Religious Freedom?

My Mayflower roots and Protestant past

Photo by Christian Johnson from FreeImages

Have you ever wondered how deep your religious roots are steeped in your past? Was it a conscious choice or one that was passed down to you through generations of faith? In my case, it was both.

When I was a kid, most everyone around me was Catholic, and I was pretty sure my family had been Catholic for centuries. Yah, no. In fact, it might be a complete accident. My paternal grandmother was half Swedish and half German. Her Buhler German side started out as Lutheran and became Catholic at some point in the mid-1800s. Her Swedish mother, Regina Sandin Buhler, was also Lutheran when she left Sweden but not raised in the faith once she was on US soil. Her older brother married a very Irish Catholic woman and converted. My great grandmother made a decision that was likely influenced by her brother and his wife. So Dad and his siblings were raised Catholic. My heathen mother converted when I was 8.

Dad’s father’s side had Presbyterian roots that went back to Scotland. After moving to Indiana, his people primarily settled in to the Methodist and Baptist faiths, though there are Quakers in my Whitaker line.

My mother was raised in the Congregational faith. Her parents were Congregationalists, and her father’s side were mostly Congregational going way back. My maternal cousins were Methodists. I didn’t know anyone in my childhood who was raised in her faith. They now operate under a big umbrella called the United Church of Christ. I didn’t know squat about the Congregationalists as a young adult. Again, my grandmother was a crappy source for discussing this kind of stuff. It wasn’t until I started traipsing about the country that I discovered that her DNA is steeped in Congregationalism. If you read my post about Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell, they were founding members of the First Congregational Church of Buckland.

Mom’s religious tapestry is woven with a whole lot of conscientious religious objection and rebellion. I think I inherited this from her chromosomes. I seldom see anything–including religion–in terms of black and white. There is a whole lot of gray. Because of that muddled color, I can see things from a whole lot of perspectives and understand them. There are some issues that clearly are black and white for me, but overall, I consider myself gray.

Through my mother’s genealogy, we are both members of the Mayflower Society. The line back to our Massachusetts Pilgrim roots is rather colorful. Mom’s paternal grandmother was Louisa Agnes Hale, daughter of Silas Fowler Hale and Lavinia Maxwell. Louisa’s grandfather, Isaac “Ward” Hale, was the older brother of Emma Hale. Emma Hale was the first wife of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.

Ward Hale, my 3rd great grandfather, was born in 1802 in the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania to Isaac Hale and Elizabeth Lewis in a Congregational family. His parents eventually became devout Methodists, though at the time they were considered Methodist Episcopal (no wonder we are all confused by these denominations). When Emma became infatuated with Joseph Smith, her parents and most of her siblings disapproved vehemently. He was an uneducated person from upstate New York (an outsider!), and he had religious convictions that were questionable. They considered him a snake oil salesman of sorts. Still, she followed her heart and left home on their fateful journey that ultimately ended in Nauvoo, Illinois, with the execution of her husband. Ward was 2 years older than Emma, and if they had been close as children, they would never speak again after she married Joseph Smith. So I suppose it’s not hard to imagine why my mother’s direct line were not Mormons. Ward was a judge in Polk County, Wisconsin, and I think I can assume that he had clear ideas of right and wrong.

Through Ward’s mother, Elizabeth Lewis, we trace her origins directly back to John and Joan Hurst Tilley through their daughter. Elizabeth Tilley was a 13 year old child when her parents sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 to Plymouth rock to avoid religious persecution. Her future husband, John Howland, was an indentured servant on the ship. Her parents both died within a year after arriving in the Massachusetts Colony, and she married John Howland in 1624 at the age of 17. The Tilleys were documented members of the Dutch Separatists in England, better known as Puritans.

Puritanism isn’t a religious denomination, rather it was a group of a several different religious groups that felt that Reformation had not achieved its purpose; they were also dissatisfied that the Church of England continued to adopt practices of the Roman Catholic faith. They were considered extremists in their day. Imagine that. Many of the Puritans were Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Most notably, the Savoy Declaration, the Congregational profession of faith, has espoused Puritan beliefs.

I was what I can now see a conflicted girl in a Catholic school. I grew up before Vatican II, and the nuns were perfectly clear when they told us that anyone who was not Catholic was going to hell. My grandmother and cousins were not Catholic, and I loved them with all my heart; my mother’s really good friend was Southern Baptist. I spent several summers going to Vacation Bible School with her sons. I loved them as much as my own family. I just couldn’t imagine them in the fires of hell because they attended a different church. I came home from school one day–upset–and wound up telling Mom. She was adamant that our friends and family who were not Catholic were NOT destined for the fiery pits of hell throughout eternity. That instruction became the basis for my own personal conundrum that exists today. I’m perfectly clear in my faith; it’s just the faith vehicle that’s not as clear. I used to consider myself somewhat of a weird type of rebel with an internal war in my soul. I’ve become friends with that rebel person and learned to accept her questions, not as a form of rebellion, but more a conscious reconciliation of black and white inside her head.

Working on my ancestry has given me some peace from the religious conflict in my past. Instead of finding my roots in Catholicism, both my maternal and paternal roots are deeply Protestant. No wonder I relate to this part of my DNA so intimately and personally?

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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