Friday, May 29, 2015

Priscilla Bickford Ashby Twining: Frontier Preacher's Wife and Nonagenarian (52 Ancestors #17)

Priscilla Bickford Ashby Twining,  "Prissy", my third great grandmother, was born July 18, 1817. It is said that her father, Jesse Ashby, owned a plantation in the Cheat River area of what is now Preston County, West Virginia. Priscilla was the third of six children.

When Priscilla was 17 her family removed to Perry County, Ohio where her father rented a farm for several years. Dissatisfied with the country, in 1839 the family again packed up all their belongings and headed West to the newly incorporated Iowa Territory.

Conestoga or Pennsylvania Wagon 
It is told that in October of 1839 the family was loaded into an old Pennsylvania wagon with a four horse team along with ten milch cows for a 40 day journey through the wilderness. Priscilla was 22 at the time, her youngest brother was merely 4. Upon arrival in what is now Washington County the family overwintered in an old log cabin. There were but a few settlers squatting on the prairies of the new Territory when the Ashby's arrived.

Memories written by Priscilla's granddaughter include tales of the family fording the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa.  Priscilla and her father traveling to Baltimore, Ohio to stock up on provisions such as flour, salt, etc. And Priscilla's recollection of looking out over the prairie as they crossed the Mississippi, seeing the tall grass meadow swaying in the breeze with orange colored flowers and wild roses, exclaiming "this must be the promised land".

The following spring Priscilla's father Jesse purchased 320 acres of newly acquired Government Land and proceeded to build a "fine farm".

Life in their new home was extremely difficult. Not only did they have to build virtually everything they needed themselves, they had to figure out food sources, fuel sources, medicinal sources. They were pioneers, others had not gone before them. The Native Americans were hostile, having just lost the Black Hawk War and neighbors were few and far between. [A really good Iowa History article can be found here.] 

In the 1840's the Methodist church began sending out circuit riders to travel through the settled portion of the state. It was one of those itinerant ministers, the Rev. E. W. Twining, that rode into town and won Priscilla's heart. Rev. Twining was a new widower with 6 very young children to care for. Priscilla had lots of experience caring for her younger siblings. It was a good fit.

On August 28, 1849, at the age of 32, Priscilla married Edward Wolcott Twining and began her life as a preacher's wife, and mother of 6!! I imagine her family was quite pleased that their spinster daughter finally found a husband!

In Iowa in the 1840's and 50's there was quite a lot of danger and disease. Scarlet Fever and Malaria were common killers, as were the frequent prairie fires that swept across the plains. Rev. Twining's first wife died, presumably of a fatal illness but it could also have been from childbirth, another frequent killer.

First Log Cabin at Fort Des Moines
The new family moved to Des Moines, Iowa soon after their marriage. Rev. Twining was assigned to minister to the people living around  Fort Des Moines, situated at the fork of the Mississippi and the Des Moines Rivers.  Priscilla recalled to her granddaughter the sight of soldiers stationed around the fort to protect the inhabitants from Indian attacks. It was here that Priscilla witnessed a great War Dance participated in by about 500 Indians on the "commons" where the Polk County Courthouse now stands. Could this have been a precursor to the Dakota Uprising?

One son was born to the couple, Jesse Twining, from whom I am descended. Twenty two days after Jesse's birth Priscilla's mother lost her life. She had been ill since the family moved to Ohio, it was the hope that in moving farther West she would regain her health. It was not to be so.

For the next twenty years the family moved around Iowa, as was the life of an itinerant preacher, but returned several times to Des Moines for extended periods.

In 1876, when advanced age made it necessary for Rev. Twining to retire from active duties in the ministry, the Twining's moved to the "City", Corning, Iowa, where they made their home with their son Jesse.

The couple enjoyed twenty more years together in their "retirement" age, helping their son Jesse and daughter in law Flora rear their four children. They were active members of the community and well liked by all.

In 1897 Priscilla lost her husband, he was 82.

Corning Iowa c1900
Sometime after 1900 the household welcomed another resident. Flora Twining's father, the Rev. Father Rowley. Several newspaper articles were written at the time about the unusual coincidence of the the two old folks, they shared the same birthday. Priscilla was one year Father Rowley's senior and for several years the local paper did a birthday story on the two on the anniversary of their birth.

Priscilla left this world on September 2, 1911 at the age of 94. Her obituary called her "one of those delightful characters to know and to love, she made many friends in Corning during her long residence here".

Priscilla is buried next to her husband in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Corning Iowa.




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