A Family Story
A Priceless Gift Revealed
There has long been story that has circulated among the McKAY family since the time of the birth of David Thompson Parker. The story is that, during his marriage to Hannah, David's father, Ledyard, had a liaison with a squaw from the local Indian tribe referred to as the "Cornplanters", a branch of the Seneca Indian Nation, and that David was born of this relationship. Margaret McKAY Hileman has added some credibility to this story though she, herself, doubts the validity of the claim. Margaret shared that the information about David's birth when whispered from his deathbed to relatives from the from the lips of Paul McKAY, a cousin of her father, Leo, emphasizing that this is a fact the family "needs to know" because he did not want to carry this information to his grave, where it would be lost forever, he being one of the only family members who knew about it. Leo subsequently shared this information with his son, David. Margaret also reports that, sometime in the 1960's, "Leo and his second wife, Betty, drove to Conneautville PA, a town on Route 19 between Mercer and Meadville, to interview an elderly woman in the area who supposedly had information about David's birth. However, when they arrived they discovered the woman was "hopelessly senile." Hence, nothing corroborating this information was learned on this visit. Since the particulars around David's parentage have since remained unsubstantiated, it has been impossible to put this into credible perspective in the history of this fine family. However, it is quite possible that the truth about this story may reveal answers to some puzzling questions posed by family members. One issue revolves David's complexion... which is reported by some family members to be darker than that of his three siblings; other family members dispute this, based on actual photographic comparisons. Another puzzling question is why David, of the four children born to Ledyard and Hannah Wolcott Thompson, was left behind in Meadville and given up to Neal and Lydia McKAY for adoption rather than join her and his siblings when they moved from Meadville to Wisconsin after Ledyard and Hannah divorced. Also, what prompted Hannah to relocate to Wisconsin when her own family, her parents, lived locally. Yes, the McKAY's had made the statement before the adoption that David "showed great promise," but was this reason enough for a mother to give a child away to others? Perhaps Hannah was unable to financially provide for her herself and her children after the divorce. We know that she worked as a domestic to support herself. But why give up just one child... and why David? Besides, Hannah's came from a family of means, her father was a businessman who owned the watermill in town and he certainly could and probably would have provided for his daughter and grandchildren if that were necessary. There must have been other circumstances involved. In fact, the answer may rest in the years even before David was born.
Ledyard worked as a hired hand for Hannah's father at the watermill and it was there that he met Hannah. They were both in their teens. The relationship became more serious, however, and they eventually talked of marriage. Hannah's father strongly objected to the idea, likely because Ledyard was already begun to established a questionable reputation in town for problems related to his drinking. In any event, the family's concerns did not deter the couple and, against the wishes of both parents, Ledyard and Hannah were married on August 12, 1838. Coincidently Benjamin, their first son, was born that same year and with only five months of the year remaining, it is likely that the marriage was also one of necessity. David was born two years later. The marriage had it's problems from the beginning, given to Ledyard's drinking, which interfered in his taking care of his responsibilities as a husband and father. The marriage eventually resulted in the birth of two more children, both daughters, but ultimately ended in divorce within ten years. Since David was listed as a member of the household of Ledyard and Hannah during most of those early years, as evidenced in court documents related to hearings brought about by Ledyard's frequent arrests fro violations of local laws, including drunkenness, disturbing the peace and petting theft, David's status in the family was never questioned and it is likely his adoption occurred after the parents' divorce.
But, back to the story about David's parentage. Before passing judgment on Ledyard, keep in mind that he was, at the time, a young man of only twenty years already showing the signs of alcoholism, not recognized in those times as a serious disease but rather irresponsible behavior. He became known to the public officials of Meadville and his notorious reputation eventually became a part of official court records, identifying him as displaying "periods of lunacy" when drinking. In one court document, he was referred to as "the town drunk and lunatic."
After his divorce from Hannah, Ledyard entered into a second, though also failed, marriage to Margaret Minium, with whom he had four more children, likely heaping heartache and disappointment upon his second family. So as not to be too harsh on Ledyard for his wayward behavior, it would be kinder to give him credit for trying to mends his ways and make amends twenty or so years later in his life when, at the age of forty-four, he volunteered with the Pennsylvania Cavalry, was assigned to Company 1 of Regiment 59 2C and joined the Union troops as a soldier in the Civil War. He was critically wounded in the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 and died on December 13, 1864, at Point Hope, a Confederate prison hospital in Hopewell, Virginia, near Petersburg, having sacrificed his life for his country. He is buried at City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell. Likely unbeknown to both Ledyard and David, Eli Minium Berlin, first cousin of Ledyard's second wife, Margaret Minium and the brother of David's wife, Sarah Elvira Berlin, lay helpless, but not hopeless, in his bed in a Confederate prison hospital only 5 miles away in Richmond, Virginia, recovering from injuries he had also incurred during the war, injuries which ultimately took his young life just seven months later at 33 years of age. (Refer to the Parker and Berlin families in the Albums section of this website for more information)
But what ever became of David's alleged birthmother, that young Seneca Indian? Perhaps she herself was ashamed or even shamed by her own family for sleeping with a White man and had no choice but to give in to the pressures and customs of the time by relinquishing him to his birthfather. Did this young woman grieve for her infant child or simply proudly place family honor over her own personal needs, desires and emotions? Did she follow the path of David's life through information provided from others? Or did she simply accept her fate and go on with her own life as usual? Did David ever inquire about , know or seek out his birthmother? Many questions but far too few answers.
After Ledyard and Hannah's divorce, Neal and Lydia McKAY officially became David's parents by adoption. From all accounts, they were a noble and caring couple who accepted David as their own. The McKAY's are to be acknowledged for their kindness and generosity in taking David into their family. Unfortunately, in the process, the relationship between David and his Seneca heritage was broken. In addition, the ties between the McKAY and Parker families were not maintained, save for occasional contact by letter between David and his half-sister, "Jennie" (Rhoda Jane Parker) who had move on to Wisconsin with her mother.
It now appears that the McKAY family's proud history and connection with governors of Connecticut and signers of the Declaration of Independence is a thing of the past, left only to the imagination but not a true family connection. The famous Connecticut Wolcott family, from whom Hannah is a descendant, remains solely with Hannah and her legitimate children and does not pass on to the McKAY family. Though the McKAY family may have lost the source of pride and the prestige of a relationship with founders and patriots of our country from this family branch, there are remaining connections from another... the Parker family.
Like the Wolcott family, the Parker family also crossed the seas from England to begin a new life in the New World and settled in Connecticut, just as did the Wolcott's did. Perhaps they even knew one another. Though both families built a new life in a New World at the expense of the proud families who were already inhabited the land, they worked diligently to make the best of their new life and contributing significantly to both to family and country. Edward John Parker, born in 1622 in England, started a new life in the Connecticut Colony, where his first son, Joseph, was born in 1647. Edward was one of the original founders of Wallingford. The Parker family, like the Wolcott's, can both take pride as original inhabitants and founders of the Connecticut Colony. Though the Parker family may not have risen to the political heights of the Wolcott's they are, nevertheless, a family of which to be proud. They were early settlers of this great New World, referred to in history books as the "pilgrims," and have been instrumental in establishing settlements and in defending this great New World from the Revolutionary War onward. John Parker's descendents moved on to other parts of this great nation. Ledyard's father, Giles, moved his family from Farmington, Connecticut through Warsaw, New York, where Ledyard was born, and on to settle in the Crawford County PA.
It is ironic that the McKAY family, who can no longer hold legitimate claim to a connection with the famous Wolcott family of Connecticut and yet, not only retains solid claim to a connection with the early Connecticut Colony through the Parker family but also gains through the young Seneca Indian woman who gave birth to David.. a claim to the inheritance of new heritage, the heritage of the Seneca Indian Nation. The blending of two distinct cultures and two distinct heritages into one family cultural heritage is both humbling and awe-inspiring We gain on all counts and to know that the attitudes and aspirations sought by our Founding Fathers had already been embraced and practiced in the daily lives of our American Indian ancestors who had inhabited the lands of the New World for centuries before- the only true Americans. What a profound blessing and one that will surely bring pride, as well, to our future generations.
This brings to the fore the thinking behind including the image of the American Indian spiritual leader at the center of the home page of the Griebling-Parker-McKAY Family Website This figure represents a tribute to our newfound Seneca Indian heritage. It is an official acknowledgement of our connection to a strong, courageous, honorable and proud people. As you read the words that accompany the sculpture of the Indian warrior that precedes this, it is evident that the spiritual foundation of the American Indian exemplifies a simplicity and profound wisdom lacking in the complex world of today. It would be wise for any member of our family to make an effort to regain that wisdom and simplicity so characteristic of our Indian ancestors. Respect for self, respect of all others, respect for nature and all creations and the ultimate respect for The Great Mystery. It is now up to each of us as family members to increase our awareness of this great culture, heritage and history so that we, too, may pass this on to our children.
To help put things into perspective: Ledyard Parker (and the Seneca Indian squaw who allegedly gave birth to David Parker) are the great-great grandparents of the current Griebling-Parker-McKAY second cousins (2007).
Wisdom, Simplicity and Respect for All Things
To our Great-Great Grandfather Ledyard:
You are proudly held in high esteem not only for giving us David, but also for turning your life around and making an invaluable contributions that only you could make... the sacrifice of your own life for each one of us and for our country.
To our Great-Great Grandmother... the Seneca Indian birth-mother of David:
You are proudly held in high esteem for giving us David, without whom we would not exist, and for passing on to us, through him, that profound wisdom, simplicity of life and respect for all things that was understood and practiced by your forefathers in a deeply spiritual way of life for centuries before the White man arrived on this continent, a gift we shall try to practice ourselves in our daily lives and a gift for which we shall forever be grateful.
To The Great Mystery:
And to You, The Great Mystery, You are held in highest esteem. We look to You for guidance and inspiration in our daily lives so that we may fulfill Your expectations and utilize to the utmost the precious gifts that You have bestowed upon us... life and the place we inhabit on this earth!
The Great Mystery
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Information Link: American Indian DNA Testing