Have you ever seen a set of wooden dolls, each one of decreasing size placed inside another? These nesting dolls are called matryoshkas, which means “little matrons.”
By now, you might be asking yourself why a family historian with mostly British Isles roots is talking about Russian matryoshkas.
Well, today on Twitter, I saw a new writing prompt, #RussianDollChallenge, inquiring just how far back we genealogists have traced our matrilineal lines. This idea intrigued me, so I took a closer look at my mother’s maternal family. It turns out that on that branch, including me, there are ten generations of women whom I have documented.
My earliest known matrilineal ancestor is Mary (Wright) Soper, my 7th great-grandmother. Although I know that Mary was born circa 1725 in Staten Island, New York, I have found no details about her childhood, other than the fact that she was a Quaker whose father was Anthony Wright. (Some have asserted that Rachel Townsend was her mother; however, I have yet to find source material confirming this.)
What is known is that on 3 June 1746, Mary Wright married Joseph Soper in Barnegat, New Jersey. (At the time, Barnegat was part of Monmouth County, but it is now in Ocean County.)
Mary and Joseph established their home at Soper’s Landing, a property located on the bay midway between Barnegat and Waretown, New Jersey.
In 1747, the couple was blessed with their first child, a daughter named Mercy Rebecca Soper. (She was my 6th great-grandmother.)
In addition to Mercy, the couple had 11 more children: Reuben (born 1749), Letitia (born circa 1751), Joseph (born circa 1754), Hezekiah (born 1761), Timothy (born 1762), Rhonda/Rhoda (born circa 1764), Wright (born 1765), Anthony (born 4 December 1768), Lucretia (born circa 1770), Sarah (born circa 1772), and Elizabeth (born 1774).
Speaking of daughter Mercy, on 1 July 1767, she married David Rulon, son of Jesse Rulon, in Stafford, Monmouth County, New Jersey.
More than a decade later, son Reuben Soper married Mary Matthis on 26 April 1779.
Around this same time, Mary (Wright) Soper’s husband Joseph and eldest son Reuben enlisted as privates in the 5th Company, Monmouth Militia, led by Capt. Reuben F. Randolph.
Because Joseph and Reuben fought for the Patriots, the Soper family was often harassed by a band of Loyalists dubbed the Pine Robbers because they hid out in the Pine Barrens of south-central New Jersey. This group, under the direction of Capt. John Bacon, was so nefarious that the Sopers frequently were forced to sleep in the nearby swamp just to stay safe.
Joseph’s profession was a boat builder. With all the troubles caused by Bacon and his men, Joseph was paranoid that there might be a traitor in their midst. So, after selling a boat he built, he divided the money into two parcels, one much larger than the other, and buried them in different spots. Sadly, his suspicions were confirmed when, later that evening, Bacon and his men raided his home. Joseph took refuge in the swamps, while Mary and their children remained behind. When the Pine Robbers threatened Mary, she led them to where the smaller of the two parcels was buried. Bacon’s men stole the money, not realizing that a much large portion remained.
Near Soper’s Landing was salt works where locals extracted salt from the bay water via evaporation. This salt was used to preserve meat and fish and to make gun powder. Under orders, Capt. Bacon and his men destroyed the salt works.
You would think that when the war ended, the combatants would lay down their arms and go back to their normal lives. But because war had proved such a prosperous endeavor for the Pine Robbers, they were still wrecking havoc throughout the Pine Barrens region a year after Gen. Cornwallis’ surrender.
Capt. Bacon’s most reprehensible act occurred after the cease-fire, as described in the book, Smugglers’ Woods, by Arthur D. Pierce:
Monmouth County annals include a long list of Bacon’s plunderings and brutalities. His blackest moment, however, was the night of the Long Beach Massacre. On 25 October 1782, Captain Andrew Steelman of Cape May and twenty-five men on the privateer [ship] Alligator captured a British cutter from Ostend headed for St. Thomas. This vessel, apparently far off course, had run aground on Barnegat Shoals. Steelman and his men labored the whole day to unload her cargo on Long Beach. By nightfall, all hands were dead-tired and curled up among the dunes to rest. In the dead of night, Bacon and his followers sailed over from the mainland, crept up on the [men], and slew them while they slept. Captain Steelman and a number of his men were killed instantly; those who attempted to rise were hacked with bayonets; and of the twenty-five in Steelman’s crew, only five managed, somehow, to escape alive.
Tragically, one of the men murdered was Mary (Wright) Soper’s son, Reuben. Outraged by the slaughter, the locals demanded that the Pine Robbers be stopped. In response, Gov. William Livingston offered a reward of £50 for John Bacon’s capture. Months passed. Then, on 31 March 1783, Bacon was spotted on Long Beach Island, scavenging a shipwreck. A search party was sent after him. He was found at a local tavern, where he was killed.
Ten years later, Mary (Wright) Soper died. She was buried somewhere in Soper’s Landing; however, the exact location of her grave site is unknown.
So, now it is your turn.
Who is your earliest matrilineal ancestor whom you have traced?