It all started with an interesting, albeit somewhat disconcerting, dream I had in April 2000. It was the night before I left for a visit to the Spruance genealogical library in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the dream, a woman in an old-time dress — I got the impression her name was Elizabeth — was encouraging me to take in my hand one of those big, antique door keys.
“Here,” she pleaded as she covered the key in my hand with both of her hands. “Please take this. It will open the door. Tell my story.”
By that time, I had been doing genealogy research for almost a dozen years. My husband, Bill, and I had always been curious about our family histories and had been meaning for years to look into it. Finally one day in 1988, he took me by the hand and brought me out to the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mesa, Arizona, about twenty-five miles from our home.
“Here, get a life,” he said, jokingly. He figured that my background working as a secretary, paralegal and investigator for lawyers for thirty years had uniquely prepared me for researching our family trees. Armed with only the names and barest facts about our grandparents and a couple of our great-grandparents, I plunged into the records.
Twelve years and twelve thousand individual lives later — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — to the eighth degree in some cases — I think it’s safe to say I “got a life.” In the meantime, I have spent thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles back and forth across the country on trips foraging into old county courthouse records, graveyards and libraries for sometimes the tiniest bit of information.
In the course of this research, I learned that my great-great-great-grandparents, Jacob Stone and Mary Trullinger Stone, of German families from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, had seventeen children from the period 1809 to 1835, and I continued doing more research on the fate and descendants of those seventeen.
And so it was that I came to be in the Spruance Library at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on a Thursday afternoon in April 2000 looking through the drawers of 3x5 cards containing extracts of obituaries printed in the Doylestown Democrat newspaper over the course of almost two hundred years of continuous publication.
I pulled a card out.
Wellings, Mary, it read.
I remembered that Mary, one of Jacob and Mary Stone’s daughters had married a Mr. Wellings. I only knew that because after her mother died in 1862, she had signed the Release of Dower as “Mary Wellings.” I read further.
Died Jan 3 1865, aged 55, murdered by her husband, a black man.
Oh, my God! I had to sit down on the library stepstool to think about this for a few minutes.
First thing next morning I hurried back and continued to search. My findings were confirmed by the obituary in the Bucks County Intelligencer:
WELLINGS, MARY, w. of Langhorn, dau. of Jacob and Mary Stone, Solebury
I read the newspapers and found the outcome of the case, which gave me a great deal more information, including his full name — Langhorn H. Wellings — and the fact that they were married for thirty years — an incredible feat considering the interracial aspects and living in that time and place.
In fact, I didn’t know of any other legally-married, interracial couple who lived at that time, and I still haven’t found any working-class folks, only one or two couples who were high-profile and rich and could afford to live unconventionally, apart from society.
I came home and wrote a report to the Stone cousins, fellow researchers, who were all as astounded as I was. We were still unsure what to do with all this information except to dutifully record it in our respective family histories. I began thinking and talking about the possibility of writing a book, but at that point did not have enough information. There was a lot more research to be done.
In August 2000 I started working at a new job. Before I even accepted the job, I had to ask for two weeks’ unpaid leave since we had previously planned a family trip to Vermont in late September to celebrate my father’s eighty-seventh birthday. And, well, as long as I was within a thousand miles of Doylestown, I just had to go over there for a few days.
Makes sense to me, probably not to anyone else who’s not infected with genealogy fever. In the process of learning more about these people, I had fallen in love with them and become consumed by a passion to learn as much as I could about them and their story.
Probably because of this compulsion, it turned out to be a frustratingly wasted first two days. I found nothing of any significance. Finally, one day after the library closed, I drove east on Route 202 to try to find the Canada Hill Baptist Cemetery where Langhorn and Mary are buried. I found the graves easily enough, and I was thrilled to be able to visit them. At the same time my depresssion was deepened when I saw that the little cemetery was becoming overgrown with bramble bushes and piled with brush and dead leaves.
I sat on the steps and literally cried.
What the heck’s the matter with me? Why am I so consumed in this? It’s old news, a hundred and fifty years old. I need to go home and get a life, get back to work, pay off some of these horrendous bills I’m piling up.
I got up and walked back to the rental car, confirmed in my decision to just pack it up and go home, forget this nonsense and get back to work. The next morning, I checked out of the bed and breakfast that, incidentally, was right across the street from the little Tinicum Union Church where Mary Stone Wellings was baptized in 1810 and where my fourth-great-grandma Elizabeth Barntz Stone and her son, my third-great-granduncle Henry Stone, are buried. I went for a ride through the beautiful countryside in Bedminster Township and found the area that fifth-great-grandfather Philip Stein farmed in 1760. Part of it is now a lovely manmade lake and reservoir called Nockamixon State Park.
Still undecided, I walked around the lake and pondered and prayed. What should I do? Should I forget all this and just go home and get back to work? Or should I keep on researching and do something with all this information?
Back and forth.
Finally, I decided to start driving back to Connecticut to visit my brother Steve and his wife, Anne, before flying home to Phoenix. I drove down Route 611 to Doylestown and toward the freeway. Don’t ask why I didn’t just go north from Bedminster a few miles to the turnpike at Easton. I don’t know why. Driving down Main Street in Doylestown, at the last minute I veered off toward the Spruance Library.
I’ve got some time. I’ll just give it another couple of hours.
At four-thirty that afternoon, I received my answer and more inspiration. I found the trial transcript. Armed with this information, I was confirmed. I could go home and tell their story. Not or.
There was still a lot of research to be done, however, and I had no doubts that the commitment of time, energy and money would be increased significantly. I immediately ordered the microfilm and began reading at lunch, nights, and on weekends almost fifty years of the weekly Bucks County Intelligencer from 1838 to 1880. I began compiling stacks of research about slavery, anti-slavery movements, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, racism, the Society of Friends, the Baptists and other churches of Bucks County, interracial marriage, Pennsylvania laws, the history of Bucks County and Doylestown — right down to minutiae such as the streets of Doylestown and the actual people who lived and worked in Bucks County at that time.
In March 2001 I began setting keystrokes to computer bytes and it started flowing. Every once in a while I would look up to the empty air behind me. “Who’s writing this?” I asked aloud.
Just be quiet and keep typing.
We went back to Bucks County in June 2001 for a delightful “Stone Cousins Reunion and Grand Tour” where I got to meet Cousins Jackie and Rich and their spouses for the first time and renew acquaintance with Cousins Alice and Louise. I did another day’s research at the Spruance and found pictures of Joseph Fell, Quaker educator, Henry Darlington, publisher of the Intelligencer for almost twenty years, William H. Johnson, abolitionist/educator/founder of Temperance Society, and Rev. Silas M. Andrews, Presbyterian pastor in Doylestown for almost fifty years. The pictures are taped to my computer. These men are my inspiration. I have not yet been able to locate pictures of Langhorn and Mary, or in fact, to learn if any even exist.
I’ve come to realize a great many things in the process. Foremost, I understand why my family was drawn to the Bahá’í Faith three generations ago. The Bahá’í Faith, founded in Persia in the 1840s, has always, against sometimes insurmountable odds and at the cost of over twenty thousand lives martyred, carried aloft the banner of oneness — the Oneness of God, of Religion and of Mankind — and the elimination of all forms of prejudice, especially racial. Indeed, even purging the word “race” from our vocabulary when speaking about our fellow human beings.
“There is only one race — the human race.”
Being raised in a Bahá’í home, I cut my teeth on these principles. Even so, if I were to tell you that I was completely free of prejudice, I’d be lying. Everyone has prejudices of one kind or another. For example, I asked myself, with all my professions of oneness, would I have married a black man like my Aunt Mary did a hundred years before it was even thinkable? When she never knew from one day to the next if her husband might be kidnapped and never come home again? If the forces of slavery might overtake the north at any time? When she couldn’t even walk down the streets of a strange town with her husband, go into a shop, sit in a restaurant, or get a hotel room? When it was highly likely her children, outside their neighborhood, would be subjected to the worst manifestations of racism — indeed, even be kidnapped and sold into slavery themselves?
In writing the story, I had the choice of just giving the facts or enriching the reader with the greater picture of the events of that day and the possible involvement in them of Langhorn and Mary. At a minimum, we know they were affected to some degree by everything going on in the world around them. I chose to write a historical novel, meaning the events actually occurred at that time and place, but I have fictionalized to some degree relationships and behaviors, and have completely made up conversations, feelings, etc. Except conversations that were testified about at the trial or reported in the newspaper, and those I have simply rephrased into context.
With the exception of four people — Mahlon Riegel and his wife Nancy Evans and her parents — who are the only completely fictional characters, everyone who has a first and last name actually existed at that time and in that place and had a role in the events, in varying degrees of minor to major, such as Messrs. Fell and Darlington and the District Attorney, Henry P. Ross. Even Old Jakey Yothers was a real, live produce peddler in Doylestown in 1865. On the other hand, although someone by the name of Tamar Lacy actually lived in Buckingham in the 1830s and ‘40s, I have completely fictionalized her relationship in Langhorn and Mary’s lives.
I hope you enjoy reading Langhorn and Mary and learning about these incredibly courageous people and the significant events in their history, and that you will grow to love them as I have, with all their “warts” and “beauty marks.” I think it’s important that their story is told, their triumphs and sufferings acknowledged, and their spirits honored.
Most importantly, I think Aunt Mary and Uncle Langhorn would want the lessons we have gleaned from their lives to help future generations — in how we treat each other within our families and in our other personal relationships and with the way we face the inevitable trials of life and as we make health and lifestyle choices. I know they have provided me with a tremendous amount of personally insightful reflection.
Priscilla Stone Sharp