Last week I visited my second cousin once removed. She is in her 80s with no heirs and seems to be in failing health. She has been passing on to me pictures of my family; but today she gave me something very special. She said that it is a butter churn that was used by her great grandmother, who is also my second great-grandmother. I was blown away by her generosity.
So I brought the churn home and noticed on it a stamp that said Earnest and Cowles, and I googled the name. Here is what I found. The base of the churn was made in Baltimore sometime between 1828 and 1852, the years in which the manufacturer was in business. Since my 2nd great grandmother was only 13 years old when the company went out of business, I’m fairly certain the churn originally belonged to her mother.
There is a history to the manufacturer and others like it in Baltimore. Baltimore was an important port city when the War of 1812 began and when the British blockaded America’s ports. All of a sudden supplies from Europe including stoneware like this churn ceased to be obtainable; and Baltimore’s port-based economy suffered, too. What grew out of this were several new businesses to manufacture the needed supplies. Several different shops sprung up to manufacture stoneware in Baltimore over the next decades. Baltimore became known for its stoneware.
Her mother, my 3rd great grandmother was a Wheeler born in another port city miles below Baltimore, called Wilmington, NC. She married there in 1836, and soon after the family migrated to southwest of Charlotte.
About 1844, again she and her husband and five of their children migrated, but this time farther south to Florida with a sixth child born in Georgia on their way down. I’m almost positive this churn made both of those long trips down from North Carolina to Monticello, Florida where they settled for good.
The churn was inherited by her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother; and it was then passed on down two more times before reaching me, always through a female family member. I asked my cousin why she chose to give the churn to me. She said that she believed the churn should always be passed along to another daughter or granddaughter like herself.
So for the past week I’ve been unable to stop glancing at the churn, which sits in my kitchen next to an old ten gallon demijohn which came down from my North Georgia relatives through my father. I can’t help thinking about Mary Wheeler, as a young bride in Wilmington and wondering if the churn might have been a wedding gift. And if it was, who gave it to them, to Mary and her groom.
I ponder how it might have been carefully tucked away for the hundreds of wagon miles they traveled–the streams and rivers it crossed as they made their way west across North Carolina and then years later when they decided to move on down south, through South Carolina and through the plains of Georgia.
On its way to Florida Mary was pregnant. In 1844 this child was born somewhere on the trail or a road in Georgia. A later census simply reads that he was born in Georgia. I can only marvel at Mary’s fortitude, her resilience. Did they stop long enough for her not only to have the baby but to also heal? Was it sweltering hot or was it a comfortable spring day?
Did she have help from her two oldest children, both daughters, ages 7 and 5? Did they take over the butter making chore? Did she suffer from anything like post partum depression or homesickness? Or did she have time for such? Did she miss her own mother? After all, she was still only 23 years old.
And then again my mind wandered back to the utility of the churn’s purpose. How many churns of butter did it make before it was retired due to more efficient technology? How many hands labored on its dasher?
There was a moment late that night on the first night I placed the churn in my kitchen. I was too excited to sleep. I was alone but felt very much surrounded by loving spirits.
In my heart I promised to take special care of this precious gift that was entrusted into my safekeeping. And I am very humbled by its surmised story and by the cousin who thought that I was worthy of the task.