Generations of Episcopalians
Reflection by Ron Jones
Six generations back in the Isaacs family, “Granny Grace,” a household slave of the Alexander Hamilton family in Antigua, BWI, born after 1750, bore two daughters sired, more than likely, by a member of the family. Normally, children of slaves were sold, but because Granny Grace was a favored slave, she was allowed to keep her daughters. On Jubilee Day, 1 July 1834, when all slaves in the British Colonies were emancipated, Rebecca and Mary Elizabeth were free to marry. Charles P Hosier, Esq., a merchant in Antigua born in 1777, and his wife, Mary Ann, had a son, Thomas, who married Mary Elizabeth. Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Hosier had a daughter Mary Ann Elizabeth born 8 Nov 1842, who married John Isaacs of Antigua in 1860.
That marriage produced Robert Hodge Isaacs and Walter Clement Isaacs, Ron’s maternal grandfather, born in 1881 in Antigua, emigrated with his brother in 1901 to the United States, and was married at age 23 to Caroline Augusta Gomes, daughter of a Portuguese sea captain who had been born in Cape Verdes Islands, Portugal, raised by her aunt in Antigua, and emigrated to the United States in 1903.
Walter and Caroline Isaacs moved from New York to Cambridge MA in 1907, bringing with them the love of athletics (Walter was an accomplished “bowler” (pitcher) and President of New York’s West India Cricket Club) and a strong Anglican tradition. They became members of St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (historically known as a strong black parish) in Cambridge and raised a family of six sons and three daughters. The middle daughter, Whilma Alythia, born 3 April 1913, was Ron’s mother. When she married and moved to Boston, she joined St. John’s Episcopal Church, Roxbury Crossing, the “Home of the Sarum Rite,” blessed with Rev. Dr. Massey Shepherd as an Associate Rector, and Ron’s home parish.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Abram Henderson, Alice’s paternal grandfather, born a slave in 1847 in Fayetteville, was emancipated at 19 and almost immediately became an entrepreneur. His business enterprises prospered, so much so that when his former master fell on hard times, Abram intervened and helped him survive. He married Evalina McKenzie, born in 1849: their legacy was a family of five sons and three daughters (one of whom died at nine years of age). Abram appreciated the value of knowledge and saw to it that all his children received an adequate post-secondary education. The oldest son, Benjamin, became the first college educated doctor, black or white, in Cumberland County; and many apprentice-trained doctors allowed that they owed their careers and success to Ben Henderson. His youngest son, Abram James, Jr., born in 1886, and father of Alice, was in medical school at the time of his father’s death, and, unwilling to burden his older brother with the financial issues associated with the pursuit of a doctorate in medicine, changed his career path and was graduated from Shaw University in 1908 with a doctorate in Pharmacy. As would be expected in a family of overachievers, he received the highest score among his peers in his state licensing examination, and went on to great success, owning and operating drug stores in Winston-Salem (where he supplied the sacramental wine for his local parish) and Fayetteville, his home town.
Abram, senior, was an Episcopalian, and a tithing member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville. As a prosperous black parishioner, in the era of the “peculiar institution,” he had his own private Communion service, complete with chalice and paten – Jim Crow’s variant on the common cup! Abram played a major role in the funding and establishment of St Joseph’s Episcopal Church, the first black parish in Fayetteville and on the National Historical Register today. He was a signatory to the initial application and a member of the original Vestry. That was Alice’s home parish, where she grew up, learning the skills of the Altar Guild at her mother’s knee; Ron’s “away from home” parish while on active duty as Fort Bragg, NC; and the altar before which she and Ron were married in February 1957.
These two “cradle Episcopalians” raised a family of two daughters in a military environment. Alice Eugenia, born in 1958 at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Hospital, flew at sixth months of age with her mother to Fort Hood where she was presented by her parents for baptism in a local Episcopal parish in Killeen, TX. Sharon Marie, born in 1962 at Fort Knox’s Ireland Army Hospital, was baptized in her first month by Episcopal Chaplain (CPT) Mark Gasquet at the Post Chapel, just before traveling to North Carolina while Ron completed the Associate Career and the Nuclear Weapons Employment Officer Courses at Fort Benning, GA, then to Germany as the family embarked for a three-year tour of duty in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. When Ron left for his first combat tour in Viet Nam, the family moved back to the grandparents’ home in Fayetteville, where they picked up where they had left at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church. Young Alice was confirmed in 1968 at Fort Dix, NJ, where the family had moved upon Ron’s return from Viet Nam in 1967. The family moved again in 1969, this time to Atchison, KS, and Trinity Episcopal Church, while Ron “bootstrapped” and earned his baccalaureate at St. Benedict’s College, then returned to Viet Nam in 1969 for a second combat tour. Upon his return to an assignment as the Army Advisor to the Missouri National Guard in 1970, they set out for Saint Louis where they arrived on Saturday after Labor Day, set up camp in a rented three-bedroom home in Kirkwood, then presented themselves, fully scrubbed, at Grace Episcopal Church Sunday morning. Grace hasn’t been able to get rid of them yet!
Young Alice, already confirmed, was “Steidemannized” by attending the two-year rigorous confirmation course: Sharon was confirmed at Grace. Young Alice was graduated from Kirkwood High in 1976, went off to Georgia Tech, left, got married at Grace; had a daughter, Adrienne Marie, in 1978; divorced; remarried (at Grace); resumed her engineering studies; and earned her BSEE from the combined UMSL-Washington University Engineering Program. Sharon graduated in 1981 from KHS, went off to Notre Dame, earned her baccalaureate in 1985, her masters and doctorate in psychology from the University of Maryland, and married at Grace in 1994. She is presently the Clinical Director for the Seniors Wellness Group of Michigan, headquartered in Royal Oaks, MI and providing geriatric mental health oversight on contract for 90-plus seniors facilities in multiple states. She and her husband Dwayne Hicks, a Notre Dame classmate, four-year lacrosse letterman and currently an NCAA Div I lacrosse coach, had two daughters: Sarah McKenzie, born 1999 at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oaks, MI, and baptized at Grace, is presently a junior at Purdue University; her sister, Jordan Marie, born 2001, baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Royal Oaks, MI, will enter Villanova University in the fall of 2019 The family attends St. John’s. Both girls compete in intercollegiate/interscholastic women’s lacrosse at their respective levels.
Saturday on the Vigil of Easter, 2018, Paul Lee Allmon, Adrienne’s son, the fourth generation of the Jones family, and the ninth generation of the Isaacs and Henderson families, was baptized into the household of God in the Episcopal community of Grace Church. Anglican blood runs thick, and the beat goes on!