Saturday, December 31, 2016

Finding Everett

UPDATE: Click Finding Everett to see ancestry.com tree.
Divorce. My bluegrass, Kentucky-born maternal grandmother whispered the term in adult company in much the same way she confidentially breathed "cancer." Taboo firmly censured marital disunion in her parents' line. When a television commentator recently used the term 'scandalous,' in reference to the practice in the 1920s, her disapprobation resonated with me. I agreed with the contention.

Another penchant drives this post. I seem not at all deterred from researching subjects who leave no survivors. I'm impelled by source documents: if it emerges in my awareness, I don't mind compiling a distinguishing fact into the arc of a life ... though few will ever trace its contours.


Image of Gertrude Hardesty (1896-1916), seated in a photographer's studio, likely in Lincoln County, Oklahoma.
Let me introduce Gertrude (Hardesty) Rhodes (1896-1916). Youngest of three children born to Oliver Ellsworth and May (Hyde) Hardesty; by the time I'd learned of her, my paternal grandfather had wrapped his youngest sibling's memory with deep affection.

Gertrude died young. 


Her final year was likely one of considerable suffering. On 11 May 1916, the 20-year-old gave birth to daughter Gail. The child died four months later, on 12 September. 


My Great Aunt's potential line of descent terminated 31 December 1916. A niece, not yet born when Gertrude died, associates tuberculosis. One must be suspicious regarding cause of death in all who pass on New Year's Eve. Gertrude and Gail share an untended Fallis, Oklahoma grave with an interloping, scrub cedar. Their stone is inscribed "Gone but not forgotten" ... in an overlooked burgh now described by the state's tourism department as a ghost town


Image of Gertrude (Hardesty) Rhodes grave maker.
Oklahoma Cemeteries Website
I'd been asked about Gertrude when posting a schoolhouse photo (bottom) in a Facebook group last week. I knew precious little about her spouse: his name was relayed to me as Everett Rhodes. He was a 'railroad man.' I was given to think the groom held an itinerant job, and may not have been present throughout Gertrude's final year. Mr. Rhodes had quickly moved on, while my grandfather's family remained with localized grief during the misery-inducing Dust Bowl. (Note that the marker, right, references parents 'O. E.' and May Hardesty ... not Gertude's spouse.)

Thinking to check my facts, I dug into the record. I sifted through ancestral photos and my document cache; I wandered among family-depicting databases. One online community can be particularly helpful: Find A Grave is a self-organizing group of genealogy 'angels.' Most often altruistically motivated to document 'what is,' they photograph grave markers and manage online profiles. (Some admittedly embellish profiles, introducing facts not in evidence.) While the verifiable data set may not be true, at least it's carved in stone.

It was gratifying to discover Sharon Spain Ingle had created a Find A Grave memorial for Gertrude Hardesty Rhodes. It is hyperlinked to daughter Gail, perhaps the child's only original manifestation in the World Wide Web. I was touched to discover a Joyce Hopkins had in 2011 laid virtual flowers on each of the pair's memorial pages. I lovingly submitted hyperlinks to Gertrude's parents, as if somehow reuniting her. 


Research then brought me to one of those supremely gratifying moments. A source document, excruciatingly pertinent to these admittedly minor characters, came to my attention: The Oklahoma Historical Society has posted the 2 July 1915 issue of the Carney Enterprise. Two sentences in the 12-page weekly leapt out: "It is reported here that Everet [sic] Rhodes and Miss Gertrude Hardesty were married at Fallis last Sunday. We have no particulars."

Image of 2 July 1915 Carney Enterprise, (Carney, Okla.); Vol. 14, No. 49, pg. 3, col. 2.

We have no particulars. That's an affront to a researcher. A wedding date of 27 June produced no trove among returns from Internet databases. Gertrude remains a stub in the few online trees where the most diligent family historians deigned to record her birth ... likely as they discovered her enumerated in O. E. and May's 1910 census entry, when the family of five farmed Fallis environs in Lincoln County. None depict spouse or child.

An Everett – born in Missouri, September 1894 – was, in the 1900 census, identified with parents 'Ed.' and Anna, and 2 Rhodes siblings ... in Lincoln County's Otoe Township. At age 16, Everett is not in the 1910 household of Edwin Beardsley Rhodes (1869-1939), then at Cimarron, Lincoln County. Rhodes the elder left farming, for work at a rail yard as Section Foreman. The younger Rhodes left school.

And thus begins a most delicate task.

I've pursued racial justice work that at times broaches difficult conversations about family heritage: I peer into Rhodes and ancillary family trees posted online, and I suspect a social minefield awaits ... as I consider inviting collaboration, in ascertaining whether Gertude was the first wife of Ollie Everett Rhodes (1894-1980). Nearly all of this man's profiles reference a September 1894 birth date: no ancestry.com Rhodes researcher offer a Hardesty spouse. Two camps have formed. Two spouses are generally assigned to Rhodes; only a couple profiles list both.

Flow chart depicting Everett Rhodes' spouses & children.
Here's the rub. When ferreting out 'the particulars' of unsubstantiated family lore, I depend  in the main  on descendants who hold ancestors in some esteem. Else they might not devote the effort of compiling records and offering online trees. I suppose I could have approached each researcher with a limited fact set, foregoing mention of the (other) marriage they may not be aware of. It may be completely self-defeating (and is certainly cumbersome) to drop this whole package on them ... but, now that I have the fact sets, I feel somehow compelled to lay them out. Untangling this generation's web of relationships certainly inspired a learning experience for me.

Color image of overgrown schoolhouse, Fallis, Oklahoma.
Brick School, Fallis, OK, 2011
Fallis was not always a ghost town. Author Vingetta Elizabeth Roe's novel, A Divine Egotist, was published in 1916. Without mentioning Fallis by name, the recent resident is to have observed, first-hand, “a town that is fast approaching the dignity of cityhood.” Originally a segregated, African American community, the Fallis Blade had a Black Editor, advertising Black-owned businesses. Yankee capital flowed in. Diligent labor on productive land in the valley of Bear and Mission Creeks produced a cotton boom that generated a half-million, 1904 dollars. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway and the Fort Smith & Western Railroad crossed paths at Fallis. To use a metaphor, my Rhodes research quickly became a maze of switches: I was shunted from one track to another in short order.

By the summer of 1917, Rhodes was a Telegraph Operator for the Denver & Rio Grande Railway Company ... at Grand Valley, Colorado. As the Roaring Twenties kicked in, he was with the Southern Pacific Rail Road at Casmalia, Santa Barbara County in California. He was barbering in Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo County there, likely by 1922.

Thumbnail image of Luisa Anita (Garcia) Rhodes (1905-1955), c1943, Santa Margarita, CA. maestraslopez shared this with ancestry.com, 10 Mar 2013.
Luisa/Louise Anita Garcia (1907-1955) is known to be in Santa Margarita by 1920. In 1924, the teen bore son Edwin Rhodes (the name given Ollie Everett Rhodes’ father and brother). She bore daughter Gloria Aileen Rhodes the following year. Louise (right) is enumerated as divorced in 1930. The family afterwards referred to Edwin as 'Edmund.' Louise's San Luis Obispo Find A Grave memorial links to no kin.

Rhodes launched into an odyssey with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. As Telegrapher and Clerk, he thrashed about in Arizona and California until his 44th birthday ... in 1938.

I now introduce Loretta Magdalen McGeough (1896-1976). She and Rhodes married in 1960. Santa Barbara voter registration records have the pair sharing an address (she using the surname Rhodes) c1939. 1933 birth records of stillborn daughter Sarah bear the surname Rhodes, as did Mary Ann, born two years later. Delay in solemnizing this Rhodes partnership may result from unresolved, earlier unions: Loretta had been married before. Three times, by my count. Twice by Catholic clergy.

Image of Loretta McGeough (1896-1976), c1922.
Minnesota-born Loretta (left), working as a bookkeeper, was with her siblings and widowed father in Santa Barbara by 1920. In 1923, immediately after he finished a 3-year stint in the U.S. Army, she married Walter Henry Bruley (1903-1992) ... at Fort Collins, Colorado. Walter was an orphan. Not a prime candidate for online, family tree building. I sense it's a rare find, to discover divorce records: this marriage – to a Denver Tramway Conductor – concluded 28 January 1930. Walter's Find A Grave memorial, documenting a National Cemetery in Riverside, California, links to no kin.

Image of 1924 Brunswick label, ‘California, Here I Come,’ by Al Jolson.
Loretta's next union, with Santa Barbara phonograph salesman Frederick G. Orr (b1889), serves the theme: he too had already experienced matrimonial bonds. He'd stressed, but not identified, a 'dependent wife' when registering for the draft in 1917; Frederick was married, living alone in 1920. Though he'd been resident at the Y.M.C.A. before the couple set up housekeeping on De la Vina St. in 1924, the one-time rural New Yorker might have been 'a catch' for Loretta the Telephone Operator. He sold Brunswick phonograph players. Al Jolson signed with them that spring. His California, Here I Come charted at #1 in June.

Image of Bailard-Cramer Co. Pianos at 936 State St. as seen after the June 29, 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake.
An earthquake hit Santa Barbara the following June. It's unclear how much damage was done to inventory at Frederick's employers, Bailard-Cramer Piano & Phonograph Co. (left). One can surmise – likely for completely distinct reasons – that the couple's marriage took a shellacking in this period. Loretta moved on, Frederick escapes my ability to find him subsequently in any record. Perhaps the earthquake got him.

It's my belief that Frederick Orr doesn't even have a memorial at Find A Grave. He left no heirs I'm aware of. That too seems to be a limitation on representation in my online environment: few care sufficiently to request photographs of their graves.

Vandal Martin Branstetter (1898-1988) left his widowed mother in Portland, Oregon to take up work as a Steam Shovel Operator in Santa Barbara. (Perhaps he warbled along with Al Jolson, en route.) Vandal and Loretta Orr, then of Los Angeles, married at Idaho Falls, Idaho in the fall of 1926. Walter Bruley that year listed Loretta as his wife, in the Denver City Directory.

Vandal was back with his mother when, six weeks after Walter obtained a Denver divorce from Loretta E. [sic] Bruley, an Oregon court provided him judicial separation from Loretta M. Branstetter. The following summer, 1931, Vandal married fellow Portlander, Margaret Jolly Christie (1900-1962) at Skamania County, Washington. Except that her surname was Liston. A decade earlier, the apparent divorcée had married J. Delbert Liston (1894-1976). The Eugene, Oregon automobile salesman was enumerated as divorced in the 1930 census. By 1935, 'J. Del' was married to Junior High School Teacher Iva Belle Wood (1894-1947). Well, that was her maiden name: Iva had, in 1920, gone to Idaho to marry Charles Herman Brune (1900-1978). Charles in 1927 married Elizabeth Mills Harriman (1900-1974) ... also at Skamania, on the Columbia River and not far from the home place of your diligent family history contributor.

Thumbnail image of Iva Belle Wood, (1894-1947) 1915.
Elizabeth, thankfully, had not been married previously.

Iva (right), like Louise, Loretta, Walter, Frederick, Vandal, Margaret and J. Delbert, spent time as divorced persons in 1930. In Santa Barbara at the time, census takers might not have caught up with Ollie Everett Rhodes.

Had he not succumbed at or near the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, Vandal might have received the services of those who voluntarily inventory cemeteries. His Find A Grave memorial might have helped anchor this web of relationships. Vandal was, with his mother, settled and farming in Colorado by 1940. Second spouse Margaret, then a doctor's assistant, remained as a renter in Portland ... with 2 young daughters.

Though she is buried in Portland, and he among an extensive Eugene family, childless couple Margaret and J. Delbert have memorials. And they are hyperlinked (a diligent Find A Grave caretaker posted and sourced Margaret's Oregonian obit: it references Vandal). J. Del is not linked to second wife Iva, however. Iva shares a fate similar to Gertrude's: though her death certificate lists 'Iva W. Liston,' a grave marker in her parent's Wood plot reads 'daughter.' Further, no surname at all is carved into it. Iva's Find A Grave memorial is not linked to anyone.

Elizabeth bore Charles Brune two sons. The couple are buried where they started a family while tending sheep. They are linked in a virtual, Wasco County, Oregon Odd Fellows Cemetery. Digital flowers also appear at these graves.

Image of Mildreth Margarite Ladner (1912-2008) & Gertrude Hardesty (1896-1916).
Gertrude, with a cousin's daughter.
I'm not casting aspersions. This post is to be a digital beacon. To lure those with family lore describing this cast of characters ... to leave comments below (or here), should they be able to corroborate, debunk or clarify my contention: that Ollie Everett Rhodes was initially married to Gertrude Hardesty. "Do I have sufficient evidence," I wonder, "to suggest caretakers of Everett Rhodes' Find A Grave memorial accept a link to Gertrude's? How much social unpleasanty would this create?"

Conversational taboo preserves family dignity. It also allows those subsequently afflicted, by disease or societal choices, to be handicapped in isolating belief that they are the first in their family to ever experience a particular hardship. I try to avoid false pride; forgo taking unwarranted, psychic credit for ancestors' meritorious conduct when I find it: so too do I avoid shame. Particularly with regard to slave-owning ancestors, I admittedly find it generally challenging not to judge historical figures against contemporary mores, however.

When I am able to suspend judgment, I actually grow closer to 'what was.' It seems somehow more rewarding than allowing imagination to paint the past.

Those of you who delve concertedly into family history will understand my sense of immersion; of being neck-deep ... cross-referencing documents as I'm retaining names and dates. While the image of the log schoolhouse (below) initiated this study, it was an extraordinary observation that prompted me to draft this post.

Today is the centenary of Gertrude's death. Happy New Year, everyone!


This photograph, of a rustic, one-room schoolhouse near Agra, Oklahoma, triggered my labyrinthine investigation. Gertrude is depicted with the letter C.
Image of Oak Dale School, near Agra, Okla.

I find this final image (below) compelling, and wish it to be unleashed onto the World Wide Web. O. E. & May's children: Hallie Hardesty (1893-1980), Roy David Hardesty (1891-1970) and Gertrude Hardesty (1896-1916). Roy married a divorced woman whose own father declared himself 'widowed' in the 1920 census ... though his spouse lived on. Roy's son, my father, would divorce before establishing a family. I myself am twice divorced.

Portrait of siblings Hallie Hardesty (1893-1980), Roy David Hardesty (1891-1970) and Gertrude Hardesty (1896-1916).

With deep appreciation for all archivists, particularly those who took time to post the above photographs.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

See What Will Come of It

Researching participation of a paternal Haradon clan, in the Civil War Battle of Stones River, I unearthed a first-hand account of hospitalization and burial. The Union Army of the Cumberland and Army of Tennessee, C.S.A., had suffered nearly 25,000 casualties in a clash which heralded the new year of 1863. About 1700 Union & 1300 Confederate soldiers had died in several days of fighting, just west of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, in the midst of this days-long battle. It declared "all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be, free." Tennessee, by popular vote, seceded from the Union in June 1861: slaves therein had been declared freed ... by a government their masters had withdrawn from.

The author of the news account, 'J.S.P.,' in the 20th Independent Battery, Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery, is most likely Tennessee-born John S. Patterson. Forty years old, and just having been promoted Corporal after two month's service, he uses the military term 'contraband' for freed slaves: “I rode out to the cemetery to see where our soldiers are buried. There are many persons constantly engaged burying the dead,” he wrote from Nashville, where Haradons lay wounded in one of dozens of makeshift facilities. “The graves, in rows and close together, cover nearly two acres of ground. – There are about 700 Confederates and nearly as many “contrabands,” buried here – eight or ten of the latter daily. They are put in the ground as close together as they can be set.” (Quotes in the original may indicate the term was being introduced.)

By an Act of March 1862, the U.S. Congress prohibited Union officers from returning "fugitives" from Confederate service, or returning those who escaped from persons to whom "labor is claimed to be due." The term contraband referenced the first case: that of captured enemy property.

'Contrabands,' 'fugitives,' or self-emancipated; they were used by the U.S. Army in very much the same way Yankee armed services employed forced, slave labor. Many are the incidences where commanders sought to shun responsibility, ejecting refugees incapable of this drudgery from finding haven among their troops. Responses to emancipation among the 100th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry - in which the Haradons served - ranged from disgruntlement to outright threats to abrogate three-year commitments.

While many social signals were given during recruiting ... when war-boosters back in Illinois telegraphed their belief that this fight was to eliminate slavery ... the primary motivating factor, for many who did enlist in the 100th Illinois, was to preserve union formed of revolutionary resistance to colonial exploitation. Not all had signed on to free slaves. Many Yankees were certainly uncomfortable in a new social order. Not a few were discomforted to find themselves in proximity to free Negroes.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued September 22, 1862.
It should be noted that Lincoln had advanced a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (left) on 22 September. Three months had passed, to psychologically adjust to the idea that subjugation would end ... for some. Yet it's obvious that the Corporal does not yet fully comprehend emancipation. In the Quartermaster's Unit, he sets the value of wartime butter, flour and potatoes in dollars. "Salt is so scarce as not to sell at all … at any rate a barrel of it is worth more than a negro at these times.” Patterson perceives a marketplace where oppressed human lives still have pecuniary value.

Even though partial emancipation has been fully proclaimed, Patterson is curious as to the lived condition of slaves. He does not inject 'former' when discussing a woman's master.* It's interesting that he thinks readers will find it notable that a runaway slave he interviews "has a decided preference to be free." As if that aspiration is challenging to consider. "They all testify to this," says Patterson, of his informer's contention: "We never had such easy times." Dislocated, freed slaves "fare better now than when the seccesh army was here." Patterson is quartered in a barn; food and even firewood are scarce, even for those with cash.

The correspondent, reporting to the Sandusky, Ohio Daily Commercial Register on 22 January (excerpted in the image, below), is particularly curious about relationships. Some masters "treated their slaves as well as their children," relates Patterson. His interviewee was reluctant to marry when enslaved, however: the man, now a father, avers it would have been far too challenging to invest emotionally, and then "stand by," as a loved one was humiliated and physically abused.

Patterson's unnamed source seems willing to correct misconceptions. The Ohio soldier asserts Confederate military policy, summary execution for Negroes in Union service, "will turn the colored people against them."

"No, it won't," contends his counterpart. "[We are] against them now," says he ... of those who advocate such policy.

"Do you belong to the man of this house?" asks Patterson. In the current tense, as if emancipation has not occurred.

One glimpses a sense of humor as the freedman explains he never has. In his accounting, he asserts his master (likely former Tennessee Bank President, Granville Physic Smith) entered service as Colonel in a Confederate Army. "He run away from me," the subject explains.

Sandusky Daily Commercial Register (Sandusky, Ohio), 31 January, 1863. Pg. 2, cols 2 & 3.


The day following, on 1 February, reporting by the Daily Ohio Statesman in Columbus questioned the Proclamation's effect. "It is now just one month since the President's second and great Proclamation of Freedom, as the Abolitionists call it, was issued. By this time, according to radical prophecies uttered before the issuing of the proclamation, the backbone and sinews of the rebellion, which the radicals assure us are the slaves, should have been so broken and weakened that the Confeds would be about giving up the contest in utter despair.” Partisan, Democratic editors employed the term 'black bondman' when referencing an anticipated spike in recruiting: Lincoln's Proclamation “has called neither white not black soldiers into the field; it has not promoted slave insurrections, or excited a single black bondman to strike for freedom.”

“Abolitionists and their followers hang back from the service as much as before, and are trying to force the negroes to do all the fighting for them,” contend 'Copperheads' who are willing that the Union be restored, even if slavery remains intact. "Well, arm the negroes, as many as you can get, and do it quickly, and see what will come of it.” Editors no doubt hope readers will shudder at the thought of Blacks, so recently scarred by whips, finding rank while bearing lethal weapons.

*It's unclear, in the Sandusky reporting, which words are Patterson's and which result from editors. The interviewee, "almost a full-blooded negro," is to have used the term "they" when speaking of colored people. We might conclude the subject would have identified with this group ... and that an author or editor's voice has imposed itself on whatever the informer sought to convey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Threads Make Up the Weave

Hard Honesty, as a blog, was initially created as a digital beacon: I'm signalling to other researchers that I want to know as much as possible about 'Uncle' Monk (died 1835), slave-named Estill. (See the tab above.) He saved the life of my 4x great-grand-father, and became the first slave freed in what is now Kentucky.

Over time, another character in my family tree, Squire Turner (1793-1871) became a subject of deep research. Think of him as a protégé of Kentucky Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852): a fellow Whig jurist with superior legislative talent. Ardently pro-slavery, Turner fades from history to waver, mainly, as a foil in one of the manic excesses perpetuated by Clay's pro-emancipation cousin, Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903). 'Cash' Clay interrupted an 1849 campaign speech to disembowel Turner's son, Cyrus.

Another cousin, Antonia Ford (1838-1871) has my attention as well. She was implicated in the 1863 capture of a sleeping Union General by Confederate partisan raider, Lt. John S. Mosby. Ford was deemed a spy and imprisoned. The story pivots when a Union captor fell in love with Ford, left the army, and married her. (Antonia and I descend from Randolphs and Fords, occasionally depicted here.) Ford and her husband, Major Joseph Clapp Willard (Ret.), adjourned to his civilian role; as a wealthy proprietor of the Willard Hotel, premises of such profound influence in the nation's capital, it's as if the term 'lobbyist' would have originated there.

I'm currently unpacking the military exploits of Jeremiah Turner (1840-1917). Slave to Squire Turner, Jeremiah gained his freedom by enlisting in the United States Colored Troops in 1864. One of his descendants makes a compelling case that Jeremiah and I are related: Jeremiah is to have been the product of a slave rape by Squire or his father (my 3x great-grandfather, 'Ol' Marsh' Thomas Turner (1764-1847). In September, re-creators will gather at Camp Nelson, Kentucky - where Jeremiah enlisted - 150 years to the day of that enlistment. I want Jeremiah's great-great-grandsons to know of their ancestor's sacrifices for a re-configured Union.

I've been documenting the tortuous path the Lincoln administration took, in giving legal cover to drafting/ recruiting/ impressing slaves in the loyal state of Kentucky during the Civil War.

It's really just a small observation ... amidst huge reams of data that seem to clamor for my attention.

"After the fall of Fort Sumter and before Lincoln's call for troops could be met, Washington appeared to be defenseless." A "semblance of order" was created by Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky who, while negotiating with Lincoln for appointment as his Minister to Russia, "hastily organized" a small command: the 'Clay Battalion.'

"With three pistols strapped to his waist and carrying both a sword and his favorite knife, [Clay] was an inspiring sight at his headquarters in Willard's Hotel."
- pp. 131-132,  Lincoln of Kentucky by Lowell Harrison (2000)

Long enamored by Jungian synchronicity, I was momentarily stupefied as the tangled weave of three story lines manifest itself as a trio of overlapping threads.

Setting the stage for Jeremiah's eventual call to arms, I had uncovered a word portrait of not only the man ... but perhaps the very Bowie knife ... that had taken Cyrus Turner's life a dozen years earlier. (Jeremiah - and Cyrus' orphaned son, Charles - were nearly the same age & stayed in life-long relationship.) It takes but little imagination to see Antonia Ford's future husband in the background: as proprietor of the Willard Hotel, he was undoubtedly seeing to the flamboyant Clay's every need. It would be the following April before Joseph Willard would secure a position as Aide-de-camp on Brigadier General Irvin McDowell's staff.

I'm willing to give Google some of the credit. Algorithms have long been tracking my search predilections; they know of my hunt for Squire Turner and Cassius Clay, and may well have ranked results so that I'd come across Harrison's work.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Written Words For You All to Read

Running family lines feels, at times, like fishing. Occasionally, I land a catch that haunts me. A long-concluded life demands I consider our present circumstances.

I spend hours trolling databases, message boards and digitized documents. Sometimes I'll net evidence of further relationships. It’s usually gratifying. Given a seeming plethora of available data, and my low threshold of interest, I've disciplined myself – generally – to confine research to first cousins, and forgo crawling out far distant limbs in my family tree.

I was diverted from entering Turner family deed records from 19th century Madison County, Kentucky … based on a probate sale involving the estate of one Creed Turner.

One of my skill sets seems to be name retention. Immediately the name ‘Creed’ evoked ‘Curd’ Turner: a first cousin, 4-times removed, of whom I’d learned very little. My heart raced when I discovered Turner’s executors had distributed Missouri lands to Curd’s siblings. I'd cracked a nut! ‘Curd’ and Creed Turner were one and the same.

This, however, was only the first of several excitements.

We both descend from Turner's grandfather (my 4-times great-grandfather), John Turner, Jr. (c1738-1813). Technically, Creed and I are ‘half-cousins.’ John had perhaps 19 children by two wives. I am from John's union with Rebeckah Smith (1743-1774), Creed from second wife Jane Barnett Cooper (c1755-1816).

In 1814, Creed’s father, Barnett ‘Barney’ Turner (1790-1836), posted bond in Madison County, Kentucky, for his half-brother, Thomas ‘Trading Tom’ Turner (1764-1847). This enabled widower Thomas, my 3-times great grandfather, to also marry a second time … to my 3-times great grandmother, Annah Berry (c1785-1833). Ten months later, Methodist Deacon John Pace would also unite Barnett to Creed;s mother, Nancy Durret Taylor (1795-1836). Nephew Squire Turner (1793-1871) posted bond for this pair. Squire and his uncle Barnett had seen battle together, both serving as Privates in Capt. Robert Sturges' company of Kentucky Mounted Volunteer Militia in the War of 1812.

Nancy was a teen when her Revolutionary-era father died. Peter Taylor (c1750-1812) succumbed to a ‘stroke of apoplexy’ while overseeing some of his two dozen slaves in a garden. His estate, arising out of a land grant of 1,000 acres when Kentucky was yet an extension of Virginia, was considerable. It included fine pewter, a library and a chaise carriage. Taylor's 1807 will provided for children “yet to be reared.”

Barnett, with Annah’s father, James Berry (1752-1822, whose life Monk had saved in 1782), were among executors of John Turner’s will when Barnett’s father died the following year. Barnett’s earlier inheritance was considerably smaller: John Turner left him perhaps a sixth of his 200-acre tract. John had in 1811 been exempted from paying the county levy on half of his slaves, to wit “two old negroes Karon and Pender.”

On 30 December 1822, Creed Turner became the third son and fourth child born to Barnett and Nancy. He was likely named for his maternal uncle, Creed Haskins Taylor (1808-1832). The Turners could be considered clannish. They kept in touch. "Barnett Turner and his family is in common health," wrote Barnett's uncle Philip to son Talton, in Missouri by 1825. More importantly, these Turners could be migratory. Philip Turner (1762-1852), born with his brother John (above) in North Carolina, had westward momentum. Settled in Madison County, Kentucky, his name is found on an 1819 petition from the Louisiana-Missouri territory. Philip joins others in asking the President to appoint someone whereby they can register land titles. At the penning of the 1825 letter, in which he writes, "Our children is much annimated with the prospects of coming to your cuntry," Philip is poised to leapfrog his siblings. Like Daniel and his brother Squire Boone, he'll move from North Carolina, to Kentucky, and on to Missouri. Unlike the Boones, Philip will bring eight slaves.

The 1830 census shows Creed’s Madison County household to contain his parents, 7 siblings and 17 slaves. Neither Barnett nor Nancy would be reflected in the 1840 census. Nancy died in March 1831. Creed was several weeks beyond the age of 14 when his father died ... in February 1836.

In ten years, Creed was to mimic the western migration of his grandfathers. He had sufficient resources to purchase 160 acres in Atchison County, Missouri in May 1846. Surprisingly, a year later – on 27 May 1847 – the Oregon Spectator published Creed Turner’s name beneath a resolution of pioneers vowing to “not give their vote to any man for A public office who is in any manner, shape or form connected with claim jumping." Turner was in Oregon City, the administrative hub of a self-organized, provisional government that had proclaimed authority in the Pacific Northwest. The following year, part of this amorphous area would be partitioned and called The Oregon Territory.

1818-1846
I had to pause. Within an hour of discovering Creed Turner is kin to me, I must reckon with the idea that – a few weeks shy of 167 years ago – my subject was fifteen miles from where I sat, pecking away at a computer.

You see, I cast my net from Portland, Oregon.

It may have been the U.S. Senate’s June 1846 ratification of a treaty with Great Britain, finally delineating a northern border of the United States of America, that spurred my cousin to navigate the Oregon Trail.

Map of the administrative districts of the Provisional Government of Oregon, as of 1843.
1846-1849
State archives indicate Turner had been busy. He filed two land claims in September 1846: the first in Champoeg District, a second in Yamhill. In November of the same year, Turner filed yet another Champoeg claim. [See image.] Turner may have been speculating a pioneer settlement in Champoeg would, with territorial recognition, supplant Oregon City as the seat of government.

Creed Turner was certainly not without resources.

Goeres-Gardner, in her 2005 book, Necktie Parties, locates Creed Turner in Clackamas District. On 24 May 1847, only days before publicly committing to the set of resolutions on claim jumping, Turner had “signed ownership of fifty head of American cattle over to Thomas [McCutcheon] Chambers while Turner was traveling back to the eastern states.”* It's more likely Turner had driven stock before him in the trek from Missouri - animals that subsequently required fattening up - than it is he paid inflated, frontier prices for them.

Irish and a Presbyterian minister, Chambers and his sons left Oregon City in the fall of 1847 to lay claim to land owned by the Hudson Bay Company. I don't know what happened to Turner's cattle. If the men stayed in relationship, Turner would have known of Chamber's response to those sent to evict the (perhaps former) cleric, soon after his arrival in the environs of present-day Olympia, Washington. According to Perez in the Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, "After no reply from Chambers, officials of the Company visited him on [Steilacoom Creek] and made their demands. Chambers replied by resting a rifle on his fence and made it quite clear he was going to stay. The Hudson's Bay Company never bothered him again."

Creed Turner ‘sold up.’ He was likely in Kentucky at the death of half-uncle Thomas Turner (above), on 17 November 1847. Madison County deeds, dated 29 November 1847,  reveal Cyrus and Thomas Turner – 'Trading Tom's' grandsons by Squire Turner – took possession of 420 acres Creed held on Tates Creek in the Bluegrass Country. Not only that, the sale included Creed's personalty; all goods, chattels, articles and movable property located thereon. It may be interesting to note that Cyrus Turner would be dead in 18 months, publicly disemboweled by an unstable political aspirant, Cassius Marcellus Clay.

A John Bonser and his party of immigrants arrived in Linnton, Oregon in December 1847. According to Thompson, in Oregon Pioneer Biographies, Ohioan Bonsers “were not shy in their hospitality.”
Image of John Bonser (right) and his Sauvie Island home/boarding house in Oregon.
John Bonser & home, c1880 or later.

The following year, the Bonsers settled a piece of land on the south bank of the Columbia River, at Sauvie Island. “In the spring of 1850 a large cabin was built on a knoll to avoid the annual floods, and added to for the next several years. It was to become a rambling structure capable of housing both a large family and guests,” says Thompson. The Bonser home was “a popular gathering place on the river.”

Thompson continues, “The Bonsers had taken in several young women of the Lee family who had been orphaned, and with John's own marriageable daughters, the Sauvies Island homestead drew a swarm of men from throughout the area.” The U.S. Congress had prompted a marriage market in far-off Oregon with the passage of the Oregon Donation Land Act: the legislation provided 320 acres to wives of white male citizens. (American, half-breed Indians with at least intent to obtain citizenship could file claims: the law explicitly excluded African Americans and Hawaiians.) “No young girl over the age of twelve was safe from the stampede of young farmers wanting to add another half section to their land,” declares Thompson.

The 29 year-old Creed Turner was boarding with the Bonsers by 19 October 1851. Newspaper accounts have him romantically invested in the Bonsers’ daughter Martha Jane. Attractive by many accounts, Martha had just turned 14 in September.

Following Turner, another, younger boarder had taken up residency in the Bonser’s ‘popular gathering place.’ Edward Augustus Bradbury (1827-1851) had arrived from Cincinnati. Son of Cornelius Saunders Bradbury (1799-1871), operator of Cincinnati’s most productive seed oil gristmills, Edward was likely scouting frontier opportunities.

“Turner had been attracted to Martha for some time but when Bradbury arrived they seemed to have eyes only for each other. Turner became jealous and was determined to see an end to their attraction for one another, so on October 19, 1851, as the family gathered for a quiet [Sunday morning], Turner entered the room and walked up beside Bradbury. Without comment or provocation he pulled a dirk, a dagger-like knife usually used for stabbing, and slashed at the young man,” reports Wilson, in Legal Executions in the Western Territories 1847-1911. “He gutted Bradbury with five deep gashes to his stomach, and then inflicted more deep cuts to his left side, chest, and arms.” Like the above Cyrus Turner, “the stomach wound … resulted in a terrible infection.” Like Cyrus, “Bradbury lingered for a day in excruciating pain and fever before he died.”

News clipping of Creed Turner's crime in Gallipolis Journal
Horrid Murder, 1851
Turner did not flee the scene, nor did he deny his involvement.

Newly appointed Portland Marshal William L. Higgins investigated, even though the crime occurred outside his jurisdiction. “Higgins’s arrest of the killer, Creed Turner, was the first extension of the city’s authority,” declares the Portland Police Museum. Having no deputies, Higgins alone is to have conducted Turner to the county seat at Hillsboro. It’s not known where Turner was secured: Washington County would build their first jail two years later.

The following day, when Bradbury was interred, a grand jury was convened. In short order, Turner was indicted for first degree murder. Witnesses testified the homicide “was unjustified and the jealous survivor a cowardly criminal.” Goeres-Gardner also states, “Turner was neither repentant nor dismayed at his action. He told the authorities that his only regret was that he was unable to kill himself.”

It was an unfortunate time to commit murder in the Territory. Attention was sharply focused on such transgression. Weeks before, on 9 September, the Oregon Spectator carried a story about a vigilance committee battering jail doors down in Alta, California. “The excitement was intense,” it was reported. “Only 17 minutes were occupied in rescuing [an incarcerated pair] and arranging the preliminaries for the execution of the culprits.” Nothing short of an immediate execution could have appeased the excited crowd. No crime was identified. “The bodies, after hanging for 40 minutes, were cut down.” Whittaker, a ‘hardened villain,’ “evinced some signs of life. He was swung up a second time, and was suspended for 20 minutes longer.” 'Hanging,' in this sense, was likely to be 'strung up' and strangled.

Justice was makeshift on the frontier. William Kendall, convicted of homicide, had been hung in Marion County, Oregon in April. Shortly thereafter, gambler William Keene was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a sailor named Cook – arising from a game of ten-pins – and sentenced to six years in the penitentiary. “As the jury had decided that he ought not to hang, and he could not be confined in an imaginary penitentiary, he was pardoned by the governor,” relay Bancroft and Victor in their 1888 History of Oregon.

In addition to the absence of a penitentiary or courthouse of any kind, a territorial judiciary had yet to stabilize. Justices elected and appointed by the provisional government had resigned, declined their appointment, or simply never shown up for trial. With the creation of an Oregon Territory, President James Knox Polk obtained the power of appointment. His nominee as Chief Justice to the Territory's Supreme Court, William P. Bryant, had resigned in 1850 ... but not before ordering U.S. Marshal Joseph Lafayette Meek to hang Kussus and Quallalwowt. The pair had been surrendered by Snoqualmie and Skewahamish people for a tribute of 80 blankets. They'd been executed following trial for the 1849 death of Leander Wallace in an 'affray' at Fort Nisqually ... in which a Native man had also been killed. Polk’s appointment for Associate Supreme Court Justice, Orville Charles Pratt, was busying himself in San Francisco, far beyond his jurisdiction.

Bancroft and Victor report, “At a meeting held in Portland April 1st [1851], it was resolved that the president of the United States should be informed of the neglect of the judges of the first and second districts, no court having been held in Washington county since the previous spring …” Obviously en route, Polk’s appointment, Chief Justice Thomas Nelson, arrived by sea at the end of the month. “The arrival of the new chief justice, and [return of] Pratt, brought a temporary quiet.”

Three days after his indictment, Turner was brought to trial. Attorney of the Territorial Supreme Court, Alexander Campbell, was responsible for prosecuting him. According to Scott, in his 1890 History of Portland, Oregon, Campbell “was particularly well drilled in the principles of common law. He placed great dependence upon his books, carefully preparing his cases, and appearing in Court with an armful of authorities on every occasion.”

Turner came before Campbell’s future millionaire, San Francisco law partner - Judge Pratt - on 24 October. Pratt had begun a law practice ten years earlier. In May of the previous year, he had presided in an Oregon City tavern, conducting a partisan trial for murders that occurred outside his jurisdiction. Tiloukaikt, Tomahas, Kiamsumpkin, Iaiachalakis, Endoklamin, and Klokomas were hung for the murders of missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and eleven others. In addition to a dozen troubling rulings, Pratt had quashed an acting governor’s pardon of the Cayuse nationals. Clatsop County Court historians reflect on Pratt: “During his term, Judge Pratt was embroiled in controversy. He frequently traveled out of the territory to further his political and business interests, and he took advantage of opportunities to increase his personal fortune.” Likely a fellow speculator, Pratt had thrown his political weight into having Congress declare Salem the capital of Oregon Territory.

Turner was represented by Matthew Paul Deady, who had been admitted to the Ohio bar four years earlier. At age 27, he’d just been elected to represent Yamhill County in the territorial legislature. In two years he too would become an Associate Supreme Court Justice in Oregon. After President James Buchanan appointed him to the bench, the Oregon Encyclopedia reports Deady “showed an inclination toward ‘natural justice.’”

The rule of law was as fluid as territorial boundaries and vacancies in administration. A provisional government had self-organized as an association, primarily as a means of assuring valid land titles. Perhaps not even a majority of white men in these western hinterlands acquiesced to the formation of this government. Justice Peter Hardeman Burnett recalled veiled threats which showed the pernicious role of claim jumping in his memoirs, Recollections And Opinions Of An Old Pioneer: "The friends of the organization were active, kind, and wise in their course toward those opposed. When one opposed to the government would state that fact, some friend would kindly remind him that his claim was liable to be 'jumped,' and that he could not alone defend his rights against the violent and unprincipled; and that it was a desolate and painful condition for a citizen, in a civilized community, to be an outlaw." It was perhaps to organized, politically motivated coercion that Creed Turner had stood opposed in 1847.

The question of what laws were in effect "arose and vexed the country," declared Evans in his 1889 History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. Oregon's Organic Law of 1845, nominally in effect at Turner's trial, drew largely from British common law and the coincidence that someone had brought a copy of Iowa statutes to the frontier. "In the spring of 1850, the newly arrived United States District Attorney had pronounced the act making the selections from the Iowa statutes void," says Evans. No codified, written law was in effect at the time of Turner's 1851 trial. Technically, the death penalty for first degree murder would not become law until passed by statute thirteen years later. The Oregon Constitution, adopted in 1857, would make no provision for it.

Image of Martha Jane (Bonser) Armstrong.
Congregational Church Deacon Thomas George Naylor, who’d come overland with Burnett, was foreman to a 12-man jury. Campbell subpoenaed eleven witnesses. Turner apparently watched his coveted Martha (right), her father, and two Bonser brothers take the stand. Two neighbors Johnson (also Johnston) were called. It is not known how long the jury deliberated, but Turner was found ‘guilty as charged in the indictment’ at the conclusion of a one-day trial. On 4 November 1851, Pratt sentenced him to hang one month following. Turner’s death sentence was reported in San FranciscoDaily Union eleven days later. [See note, below.]

My heart raced, with my next discovery. Creed Turner began his autobiography! “As the days passed he became more frantic and dedicated to penning the story of his life,” relates Wilson. Goeres-Gardner has him ‘writing madly’ during the last week of his life: “Visitors to the jail heard him mumbling, “I’m coming to myself now, and life is getting sweeter and sweeter to me. Some have taken me for a grand scoundrel of the first water, and that I aimed to get a big name. I wasn’t smart enough to act insane.”

Goeres-Gardner reports Turner “savoring the last few hours of his remaining days.” He ate a large meal on the evening of 3 December. The following morning he had a shave. “He requested to be baptized, but it was too late to make arrangements.” The Oregon Statesman would report Turner “was equipped in his shroud” before being taken to his place of execution. Goeres-Gardner observes: “Perhaps the word is simply used to mean the garments he wore were the ones he was to be buried in.”

Smith tells us, “He was marched to the gallows, climbed the steps with a firm gait, and took his place upon the trapdoor.”

Although they’d been unable to baptize him, Reverend John Smith Griffin and political aspirant / circuit-riding Church Elder, Dr. James McBride both sermonized from the scaffold. Says Smith, “The sun broke through the clouds shortly before the execution and the reporter from the Statesman felt it was an omen of God’s pleasure” at the impending killing.

Several accounts note the absence of any blindfold, in Washington County’s first and last hanging. Turner was allowed to ‘scrutinize’ a crowd of perhaps 250 as he awaited the drop. (One contemporary account has numbers representing half the state's population in attendance.) Occurring well beyond harvest, remote farmers could behold the proceeding without substantial cost to themselves.

Creed Turner's final moments have been memorialized in several texts.



Much press attention was given County Sheriff William Hardin Bennett, a 25-year-old Kentuckian, executing Turner at precisely 11am, as ordered by Judge Pratt’s death warrant.

“Turner broke his neck in the fall and after he was pronounced dead the body was allowed to hang a sufficient time to ensure that he could not be revived,” relates Wilson. With Deady now likely in charge of his estate, Creed Turner’s body was placed in a pine coffin provided by the county. He was that afternoon one of the first interred, likely in what is now called the Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery, then on the western edge of town. No marker exists for either Turner or Bradbury.

Creed Turner was not yet thirty. Death Penalty USA lists him, behind Kendal, as the second white executed in Oregon.

Seeking to separate state executions from public spectacle, the Oregon legislature later ordered they be screened by fences.

Perhaps you can imagine my excitement, at the discovery that Creed Turner and I - in proximity and separated only by time - have both committed to publishing family histories. Testimony regarding the Revolutionary-era exploits of John Turner is disappointingly scant. I crave to learn more about Thomas Turner (whom son Squire referred to as 'Old Marse' in correspondence). Thomas, if not Squire, is likely to have fathered Jeremiah 'Jery' Turner (1840-1917), by one their enslaved women.

Sadly, Goeres-Gardner reports in a footnote to her well-researched Necktie Parties that, while such texts were common in that era, "Turner's manuscript has been lost over time." When one considers crude, log structures were then contending with natives' cedar-plank longhouses as the ultimate in shelter, it would be extraordinary for Turner's work to have survived. I blame Deady, however. Judges Campbell, Pratt and Deady all left their papers. The latter can be found among collections housed in the Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Deady is said to have acknowledged his role in Turner's defense. 

There are no references to Oregon land among Creed Turner’s deeds settled in Madison County. It’s quite likely his attorney relied on the same strategy of collecting payment that he employed the following year. Judge Nelson appointed Deady to represent Adam E. Wimple, for killing his 13-year-old bride, Mary. In Nimrod: Courts, Claims, and Killing On The Oregon Frontier, Lansing has the ‘capable’ Deady receiving Wimple’s land claim to settle their account … via Wimple's will, likely drafted by Deady. ‘Crazy Wimple,’ who’d harvested $10,000 from California gold fields, was hung on 8 October 1852.

Marcus, William and Mary Jane; siblings and "heirs and legatees of Creed Turner, deceased," sold 3/4 of the Missouri lands for $375. Title went to one Littleton West Turner. Of this Turner's father, one researcher speculates, “This John is probably a grandson of John and Rebeckah Turner (above), but it is not known for sure through which son." Such speculation places Littleton beyond my 'first cousin prohibition,' and the story settles.

It transpires Creed Turner's estate was estimable. He had bright prospects. In March 1752, his heirs sold another 352 acres along Tates Creek to a Samuel Phelps, likely first cousin Samuel Brockman Phelps (1828-1909), another of Peter Taylor's grandsons. Turner's siblings sold another 95 acres on Tates Creek to Samuel Clifton Stone (1822-1901). Nephew to Squire Turner (above), it's difficult to justify having Stone, the nephew of the wife of my half-2nd great grand uncle, already in my tree ... but there you are.

*‘Back to the United States’ was a phrase employed in the era of Creed Turner's grandfather John. After joining into what had begun as the Transylvania Company, Judge Henderson’s speculative colonization of uncharted territory ... under fellow North Carolinian Daniel Boone’s leadership ... 'the States' were both geographically distant and politically distinct. Land we now know of as Kentucky was at this time being organized as Transylvania Colony.
NOTES ~
Bold face indicates the author's probable direct ancestor.

Elder, in Last Words of the Executed, indicates Turner’s death was reported in the New York Times. It’s unlikely folks in Madison County heard of their kinsman’s plight prior to his execution. The New York Daily Tribune only reported the “wanton murder” on 2 December. The story of the crime broke in the Indiana State Sentinel a week after Turner’s execution. It was part of a cautionary tale: “Emigration this year has been large, but too many of them have gone to sow their "wild oats" among the mines instead of the fertile plains, where it would certainly yield an hundred fold.” [sic]

News clipping of Creed Turner's crime in Gallipolis Journal
Family members may have learned Creed Turner would “doubtless be executed” nearer Christmas, when the murder was reported in an Ohio newspaper, the Gallipolis Journal (right).
--30--

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lat Thame Say

It was for partisan reasons that Patrick Gordon, alive in 1649, depicted George Keith, Scotland's 5th Earl Marischal (1553-1622), as "a learned, wyse, and upright good man." In his Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper (published 1844) Gordon - like Keith - took the side of his sovereign, James VI and I, under whom the Scots and English Crowns had been united in 1603. To do so has religious implications. Gordon, like Keith and King James (of the King James Bible), opposed the agendas of both Scottish Coventars and English Puritans. Protestants, they feared machinations by expatriate Scots, in foreign, Catholic courts.

Gordon tells of Lady Keith's presentient dream (described in While She Was Laughing) which followed James' transfer of Abbey of Deer holdings to the Keith family). Perhaps as a precursor to being stripped of title to those lands, Gordon cites a clause in what appears to be the Abbey's 13th-century charter:
Cursed be those that taketh this away from the holy use whereunto it is now dedicat.
It is apparent that the 5th Earl Marischal did not confine his scorn to wifely premonitions ... that upsetting Monks would lead to dire consequences. In 1593 George Keith founded Marischal College. He did so on the site of a former monastery. 

Marischal College was created as a Protestant alternative to the Earl's nearby alma mater, the extant King's College (purged of its Catholic staff in 1560). “This resulted in Aberdeen having two Universities … at a time when there were only two such institutions (Oxford and Cambridge) in the whole of England.” [See Eddie Fowler’s post in Doric Columns.]

"There would seem to be no particular reason for two academies so near together," relates Hutton, in his Literary Landmarks of the Scottish Universities (1904). "Perhaps, the New Town, then more important and more populous than the Old, was a little jealous that a poor village, consisting of a single street, should be the municipal seat of learning. But, more probably, there was a feeling that King's College leaned too much towards the old order of things religious; that particular Earl Marischal, the founder, being a zealous member of the Reformed Church. The earliest home of Marischal College was in the old monastery of the Grey Friars." Simmons, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographydetails an endowment that further converted monastic land as Keith founded the college, "... for the maintenance of which he granted the properties formerly belonging to the Grey, the Black, and the White friars of Aberdeen, and to the chaplainries of Bervie and Cowie."

There is, in the literature, much scorn for the Keith family aggregating Abbey lands, as kingly reward after Earl stood as proxy groom in James' 1589 Cophenhagen marriage to 14-year-old Anne of Denmark. Eight years prior George Keith had inherited an annual income of 270,000 merks, "regarded as ‘the revenue greatest of any earl of Scotland,’" reports Simmons. "It was commonly said," relates Taylor, in his Great Historic Families of Scotland (1889), that this Earl Marischal "could enter Scotland at Berwick, and travel through the country to its northern extremity without requiring ever to take a meal or a night’s rest off his own lands." A trek of 300 miles, George Keith was exceedingly wealthy before the noble reward. Says Gordon of the transfer, " it hath bein observed by sundrie that the earles of that house befor wer the richest in the kingdom, having treasure and store besyde them."

"When it was about a century old," imparts Hutton, of the college, "somewhat better quarters, on the same site, were built for it. But neither its first nor its second shell was considered worthy of the spirit and the soul within it, and in 1841, the central block of the still existing buildings was finished and occupied. On a carefully preserved stone from the older structure is cut, in relief, and in very ancient style of lettering, the family motto of the Keiths, Earls Marischal:"
Thay Haif Said: Quhat Say Thay? Lat Thame Say.
I must interject that the Keith Clan motto has been 'Veritas Vincit,' for "Truth Shews It" or   - formally - 'Truth Conquers,' since at least the 1513 Battle of Flodden Field.

The Marischal's shield was to have born the phrase, "Thay say: quhat they say: thay haif sayed: let thame say."

To me, the second variation ... sans question mark ... seems more in character with what I've learned of George Keith. It's unlikely Hutton ever saw the inscription. Ferguson, in his Great North of Scotland Railway Guide (1881), reports "the inscription in large letters remained on the buildings till 1836, when they were taken down."

I most appreciate the declarative expression advanced in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1859):
THAI HAIF SAID : QUHAT SAY THAY : LAT THAME SAY  

I'd like to imagine the 5th Marischal sufficiently staunch that he made no inquiry of others' positions. Taylor relies on the interestingly named Dr. Pratt to tie the expression to Lady Keith's dream: "It is thought to have been in reference to this legend or to some reproaches of a similar nature, which were heaped on the Marischal family at the time, in consequence of their sacrilegious appropriation of the Abbey and its possessions, that they inscribed the unavailing defiance." Clark, who, in his Spell of Scotland (1916),  reported seeing a question mark, felt the phrase described "a certain ancestral right of hauteur."

Image: Cast Stone Sculpture of ThoughtThe question mark survives


Ferguson’s Guide relates a similar motto was affixed to a home in Peterhead, the burgh about Inverugie Castle: "It ran thus:
They saye–they saye. What saye they? Do you well, and lat them saye, saye.”
The sans-query messaging also spread. Hutton avers, "There still exists in the town of St. Andrews, near the Old Abbey wall, an aged stone lintel upon which, according to tradition, the subject of a good deal of malicious gossip carved with his own hand, and in rude letters, the sentences:
They Have Said. And They Will Say. Let Them Be Saying."

Bulloch, in Vol. III of Scottish Notes and Queries (1890) employs the query, but says cryptically his phrasing differs from that in the Marischal College gateway. "Almost the same words as above are still in common use in Buchan:
Lat them say, say, as thae like, I carena what thae say." 
But Bulloch seems to give the motto the most thought. "The common use of this phrase shows there is little respect paid to conventionalism, or it may be the outcome of true independence of character."

"Such inscriptions must have had some effect in moulding the character of past generations, when books were scarce, and the rudimental part of education confined to a few. By the prominence given to selected adages, and popular sayings, they became impressed upon the minds of those able to read them, and by this means became a source of knowledge to the community, by being often repeated and referred to as good authority or wise sayings on many subjects. The originality of some of them, and the intelligent selection of others, is evidence an advancing spirit of enquiry among the more intelligent classes. Many of them show evidence of individuality of character more common and characteristic than now to be met with."

Henderson, in a volume of the Dictionary of National Biography, describes George Keith as "one of the few thoroughly cultured Scottish noblemen of his time." A sympathetic biographer claims "at eighteen he was an adept in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, "and in the studies of antiquities, history, and literature when, discontented with the scope allowed in his own country, he resolved to study in France." Simmons, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographyreports Keith was educated with his younger brother William in Paris "and at the academy in Geneva, where he studied under the Calvinist theologian Theodore Beza, who held his pupil in high regard." After his younger brother was killed in a brawl, Keith "abandoned his studies to tour the courts of Italy and Germany." Continues Simmons: "It has been argued that the earl's decision to establish the college as a firmly protestant institution, teaching along humanist lines and using a professorial system, arose from his dissatisfaction at the failure of King's College in Old Aberdeen to reform itself thus."

It is interesting to observe that the brilliant Irish wit George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) had "They say. What do they say? Let them say." carved into his own livingroom mantelpiece.

H. L. Menken, whom I hold priestly in American letters, employed the phrasing “They haif said. Quhat say they? Lat thame say.” as the motto in the masthead of a journal on language he inspired in 1925. Author John Alego explains its use: "The form American Speech adopted is from an inscription over a doorway at Aberdeen's Marischal College, founded in 1593. It is likely that the motto's original import was a disregard for the opinions of the world. I have suspected, however, that the founders of American Speech took it instead as a statement of their editorial policy, which was to inquire into the actual usage of [language by] Americans and report it, but not to attempt to 'improve' or 'correct' it (and perhaps also not to worry about those who thought they should)." [Parentheses in the original.]

We have no evidence that George Keith coined the phrase, but it is demonstrable that - by inscribing this motto on the wall of an institution of learning - his sentiments have inspired intellectuals passionate about language and thought. It may be that such 'cavalier' reasoning influenced the House of Keith in succeeding generations ... and could lead to controversial mating choices made by Parson James Keith (1696-c1752) and depicted in the post Clishmaclaver.