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Civil War battle scene.
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President Abraham Lincoln.



Grandfather, George Washington Jarvis, was born on August 16, 1844 in Felton, Delaware. Like many people of the day, he was named after a president. He was fair and thin-skinned. He claimed to be of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction, even though he hardly knew his real parents. His father died when he was young, leaving his mother with the impossible lot of caring for six sons and two daughters. Several of the children were placed in foster homes with written agreements specifying their care and education. One boy was sent to Princeton, Illinois, and received an excellent education in various disciplines.

Grandfather, however, went to a Delaware family which, from the outset made no attempt to honor its pledge to properly care for and educate him. Instead, both foster parents were exceedingly cruel to him, thinking of him as a white captive worker, similar to the way they viewed their black slaves. Delaware was a slave state even though it fought on the Union side in the Civil War. His foster mother, when vexed, repeatedly slapped him in the face causing his ears to ring for hours afterwards. In later life, he was partially deaf in one ear.

The black slaves of his foster family fared even worse; his foster father had little compassion for them. Grandfather remembers his foster father tying a slave to a tree and beating him with a whip until he fainted, then beating him still more. When the slave was finally released from his bonds he collapsed on the ground and had to be carried away. My grandfather sincerely believed that there had to be a “hell” for retribution to such cruel people.

In later life, Grandfather put his childhood experiences out of his mind and rarely ever talked about them with my father, who in turn kept silent on the subject. It was only when I began researching this book that my father opened up on the subject and told me what little he knew of this proverbial skeleton in the family closet.

Grandfather received no formal education. Rather, his foster parents worked him from sunup to sundown and never even taught him to write his name. Illiteracy wasn’t uncommon in those days and other people, just as my grandfather did, signed their names with an “X.” As intelligent and resourceful as Grand-father was, his complete lack of formal education was always a limitation and also accounts for a gap in the written family records.


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