Biographical Sketch of Margery Wilkerson, 1832–1870,
Second
Wife of Levi Stewart

Based on Accounts by her daughter Lucinda A. Stewart Brown and Granddaughter Margery Brown Cottam
Compiled ©2021 by Margery Boyden, Scudder Association Foundation Historian and Susan Sherwood Arnett,
from Stewart histories, for Scudder Association Foundation, used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Margery Stewart and child

Margery (Wilkerson) Stewart

Margery (Wilkerson) Stewart was born in Jackson County, Indiana on 16 Nov 1832. According to his tombstone, her father, Thomas Wilkerson, was born on 17 January 1797. In other records, his birthplace is given as Richmond, Madison, Kentucky.[1] In Muhlenberg, Kentucky, on October 1817, Thomas Wilkerson married his first wife Effie Forehand.[2] She died by 1825. Having moved to Indiana, on 21 September 1827, Thomas married for a second time to Eliza (Followell) Hampton who was recently divorced from James Hampton.[3] Thomas and Eliza Wilkerson had ten children, all born prior to the family making the pioneer trek to Utah in 1852, arriving in Salt Lake City on 15 September 1852.[4]

Thomas Wilkerson

Thomas Wilkerson 

Thomas had a reputation for being an empathetic friend to the Latter-day Saints during a time of persecution prior to his joining with them. Eliza was a much-loved midwife and from her Margery inherited a natural ability for nursing, comforting and caring for the sick. Margery’s reputation was one of tender care, and many sought her aid.

Elisa Wilkerson

Eliza (Followell) Hampton Wilkerson

According to Thomas Wilkerson’s census records, his father, David Wilkerson, was born in Virginia and his marriage record shows he married Elizabeth King, at Henry, Virginia on 21 March 1787. Census records for Thomas claim she was also born in Virginia. David Wilkerson served in the Revolutionary War under the command of Col. William Washington, George Washington’s second cousin.

 

David Wilkerson Marriage Cert[5]

In the “Court Order Recommending Pension for David Wilkerson,” it states that David served in the battles of Eutaw Springs, Guilford Courthouse, several other engagements and was severely wounded in the knee at the Cowpens.[6] Margery’s great-grandfather William Wilkerson was also a Revolutionary War soldier.[7]

Margery was the oldest daughter of Thomas Wilkerson and Eliza Followell and was named for her grandmother, Margery Miles who married William Followell. Two years later her sister Artemacy was born.

Margery and Artemacy Wilkerson

Margery and Artemacy Wilkerson

The Thomas Wilkerson family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to 1852 when they arrived in Salt Lake City with the Robert Wimmer Company.[8] Margery was 19 years of age when she crossed the plains with her parents and some siblings. The family lore says Margery helped drive the ox teams on their 76day journey. Margery’s granddaughter, Margery Brown Cottam, describes the Wilkerson familys arrival: A friend, Brother Wimmer, drove up with a company of emigrants. When Levi came across to see him, he said, “Brother Levi, I have brought you a wife.” Levi said, “Well that’s nice,” thinking little of it.” However, Wimmer’s feeling that this would be a good match was accurate. A few months later on December 13, 1852, Levi and Margery were married in Salt Lake City.[9]

To understand the history of the Levi Stewart family, and the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in context of their times, is to understand the biblical doctrines of obedience and sacrifice and the attributes of character these produce. Twice, in order to test Abraham, and to accomplish other divine purposes, God made exceptions to His standing law in commandments issued personally to Abraham: See Genesis chapters 15–17 and 21–22. In Margery and Levi’s time, their Church had the doctrine of plural marriage. Their Book of Mormon clearly taught that God’s law was for man to have one wife but that if God willed that there be a temporary exception made in order to “raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”[10]

Plural marriage was a difficult commandment, but they believed that God had asked it of them as he had of Abraham and Jacob in Old Testament times. As one writes, “The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate.” Many were descendants of the New England Puritans or from nations in Europe. To their cultural, emotional and spiritual sensibilities, polygamy was naturally repugnant and a major trial of faith that they knew would bring additional persecution. Those trusted, reputable members who were asked to do it had available to them a spiritual confirmation through prayer that God wanted them to do it. Receiving a spiritual witness of the doctrine is described in an essay as “sacred experiences that enabled the Saints to move forward in faith.”[11] To be successful, this would require unselfishness, teamwork, an extraordinary work ethic, a commitment to live Christlike virtues and to give service to others. For the fathers, who were already stepping up to give assistance to those in need outside of their families, and to give civic and church service, it would add an extra-large measure of economic responsibility on their shoulders. And if he were to be called on a mission or to die, all family members would need to step up to assume greater responsibility to the welfare of all. In addition, they had Church and civic responsibilities.

Not all families were as successful at living this law as the Stewart family, but the fruit and blessings of the Stewart family’s legacy for generations is a remarkable family culture of love and respect for one another, service and faith in God. Stewart and Udall family stories over several generations serve as an interesting contrast to today’s elements of individualism and self-focus. . A Latter-day Saint hymn encapsulates benefits of sacrifice in the phrase, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” While plural marriage was viewed as difficult and a sacrifice, it would prove to be a blessing to the Stewart family as they encountered severe trials during their arduous frontier life. Levi’s first wife Melinda died from complications of childbirth in 1853 and Margery was in position to help Melinda’s eldest daughter Jane in the care of Melinda’s family. The Levi Stewart family did have a large family, but the rigors of frontier life took their toll. Of Levi’s twenty-eight children, twelve preceded him in death.  In 1890, by revelation that ended this obligation and to comply with the U.S. law, the Church president announced an end to the practice of plural marriage.

Later in life, and from a daughter’s perspective, Margery’s daughter Lucinda Araminta (Stewart) Brown wrote her mother’s biography. Keep in mind that Lucinda’s mother Margery died when Lucinda was five years old, about three weeks shy of her sixth birthday. Lucinda’s account had an error, not surprising for one whose mother died so young, stating that her grandfather David Wilkerson was an intimate friend of George Washington, and with him crossed the Delaware as in the famous painting. But David was too young for that episode and then living in North Carolina. His pension file corrects the misunderstanding. David served under Col. William Washington. A few minor edits have been made in Lucinda’s account for clarity. With Margery’s life cut so short, the family is very grateful for Lucinda’s invaluable account that helps to preserve parts of Margery’s history that would otherwise have been lost, for Lucinda knew the parties involved firsthand.

Words from Lucinda A. (Stewart) Brown, Margery’s daughter 

My mother was their oldest daughter and was named for a great grandmother who lived to be one hundred and two years old [sic]. Being the oldest daughter of a large family, at an early age she had to help her mother; when she was eight years old [she] would go with her mother, who was an expert weaver and took contracts weaving all kinds of fine cloth.  Margery would assist by tending the baby and winding bobkins. In this way she soon learned to spin yarn and flax thread, also to knit and later to weave

Her younger sister, who later became my stepmother, told me that they made all their dolls and toys. They would get a little piece of white cloth and print flowers on it with the juice of berries, making some purple, red and pink, using this to make their doll dresses.

In those days cook stoves were scarcely known and my mother learned to cook over a fireplace. She was a grown woman when the first stove came into the neighborhood.  Her parents were industrious, honest, hard-working people and she grew up with the same high ideals. At the age of nineteen, she crossed the plains with her parents driving ox teams. In the year 1852, a few months later, she was married to my father Levi Stewart, in the Endowment House at Salt Lake City, Dec. 13, 1852. This was a plural marriage, my father having a [first] wife and family.

The following August, my father Levi’s first wife gave birth to twin daughters, which was followed by a long illness.[12] 

On the eighteenth of October 1853 my brother W. T. Stewart was born. Mother [Margery] was at the home of her mother, and when the baby was three weeks old Father took her and the baby home; his first wife Melinda was anxious to see the boy. She held him in her arms and kissed him saying: He was ugly, but he is beautiful. This good and noble woman soon after passed away leaving a large family to the care of her daughter Jane and to my mother Margery.

My mother’s sister Macy came to help with the family. Artemacy’s first husband, William Cassady decided to leave for the gold fields of California, so she divorced him. This left Macy alone with one child. Later she married my father, and for seventeen years the two sisters lived in perfect harmony in one home. One man who worked for my father for seven years said it was impossible to tell which children belonged to my mother or aunt. The two older girls Ella and Sarah played a game of changing mothers. And if one [mother] was busy the other would nurse her baby.  If trouble arose among the children at their work or play, either mother would go out and settle things either by reproof or correction, as if all were her own children. My grandmother, Eliza Wilkerson, was a midwife and her daughters inherited a natural ability for nursing and caring for the sick, comforting and helping those in trouble. 

Once when my father was presiding over the Mill Creek Ward, a young mother from Denmark, unable to talk English, brought her young baby to church to be blessed. The little one began to fret and cry until the mother was so embarrassed, she did not know what to do. So, my mother took the baby to the stove and uncovered its feet and warmed them and the child began laughing. The mother was unable to express her gratitude except with tears and smiles. It was little kindnesses like this that endeared my mother Margery to so many people.

We lived just across from Emigration Square and when the weary, foot sore people would arrive [from crossing the plains], my parents would take as many of them home as they possibly could; sometimes as many as seven or eight would make their home with us until they were married or made other arrangements.

Another family account shares how they would divide their flour with the immigrants and the family firmly believed the Lord repeatedly increased their scanty supply of flour even as He did in the Bible.

Reunion of thje Saints by C C A Christensen[13]

Reunion of the Saints, by C. C. A. Christensen

Lucinda continues:

In 1869 my father was invited to go with President Young and others to visit the Muddy settlements and Southern Utah. My mother and brother Tommy went with him. It was on this trip my father first saw Kanab and received a call to take his family and colonize that country.

In the spring of 1870 my father, mother, brother Tommy, sister Ella and myself, then five years old, started for Kanab accompanied by my brother-in-law Frank Farnsworth, Ed Noble, Allen Frost and John Rider and others. 

We stayed in Toquerville a few days, then on to Pipe Springs where we stayed three weeks, then on to Kanab arriving there about May 20[th]. Some people who had left the Muddy [mission] had stopped here a year or two before and partly built a fort. We found it in this condition. Jacob Hamlin, his wife Louise, Charlie Riggs from Santa Clara came the same day we did, and a little later the Mangums and James Wilkins came. My mother, Louise Hamblin and myself were the very first women settlers. I was just a child. My sister Ella had been left in Toquerville to learn telegraphy and later took charge of the office at Pipe Springs; she is on record as the first telegraph operator in Arizona.

Lucinda’s daughter Margery (Browne) Cottam’s account in “Some Incidents in the Life of Levi Stewart,” adds these details:

Early in the winter of 1869–70, President Young asked Levi to accompany him and his party of about thirty on an inspection tour of the southern part of the state, to seek out suitable settling places. His wife Margery went along, taking her oldest boy Thomas. They visited Cedar, Beaver, St. George, the Dixie and Muddy settlements, then went across lower Zions Canyon; the via Pipe Springs to what is now Kanab. Conferences were held at each settlement.

When they returned to Salt Lake, a plan was already worked out by Brigham Young for a new frontier in this wilderness.[14]

Editorial note: Northern Utahns referred to the mostly unsettled southern part of their territory around St. George as Dixie because of its climate warm enough to grow cotton, an urgent crop that would be needed to clothe those in the Utah territory. The teachings of their Church included principles of self-reliance and some missions to southern Utah were organized to supply various needs of the territory, such as the Iron Mission near Parowan and Cedar City, the Muddy Mission where they had discovered coal near Cedar City and the Cotton Mission in the Virgin River Valley near St. George that included a factory. Latter-day Saints that already had skills in these various fields of labor were called to colonize those areas. Irrigation systems had to be built and considerable time farming spent in order to survive and the distances involved proved to be somewhat economically impractical after the railroad arrived in Utah. Seasonal flash-flooding was also a challenge as it frequently washed away their crops. The mountains near Kanab would furnish supplies for a sawmill. While some industries that developed were not as successful as they hoped, these efforts would prove to accomplish the building up of numerous settlements throughout the territory, important to deal with the ever-increasing numbers of Latter-day Saints constantly arriving in Utah. Most importantly these southern communities built a resourceful, hardy, resilient people. With water considered the lifeblood of these settlements, conservation of water and other resources would be vital, as well as building irrigation systems. Barrels were set by the homes to catch rainwater and blankets and quilts hung around them to protect from insects and varmints and to cool the collected water.

To return to Margery (Wilkerson) Stewart’s role in the founding of Kanab, it was decided that she would be the sole woman to go with Levi and an advance group to prepare the townsite for the rest. Margery took three of her children, Thomas, 17, Ella, 15 and Lucinda 5. The other Stewart children would remain in Salt Lake City with Artemacy, to come later with the group in September. Margery (Brown) Cottam’s account gives these important insights into this endeavor:

Thomas drove a large army wagon with some furniture and supplies. The parents with little Lucinda rode in a small one-seated buggy….

The colonists reached Kanab the eighth of June, 1870, after having stopped a few weeks in Pipe Springs to put in gardens as they knew there would be no chance to plant crops in Kanab that year or until canals were dug for irrigation.

There was the beginning of a fort in Kanab which had been abandoned by the Dixie pioneers who had built it because of the hostility of the Navajo Indians. At least it afforded a shelter; the most livable of the rooms were put to immediate use and the whole fort completed within a short time.

The new home must have looked desolate after the comfortable life in Salt Lake.[15]

Lucinda’s account continues:

My mother began to take an interest in the Indians. They were almost naked except a britch clout. I remember seeing Mother put some of the babies in a tub of water and give a good scrubbing and then dress them up in some of my clothes I had outgrown, and [of her] trying to teach the squaws to wash clothes.

In the fall my father and the other men, after repairing the Fort, returned north for their families and a great number of people were coming by this time.

Kanab Fort Monument

Kanab Fort Monument 

I will try and give a list of the ones that were in the Fort that winter. We had four rooms, two on the west and two on the north; next to us on the west were first Brother Frost, Brother Rider, Brother Noble, James Wilkins, Jim Mangum, John Mangum and Ammon Tenney next to ours.  On the north were Frank Farnsworth, Brother Brown, Brother Bunting and McConnells.  On the east were Jacob Hamblin, George Adair, Charlie Riggs, and others in tents. There were no houses on the south side, only a rock wall.

Margery (Brown) Cottam takes up the narrative:

The Navajo Indians were hostile, but the local Piutes were friendly to these whites who treated them with kindness. Grandmother and “Aunt Macy” taught the Indian mothers how to bathe and care for their babies. They gave them clothing, for even the adults were naked.

In December of that same first year, 1870, came the tragedy that was to leave its scar on the lives of this family and almost disrupt the entire settlement….

On the night of December 14, the guard who was to relieve Brother Pugh as guard at one o’clock did not awaken but seemed to be overpowered with sleep. He was roused once, then twice, and even started to dress. Brother Pugh went home and to bed, thinking all was well, but in some way the guard fell back over on the bed asleep, leaving the fort unguarded. At four o’clock, fire was discovered in the Stewart section of the fort. Little Lucinda remembers how her father rushed to see what he could do—how her mother quickly threw a spread around herself and rushed over to the burning portion. Their own room was safe as it was separated from the burning part by many feet—a space left for another room which had not yet been built and which was protected only by a row of wagons drawn together. These wagons were used as sleeping quarters for some of the older children. The kitchen roof was already ablaze so there was no hope of saving that part of the house. But in the bedroom next to it, the one on the corner, slept the boys, Margery’s three, Artimacy’s two, a hired man, and Levi, the youngest son of the first wife, Melinda.

This room had not windows as did none of the outside rooms of the fort in order to make them impregnable to the Indians. The only exit was through the flaming kitchen. Levi and other men, knowing that this bedroom held stores of kerosene and powder seized axes and started battering out the logs of the wall. They got two logs out and crawled through into the suffocating smoke-filled room. They found the beds empty and no one in the room. It was impossible to get into the blazing inferno of the kitchen. They knew that the smoking powder and kerosene might explode any minute, so they crawled back out. Levi ordered the others out and carried two kegs of powder already smoking and dumped them into the creek. Then the kerosene exploded and went up in flames.

Little did Levi realize what was happening on the other side of the kitchen. When Margery rushed out of their bedroom, she immediately took in the situation and knew that the only hope for the boys was through the kitchen. Her mother love was greater than her fears or her reasoning power, and unseen by any except her daughter Ella, who happened to be there from Pipe Springs, she rushed into the flames. Ella tried to follow her mother but was held back by the men. Once in the kitchen, Margery met Artimacy’s boy Lon and the hired man, Harvey Stout, who, blinded by the smoke, were groping around trying to find an exit. She pushed them through the door and turned to find the others. No one knows what really happened then. The explosion prevented anyone else from entering. The found the six charred bodies; the mother and three boys were found huddled in the immense fireplace as if she had been trying to lift them up the chimney. One was under the big stove, less burned than the others. They dug out the bodies and sadly buried them in one grave. Alonzo told afterward of how Levi [Jr] had tried, when they found themselves trapped, to lift the sod off the bedroom, but it had been too firmly packed with grass and willows.

The funeral was heart-rending. Some of the neighbors tried to sing but it was no use. One after another, several brethren tried to speak but no words would come. It was the heartbroken father and husband who alone could control his emotions enough to offer his tribute to the beloved wife who had given her life to save her sons.[16]

Lucinda’s shares:

A few days before [my mother’s] death, my sister Jane [Farnsworth] lost a little girl four days old, the first white child born and buried in Kanab. While preparing it for burial my mother said she hoped that when she died, she would have friends enough to lay her away nicely. But all they could do with Mother was wrap the remains in pieces of linen.

Thus ended a noble and useful life at the age of thirty eight.

MONUMENT TO THE STEWART FAMILY FIRE VICTIMS

Headstone for Margery (Wilkerson) Stewart and Children, “Ravished by Fire,”[17]

As Lucinda describes, Margery possessed many Christian virtues that endeared her to her family and associates but her courageous sacrifice of her life in her heroic attempt to save others has continued to have a solemn, exemplary effect on all branches of the Levi Stewart family for many generations. This incident also had a solemn effect upon the whole Utah territory, not just on Margery’s family. A Deseret News account of the tragedy states:

James Thorpe who reached Toquerville from Kanab reported that the wife of Bishop Levi Stewart, Levi Stewart Jr., and four children were burned to death. There were in the house [unfinished fort] at the time two kegs of powder and ten gallons of coal-oil. Sister Stewart and young Stout rushed into the burning building to save the children, and while they were in, the oil exploded, killing both the mother and her children and badly burning the young man who was assisting in trying to save the children. The news of this great calamity will be received with grief by numerous friends of Bishop Stewart all over the territory. He was one of our oldest and most respected citizens. We deeply sympathize with him in his present trouble….

Those who lost their lives in the fire were wife, Margery Wilkerson Stewart, 38, born November 16, 1832. Levi H. Stewart, 22-year-old son of Malinda Howard Stewart, Bishop Stewart’s first wife who had died sixteen years before; Charles C., 13, born February 8, 1857; Urban Van, 13, December 30, 1857; Heber Carlos, 9, born September 23, 1863. Three were the sons of the wife who perished; the other was the son of Artemacy Wilkerson Stewart, Bishop Stewart’s living wife.[18]

As soon as President Young heard the news of the fire, he set out in his buggy for Kanab to offer what comfort and spiritual strength he could. He had great admired Margery and was always free in expressing his confidence in Levi and his admiration and friendship for him. He said, ‘Brother Levi, Sister Margery went to heaven in a flame of glory.’ Indeed, her memory has been enshrined as a heroine in the hearts of her descendants.[19]

Mrs. Margery Stewart portrait

Mrs. Margery Stewart

 

[Biographical Sketch of Artemacy (Wilkerson) Stewart]


[1] Birthdate and death date on his headstone, Kanab, Cemetery, Kanab, Utah, from BillionGraves, https://billiongraves.com/grave/Thomas-Wilkerson/5695028. Some family traditions have used a 1799 date but the headstone is presently considered as valid pending a primary source record to prove otherwise.

[2] Thomas Wilkerson and Effie Forehand, “Kentucky County Marriages, 17997–1954, FamilySearch Records, FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QB2-CD?i=12&cc=1325221&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMMB3-15H.

[3] FamilySearch Records, FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QP7-5GF?i=35&cc=1410397&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AXXBS-1XG.

[4] Thomas Wilkerson, “Utah Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847–1868,” https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK9B-Z9TB?from=lynx1UIV8&treeref=KV5M-KYS.

[5] “Wilkerson, David, served under Col. William Washington in Revolutionary War, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/memories/LHVH-NR2.

[6] “Court Order Recommending Pension for David Wilkerson,” State of Kentucky, Fayette County Court 1820. Also David Wilkerson Pension File, MIUSA1775D_137210-00526Margery’s daughter Lucinda erred in claiming the wrong Washington as commander for Margery’s grandfather David Wilkerson. Not only was David too young at the time of the crossing of the Delaware River with George Washington for the Battle of Trenton but David’s pension file states he was under the command of William Washington and fought in battles in the South.

[7] “Pension application of William Wilkerson S32602   f65NC,”  http://revwarapps.org/s32602.pdf.

[8] Robert Wimmer Company Report (1852), Overland Trail Database, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/overlandtravel/pioneers/11245/thomas-wilkerson.

[9] Live Sealing Transcript, Brigham Young’s Office, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/memories/KWVM-ZFX.

[10] Jacob 2:27, 30, Book of Mormon.

[11] “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics Essays, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ww.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng.

[12] Church and family records state the twins’ birth date was 30 October 1853. Melinda died 24 November 1853.

[13] C. C. A. Christensen, “Reunion of the Saints, (Courtesy of Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, UT.) Fred E. Woods, “The Arrival of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Emigrants in Salt Lake City,” (Courtesy of Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, UT.),  https://rsc.byu.edu/salt-lake-city-place-which-god-prepared/arrival-nineteenth-century-mormon-emigrants-salt-lake-city.

[14] Margery Brown Cottam, “Some Incidents in the Life of Levi Stewart, Founder of Kanab, Utah.” Many branches of the family have copies of this history, but it is also reprinted in History of Kane County, 536–552, cited in endnote 11. This excerpt is from page 545.

[15] Adonis Findlay Robinson, comp. and ed., History of Kane County, (Salt Lake City: The Utah Printing Co., for Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1970), 546.

[16] Robinson, 546–549 or family copy.

[17] Grave marker for Margery Wilkerson Stewart and five Stewart Sons, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/5003355/margery-stewart.

[18] Robinson, 35. Italics added.

[19] Robinson, 549.

 


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