Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Wheelers - Part III

I'm writing my family history story Feb 1-28, 2014 Family History Writing Challenge

Elijah crawled up on his lap and Uncle Rex began to tell their story. She was a soldier and they called her "Griff" which was short for Griffin.  She served 12 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Rex pointed to the coffee table where there was a photo of her receiving an award in her dress uniform.  She was in the U.S. Army and came from a long ancestral line of fellow soldiers.  Her three times great grandfather Isaac was born a slave circa 1839 in Chattooga County, Georgia.  When he turned 18 years old he escaped and became a fugitive slave.  His owner placed a bounty on his head because he was a skilled blacksmith and was worth every penny of $6,800.  Escaping slavery wasn't a choice for everyone.  It took courage to escape.  The kind of courage where the possibility of freedom was worth the risk of escaping.  Isaac had a spirit of determination and a relentless will, so he ran barefoot until he knew he was free.

He didn't know the land very well and he knew if he was caught life would be worse than before, so he  took safe refuge in the Underground Railroad.  His first station was in Virginia.  It took two months to travel north from Virginia to New England.  He said he wanted to be as far away from slavery as he could.  His last station was in Stratford, Connecticut where he met Asa Seymour Curtis who helped him get to New Haven.

The Connecticut War Record, 1864-02

After the Civil War began, the Governor of Connecticut called for men of color to make up the Connecticut 29th Regiment for Colored Volunteers.  Isaac Wheeler enlisted on January 29, 1864, the same day, Frederick Douglass addressed the soldiers in Fair Haven, Connecticut.  Isaac heard Douglass' famous speech and those important words, "You are pioneers of the liberty of your race."  He realized that those words spoke truth and he was about to be the pioneer for the future generations of his family.  Isaac served in the Civil War and was seriously injured in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia.  He returned home from the war a disabled “musket-man” with a limp and he and his wife received a pension from the government for the rest of their lives.

Elijah asked, “Why was he a fugitive slave?”  Uncle Rex continued with the story.  Isaac was born a slave and had never been free.  His owner Ebenezer Herron sold Isaac’s mother Matilda when he was eight-years old.  She was taken from the plantation by her new owner and Isaac never saw her again.  He learned at a very young age that family was important, and he believed the only way he could have a family again was through freedom.  So he escaped and became a fugitive slave.  Much later in life, he told his wife and children that he had to make many sacrifices for the next generation of his family to have a life of freedom.

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