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My American Melting Pot | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

My American Melting Pot

Holly Tree GapWhat happens in life when you are presented with 2 very different paths to follow and must make a choice?

As I have researched my family tree, I found a young Scottish girl who made stark choices. Isabella Miller, the daughter of Sir Michael Miller and Lady Margaret McNaughten, was born in 1718 in Perth, Scotland, to a life of privilege. She had one brother. Her father’s business was making broadcloth.

In some stories, James McEwen, of a Scottish clan, was an apprentice to Sir Michael. In other stories, he worked in her father’s mills.

Isabella met James, fell in love, and they wanted to marry. Her parents refused because James was beneath their social class. So Isabella and James secretly went to Edinburgh and married in 1740. The Millers were livid that their daughter acted against their wishes and disowned her. She never had contact with her family, or her brother, again.

Isabella and James began to build a life together and first lived in Scotland. They had 5 children.

In 1753, they emigrated to America to build a new life – venturing across the Atlantic with 5 children, the oldest of whom was probably 9. I wonder if the kids asked, “Are we there yet?” while on the boat.

They landed in Pennsylvania and then built a life in North Carolina. They had 3 more children in America – 7 of their children survived to adulthood. James died in 1766 and is buried in Statesville, North Carolina.

In 1798, Isabella went with several of her children to Tennessee to build a new life as pioneers. There is a historic sign in Holly Tree Gap, Tennessee, telling of their arrival close to the present day Nashville. She died in 1814, at the age of 96, in Rutherford, Tennessee.

The story doesn’t end there. Her only brother, David, continued to build the family’s mills in Scotland but never married. When he died in 1810, he gave his fortune to his sister and her children, if anyone ever knew who or where they were. With the War of 1812, there was limited communication, and no one knew of his sister’s children who were building a new life in Tennessee. His estate was worth about 3 million pounds sterling.

Because no one knew where his sister was, or where her children were, the money was held in trust by the government. In 1850, the British Parliament passed a law that claims to British estates would be barred after 1880.

When Isabella’s descendants finally learned of the fortune they could have inherited, they sent an attorney to England to investigate. No one could find the original will of David Miller, and their claim was lost. A January 3, 1881, American newspaper headline read, “Return of J.B. Campbell from Scotland – No Millions for the McEwen Heirs.”

If we look at only material value, what a loss.

I think differently. Isabella saw a chance at love and took it, regardless of the cost to her. She and James built a new life, in a new world. Their children may not have inherited a material fortune. Instead, they inherited the values imparted from a family who worked together to build a home and life in a new world.

And that legacy is priceless beyond measure.


Wow. It's Quiet Here...

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