Monday, March 9, 2009

Socialists among us!

I have not yet posted on my mother's family, the Sullivans, as I have been focused on catching up with posting all my research on my father's family first. However, I have not been neglecting this family. Just yesterday I made an interesting discovery while researching my g-g-grandmother Hannah Selby Sullivan's family.

Hannah Selby was born in 1848 in Rockville, Indiana. Her family is a very interesting one. I am descended from Mayflower Pilgrim Richard Warren on her mother's side. Richard Warren is the pilgrim who left the most living descendants. Consequently more Americans are descended from Richard Warren than any other pilgrim, so his families are well documented and have many interesting and prominent stories.

Hannah father's family had remained a mystery. I know from Hannah's death certificate that her father was Joseph Selby, born 1824 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Even though the death certificate was filled out 96 years after Joseph's birth, I had reason to trust it, as it was filled out by Hannah's older sister, Elizabeth, who was the person most likely to know where her father was born.
I had difficulty finding the family for Joseph Selby because he left Virginia prior to 1850, the first census that shows all members of a family. Based on other census data for Rockbridge co. I had hypothesized that his father was a John Selby, born 1786 in Maryland. But I did not have any information to confirm this. I also had no confirmation of what had happened to Hannah siblings.

Yesterday I got a response to a message board post on which cleared up this mystery. The poster had a copy of a manuscript entitled "Mary Ann Selby: Her Ancestors and Descendants, Vol. 2" by Ruth Thayer Ravenscroft, 1948. This manuscript contained information given to the author by Fanny Selby Hindman, Hannah's sister. It confirmed that her father was the son of the same John Selby I had spotted on the census records in Rockbridge county. The manuscript also listed the names of his siblings, and his mother, Hannah Miller, daughter of Hugh Miller.

However, perhaps the most interesting nugget to be found in this manuscript was in the info on Hannah's siblings. One of them was John H Selby, who I had in my records born 1857 in St. Louis died 1893 in St. Louis. Strangely, his St. Louis death record said he was buried in Terre Haute, Indiana. I had no idea why. Fanny Hindman's records cleared this up: He had married a woman named Eugenie Debs, who was from Terre Haute. He was buried there with her family.

You may think Eugenie Debs sounds like a familiar name. I thought so too. A quick search of the census records confirmed my suspicion. Eugenie Debs was the sister of Eugene V. Debs, the famous Socialist candidate for President in the early 20th century. Eugene V. Debs is easily the most famous American Socialist. Debs started his career as a railroad union organizer. He gained fame after a strike in 1894 in Chicago led President Grover Cleveland to send in the Army to quell the strike. After the strike he was put on trial, where he was represented by the famous attorney Clarence Darrow. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which found Debs' arrest lawful.

While serving his time in jail, Debs discovered Socialism. After getting out of jail he helped to found the Socialist Democratic Party of America. Debs ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920. The 1920 campaign was conducted entirely from federal prison where he was once against serving time for his union demonstrations. Despite being jailed for the entire campaign, he received over 6% of the popular vote in 1920, though he received no electoral votes. The next year, Debs' sentence was commuted by President Warren G. Harding. Debs died in 1926, shortly after having been committed to a sanitarium in Elmhurst, Illinois.

I will post more on the Sullivan family later, but I just thought I would share this odd connection to my family. It just goes to show that when searching for your roots, you never know what your digging might uncover!

Related Links:
Gravesite of Eugenie Debs Selby
Gravesite of Eugene V. Debs
Gravesite of John H Selby
Eugene V. Debs (Wikipedia)
Debs family, 1870 Census
John H. Selby Death Record
Hannah Selby Sullivan Death Certificate

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