Saturday, August 17, 1996 _ Gwynn Oak Park _ Baltimore, Maryland
Newspaper Article _ Saturday, August 17, 1996
Margaret Jane Gwynn
"Preserving The Past and Investing in the Future"
The Early Years ... Revisited
Over 170 years ago, on August 10, 1826, somewhere in Maryland a baby boy was born who would become the founding father of the Gwynn family. According to census records, both of Joshua's parents were born in Maryland. To date, their names and stations in life are unknown; however, presumedly, one or both of them were slaves. Several oral sources indicate that Joshua's mother was buried on the Burton property.
Joshua himself was a slave owned by the Burton family in the Glen Arm/Long Green area of Baltimore County. It is believed that his last owner was James Burton. (The source of the Gwynn surname is as yet unknown, but oral history indicates a connection between Joshua and a Caleb Gwynn Burton.) At some point relatively early in his adult life, Joshua bought his freedom reportedly using money he was allowed to keep from stonemasonry jobs worked after he had completed a day's work for the Burtons. (Oral history indicates that Joshua bought his freedom sometime between 1847 and 1851 for $1000.) Although records of Joshua's manumission have not been located, it is clear that he was free by 1857, when the first of his many real estate purchases was recorded.
Sometime during the period right after buying his freedom, it is believed that Joshua worked at the Greenmount Cemetery at North and Greenmount Avenues in Baltimore City. There also appears to be an early connection with Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania -- a small town north of Perry Hall (Baltimore County) that almost straddles the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is almost certain that he acquired the money to start buying property in Baltimore County during this period.
In 1858, a son, Joshua Edward, was born to Joshua from his 1854 union with a Maryland woman, Ellen Booth Johnson. Joshua and Ellen, who had previously married Henry Johnson in 1847, were married March 5, 1854 reportedly in Baltimore City by Rev. John Jordan. According to a divorce notice published in The Maryland Journal, Ellen left the Maryland homestead in 1864, "and is now residing in the State of Connecticut, as [Joshua] believes." Ellen left the young Joshua Edward behind with his father; however, the same divorce notice indicates that the couple had a second "child born since she left him." Joshua and Ellen were divorced in 1867. Joshua Edward, however, maintained close ties throughout his life with the elder Joshua and his second family.
An interesting side note of Joshua and Ellen's marriage is a 1854 record of Ellen having purchased 25 year-old Joseph Gwynn from the Burtons. It is presumed Joseph was Joshua's brother; however, no further record of Joseph has been located.
In 1868 at age 42, Joshua married Margaret Jane Roberts, a 20 year old teacher working at Dowden's Chapel in Putty Hill near Perry Hall. (She is believed to be the first black woman to teach school in Baltimore County.) Margaret Jane was born October 16, 1848 in Nassaguayer, Holton County, Ontario, Canada, where she also received her education. Census records indicate that she came to the United States from Canada in 1865, apparently in the company of her mother.
Margaret Jane was the daughter of an Irish immigrant, Eleanor Eckley, and, according to census records, an as yet unidentified man born in Maryland. (Because Eleanor is listed as "white" and Margaret Jane is listed as "mulatto" in the 1880 census, it is presumed that Margaret Jane's father was black.) At this time, Eleanor's arrival date in North America is unknown, but it is believed that she arrived in Canada with a sister from County Tyrone, Ireland. (A photograph of a woman taken in Belfast, Ireland and identified as the Canadian great aunt of Joshua and Margaret Jane's children has recently been uncovered. It is very possible that this is a photograph of Eleanor Eckley’s sister.) It is also unclear why Margaret Jane's maiden name was "Roberts" and Eleanor used "Eckley" as her surname.
Joshua and Margaret can only be described as a "dynamic duo", even by today's standards. In his younger days, Joshua is reported to have worked as a stonemason and carpenter. However, over time he became a prosperous farmer, ultimately becoming rather wealthy through the acquisition of land. The Baltimore County land records show multiple purchases and sales by Joshua between 1857 and 1890. As indicated above, the first land purchase record that has been located shows that Joshua purchased a portion of "Truman's Acquaintance" from James Burton in 1857 for $200. The first land sale record that has been found shows that Joshua and Ellen sold a portion of "Thompson's Choice" to Benjamin Davage in 1859. (There is a close connection between the Gwynns and the Davages that predates the marriages between Joshua's children and Davages, going back to the times when members of both families were owned by the Burtons.) In addition to the 200 acre homestead farm in the Glen Arm area, Joshua reportedly acquired houses in Towson and Mount Washington, and land in Glen Arm proper. According to his September 28, 1907 obituary in the Union, at the time of his death, he was among the largest land owners in that section of the county. As far as is known, none of this property remains in the hands of the Gwynn family today.
Margaret Jane seems to have been born "before her time". As a young single woman, she had a career as a teacher. After marriage, along with being a wife, mother, and homemaker, Margaret Jane found time to write hymns, poetry, and at least one play. A poignant example of her poetry is this little verse written in her own hand that was found between the pages of one of her books...
To the Memory of Aron Philip Gwynn
She was a devoted church worker and a true pillar of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Long Green, Maryland for over sixty years, serving in many roles including church organist.
One of the things for which Margaret Jane is most fondly remembered by family and friends in the Mt Zion community is the "Pigeon Coterie", a Bible study group primarily for young people. Once a year, a day was set aside at Mt. Zion as Pigeon Coterie Day at which the group's members, identified by specially made badges, conducted the program.
Thirteen children were born to the union of Joshua and Margaret Jane between the years 1869 and 1890 -- Caleb, Solomon, Joseph, David, Louisa, Mary, Moses, Martha, the twins Margaret and Aaron, John, Benjamin, and Elijah. Of these, eleven lived to adulthood (twelve if Solomon who died just shy of 21 is counted); most lived well into the twentieth century. According to census records from as early as 1880, everyone in the family could read and write -- from Joshua and Margaret Jane down to the schoolage children.
Joshua died September 20, 1907 at age 81. Margaret Jane followed on February 1, 1935 at age 86. They are both buried in the cemetery at Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church -- as are Eleanor Eckley, Joshua Edward, and most of Joshua and Margaret Jane's children.
The chronicle will continue with the next generation....
Never Forget where you came from!
Page designed & maintained by Joshua Walley
(grandson of John Arkless Gwynn, Sr.)
All photos are the property of the Gwynn Family.