Two Ancestors I Wish I’d Known


otherWiseMan    gwathmeyCertificate    antiqueBed    antiqueBed2
(Click on pictures for larger image. )
L-R: The Other Wise Man, W.H. Gwathmey’s baptismal certificate,
head of Gwathmey bed, the rest of the Gwathmey bed

Much to my regret, I didn’t pay much attention to my father’s numerous stories about his family. Now that he’s been gone for twenty years, I find myself without anyone to ask about various things that have stuck in my mind, but I’ve long since forgotten the details concerning.

For example, he told me that Henry Van Dyke married into the family sometime long ago. Dr. Van Dyke’s name isn’t as familiar now as it was a hundred years ago, but he wrote the words of the still-beloved hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” which is set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony. He also wrote a popular little Christmas story called “The Other Wise Man.”

One of his best-known poems is called “Time Is.” This is part of it:

“Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not.”

What a cool guy to have known if he had just been born a number of years later. I wonder if he would’ve liked my poetry and song lyrics.

I know a little more about my great grandfather, William H. Gwathmey. He was the descendent of a Welsh warrier-poet from centuries earlier. I believe the name Gwathmey (at least in its original Welsh spelling) means “Hawk of the Battlefield.”

He was the first recording secretary for what is now the International Mission Board (IMB), founded in 1845, and spent many years in that position. He was well known for his meticulous hand-written minutes with never a scratch-out. Too bad that kind of neatness hasn’t run in the family. At least his interest in missions has.

Although my parents would have left his massive wooden desk to me, I allowed them to give it the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (I may have that name wrong, but you get the idea) because I knew I’d never have a place big enough for it. The IMB borrowed it for a prominent display during their 150th anniversary year.

However, I did inherit the Gwathmey bed, the one in which W. H. Gwathmey’s wife, Abby, gave birth to their nine children. As I frequently point out, I do NOT have the original mattress.

Abby Manley Gwathmey was one of the early presidents of the (Southern Baptist) Women’s Missionary Union (WMU)–my grandmother and her twin sister (two of Abby’s nine children) were little girls when they attended the founding meeting of the WMU. The men were meeting at the same time in a different Richmond church to oppose letting the women organize.

My, haven’t things changed!

The WMU was at one time quite interested in obtaining the bed. (It got a footnote in a history of the WMU.) My daughter has no interest in it, so I may yet see if they’d still like to have it. Assuming THEY will pay to get it from Richmond to Birmingham, AL!

I’m sure I have other interesting ancestors, but these are the two who most interest me now. Of course, there was the ancestor who prayed at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. Hey! I had to mention that. Richmond is still a proud Southern city. *G*

Any interesting people in your family tree? How about leaving a comment and telling us a little about them?


I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing“–check it out HERE. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

Best regards,

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