Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Civil War
Historical Sketch of the Wren Family.
Prepared by JOHN Y. WREN
and read by him at the first reunion of the Wren family
Held at Tumbling Run, Pottsville, Pa., June 17th, 1896.
The Wren Family
Note: Pennsylvania Volunteers William Christian, John Powers, Joseph Gilmore, and several Wren family members are mentioned in this sketch of the Wren family.
The occasion which has brought us together is to me, and I hope it will be to you all, a memorable one, for we now meet for the first time in a reunion of the Wren family. While we are thus brought together a golden opportunity is offered to each of us to suggest and add something which will enhance the interest and pleasure of this meeting.
The poet has beautifully said:
How dear to our hearts are the scenes of our childhood,
When fond recollection brings them to view,
The Orchard, the meadow, the deep tangled wildwood
And all the loved spots that our infancy knew.
Such memories will give us the keynote to recount in plain and humble phrase the many links which have bound and are still binding us together as a family. As we recall the different members of our family they bring to mind many phases of character worthy of notice and admiration.
I remark, in passing, that it is specially appropriate that we hold this first meeting at Pottsville, for this place to many of us brings up the most pleasant memories and associations. While the place assigned tome on the program by our worthy chairman is no doubt appropriate, yet I must confess that it might be filled by a more able advocate; but permit me to say, by no one who could be more in sympathy with the spirit which has brought us together.
As the oldest living member of the family of William Wren and Jean (McCreath) Wren, it is no doubt expected that I shall be able to go a little farther back in the history of our family than its younger members can do, and I shall do my best to give you a brief history of where we came from and how we got to this great and beautiful country. In doing this I shall have to depend largely on memory and circumstantial evidence, for I regret to say that old papers and documents, which our dear mother had carefully preserved, were after her death little cared for and were lost or destroyed. I have often seen and read them, and if we had them here today they would add much to the interest of the paper I am now reading and be valued as heirlooms by our family.
I will first speak of my grandfather William Wren, who was the great-great-grandfather of many of the children here today. He appears to have been born in England, about one hundred and thirty (130) years ago, or about the year 1766. As to his parentage, nationality and occupation I cannot speak with certainty. I can say that when quite a young man he left England and went into Scotland, and when but a short time among the Scotch people, he was smitten with the charms of a bonnie Scotch lassie and made her his wife. Our grandparents spent their lives in the vicinity of the old town of Ayr in Aryshire, Scotland, and, whatever the occupation of grandfather, he succeeded in accumulating property of considerable value in houses and lands. I have seen the land and some of the houses, having when a boy, spent some time with my aunts at Ayr for the benefit of my health, which was not very robust at that time.
On the death of grandfather this property came, in the natural course of things, to my father as the oldest son, and when our family left Scotland for America it was left in the care of his sisters and their families. No benefits from this property were ever received by father, but his sisters and their families in Scotland received any rents or income there may have been from it.
On the death of father, brother William the oldest son fell heir to this property, and he sold it largely out of sympathy, to the relatives at Ayr for a very low price, receiving after all expenses were paid as he said, "barely enough to buy a good suit of clothes and a small spree."
Grandfather's family consisted of seven children, four sons and three daughters. My father was the oldest of the sons, the others being named Gilbert, George and Thomas. The names of the daughters were Jean, Susan and Nancy.
All of the sons were married before leaving Scotland; Father to Jean McCreath, uncle Gilbert to Jennie Hay, uncle George to Menah Cuthill, and uncle Thomas to Janet Love. Aunt Jean married John McNinch, aunt Susan married Alexander Savidge (or Savage), and aunt Nancy was still unmarried when I visited her as a boy, which is the last I know about her. Descendants of these aunts are no doubt still living in Scotland.
Before closing this part of my subject, which deals with our family on the other side of the broad Atlantic, I wish to speak of one who was related to us, but whether on father's or mother's side of the house I do not know. In some of the pleasant talks which I had with my mother at different times she spoke of a great great grandmother whom she had often seen named Jane George, who lived to the extremely old age of one hundred and ten (110) years. She was highly respected, and a painted portrait of her is preserved in one of the galleries in Glasgow, Scotland.
However, we are not looking for very ancient pedigree, but rather seek to travel on reliable ground, as we connect the past with the present, so we will leave the history of our older forbears and devote our time to the more recent history of our family.
Beginning with our own family, that is the family of my parents, we find that both father and mother were born in Ayrshire, Scotland; father in "the auld town of Ayr," and mother at Tarbolton, a place made memorable by the poet Burns in his poems, especially in that one in which lie bids farewell to his Masonic brethren of Tarbolton Lodge, of which he was a member.
Shortly after marriage my parents removed from Ayrshire to Lanarkshire and located near Glasgow, at Clyde Iron Works, on the banks of the Clyde river. They continued to live at that place during the time in which all of their children were born and until they came to America.
Father's occupation was connected with mining, sinking of shafts and developing mineral lands, called in Scotland a "sinker." He was employed for a number of years by Colin Dunlop, one of the most extensive owners and operators of coal and iron works in Scotland, one of his works being the celebrated "Clyde Iron Works." The "Hot Air Blast" for the more economical smelting of iron was perfected at these works. Mr. Dunlop also discovered the "Black Band" iron ore underlying the coal seams at some of his mines, and proved its utility as a source of supply for a good quality of iron.
Both of these discoveries were made during the time when father was in the employ of Mr. Dunlop and they have been of great benefit to mankind. They also resulted in making him a very wealthy man.
My mother was the only daughter in her family, in which there were several sons. The family was well brought up amid the scenes of a pleasant country home, by parents who were industrious, honest people. Some of mother's brothers were mechanics, and one of them was a soldier in the British army at the time of the campaign against Napoleon in Egypt and won some distinction as a brave soldier.
My parent's family consisted of nine children, five sons and four daughters. Brother William the eldest son was born in the year 1814, and died at Pottsville, Pa., in the year 1872. He was married to Mary Caulder on September 29th, 1839, as is shown by the record of the Rev. Joseph McCool, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, of Pottsville, who performed the marriage ceremony. I used to joke Mary sometimes by comparing her to Burn's Highland Mary, whom he described as being both handsome and loving. Brother William raised a family of five sons and daughters, whose names may be given later on, for to enumerate all of the Wrens at this time might be confusing, as there is quite a large number of them. I understand that the number of descendants of William and Jean Wren, who are present here today, is about two hundred, and that some of them are absent.
My oldest sister Jean was born in the year 1816. She was married to Andrew Gilmour, a Scotchman, at Sydney, Cape Breton, and the fruits of their marriage was one son, Joseph A. Gilmour. Joseph enlisted in the army during the war of the "Rebellion" and rose to the rank of Major of the fourty-eighth Regiment, 48th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was killed by a sharpshooter while doing his duty in the presence of the enemy, and thus gave his young life for the flag of his country. He and his mother are both buried in the Presbyterian cemetery at Pottsville, Pa., and a fine monument marks the place where Major Gilmour sleeps his last sleep. After the war was over, Andrew Gilmour returned to his native land, Scotland and is buried among his people there.
Sister Agnes was born in the year 1818, and married John Weir, one of the Alien Weir family, in Nova Scotia, where they have always lived. She is now dead but left one of the largest families in the Wren family. Agnes and her husband paid one visit to Pottsville in my recollection.
Brother Hugh was born in the year 1820, and after being about five years in Nova Scotia he died, and lies buried in a rude grave yard on the banks of the East river. He was said to be a young man of much promise.
I was born in July, 1822, and in May, 1847, married Anne George in the city of Philadelphia, the Rev. Thomas Stockton performing the marriage ceremony. There were six children in my family two sons and four daughters, all living except the first girl Agnes, who died in Boston, Mass., in infancy, and is sleeping in a cemetery on the borders of the ocean. We now live at Plymouth, Pa.
Brother Thomas was born in the year 1824. He was twice married. His first wife was Mary Hay and his second wife. Sarah Shomo. There were children from both marriages, some of whom have died, but I am pleased to know that a majority of them honor this first family reunion with their presence.
Brother James was born in the year 1825. He also was twice married. His first wife was Catherine (or Cassie) Mortimer, and his second wife is Clara Johns. There were children by both marriages, most of them living as young men and women, an honor to their parents. The family now lives at Boyertown, Berks County, Pa.
Sister Janet was born in the year 1828, and was married to William Christian, the son of an old resident of Pottsville. Her husband was an iron moulder by trade and was engaged in the iron business fora number of years at Ashland, Pa. They eventually removed to Philadelphia, where they both died, and are buried in the Philopatrian cemetery. They had a family of sons and daughters.
Sister Susan was born in the year 1830, and married John Powers of Pottsville, Pa. He was a pattern-maker by trade and a good mechanic. They reared a large family of sons and daughters who are all filling useful positions in the world. I feel pleased that their dear mother, sister Susan, is spared to be with us today. She is the youngest child of our family, and the only daughter living to enjoy the affection of her children and grandchildren.
I have now given an outline of the Wren family from the year l766 to the year 1831, when our father William Wren and his oldest son William embarked at Greenock in the good ship Hero for Nova Scotia and after taking a last fond look at the dear land of their birth, Scotland, and a pleasant voyage across the Atlantic, they landed at Pictou harbor.
Father was accompanied on the same ship by his three brothers George, Gilbert and Thomas with their wives. There was also a number of Scotch people bound for the same destination on the vessel who had been carefully selected for their reliability and skill as practical miners by agents sent from England to Scotland. They were engaged to work in Nova Scotia for the Rundel, Bridge & Rundel Company of London, a wealthy corporation which owned valuable lands in that: province. The company was beginning to develop coal and other minerals under the name of The Albion Mines Mining Co. Mr. Richard Smith, one of the London partners, came to Scotland and engaged father to go to America for them. He also authorized him to select some practical miners who were experienced in sinking, ventilating and operating mines to go to Nova Scotia. Good wages were guaranteed which should be paid regularly every month, and it can be said at this day to the credit of this company that in sixty years they have never failed for a single month to pay their employees promptly.
The new arrivals received a warm welcome from the residents of Pictou, who, although the town was a small one, were noted for their hospitality and genuine kindness.
After father had been somewhat over a year in America, a letter came to mother in Scotland saying "pack up, sell off your goods as best you can and come to us in America. We have paid your passage and expenses in the city of Glasgow to make you comfortable on your way." Then came the packing up, amid many tears, which could not be held back, and partings from dear friends and associations, which are among the most trying experiences of life. Everything being in readiness, our dear mother with her eight small children, embarked at Bromelaw in the staunch vessel Isabella of Glasgow, and bade farewell to the shores of old Scotland, to cross the broad Atlantic to America. The passage over was a very stormy one and lasted more than seven weeks, entailing many hardships which could not be provided against in the contract that father made with the ship owners.
After the perils and discomforts of the voyage, the joyful words "Land ahead" were one day heard aboard ship, which filled all hearts with gladness and none more than that of our good mother as she stood on the deck with her eight children about her to catch the first sight of the new land. I have often heard her say that the first sight she got of America pleased her, and no doubt inspired her with new hope and courage to meet the trials which came to her later on. The Isabella glided smoothly through the Gut of Canso and cast anchor in Pictou harbor, Nova Scotia. It was indeed a happy day when all the family of Jean and William Wren were reunited in the fair land of promise, America.
We stayed over night in the town of Pictou and the next day started on our journey up the East river for our destination, Albion Mines, twelve miles inland. The only means of transportation at that early day was in crude coal boats, steamboats or railroads not having yet been introduced in that new country. In fact these improvements were so new that most of the much older parts of the world had seen but little of them. The progress of these boats depended principally on being "poled" by muscular arms, aided somewhat by the winds and the tides. By these means we eventually reached Albion Mines, where we disembarked and were met by many friends who gave us a good, hearty Scotch welcome to our new home, which by the will of God was to be our dwelling place for the next six years.
Those were memorable years for our family, among the most sad events being the death of our father at the end of four years from pneumonia, the effects of a cold which he had contracted. Our brother Hugh also died about one year after father. They are both buried in a crude graveyard in sight of New Glasgow and Albion Mines. Our uncle Gilbert had died about a year before father so these three members of our family were permitted to enjoy the bright prospects of the new country for but a short time.
The death of father proved a hard blow to mother, leaving her a widow in a new country, with eight children most of them small, and with no strong arm to lean upon or to provide means for their support. I have often heard mother say, in her Scotch way when oppressed with cares, "Weel it does seem true that the swift mare always gets the lang road tae gang"; and at other times, "It is no use to sit down and greet"; and, "It is a lang lane that has nae turn in it." One of her favorite sayings was, "It takes a stout heart for a steep brae," and with spartan courage she toiled on day after day, and often long into the night to bring up her little family. Her highest ambition was to lay a foundation of good character in her children of Truth and Justice, which would meet the approving smiles of Heaven; and her efforts were crowned with God's approval, to whom she never forgot to return thanks for his goodness and mercies.
In the year 1837, inducements were held out to our family to remove to the United States, which after the approval of mother, resulted in brother William taking passage for that other new country about whose people and government we had heard much. He was to try the new location for a year and then let the family waiting in Nova Scotia know the condition of things. He sailed from Pictou and during a very stormy passage the vessel was wrecked and driven into the Bermuda Islands, but he eventually arrived safely at Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.
In about a year he wrote to the family saying that he had profitable work, and told mother to pack up her goods and come to the "States," that he had sent the necessary money to pay the passages and expenses of all the family. He remarked that mother would no doubt feel sorry to leave her piece of ground, cozy log house, garden and cows but that if the birds all flit away the nest would look very empty to her. The matter was fully discussed around the fireside, and mother said, "I believe every word William says is true. We are doing fairly well here, but I'll no say but what "The States" will be a better place, where the boys can learn some useful trades." To this the boys said amen, and so it was decided to come to the United States.
We are now again on the broad ocean and with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow have bid farewell to what had been our temporary home for the past six years. Our passage was made in a ship newly built at New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, named the Nancy Givin, and we had a pleasant voyage to New York city. The time on shipboard was at times enlivened by the Scotch band which came from Nova Scotia at the same time. After landing at New York, we went by railroad to Philadelphia and from there to Pottsville by canal boat up the Schuylkill Canal, the most convenient means of travel at that date into the coal fields of Schuylkill County. At Pottsville we received a warm and cordial welcome from the friends who had preceded us.
Our coming to the United States proved a complete success, financially and in other ways. The younger children were sent to school and the boys as they grew old enough were put to work, all helping to put money in mother's purse. Brother William, ever loyal and faithful, was working with us and for us.
In about a year brother William sent to Nova Scotia for his sweetheart Mary Caulder and on her arrival at Pottsville they were happily married giving the people of town their first experience in seeing a real Scotch wedding. Headed by the Scotch band playing "Aryshire Lassie" "The Campbells are Coming" and other Scotch airs, the wedding party marched from the bride's home down Market St. to the "White Horse" hotel, kept by Edward O'Conner, at the corner of Center and Mahantongo Streets, where the wedding took place. Rev. Joseph McCool performed the marriage ceremony, and all the Scotch friends turned out to make the affair a success. In fact it was so much of a success that before the minister had left the hotel another couple who were among the guests made up their minds to get married also and there were two weddings instead of one. With a taste of landlord O'Conner's mountain dew all went merry as a marriage bell; mettle was put into the heels of the lads and lassies and they danced and enjoyed themselves to their heart's content. I was there and remember this wedding very well.
When the remaining three brothers John, Thomas and James were old enough, we were apprenticed to the firm of Haywood & Snyder, who had the largest Machine Shop and Foundry at that time in Pottsville. We all served out our time faithfully, myself and James as machinists and Thomas as a moulder, and became skilled mechanics. We three brothers by industry and economy improved our condition until in the year 1849 we engaged in business for ourselves under the firm name of J. Y. Wren & Brothers. We rented the old foundry, formerly used to make cannon balls for the United States Government, and did business there forsome time.
We afterwards bought land from Francis Hughes, Esq., where the new Reading R. R. depot now stands at the corner of Railroad and Norwegian Streets, and built on it a new Foundry and Machine Shop which we named the Washington Iron Works. We carried on business at this place for a number of years. The firm of J. Y. Wren & Brothers was eventually dissolved and each of the brothers had a shop of his own.
I leave the details of the business of the Wren brothers without further elaboration. I will merely say at this place that by their industry and perseverance they established a good reputation for building machinery, engines and coal breakers for anthracite coal mines. Largely through their influence the first rolling mills were located at Pottsville, and the machinery for both of these mills was built at the Washington Iron Works. The Fishbach mill operated by Harris, Burnish & Co., was first built and afterwards the Palo Alto mill operated by Harris, Bright & Lee was built. Both of these mills were successfully operated for years and they were eventually very much enlarged and passed into other hands.
About this time there was also filled at the Washington Iron Works a large contract of machinery for the Gulf and Deep River Mining Co., of Egypt, North Carolina, consisting of engines, pumps and hoisting gearing; also an engine and fixtures for iron works six miles above Egypt. We also sold to the President of the Reading R. R. Co. a fifty horse power engine to be used in gold mining in North Carolina.
At the present day, of wonderfully improved machinery, which is shipped to all parts of the world without comment, it may seem trivial to speak of these matters; but fifty years ago the business which has grown to such gigantic proportions was but a weak and creeping infant, and the pioneers of that day were laying the foundations on which our present vast business is built. When the Wren brothers became established in business they took their brother William out of the mines and made him their engineer, a position that he filled faithfully for over twenty years.
The changes which time brings came also to the Wren brothers. They became separated in business, engaged in other business and removed to other parts of the State. I feel proud to say that they have always taken an active part in the progress and welfare of the communities in which their lots have been cast. These things bring up many pleasant memories, but I have not time on this occasion to speak to them, so I will leave them for others who shall come after me.
I may call our children the rising sun, while we of the older generation are the setting sun. I would say to them: Go forward, be just and fear not. Let all your efforts be on the side of God, Justice and Truth. Gird on tile armor that will best fit you to attain honorable manhood and womanhood. You are surrounded by many advantages which your sires did not have; realize them and use them in the large field that lies before you, in which there is room enough to win the victory.
It has been said that peace has its victories no less renowned than those of war, and you may attain them in the quiet walks of life and thus add lustre to the name of Wren. I hope your efforts will be crowned with success and meet with the approval of Providence. You have a good record to start with, for I can truly say that our family has ever been honest, industrious, obedient to the laws and loyal to the government.
The records of the War Department at Washington show that nine of our blood besides the husbands of two of our women folks served on the Union side in the terrible civil war from 1861 to 1865. Every one of them a volunteer willing to take the risks of war to preserve this great people as one undivided Nation. Some of them were among the "First Defenders" at the outbreak of the war and some of them were among the last to quit the field, at the end of the war. Seven of them came safely home at the end, while two of my nephews lost their lives in consequence of the war : William Ringgold Wren , 180th Regiment, died while a prisoner of war and Joseph A. Gilmour was killed following his duty as Major of the 48th Regiment, P. V. They gave their young lives in defense of the Government which they loved and honored. Today if we should call the roll, we would find that of the eleven brave volunteers who represented the Wren family five have passed to their reward; their names are
They all sleep within the boundaries of Pennsylvania.
I feel that I may have taxed your patience my friends in giving you my thoughts about the Wren family, but to me the subject is full of interest as I hope it is to you. I believe it could be still further extended to our mutual advantage, which may be done at some future time.
I will merely say in conclusion, that I am impressed with the idea that you will look back to this gathering of our family with more and more interest as the years pass, and from the very nature of things it is not at all probable that we will again all be together in one place as we are today. I therefore hope that all our recollections of this event will be of a kindly and pleasant nature.
Source: Read before the Schuylkill County Historical Society, 1907
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