Saturday, January 4, 2014

Napoleonic Wars

In the introduction to our Gillespie Family History Cookbook (see previous post), the author introduces her own memory of Mary Gillespie Lerossignol Henderson:
My memory of Mary Gillespie Henderson is of a tall lady of some severity whom we would be taken to visit. She would tell us stories of her life. One was her memory of an uncle who had fought in the Napoleonic war. She had been born in 1840 in Canada, but her family lore went back to the beginning of the 19th century. I have always thought of it as an example of how oral history might be an accurate account. 
As excited as I was to receive the Family History Cookbook, the researcher in me jumped on the part about the Napoleonic War. We've so far never run into any family account, oral or written, that has ever suggested our Gillespie family was involved in that conflict. So now we have stumbled upon another curiosity begging for research attention.

First, when were the Napoleonic Wars? The UK National Archives lists the dates of these series of conflicts with the French Empire to be circa 1803-1815, mostly because there is no clear date between the end of the French Revolution and the start of the Napoleonic Wars. But for our purposes, let's just go with these dates which covers roughly 12 and a half years.

Now, let's consider who might be an uncle of Mary Gillespie. We know her mother was Mary Orr Jamieson, who was born in 1814 in Armagh, Ireland. If we assume that any brother of Mary Orr Jamieson was born around the same time, he would certainly not have been old enough to fight in a military conflict between 1803-1815. So perhaps the uncle Mary Gillespie referred to was the brother of her father, James Gillespie, who was born in 1810. For that to be true, the uncle would have to be a half-brother of James Gillespie, born of John Gillespie's first marriage which produced offspring as early as 1780 and possibly as late as 1795.

The thing that bothers me about the idea of a Gillespie in the Napoleonic Wars is that our family lore, even though essentially unconfirmed, tells us that the Gillespie's were involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. This is from the Gillespie Family Record written by Edith Gillespie:
John Gillespie, a farmer and a weaver, whose father came from Glasgow, Scotland, was well-known in the county and was instrumental in raising a company of volunteers for Lord Charlemont in the Rebellion of 1798. 
If this is true, it's terribly hard to imagine any Gillespie wearing a British uniform. But do you see what I just did? I have presumed that any Gillespie involved in the Napoleonic Wars fought for the British. But low and behold and entirely by accident, I fell upon this website, which describes how the L├ęgion Irlandaise which was at first formed in anticipation of an invasion of Ireland, was later manned by expatriots from the failed revolts. The Irish Legion wore distinctive green uniforms, and carried their own flag with a large gold harp and the motto "L'INDEPENDENCE D'IRELANDE". They fought quite valiantly for Napoleon in Holland, Spain, and Portugal although they did not participate in the Waterloo campaign where Napoleon was finally defeated. The regiment was disbanded shortly after Louis XVIII regained power in 1815.

So, this is all very interesting! It's hard to know where to look for records pertaining to Irish soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars, especially given that we don't know the exact name of the Gillespie who might have served. And then there's the additional possibility that the term "uncle" was used more broadly to include maybe a grand-uncle, in which case we could be looking for the surname WOODS, ORR, or RAINEY.

With so little to go on, it seems fairly unlikely that we might be able to chase this one down, but stranger things have happened, especially in the pursuit of family history.  And meanwhile it's exciting to learn something new about this particular time period. All thanks to one small comment made in a cookbook introduction!

Cookbook Family History

As much as I try to remember that family history is really about the stories of our ancestors, I often get lost in the investigation of details. But thankfully, the stories still pop up in their own delightful ways.

This time it came as a family history Christmas gift from my second cousin who has been doing an astonishing job of collecting the stories of our Gillespie family. He has connected with a family member from our Canadian branch who shared a document with us that was written by our third cousin once removed, an 87-year-old woman still living. This 22-page document is, of all things, a cookbook of family recipes!

This cookbook is remarkable in several ways. First it starts with a one-page introduction to the author's maternal line, which contains a few details we had not heard before (more on that in another post). And then she proceeds to present FOUR generations of women starting with Mary Gillespie LeRossignol Henderson (1840-1935). Each section shows a picture of each female ancestor, gives a short but wonderfully detailed account of her life, and then follows with recipes that she was known for. Recipes included were: Dark Christmas or Wedding Cake, Christmas Pudding (recipe originated in Ireland), Orange Cake, Scotch Shortbread, Date Bread, Queen Elizabeth Cake, Shrimp Tuna Casserole, Tortiere (French Canadian pork pie, traditional on Christmas Eve before midnight), Pineapple Marshmallow Dessert, Salad Dressing, Walnut Applesauce Cake, Marschino Nut Cake (good for Valentine's Day cooked in heart-shaped pans), Curried Shrimp, Tomato Aspic, and Candy Cane Ice Cream. Of these, I can tell you that the Scotch Shortbread somehow made it down my branch of the family, as my sister has made that recipe at Christmastime, just as our mother did during our growing-up.

The thing that really moves me about this account is how well-educated and talented all these women were. We already know that Mary Gillespie Henderson was a prolific letter-writer. But I did not know that her oldest daughter, who had TB of the spine, was an early woman graduate of the University of Toronto. Another daughter was among the first class of women at McGill University, which would also become the alma mater of Mary's granddaughters. Her female descendants were not only mothers and homemakers; one became a doctor, one a lawyer, another a business owner. One played piano, two had an arts degree, one joined the Red Cross and traveled overseas, several were known for their gardens. All were loved and fondly remembered by their families.

I must admit all this makes me a little sniffly. In our modern western world where genealogy is defined patrilineally, and even the names of our female ancestors seem to fade as quickly as a sunset, this cookbook arrives as an especially precious gift. That it came from my male second cousin who got it from a male third cousin, both of whom clearly love this family history cookbook as much as I do fills my heart. These are the stories that round out our rich family history and give us some personal insights that we otherwise might never have imagined. And of course, now I have a couple of new/old recipes to try!

Happy New Year!