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William F. Hays'

At the End of the Emmitsburg Road

Part 1 of 7


Most of us feel that we grew up in a period unlike any other, and in a broad sense, that is true. The period before the Civil War, for example, was not at all like the one that followed it.

The Five Hays brothers: James T, William Edward (the author), John Ross,
Samuel Calvert, and Harry Withrow (Photo take in front to Emmit Hotel)

Likewise, each individual's life is unique, or so it seems. In any event, it will be a pleasant journey, in retrospect, to go back to Emmitsburg, and recall the interesting and sometimes amusing events, and the friends and acquaintances who moved into and out of my life, and thereby provide for my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the kind of family history that I wish my parents had set down for me. What I also hope to do is to give some idea of what life was like in a small town in Western Maryland, in the period just prior to and directly after World War One.

In those days, as is still the case, Emmitsburg and the surrounding community was a lovely place. If you had climbed a short hill at the western end of town, near where the Mountain View Cemetery is located, you could have looked across to Mt. St. Mary's College and the mountain range, which reaches to Blue Ridge Summit and Hagerstown. Had you traveled east, you would have seen well-kept farms on every side, with their large red-painted barns, and had you looked back, to the west, you would have seen the long line of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along which General Lee and his troops marched as they made their fateful journey to Gettysburg. Farming country with fields of wheat, would have delighted your eyes, if you had traveled south from Emmitsburg, toward Thurmont and the Catoctin Mountains, now the site of Camp David, the Presidential retreat. To the north, at a distance of less than a mile, you would have crossed the Mason and Dixon line, and would then have been only some nine miles from the historic town of Gettysburg.

In summer, it was hot and in winter it was cold enough for youngsters to use their skates, with snow for coasting on the hillsides. Spring and Fall were ideal. I cannot say that I ever thought much about the beauty that was all around. I simply accepted it. But now I see how fortunate I was to have grown up in such a lovely place.

This is being written in 1990, which means that some 75 years have elapsed since most of the events, which will be written about, took place. Yet the years have only slightly dimmed my memory, although I cannot claim to rely entirely upon it. For, over the years, I made notes of things about which I intended, someday, to write.

It all began for me on November 28, 1903, in the town of Emmitsburg, the town always mentioned in any account of the battle of Gettysburg, for it was across the Emmitsburg Road that Pickett's Charge was made, on the final day of that famous battle. We lived at the end of that Emmitsburg Road. The city of Baltimore lies fifty miles to the east, and the city of Frederick, the home of Barbara Frietchie, twenty-one miles to the south.

To me, as a youngster, the famous battlefield did not make a big impression. Yet I do recall that in July of 1913, my father hired a big car, with a driver, (I think the car was a Packard) in which our whole family, Mother, Papa and the six of us, set off for Gettysburg, to see the 50th reunion of all Union and Confederate veterans of the battle. The battlefield was a sea of white tents, with one or more veterans sitting in front of each tent. A story told many times at home was that, as we drove by, an old vet, seeing this car with six eager-eyed kids in it, called out "Hey, did you leave any kids at home ?"

My parents were Thomas C. Hays, called "Papa" by the six of us and Tom by everyone else, and Minnie E. Hays, called Mama by us and "Miss Minnie" by all others. Across the street lived my grandfather, James T. Hays and grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Hays. Not far away, in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, a distance of perhaps 15 miles, lived my Aunt Betty and Uncle Ed Snively. This was the Hays family as I knew it in my early years.

Occasionally a cousin might appear for a short visit, but it was not until I was older that I began to fit other relatives into their proper places on the family tree. I do recall, however, that Papa and his sister, Weimer Hays who lived with my grandparents across the street from us, would speak of an ancestor, Jonathan Hays, who had twelve sons, with no mention of any daughters. Such a remarkable relative, you would think, should have aroused my curiosity, but not enough, apparently, to cause me to ask questions, and thus learn something about him, especially to learn where he lived.

As it turned out, I think that if I had asked, neither Papa nor Aunt Weimer, could have told me very much, for after their death we found a written account of what little they knew, but it was very sketchy.

In recent years, a number of family members have made an exhaustive search, with the following results. Sometime about 1660 one Jonathan Hays, reportedly a butcher, lived in Liverpool, England, but this has never been confirmed. It is believed, however, to be true. He had a son, Jonathan II, born January 16, 1685, who came to Philadelphia as a Captain on a British ship. Soon after his arrival, he sold his Captaincy and resolved to become a farmer. Thereafter he married a Quaker girl by the name of Elizabeth Elliott, who was born on March 17, 1678. In a book entitled "The Hayses of Emmitsburg, Maryland" written in 1985 by Dorothy Hays Desiardins and her husband, Peter, is an interesting story of how Jonathan II (the former naval Captain) was given a farm near Philadelphia by his father-in-law.

Jonathan II and Elizabeth had twelve sons and one daughter, one of the sons being Jonathan III. Birth records of the twelve sons and the daughter have not been found, but we do know that "Maryland Jonathan" was born on January 16, 1729.

Now we will follow Jonathan III from Philadelphia to a place in Maryland, only a few miles from Emmitsburg, along a small river known as the Monocacy. There he decided to settle, having been told that the Indians in that part of Maryland were very friendly. Members of the family have tried, without success, to locate exactly where Jonathan III settled. The best we have been able to establish is that his land bordered on Tom's Creek, about a quarter of a mile above the point where the Creek enters the Monocacy river. [Editors note: In 1996, the Emmitsburg Historical Society located pinpointed the exact location of the Hays Family Homestead along Tom's Creek] There he married Mary Henderson, born June 17, 1732, who is supposed to have come, from Nova Scotia. From their marriage came five children, Jahue, John, Joseph and two daughters. Little is known about Jahue and John and the daughters, but it is the son. Joseph, born in 1760, whose life is fairly well documented.

Joseph, living near Emmitsburg, married one Deborah Weimer, the only child of Joseph Weimer, who lived near Thurmont, Maryland. Until we began the research into family history, I had never known how my Aunt Weimer had come by that name. Now, of course, it is clear that she was named for Deborah Weimer, mentioned above. Like so many cases where names are pronounced differently than their spelling, she was known to us as Aunt Weema.

Elsewhere in this story I may add some bits of information about this Joseph Hays, the son of Jonathan III. but for the moment I simply want to follow, or perhaps I should say "Climb," the family tree, with only a few side excursions.

Joseph, born in 1760, as stated, lived on a farm of some 400 acres, reportedly near Taneytown, Maryland, where, in 1791, a son, Thomas Hays, was born. Thomas married a local girl by the name of Elizabeth Armstrong.

And now, for the first time, we find a Hays living in Emmitsburg, for Thomas and Elizabeth built a house on what in my day was called Gettysburg Street, at a point opposite St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Thus we come to the first Hays ancestor whom I knew, my grandfather James T. Hays, born March 31, 1833, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Armstrong Hays.

Here I will suspend my account of the Hays genealogy, to which I will come back later, after setting down what little I know of Grandmother Hays and my maternal grandparents.

Grandmother Hays was a Witherow, by the name of Sarah Ann, whose parents lived some 15 miles east of Emmitsburg, near the Monocacy river, along which Jonathan Hays III had settled. Two things I do know about the Witherows; they were staunch Presbyterians, and John, the father of Sarah, served in the Revolutionary War. In a Bicentennial History of the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church, published in 1960, is the following:

BORN 1731 DIED 1794

*John Witherow, an Elder in the Presbyterian Church in 1824, the father of Sarah Witherow (Hays)

Grandmother Hays must have had a more formal education than most young women had at that time, or so it would seem from reading a letter she wrote to Grandfather Hays, whom she was soon to marry. Not only is her letter well written; it also indicates that she was strong willed and certainly not shy.

I have only the faintest recollection of her and only a slightly stronger one of Grandfather Hays. By the townspeople he was considered "tight," which means that he spent little or nothing for anything other than necessities. In those days, a youngster could buy quite a lot of candy with a penny, so feeling a desire for some, I sought his help. His answer, after taking off his derby hat and looking carefully in it, was: "There's not a penny in it." That was the end of it. I never tried again.

This brief account of my paternal grandparents allows me to recall an incident that our neighbors, the Shuffs, liked to recounts. Our house was directly across the street from the Church, the house being the one in which we were raised. But we were also raised in the Church, although "raised" is hardly the right word. We practically grew up in it. Whenever anything happened at Church, we were there. On Sundays, it was Sunday School, both morning and night worship service, with a young people's meeting thrown in. At times there would be a fifth meeting, for children, called Mission Band. And in one way or other, we were all involved. Mother played the organ, and one of my brothers or I would ring the church bell. We were responsible for stoking the coal furnace on Saturday. When the offering was taken, we passed the plates. And of course we went to the regular Wednesday night Prayer Meeting, and to the monthly social gathering at the home of a member. Thus, when my grandfather Hays' funeral was held, in 1912, 1 felt it was business as usual, and began passing out hymn books, as this was always done when strangers were present. This apparently was not the thing to do, for a neighbor pulled me aside, telling me to sit down and be still.

Thornbrook as it appears today

On the maternal side of the family were, grandfather and grandmother Fox, who lived on a farm about two miles south of Emmitsburg. This is where my mother grew up. Her stories of her childhood at the farm, called: 'Thornbrook’ made us look upon a visit there as the most wonderful and exciting thing we could do. It was a great large house, to which "boarders" came in the summer, not just for a weekend, but usually for the whole summer season. These boarders were not really treated as paying guests, they were rather treated as members of the family. They might come from Philadelphia or Washington, but more likely from Baltimore. Of course there was not very much for one to do, other than to play croquet, go for a ride in the one horse carriage, or sit in a rocking chair on the porch. The big attraction for the Hays kids was making ice cream. The ice came from, the cream from "Foxy. Granpa's" cows, and what was best of all, we could lick the paddle. There were cherry and apple trees for climbing, and a big barn in which to play. Grandmother Fox was born August 7, 1848 and died February 13, 1911. In 1913, Mother's sister Margaret and her husband, John Franklin, moved from Baltimore to 'Thornbrook', where they continued to take boarders for the summer. I know very little about the Fox ancestors, other than that Grandfather Fox was one of 14 children. Emmanuel and Elizabeth Forney were the parents of Grandmother Fox.

Grandmother Fox

What a contrast! The Hays' believed 100 percent- in work, in saving your money and going to church. The Fox family, especially Grandfather Fox, believed in the value of laughter, eating well and having fun along with work. Here I might tell of Grandfather Fox and his alleged Indian ancestry. When he reached the age of 90 he was interviewed by a reporter from a Frederick newspaper. On being asked to what he attributed his long life and good health, he is reported to have answered that it was largely due to his Indian ancestry. This, of course, has been of great interest to my children and grandchildren, who have never been completely sold on the idea, and to tell the truth, neither have I. But there it is, and perhaps it has some Truth. For one thing, there is a portrait of great-grandfather Fox, in the front hall at Thornbrook, his face showing strong Indian features. To this can be added another " Foxy Grampa" story. If one of us happened to be burned, perhaps from touching the hot kitchen stove, Mother would immediately send for him to come and "pow-wow", or, as she sometimes said, to draw the heat. And sure enough, when he came and said some mumbo-jumbo over the burned spot, we forgot the pain and felt much better. So much for the Indian ancestry.

Joseph Hays

Joseph Hays, my great-great-grandfather, the son of Jonathan Hays III, settled near Emmitsburg, and for that reason it may be worth- while co know a little more about him. I therefore will quote some parts of a paper written by a descendant of Joseph, one Ethyl Collins Scott.

Joseph Hays, Sr. was born Oct. 18, 1760, and died in 1850. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War under Washington. He married first Deborah Weimer, born Nov. 12, 1767, and secondly Martha Thomas, born Dec. 23rd, 1774, on August 4, 1806.

Joseph Hays Sr. hated the institution of slavery to the extent that he cast the only vote in his county in Maryland for John P. Hale, free soil candidate for President during the War of 1812.

[Editor's Note ... While Joseph Hay's hated slavery, he still nevertheless owned slaves, the story of one of which, Ned Delaney provides additional insights into who the character of Joseph Hay's]

In Carroll County, Maryland, was the 400-acre plantation of Joseph Hays, Sr. Adjoining the Hays plantation was that of Col. John Ross Key, father of Francis Scott Key, who during the bombarding of Fort McHenry, penciled on a scrap of paper the words of the National Anthem.

Col. Key commanded a regiment of militia called out by Pres. Washington in 1794 to suppress the 'Whiskey Insurrection' in western Pennsylvania. It was in a company of Col. John Ross Key's regiment, composed of Carroll County men, that Francis Scott Key and Joseph Hays, Sr. friends from boyhood, served side by side, as they had done during the War of the Revolution under Washington.

Previous to 1815, Joseph Hays, Sr., with three neighbors, all prominent Masons, signed the bond of a man, Geier, who was handling government funds, and when Geier betrayed his trust, Joseph Hays, Sr. lost his plantation, but by the influence of Francis Scott Key who was holding a prominent official position in Washington, the government granted Joseph Hays a life lease on the property on which he remained for about 35 years until his death in 1850.

[Read more about Geier betrayal of the Hay's Family]

Upon the death of the elder Joseph, the Hays clan, numbering now about 17, found themselves without a home. This was a contingency naturally foreseen and like prudent people they had been laying aside funds against the event of the death of the aged head of the family. Also, like prudent people, they cast their eyes toward the West. With no definite goal in view of the long journey, which required about three months, (they) commenced toward the West. Three wagons with 17 people made up the party. They passed through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and settled in Iowa, north of Grinnell, in Chester Township, where tracts Of land, purchased for $1.25 per acre, were chosen for the members of the Joseph Hays Sr. family who desired to emigrate.

In the Hays lot in Hazlewood Cemetery stands a simple stone bearing a bronze emblem of the D. A. R., the last resting place of Aunt Debbie Hays, a real daughter of the Revolution."

Jonathan Hays II And His Farm

An interesting story has come down through the family, regarding a farm which was given to Jonathan Hays 11 by his father-in-law. Let me quote from a paper entitled "The genealogy of the Hays Family" by one Dr. McPherson, of Gettysburg, Penna. "During her Majesty, Queen Anne's reign, Jonathan made a voyage to America.

When he arrived at Pennsylvania, he sold his Captaincy, and resolved to go to farming. He married a rich Quakeress, by the name of Elisabeth Ellott, who was born the 17th of March, 1678.

His father-in-law gave him a farm, but in a short time he squandered it all away. He then asked his father-in-law for another farm, a, consistent with his Quaker profession, he concluded to give him another farm and they started to look it up, but Jonathan made a sad mistake. He took the old gentleman past the farm he had wasted. The thought that Jonathan had squandered the farm so enraged Mr. Ellott, that he turned back and would not get Jonathan a farm, but in a short time his anger cooled and they started again. This time Jonathan was careful not to take him by the old farm, and by so doing he received his farm. Jonathan had twelve sons, of whom Jonathan H. is the only one recorded. Jonathan Hays Jun. (sic) was born the 16th of January, 1729. Jonathan Hays Jun. married Mary Henderson."

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