Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rebecca - A Pioneering Woman

Rebecca Davis Ebey must have been an amazing woman to strike out alone, without her husband, on the Overland Trail heading west from Plum Grove, Missouri, to the Washington Territory. In 1851 her journey begins with her two young sons (Ellison and Eason) ages 5 and 7 as part of a Wagon Train. She met up with her brother Thomas Davis and the Walter Crockett family from Missouri and they all continued west to the Oregon Trail and then to Whidbey Island, Washington, to meet up with her husband Isaac Ebey.

Rebecca and Isaac married when Rebecca was 21 and living in Missouri. After their marriage in 1843 they resided at Plum Grove Place Farm. Five years later, in 1848, Isaac reluctantly left Rebecca and the boys on the farm in Missouri and he headed for the Oregon Territory and then the California Gold Rush. After returning to the Oregon Territory Isaac took the opportunity to look for farming land for his family to live on. Later, Isaac staked his claim for 640 acres on Whidbey Island in Washington Territory. When he sent for Rebecca and the boys, in early 1851, the excited family loaded up what they could take with them and started their pioneering journey west, in April of 1851, arriving on Whidbey Island in October of the same year.

How difficult and heart-wrenching it must have been for such a young woman and her two small children to leave their familiar surroundings of Plum Grove and her childhood family behind, not knowing if she would ever see her parents again. Life on the trail could be rough and brutal and exhausting, but Rebecca pushed forward knowing she would soon see her husband Isaac again (after a three year absence) and bring joy back into their lives with her family together again. She and Isaac had only been married 8 years by the time she reached their new farm on Whidbey Island.

Shortly after her arrival on the Island Rebecca came down with Tuberculosis, which was common during this time period, and after the birth of her 3rd child Hettie she became very ill with her sickness and never recovered, dying 4 months after her daughter was born, in 1853. Rebecca and Isaac had only been married 10 years when she passed away and she left behind a devastated husband and 3 small children for him to raise and care for alone.

After the arrival of Isaac’s parents in October of 1854, Isaac’s father Jacob staked his claim of 320 acres right next to Isaac’s claim. Jacob and his wife Sarah named their new farm “Sunnyside” after the original family farm in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania. Sarah cared for her son’s disabled young daughter at their new log cabin home on the ridge above the Prairie, until she died a very young 7 year old.

Rebecca’s parents headed west from Missouri as well, to join their children in the new Washington Territory. As Rebecca feared, her mother died on their journey west and buried along the Overland Trail; she never saw her mother again.

Rebecca’s short life was packed with responsibility, adventure, the unknown, loneliness, hard work, and the love for her family. A woman of personal strength and determination set the platform for other American women to look up to and follow. Rebecca died in 1853 and is buried next to her husband Isaac in the Sunnyside Cemetery next to the Jacob Ebey homestead, which still stands today almost 160 years later.

More details of the life of Rebecca Ebey will be revealed by professional storyteller Jill Johnson at the Ebey’s Forever Conference November 6th. Sign up today!

Thanks to Sally Straathof for this post.

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