About Corazon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Great-Great-Great Grandfather: Thomas Hart

I have a HUGE family. In fact, I can recall family gatherings during my childhood where standing room only was the expected norm, and the line for Thanksgiving turkey seemed like something you would expect to find at Disneyland. And what is even more impressive is the fact that these family gatherings (in Grand Junction) only represent a small fraction of the Hart family as a whole. Yes, my big, cancerous family spreads out all over the United States (and other countries for that matter); one large, loud collection of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. who all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to one man: Thomas Hart.

I am guessing that some of my family members are a little surprised to hear me say that Thomas is the man who deserves our appreciation and respect. For most in my family the man who is credited with being the "patriarch" is my great-great Grandfather, James Henry Hart. And though there is no doubt that James was a remarkable man worthy of my family's deepest love and admiration, I feel that the story of his father often goes overlooked.

My first encounter with my great-great-great Grandfather came in the form of long, boring lectures on genealogy from my dad, who would harangue my brothers and I on the importance of family history. Of course, like most young boys, my brothers and I would pretend to listen to what my dad had to say, though most of our focus was on "more important" things like basketball, video games, etc. But surprisingly, even though I was young and somewhat uninterested, my dad's words managed to sink in. Tales of my family's proud history, particularly of James Hart and his important role during the critical formative years of the early Mormon church, resonated inside of me. Perhaps it was the passion for history that my dad and I have always shared, or perhaps it was something more. Maybe Malachi's words about "the heart of the fathers [being turned] to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" was true. Perhaps nothing does run thicker than blood.

Either way, as I became older my curiosity with James Hart grew. I recall reading Edward Hart's excellent 1978 biography on James Hart and feeling even more impressed with my roots. But the more I learned about James the more I wanted to know about his father, Thomas. For some reason, Thomas stood out to me. Maybe it was the simple fact that ever since I was a child, I wanted to name one of my children (coincidentally) Thomas (I never fulfilled that goal, though I would certainly consider it now if I were ever to have a 3rd son). Or maybe it's the fact that I too married a woman (coincidentally) named Elizabeth. Whatever the case, my strange attachment to a man I know very little about has remained with me all these years. And now as an adult, after all the years that I have studied history (my family's history in particular), I can confidently say that I have a very proud and noble heritage. Sure, this declaration may sound somewhat conceded (though I certainly don't mean it as such) but I stand by it. Though I never met my great-great-great Grandfather, and regardless of the fact that very little about him survives, I am happy to proclaim loud and proud the name of Thomas Hart!

Unfortunately not much is known about Thomas' life other than a few surviving letters and what his son James briefly wrote in his journals. Even Edward Hart's excellent bio of James Hart treads lightly on the life of Thomas and his wife Elizabeth. From what does survive, however, we can conclusively say that Thomas was a devout Christian man who took his family, civic and church responsibilities extremely serious. In his advanced age, James Hart paid homage to his father by calling him "an upright, honorable, God-fearing man" who loved his wife and family. And though nothing in the way of primary source material survives, I maintain that we can draw some reasonable conclusion about the man from the history of the time in which he lived.

Thomas was born circa 1783 in Godmanchester, England. He was the son of John "Shakespeare" Hart and Alice Rickets. Family legend has it that this John "Shakespeare" Hart was a descendant of none other than William Shakespeare, but this family story is almost certainly a myth. William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway had three children: Hamnet (who died at 11), Susana (who had a daughter named Elizabeth, who had no known children) and Judith (who had three children, all of whom died before she did). As a result, the supposed Hart-Shakespeare connection is, to borrow from Shakespeare himself, "Much Ado About Nothing." The fact that John was born in Stratford-upon-Avon is interesting, since that is the birth and death site of Shakespeare himself. However, the "Shakespeare" middle name was probably nothing more than a nickname given to honor the town's favorite hero.

With that said, there is one scenario in which Thomas may be related to Shakespeare in a roundabout way. One of William Shakespeare's eight siblings was a woman named Joan, who married a hatter named William Hart. There is the possibility that William Hart was the great-great-uncle of Thomas Hart. If so, that would make William Shakespeare my great-great-great-great-great uncle.

But getting back to Thomas...

Records show that Thomas Hart most likely married a Lady Barnard who probably died shortly thereafter (The "Lady Bernard" connection is also probably another source for the Shakespeare myth, since Shakespeare had a granddaughter named Elizabeth, Lady Barnard). At some point, Thomas made the short move to Huntingdonshire and on March 27, 1807 was married for a second time to Elizabeth Marriott. The couple would go on to have 10 children, the 8th of which was my G-G Grandfather, James. We can say, based on some circumstantial evidence, that Thomas was probably employed as a thatchmaster (and possibly a tenant farmer of sorts). This is supported by the fact that Thomas worked as his church's sexton (and was probably a Verger), which meant that he was responsible for maintaining the church's cemetery, grounds, etc.

Thomas served faithfully for over fifty years as church clerk and sexton for the Church of St. Margaret of Hemingford Abbots, the family's local Anglican parish. It is interesting to note the fact that Thomas' family had apparently maintained a very close attachment to the Church of England for several generations. This is noteworthy because Huntingdonshire was also the birthplace of the infamous Oliver Cromwell, who as we know, overthrew the English crown during the English Civil War. Cromwell's hatred for the Church of England is no mystery to historians. His Puritan leanings were well known to all, and his hometown of Huntingdonshire was certainly aware of, and sympathetic to the views of its favorite son. In addition, Huntingdonshire was home to a massive 19th century surge of Baptist a Quakers, the same time that Thomas was serving in the Anglican church. As a result, the Hart Family's loyal attachment to the Church of England essentially flew in the face of the sweeping tides of change that were taking over the English countryside. Staying loyal to the faith of his fathers was surely a chore for Thomas.

Life in Huntingdonshire must have been an interesting experience for Thomas. Though never a massive center of commerce and industry, the small town did experience a wide range of changes in the 19th century. Expanding industry and increasing agricultural demand were the main changes that would have certainly impacted Thomas' life choices. And if Thomas was employed as a tenant farmer/thatchmaster (which is almost certainly the case), the emerging forces of market capitalism were probably overwhelming. Instead of following in the traditional land subsistence economy that had been standard operating procedure for decades, Thomas was probably forced to acquiesce to new market demands and pressures. No matter what the case, it is clear that Thomas was able to (at least while his kids were young) provide a happy, stable life. As his son James would later write, Thomas and Elizabeth were "held in high esteem."

But as is the case with life, somewhere along the line things changed for Thomas. Probably the result of market forces, the stability of life in Huntingdonshire was becoming more difficult to sustain, and as a result, Thomas eventually longed to follow his son's lead and immigrate to the United States. In an 1854 letter to James' wife, Emily, Thomas wrote:

I long for the time when we shall have your presence more fully. I wish I was on the ocean now. I would rather be drowned in the might of the sea than spend my last days in this country. I am quite tired of it & that will be joyful to meet to part no more, to be with them I so dearly love.
There are several reasons why Thomas may have grown tired of his native soil. First, the English middle class of the 1800's had experienced decades of economic and political pressure. The budding industrial world and emergence of large scale market economics heaped tremendous burdens on the English working class. As a result, criminal activity skyrocketed as impoverished citizens were forced to seek other means for their survival. Workplace theft, begging, prostitution, petty theft, shoplifting, receiving of stolen goods all became commonplace practices as many of the poor were left to their own devices.

For a man like Thomas Hart, who spent an incredible amount of time in the affairs of the church, the plight of the poor was a reality he had to be extremely familiar with. After all, the church was oftentimes the last beacon of hope to those who had nowhere else to turn. As historians Steven King and Allanah Tomkins point out:

For most of its history, the local church parishes had controlled and ordered their poor with a combination of national legislation and local initiative. Poor relief was usually organized by the parish vestry [which Thomas was most likely a part of] who appointed an overseer of the poor to administer relief. Poor relief was an essentially face-to-face system, focused on the relationship between pauper and parish officer.
In other words, Thomas Hart would have been very familiar with the intimate details of poverty relief in his community. In fact, it is likely that Thomas himself had fallen on hard times. In a January, 1854 journal entry, James Hart wrote:

I wrote a letter to Mr. Linton asking his assistance & influence to get my Father & Mother away with me to America, alleging as a cause their age and the distressing times, giving as an apology his past kindness and exigency of the case (my emphasis).
It therefore comes as no surprise that Thomas, and thousands of his fellow countrymen, would look across the Atlantic and see greener pastures. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo completed, the United States had what must have seemed like an endless supply of land and resources just waiting to be plucked.

But perhaps there was a second reason that Thomas wished to immigrate to the United States. In his letter to James' wife, Emily, Thomas states that he had been working with James on an arrangement that would end with Thomas and his wife "going to the Valley." This is noteworthy because the Mormons had settled the Salt Lake valley by this time and were already starting construction on the temple. Now, perhaps Thomas was simply referring to the Mississippi River valley near St. Louis, where James and Emily were living at the time, but there can also be little doubt that Thomas would have been aware of the Mormon settlement in the west. In addition, it is worth pointing out that most early saints referred to Salt Lake as "Zion", "Deseret" and "the Valley." If Thomas was trying to refer to St. Louis why not simply say St. Louis? By writing "going to the Valley" (capital V), one wonders if Thomas was looking forward to settling with the Saints in Salt Lake. After all, he knew that this is where James and his family would eventually end up.

I find this significant because aside from James converting to Mormonism, Thomas' son John and daughter Elizabeth were also members (along with their spouses). There is little doubt that Thomas, and his wife Elizabeth, were familiar with the church's doctrines. If Thomas was wanting to convert, it would have made sense to move first. After all, he was a prominent figure in his community's parish. To avoid angering the church's parishioners, and to maintain social graces, Thomas would have needed to relocate before converting. The impropriety of converting to Mormonism and remaining in Huntingdonshire would have been almost too much to bear, especially in their older age and poor health. Unfortunately, Thomas and Elizabeth were never able to fulfill their dream of immigrating to the United States. Elizabeth fell on poor health and died on Christmas day, 1862. Thomas followed her four years later, passing away in January of 1866.

There is no doubt in my mind that Thomas Hart's devotion rubbed off on his children, particularly James. Though he never crossed the Atlantic, his love of God and devotion to family crossed all oceans and is felt even 150 years later by his descendants. Thomas' steadfast life is an example of how the integrity of one common man can change the world for the thousands of descendants who have and will continue to follow his lead. And for his descendants, Thomas' testimony of God is captured in his letter to his daughter-in-law, Emily when he wrote:

"Whether we live or die, we shall be safe, for God will hide us in the cleft of the rock, his faithful ones, and truth shall be my shield and buckler. He is also the house of my salvation. O what a happy thing it is when one can say Jesus died for my sake. O what joy to anticipate the time when this earth will be celestialized, when we shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, no more to be tormented by the scoffer and the infidel, when we shall see that spoken in Revelations, a woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and 12 stars on her head: a beautiful emblem of the church of God. O, my dear, no tongue can tell nor heart can conceive the things that God has laid up for them that love him.
Thank you, great-great-great Grandpa for your example and faithfulness. I look forward to the day when you and I meet!

Thomas Hart's work was completed for him on the following dates:
Baptism: 29 May 1894, Logan, UT.
Endowment: 30 May 1894, Logan, UT.
Sealed to parents: 4 Dec. 1968, Logan, UT.

Elizabeth Marriott's work was completed on the following dates:
Baptism: 29 May 1894, Logan, UT.
Endowment: 30 May 1894, Logan, UT.
Sealed to parents: 11 Mar. 1993, Idaho Falls.

Thomas and Elizabeth were sealed on 30 May, 1894 in Logan, UT.

***I, Bradley A. Hart, am the son of Alan W. Hart, who was the son of Wendell D. Hart, who was the son of Arthur W. Hart, who was the son of James H. Hart, who was the son of Thomas Hart.***

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an amazing heritage. This was beautifully written. I believe that Thomas would be so pleased with your words and perspective on his life and the circumstances in which he lived. Thank you for taking the time to research and compose this meaningful piece of family history! It made me cry.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to know that apart of the Shakespeare's still live on(well a part anyway) I see writing is in your blood. Keep it up and I suggest writing a book? Thank you x

Anonymous said...

I think you will find it is not a story about the Shakespeare connection .... the Hart family came from William's sister Joan Hart who m William Henry Hart and had 4 children which makes William Shakespeare Uncle William ..... my husband is also a descendant from the same line as you his dad is Joseph Henry Hart the "Henry" came down the line till Joseph .... Lady Bernard
? yes a myth .... this was n fact Shakespeares daughter who m Lord Bernard after her first husband died .. Hope this helps ....

Anonymous said...

Amazing! Are these Harts direct relations to Henry Hart- Birmingham gunmaker of the 1800's...Henry and .Elizabeths fourth daughter and sixth child Helen Hart DOB 16/03/1842 and the founder of Womens suffrage in Australasia? I am a Hart and interested

Anonymous said...

Yes I also agree that we have an amazing heritage ..... I am also the offspring from Elizabeth Marriott and Thomas Hart from Huntigdonshire and I marvel in our heritage although we have no proof back to the Shakespeare clan we have very strong links, my dad Joseph Henry Hart had always said he had a famous ggrandfather who his middle name was after however the Shakespeare foundation will not enter into any correspondence with me, Joan Shakespeare was an amazing woman ........

phillip hart said...

Im a descendant of henry hart the Birmingham gunmaker from new canal street too, I have a book about Helen hart wrote by a lady in Australia my email is prh.autos@yahoo.co.uk any more info would be excellent

PA said...

I am a relative. My grandfather is Marcus Feilding Hart. Thank you for writing this. I will pass it on to my children.