beware the ides of ancestry

His appearance wasn’t what attracted the seventeen-year old girl to the older itinerant preacher in his mid-twenties, but the powerful sermons he delivered in the Methodist church she attended in her home town of Greensboro, Georgia made him seem like one of the Old Testament prophets she had studied in Sunday School. Harriet Howard thought Jesse Boring was anything but what his last name suggested. Since her father had recently “gotten religion” the young man was a frequent guest in their home whenever he came to their church to deliver the gospel.

Harriet Eveline (or possibly Emmaline) Howard was born October 02, 1816 in Greensboro, Georgia, a small town incorporated in 1787 – a town located halfway between Atlanta 70 miles west and Augusta 70 miles east.

Harriet’s father Nicholas Howard spent most of his career as an unsuccessful businessman, local politician and, after a religious conversion in later life to the beliefs of the Methodist Episcopal Church, became the manager of the residence hall at the Collingsworth Institute for teenage boys in Columbus, Georgia before his death in 1849.

Harriet’s mother Judith Campbell was also from Georgia and married Nicholas in August of 1812. They had 11 children in 20 years – Harriet was the eldest of the six girls – Judith died near the end of the Civil War in 1865 at 72 years of age leaving Harriet as the only one of her children to survive her.

The Reverend Jesse wasn’t an unattractive man in Harriet’s eyes, but the stories he told of his travels of riding horseback throughout the Georgia Conference that spanned several hundred miles were spellbinding to the teenage girl who had never left Greene County. He began as a Circuit Rider on the Chattahoochee Circuit when he was 18 years old; his tales of riding through the mountains in uncharted territory made her feel he was the bravest, most exciting man she knew.

Romance caught fire between the two of them, and with the blessings of both families they were married in 1833 when she was 17 and he was 26. Whither thou goest, I will go, Harriet vowed to Jesse. It was a promise she kept for 47 years in their marriage that produced ten children.

In 1834 Jesse and Harriet lived in Augusta, Georgia;  from 1835 – 1837 in Columbus, Georgia where he preached revival meetings and was promoted to supervisor of the LaGrange Methodist Church conference. In 1841 Jesse was transferred to the Alabama conference where he served for six years in Mobile districts and on the Tuskegee Circuit. During the Alabama years four of the couple’s ten children were born in Mobile including a son named John Keener Boring who was born in 1843.

Jesse and Harriet returned to Columbus, Georgia in 1847 for two more years until Bishop Robert Paine chose Jesse to establish Southern Methodist churches in California. The family sailed March 1, 1850 from New Orleans to Panama, crossed 37 miles by land on mules through dense forests from Panama to the Pacific Ocean, caught another sailing ship to San Francisco – arriving in the summer of 1850. During the trip Harriet was pregnant with their fourth child, a son named Isaac who was born in San Francisco.

From 1850 – 1855 Reverend Jesse Boring established churches in San Jose, Stockton and San Francisco; organized the Pacific Conference, and edited the Methodist Church publication known as the Christian Observer. Harriet had another child in 1853 in San Francisco, a daughter named Jesse after her father.

In 1854 the  family left California to make the long arduous trip across land and sea again to return to the Georgia conference so that Jesse could pursue his new dream of studying medicine at the Atlanta Medical College where he later became the first president of the school.

In 1858, after finishing Medical College, Dr. Jesse Boring transferred his family to San Antonio, Texas where he presided at the first session of the Old Rio Grande Methodist Conference held in Goliad in November, 1859. He and Harriet packed all their furniture, clothing, household possessions and seven children to travel from Atlanta to Mobile where they boarded a sailing ship that carried them to  Galveston, Texas.

In the fall of 1858 the family reached Galveston, sailed by Buffalo Bayou to Houston where they disembarked and then moved westward in an old four horse stagecoach. Part of the time Jesse and his older children walked and carried a fence rail on their shoulders to pry the wagon wheels out of the mud. When they reached Eagle Lake near the Colorado River, the wagon couldn’t go any farther. They rode the horses from Eagle Lake to San Antonio.

Dr. Boring built a home for his family in San Antonio, but it was not paid for. He lost it during the Civil War in which he served the Confederate Army as a medical doctor and preacher from 1860 – 1864. Harriet and the children saw a sheriff auction the home and all of their furnishings. After the war, Jesse also bought a home for his family in Galveston where he preached and practiced medicine. However, it was lost in a defective title deed. Another home in Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane in 1866.

In 1868 Dr. Boring was very much a broken man in spirit and in health so he and Harriet returned home to Georgia where he served the Atlanta District of the Methodist Church for a number of years as their presiding elder. During his tenure Dr. Boring regained his fervor and was instrumental in founding a home for Confederate orphans. The Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, Georgia was the result of his persistence in securing funding for its opening in December of 1869.

(Their son, twenty-five-year-old John Keener Boring, remained in Texas to farm and raise his own family. John married Emma Fennell after the Civil War – their farm was 20 miles east of Luling near Nashes Creek. Emma came from a very wealthy family, but she married a very poor man who gave her seven children, bought the family a large farm and then subsequently lost it due to a problem with the deed. My grandfather, James Marion Boring, was one of their seven children.)

Two years ago through random hints on Ancestry I discovered my 2X great-grandmother, Harriet Eveline Howard Boring, was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia which was 71 miles west of our home in South Carolina. At the time of this remarkable discovery I was in the process of having two knees replaced. A trip to Georgia was impossible, but I saved the information for a later day.

Three weeks ago the later day arrived, and Pretty drove me to look for the resting place of my 2X great-grandmother. I was so excited! Pretty loves a cemetery adventure as much as I do, but she cautioned on the drive over there that if I said 2X great-grandmother one more time she couldn’t be responsible for her actions. I had gotten on her last nerve.

Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia (since 1818)

Large number of lovely Greek markers

Pretty walks in plot owned by Dr. Jesse Boring

Ten headstones of women marked boundary

According to the cemetery records this large plot belonged to Dr. Jesse Boring, but the area has a name painted in black letters “Women’s Home” on the lower cement boundary which seems to make sense with only ten women’s headstones in a single line indicating the top boundary. Since Dr. Boring was involved in the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, it’s no stretch to think that he gave this plot to a Women’s Home in Augusta to honor the memory of his wife Harriet who died in their Augusta home on January 20, 1879.

Sadly for me, there is no mention of Harriet in the cemetery plot. Pretty tried to comfort me with her guesses of what happened to the headstone or other marker in the 141 years since my 2X great-grandmother’s death. My favorite idea of hers was that a tree fell on the marker, knocked it down and time gradually covered her resting place with the beautiful grass and autumn leaves that we did find. I liked it.

Jesse Boring, who married again following Harriet’s death, died in 1890 and is now buried on the grounds of the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur. His epitaph reads in part “He who turns a child to God changes the course of history.”

I found these stories in a family history compiled by my mother’s first cousin Hugh Boring and his wife Esther in 1991. My mother had little interest in her family’s history so I’m sure she gave the book to me as soon as Hugh sent it to her. I resurrected it from my extensive collections of materials I’ve saved through the years in my genealogy research on both sides of my family. I embellished the stories for sure because I could. I felt compelled to share them here because I am a storyteller from Texas and these are my people.

Unfortunately, I found out slavery was intertwined in many of  our family’s lives and Dr. Jesse Boring was an ardent secessionist in the Civil War days. I did wonder about Harriet’s thoughts on the issue, although I assume she followed Jesse’s beliefs as surely as she followed him around the country.

I close with an actual obituary dated January 22, 1879 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Death of Mrs. Boring.

Yesterday’s Chronicle-Constitutionalist.

Mrs. Boring, wife of Rev. Jesse Boring, the pastor of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal church, died last evening at the parsonage, age sixty-three years. Forty-five years ago Mrs. Boring commenced her married life in this parsonage, and after nearly half a century of wandering with her husband in his ministry as an itinerant Methodist preacher, she came back, as the result showed, to die. Mrs. Boring was an estimable woman. Carrying out the words of Ruth—“Where thou goest, I shall go”— she was by her husband’s side wherever he was sent. She undertook with him the long and dangerous journey to California soon after the acquisition of that section by the United States when he went out and established the first Methodist church on the Pacific frontier, crossing the isthmus on mule back and undergoing cheerfully all the privations of the journey. Her life was an eventful and beautiful one, and her husband, children and friends remember her with reverence and enduring affection.

I think I would have liked my 2X great-grandmother Harriet whose full name was never identified in her obituary. I remember her today with reverence and enduring affection. Her story is a welcome diversion from the emotional toll of a raging pandemic and a raging political roller coaster.



Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
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9 Responses to beware the ides of ancestry

  1. Susanne says:

    I am in awe of people who have the patience and perseverance to dig up family stories and connect the genealogy dots. Bravo to you, Sheila. This is a remarkable tale of your 2x Grandmother Harriet and life with her preacher husband. Thanks for telling her story. Women deserve to be remembered as much as men.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wayside Artist says:

    What an incredible family history. Your 2x Grandmother lived Stand by Your Man, but she had her own worthwhile story. Thanks for writing it, Sheila.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Ann. The story of Harriet made me feel like a bit of a whiner. If this woman could cross the Isthmus of Panama on a mule when she was pregnant, then surely I could complain less about my arthritis. Seriously.


  3. Wayside Artist says:

    Sheila, we weren’t built to live as long as we do. If she lived another 10 years, she wouldn’t be riding a mule anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting story. We like…well..Granny always ask herself what’s the story behind the graves, you make it alive 💗Thank you for coming to my Birthday-Pawty, Sheila. You made our day unforgettable. Double Pawkisses for a Happy Day to all of you🐾😽💞

    Liked by 1 person

  5. L Campbell says:

    Thank you for posting this story. I am tracking this “bunch” of Campbells in hopes of connecting them to my own, with the only scant clue being that the name “Charter” Campbell appears in my lineage as well.

    It appears that Judith Campbell was the daughter of John and Judith (MNU) Campbell, perhaps of Amherst county VA, as that is where this specific branch of Campbell DNA seems to cluster. There were also brothers Catlett (1786) and Charter (b. 1797). I note that Judith Howard named a son Charter Campbell Howard, as well.

    I still have not made the connection to my Thomas Campbell, b. 1818 in South Carolina but have not yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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