Monday, February 7, 2011

My Introduction to the Chandler Family

Although Nathaniel Massie was the first to draw my attention, it is the 19-year old Martha Bell who has held it these several years. In an 1850 letter from Iowa to her cousin Sarah Blain in Ohio, Martha professed to being “very awkward as well as wild and unsteady… but I hope it may not always be so.” In the same letter Martha confides to Sarah her theory of chasing old bachelors, a pastime she found not the least to her liking. “They are getting quite tame for now” she proclaimed, and “the little girls of twelve and thirteen can catch them.”

But it was my interest in Nathaniel that introduced me to Martha, and thus I must begin with him. Massie’s name was not the most prominent of those mentioned on the document. It was buried deep in the text, midway between “to all whom these presents shall come, greetings” and “By the President, Thomas Jefferson.”

The document was one of four which hung in the upstairs hallway in Joyce McRobert’s house in Malta Bend, Missouri. I noticed the documents on my first trip to Malta Bend during mid-summer of 1984. I was newly married and was visiting for the first time the childhood home of my wife, Susan Clyde. Malta Bend is a town of perhaps 200. It sits in the middle of a farming county and relies on soy beans and corn as the basis of its economy. The grain elevator sitting on the northeast edge of town was the largest notable landmark, although a new plant producing ethanol now competes with the elevator both for the local corn crop and as the primary landmark. My wife grew up on a small farm some five miles east of town. Her extended family, whose relationships to one another I found confusing at the time, continues to live in the area.

Missouri was a marvel to me on this first visit. I was overwhelmed by the fact that this was where America’s food comes from. Corn and soy beans occupied mile after mile of the landscape. Local orchards offered freshly picked produce including walnuts and peaches and apples. One meal during a later visit consisted entirely of corn and green beans and tomatoes, none picked more than 20 minutes before we sat at table. The meal argued strongly in favor of one’s becoming a vegetarian.

County roads around Malta Bend would eventually become as familiar to me as my local neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. But on this first visit I was just beginning to learn how to drive on the gravel roads that connect relatives’ scattered farm houses. I could not imagine that, over the years, fields and trees and country cemeteries would become as useful landmarks to me as the grain elevator was on that first visit. I could not imagine that I now greet the drivers of passing vehicles on such roads with the simple lifting of the index finger from the steering wheel – as is customary in and around Malta Bend.

Nor could I imagine on the first visit that I would find a framed document bearing the signatures of Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, and James Madison, Secretary of State, dated January 2, 1802, and signed in the City of Washington. The document was one of four hanging in the upstairs hallway in Aunt Joyce’s home. I am quite certain I walked past the grouping several times before stopping to see what the simple inexpensive frames contained.

Jefferson’s and Madison’s signatures caught my eye first. Two other documents, dated 1833, were signed by Andrew Jackson, President. All three appeared to be early land grants. A fourth undated document bore the signature of Baron de Carondolet, a gentleman later identified as one of the last Spanish governors of West Florida and Louisiana..

Aunt Joyce could tell me little about the four documents. She knew they related to family history, but was not at all clear what that relationship was. The documents were part of a larger
collection of “civil war letters” stored in a chest sitting on Joyce’s sun porch. They had been passed down by Miss Edna, my wife’s step-grandmother, who had passed away in 1970. Aunt Joyce seemed reluctant at that time to discuss the documents further. I was the new member in this family and chose not to pursue the subject at that time.

It would be seven years before Aunt Joyce was convinced to let me take the Jefferson document back to Virginia for research, and Nathaniel Massie and I became acquainted. Another 12 years would pass before the rest of the “civil war letters” were made available to me and I first met the awkward, unsteady, and enchanting Martha. And only recently has the family history become clearer, the relationships linking Nathaniel Massie and William Chandler and Martha Bell and Sarah Slane and Miss Edna to Susan Clyde, now my wife of 24 years.

It is this history, often told in documents, often in the hand of a family member, which I wish to share.

Peter A. Siegwald
June 2008

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