Monday, December 6, 2010

Henry J. Wilson and Amanda Jane Dent, Soul Mates

Written on the night of November 22, 2010

Why today of all days am I trying to sort how I feel about soul mates, about fate? Are the two interchangeable? I have spent several hours pondering the question does everyone marry their soul mate? Or do most people only marry someone they love? Is there a difference? Are we all destined to meet our soul mate?

Though out time people have written about searching for their soul mate, finding true eternal undying love. In Hebrew a soul mate is called a Bashert; your one predestined mate. The person who is determined by God to be your destiny, your fate. When you meet it is kismet. It is believed when soul mates meet they share a love so deep it spans all time. They are forever bound in life and in death. Soul mates complete each other what one lacks the other excels at. They are in a way two opposites that come together to form one soul, one perfect love. When a soul mate dies, the other has a pain so deep they feel lost, empty without the other.

With the common knowledge of what or rather who a soul mate is, I wonder does everyone have a soul mate? Will we know instantly when we find them or do we realize it over time? What happens if we never find our soul mate? Why are some people lucky and live happily ever after, while others are destined to live their life always longing for a person they have lost or searching for the love they never had?

These are questions that have been fueling my thoughts all day. Maybe it is because tomorrow is an anniversary of sorts for me. Most people would think since I am 47 and have never married I do not believe in soul mates, true love. It is quite the opposite, I believe in love, soul mates. There are days like today when I have a hard time believing in the "happily ever after". I wonder if soul mates have a love so deep that it will eventually lead to unbearable sorrow.

One love story that has always captivated my heart is the story of my great great grandparents, Henry J. Wilson and Amanda Jane Dent. Theirs is a story of love and heartache. A love so strong that neither family, poverty not even death could separate the two. They were I believe, soul mates.

Henry John Wilson was born in Ireland and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1850 at the age of thirty. He worked successfully in Philadelphia for several years before he moved to Iowa. There is no explanation why Henry left a good paying job in Philadelphia and moved to Iowa. From the stories I have been told, I learned Henry felt the need to head west. He felt something calling him, later he would say he felt someone calling his heart. Henry settled in Troy Township next to the home of Samuel and Anna Dent. It was there that Henry first saw Amanda Jane Dent, Samuel's daughter. Henry was a poor Irish emigrant and Amanda was a descendant of one of Maryland’s founding families. He had grown up in poverty and starvation in Ireland. She had been born to moderate wealth in Indiana and later moved with her family to Iowa. In Iowa she lived on a large farm. Life for Amanda was easy compared to most women her age. She was educated, Henry was not. She was a vibrant young woman, he was twenty years older than her. According to family lore, it was love at first sight for both Henry and Amanda. When he first saw Amanda talking to her brother he could not take his eyes off her. When she turned and smiled at him, according to each, they had both found their soul mates. She knew when she looked into his eyes she had found her home.

Afraid of what her family would say, Amanda hid her relationship with Henry, her father's new farmhand. When Henry gathered the courage to ask for Amanda’s hand in marriage he was immediately fired, shown the door and told to stay away from Amanda by her father Samuel. Even though she was heartbroken, Amanda obeyed her father and agreed to court other men. No matter how many men came calling she could not stop thinking about Henry. Their love was too strong. She felt lost without him by her side. Once she was of age, Amanda disobeyed her father and began to see Henry again. On March 24, 1864 Henry and Amanda were married. They were two opposites deeply in love joined in the bonds of holy matrimony. Together they were complete, happy.

Amanda’s family did not understand her attraction, her love for Henry. She was a beautiful woman who could have married any young man in the county. Several young men made it clear they wanted to marry Amanda but once she met Henry her heart was taken. No man could compare to Henry, he was the love of her life. She believed he was her destiny from the start. The day after Amanda married Henry, a letter was delivered to their house announcing she had been disowned by her family. To her father she had married beneath her status, he was after all poor and Irish. Her marriage was a dishonor/shame on the family. It did not matter that she was in love, only that she had disobeyed her father.

Amanda cried for days when her family disowned her but she would not give in to their demands to leave him. Even in poverty she proudly stood by Henry's side. She wrote to her father, tried to convince him she was where she belonged. Her heart told her she was meant to be with Henry, he made her whole, he completed her. She wrote without Henry she would not be able to breathe, he was her world, her life. If her father truly loved her he would understand such love and want his daughter to be happy.

When Amanda married Henry she gave up a large comfortable farm house with plenty of land to farm, plenty of food to eat and moved to a small house that she shared with Henry, his sister and his sister’s children. Amanda never looked back or regretted her decision. Henry devoted himself to Amanda; she loved him with all her heart. They were happy, in love and soon were expecting a child.

While she was pregnant Amanda knitted a baby blanket. On two opposite corners of the blanket Amanda embroidered her and Henry’s initials, on the other two hearts. It was a symbol of two soul mates coming together to form a child, their child. Sadly, Amanda Jane died giving birth to my great grandmother Amanda Jane Wilson. She would never see her child swaddled in the blanket she had made with love.

The story of Amanda's death was recorded in a neighbors diary and has been passed down through the generations. Amanda had been in heavy labor and struggling for several days when she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Henry sat on the bed with his arms around Amanda as she held their daughter. As Amanda held her baby in her arms she began to hemorrhage. She died a few minutes later still holding her child. In his grief, Henry picked up both Amanda and their new born daughter carried them to the rocking chair he had built for them. For hours he would not let anyone come near them. He held them both, rocking back and forth, kissing Amanda on the forehead begging her to come back to him. His cries of pain could be heard through the silence of the Iowa night. It was written even the animals cried when they heard the anguish in his tears. He held his two “girls” until the sun came up, praying for a miracle. Finally a little after sun rise his sister convinced Henry he had to let Amanda go, she was in heaven. He needed to take care of his daughter. His little girl needed him. He had to be strong for her. Henry would name their daughter after the love of his life, Amanda Jane.

Amanda was buried in Selection Cemetery in Iowa. Her father agreed to pay for her funeral but refused to come or see his granddaughter. Samuel made it clear he blamed Henry and their child for his daughter’s death. He would never forgive Henry for taking Amanda away from him.

In the 1800s when a spouse died it was common place for the surviving spouse to remarry. It was expected. Henry was devastated by Amanda’s death. He wrote to his brother he felt lost without her. He could never imagine sharing his bed, his life with another woman. No matter how deeply he loved his daughter, Henry still felt empty and incomplete without Amanda. He had lost half his soul. Henry would never re-marry; he would live the rest of his life alone.

After Amanda Jane’s death, Henry came onto hard times. It was almost impossible for an Irishman to get a good paying job in the late 1800s. Plus, no one wanted to hire the farmhand that the Dent family had fired. He worked odd jobs the best he could to keep food on the table. Henry’s family was near starvation when he found a chicken roaming the street and took it home to feed his family. In Ireland before coming to America Henry had watched most of his family die of starvation, he was not going to watch his daughter starve to death in Iowa. A few days later Henry was accused of being a thief, stealing the chicken. He was considered even more of outcast in Monroe County. The summer of 1867 he wrote his brother he was planning on heading back to Philadelphia to find a better job, a place he could properly care for his daughter. Since Amanda had died there was nothing in Iowa for him. He felt empty without Amanda by his side. He had lost faith, he had lost hope. Everyone saw him as a thief not as a man trying to care for his family. When he had given up all hope, when he was preparing to head to Philadelphia fate stepped in and stopped him. Jeptha Robinson heard about Henry's plight and offered him a job as a farm hand. Jeptha did not need a farm hand he had enough brothers to handle all the work on the farm. For some reason he could not explain, Jeptha felt in his heart he needed to help Henry. He needed to keep Henry and his daughter Amanda in Iowa. Amanda and Henry would spend the rest of their lives in Monroe County, Iowa.

Amanda was even more beautiful than her mother. During school, several young men would try to court Amanda but her heart was set on Jeptha’s oldest son Jacob. She said since she was a little girl she knew she would marry Jacob. It was love at first sight. In 1885 Amanda and Jacob were married in the living room of his parent's house. Jacob had a Celtic knot wedding ring made for Amanda. Their love was eternal, a love with no bonds, no end. Jacob toasted his father on his wedding day thanking him for keeping Amanda and her father Henry in Iowa. For without that one kind gesture he would never have met the love of his life, Amanda Jane.

After they married, Jacob built Amanda a small house on the family farm. Jacob moved Henry into their home. Henry would spend his nights rocking on the porch, talking to the stars, talking to his soul mate, Amanda. He would tell her of his day, how much he still missed her. When Henry died in 1900 the Dents would not allow him to be buried next to his wife, his soul mate, Amanda Jane. Henry was buried in the Robinson Arnold family cemetery in Urbana, Iowa. On either side of him lie strangers. When his daughter Amanda Jane died in 1921 she was buried two rows away from her father. Several years later her husband Jacob would be buried by her side. Henry's body lies alone for all eternity.

When I first heard the story of Amanda Jane and Henry I was left feeling sad, my heart was broken for them. Henry was married to Amanda for a little more than a year before she died. After her death he was never able to find happiness again. This seemed so sad to me. Then I realized Henry and Amanda Jane were lucky, they found each other. They shared a passionate deep undying love for each other that few people ever experience. I would rather have one year of passionate eternal love followed by a lifetime of sorrow than never to have experienced such love at all.

I know in my heart Amanda and Henry have finally found eternal happiness together in Heaven. They are sharing peace and happiness they could not find here on earth.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. Your blog is outstanding. Thank you for sharing all your stories, thoughts. You inspire me. Merry Christmas