pleasant conversation as he tested my knowledge of my Hamrick ancestry. And then he asked me if I knew why Penina (one of her nicknames) packed up her kids and came to Florida. I told him that I heard that she got mad at someone and came South.
What surprises me most about what I learned that day is that they are still talking about her up there over 170 years later. My great-great-great grandfather was killed in a farming accident leaving her with seven children to raise on her own. It seems that she left because her husband’s family pressured her relentlessly to marry his youngest brother, who she did not like.
So this Mother’s Day I’ll remember the mother in my family who brought us to this great state of Florida which has been so good to all of us. Thank you Peniope McSwain Hamrick for your perseverance, your courage, your insight, and your strength.