Hannah Strader

Hannah Strader is the matriarch of the clan this website is devoted to, and it would be appropriate to devote dozens of paragraphs to her life story. Unfortunately that is not possible. Like most women of the 19th Century, Hannah led a non-public existence. Few traces remain that would allow us to fully “see” her today. Also, most of what is available to say about Hannah’s life has already been covered elsewhere on this website. If you have not already done so, please proceed to the page devoted to her ancestry (click here) and the page devoted to the biography of her husband, Nathaniel Martin (click here). The text below was written assuming you have read those two essays and tries to avoid repeating things that are dealt with there. Here the topic is largely limited to those aspects of Hannah that pertain to her as an individual.

Hannah, the fifth of what would eventually be ten children, was born 30 June 1829 in Vermilion County, IL on a farm about two miles west of where the small village of Georgetown now sits. As described in the essay on Hannah’s ancestry, Jacob Strader and Rachel Starr had come out to Vermilion County in 1822 (or very close to that year) from Preble County, OH, where they had both been raised. They were following in the footsteps of Rachel’s eldest sister Elizabeth and her husband Henry Johnson, who had founded the “anchor” Vermilion County homestead in 1815. The immediate vicinity was at that time sometimes known as Johnson’s Point because of Henry’s trailblazing role. Rachel’s sister Margaret and brother-in-law William Marsh and family had arrived in 1817, brother Absalom Starr and family had come in 1821 (Absalom had scouted the locale with Henry all the way back in 1814). Following in the wake of the Straders came Rachel’s sister Naomi and brother-in-law John Jordon in 1824. The Jordons, guided by Henry and Elizabeth’s eldest son Esau Johnson, brought along the old folks, too -- Hannah’s grandparents John Starr and Catharine Weitzel. In 1826, Rachel’s double first cousin Adam Starr and family showed up. This is a long way of saying that in Hannah’s early childhood, her parents’ land was surrounded on nearly every side by the farms of her mother’s kinfolk.

Jacob and Rachel exhibited a tendency to name their offspring after specific relatives. This suggests they may have chosen Hannah’s name to honor Rachel’s sister-in-law Hannah Harris Starr, wife of Absalom Starr. Absalom’s influence on Jacob and Rachel’s lives was significant when they were a young couple, and it stands to reason they would have wanted to acknowledge him. (Absalom went on to perish when Hannah was only three months old; assuming he was in ill health already in the early summer of 1829, Jacob and Rachel may have been extra motivated to think of him.) After having become parents of four girls, Jacob and Rachel are likely to have assumed their fifth child would be a boy. But Hannah was a girl. She probably came close to being called Saloma, the feminine version of Absalom. Saloma was a popular choice among the Starr clan. However, Jacob and Rachel must have been content to go with the option of naming their new bundle of joy after Absalom’s wife.

In the late 1830s, Jacob and Rachel and their kids again followed Elizabeth and Henry Johnson and made another big move to a pioneer region. They established a homestead in Stephenson County, IL near where the community of Waddams Grove would later rise. This was not far east of where Esau Johnson and his wife Sally -- Saloma Starr, a second cousin of her own husband and a second cousin of Hannah, though she was more than twenty years older than Hannah -- had come up to do lead mining in 1827 in the company of Sally’s brother Henry Starr. The Straders’ neighbors at their Waddams Grove farm included not only Elizabeth and Henry Johnson, but also Henry Starr and his brother Levi Starr and their families.

Elizabeth and Henry Johnson would move on in the 1840s to Oneco Township, farther east in Stephenson County, and subsequently they and the various Starr-clan relatives congregated just north over the state line in Jefferson Township, Green County, WI. It is somewhat surprising, given the precedent, that Rachel and Jacob did not follow suit. Instead, they chose to settle in about 1845 in Jordan Township, Green County some ten to twelve miles northwest of the area the others had chosen. Rachel, by now in her mid-forties, was finally drifting free of “her people,” unravelling strands that had remained entwined for a century and a half through six major changes of venue, beginning with the Starr clan’s initial flight in the early 1700s from the war-torn and weather-ravaged countryside of the Rhine Valley.

Hannah was about sixteen years old when the family arrived in Jordan Township. It would be her place of residence for only a year or so, because she soon became the wife of Nathaniel Martin -- someone she apparently had met back in Stephenson County. (In the 1850s, her parents would make one last and relatively minor move, ending up in Clarno Township, Green County.)

The wedding took place 25 February 1847. The ceremony was conducted by local farmer John Kennedy, a Green County justice of the peace. Ninety years later Nathaniel’s granddaughter Emma Warner Hastings, after consulting with Juliette Martin Savage, the last surviving child of Nathaniel and Hannah, wrote this name down as Canada. Half a century later another family genealogist concluded the wedding must have taken place in Canada. The actual locale was Jordan Center. This settlement has since vanished, and even in those days the community could better have been described as a crossroads. Jordan Township still exists as a jurisdiction, and consists of the part of Green County immediately north of Browntown and west of Monroe -- one township north of Cadiz Township, which contains Martintown. Nowadays the only town of Jordan that appears on maps of Wisconsin is the suburb of Stevens Point up in Portage County in the central part of the state.

(The three close-up portrait photos of Hannah shown on this page were taken many years apart. At the upper left is the earliest known photo of her, probably taken in the 1860s when she was in her late thirties, but may date from the early 1870s when she was in her early forties. In the photo at right -- which unfortunately had to be scanned from a photocopy -- she is older still. She is wearing a wig, which may have been the photographer’s idea as Hannah does not appear to have ever kept her hair long in later decades of life. The third picture was part of a “Grandma and Grandpa Martin” set taken in 1897 (or perhaps 1896).)

Hannah was only seventeen when she left home. Nathaniel was already thirty. This was typical of the era and region. It was common wisdom that a man should get established and build up a nest egg before attempting to support a wife and family. The process often took until the late twenties or early thirties. A bride, meanwhile, was expected to marry early in her potential childbearing years. No one would have looked at Hannah as an underage bride. Her sister Margaret was seventeen when she married, and two other sisters were only eighteen. That said, coming to the marriage as a teenager did mean that Hannah had never had an opportunity to establish herself as a career woman or get much formal education. In fact, it is quite likely she was only semi-literate. A few documents survive that have her signature, and a postcard on which she scrawled, “Love, Mother,” but signs imply she did not write letters -- for example there was no personal message on the aforementioned postcard, only the pre-printed holiday greeting -- nor did she make a habit of reading books. Females of her generation on the frontier were often not accorded even the most basic of schooling, and it is a known fact that her sister Katie Anne (Anna Catherine Strader Frame Rush) had to go out of her way to learn to read and write when she was about sixty years of age (meaning not until the 1880s). Hannah was furthermore a middle child of her family and therefore not someone who was urged toward leadership, nor indulged as the “baby” of the bunch. She had enjoyed few chances to shine. It is tempting therefore to imagine Hannah, particularly in her youth, was unassertive and easily dominated. This does not seem to be the case. It is quite possible her prompt departure from her parents’ household and her choice of mate was a carefully reasoned method of seizing her destiny and expressing her independence. She was rare among her kin in that she did not choose a Frame man or other partner from the nearer parts of Green County or Lafayette County. In the aforementioned 1947 letter, daughter Juliette wrote that such a path had been laid out for Hannah. Before Nathaniel made his overture, it had seemed foreordained that Hannah was to marry Thomas Alexander Frame -- and yes, Thomas was a brother of the three men who married Hannah’s sisters Polly, Elizabeth, and Katie Anne. But Hannah rejected that idea (a development that Nathaniel would refer to with amusement in his later years). Thomas had to settle for Sarah Devoe, an older sister of Loren Brewster Devoe who would come to marry Hannah’s niece Mary Jane Swearingen (and later Thomas and Sarah’s daughter Lucinda would marry Hannah’s nephew Millard Eveland!). Instead Hannah chose a man of different background. Among his distinguishing characteristics, Nathaniel was a Virginian of Irish and English extraction, not a German-American whose clan had dwelled in North Carolina and Ohio. Nathaniel was artistically inclined and a fellow with the boldness to set out as a youth to carve a life from the frontier with only one family member, his brother Isaiah, for company. Nathaniel was no mere farmer or miner. He was his own man, whereas Hannah’s kin had come as a group amid other like-minded former neighbors and fellow parishioners. Nathaniel was also at that time a Winslow man, and this meant that Hannah was able to settle into a home half a county away from her parents. These few miles may seem like a trivial distance to those of us who live in the 21st Century and can travel from one spot to the other in a few minutes in an automobile over paved highways, but in 1847 the distance from Jordan to Winslow by horse and wagon required a good couple of hours over rutted dirt lanes -- in other words, though her relatives might have been close enough to be available for family weddings and holiday gatherings, they weren’t looking over her shoulder day in and day out. (Which is not to say she strived to enforce a separation. In fact, over the next three decades some of her siblings would end up residing quite near her. For example, Katie Anne eventually lived right in Martintown with second husband Henry Rush, and her little brother Daniel boarded with her and Nathaniel during the late 1850s and early 1860s while he was still a bachelor.)

In the early years of the marriage, Green County was still on the fringes of civilization. Later on, especially in light of the prosperity of the family, it would be routine to be able to obtain such things as commercially milled fabric and/or finished garments, but at first the situation was basic to a degree those of us in the 21st Century would find incredibly daunting. Hannah did as her mother and sisters had taught her, spinning wool from local sheep and making linen from home-grown flax. She dyed the material using the vegetable dyes she prepared on her own or with her housewife peers. And then she went on to sew the family’s clothing, napkins, towels, bedding, and other cloth items. In later years she maintained her interest in sewing. Even in the 1950s her granddaughter Emma was still covering her bed in winter months with a quilt Hannah had made.

Hannah must have had a core of strength in her character, because she faced a great deal of tragedy and stress and seems to have done so without faltering. Her husband was repeatedly declared insane and incapable of managing his financial assets. By the time she finally passed away, Hannah had buried eleven of her fourteen children -- six babies/toddlers during her childbearing years, two more when she was in her early fifties, and three more after she had become elderly. Although she does not appear to have materially participated in the operation of the mills, she could only have been resolute and steady or the Martins would not have been able to reside in their house on the hill above the Pecatonica River for more than half a century, and Nathaniel would not have been able to play such a major role as the founder of a prosperous village. Her contribution, though quiet, must have been essential.

Hannah was about five foot three inches in height as an adult, about two to three inches shorter than her husband. One set of family notes states she was blue-eyed and tended toward blonde hair, though “blonde” may have been in comparison to her siblings, who are alleged to have all been dark-haired, and even light brown hair would have been remarked upon as unusually fair. Though her offspring seemed inclined toward health problems, she herself was robust. Her lifespan stretched across nine full decades and she survived all of her siblings except her much-younger brother John.

When Nathaniel had his worst episode of dementia and was committed to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Hannah was the one family member who the doctors permitted to be with him. Her steadfastness was surely a key factor in his ability to avoid long-term institutionalization.

Hannah was widowed in early 1905. Then seventy-four years old, she was by no means ready to go quietly to her own grave, and lived on in the big house. Her determination was tested on a number of occasions, however. First, barely more than a year into her widowhood, her son Horatio died of tuberculosis. Horatio had been the one child who had never left Martintown and had been the operator of the grist mill. For her remaining decade and a half of life, she would never have that sort of secure and permanent presence from any other child. Juliette and husband Ed Savage returned from the Pacific Northwest just after (or possibly shortly before) Nathaniel’s death and shared the home with Hannah until the early 1910s, but then they departed to live out their lives far from Wisconsin, at first in Texas, then in Massachusetts, and finally in Bangor, ME, where Ed had been born and raised. Elias continued to be a miner in Cripple Creek, CO, having left in the early 1890s; he rarely came back for visits and when he did, he did not stay long. Nellie had already moved ten miles away to Scioto Mills, IL in 1900. In 1906, she and the majority of her children moved on to California and remained there for good. Emma had long since put down roots in DeQueen, AR. Hannah therefore came to depend on local grandchildren -- Lena Brown Hastings, Emma Warner Hastings, Vivian Martin Smith, Rose Bucher Buss, and probably others -- and some of her former children-in-law. The latter included in particular Elwood Bucher, who had been married to Mary Lincoln Martin, and Laura Hart, who had been married to Horatio. Elwood and Laura married each other, and Elwood became the guiding force of the mill complex in place of his deceased brother-in-law. Two relatives closer to Hannah’s own age, her sister Rhoda Strader Campbell Dunell, and her daughter-in-law Lavina Watson Martin, are known to have stayed with Hannah on a number of occasions. The tight-knit community of Martintown could be counted upon for help. She was “Grandma Martin” to all of them.

Concerned over her mother’s age and increasing frailty, Emma Ann Martin Brown came up from Arkansas in September, 1916 to care for Hannah. However, Emma developed some sort of condition that required surgery. She went to Chicago for an operation in the summer of 1917 (perhaps to Cook County Hospital, a facility where Hannah’s granddaughter Blanche Bradford Martin could have been found earlier in the decade, while her husband John Bruner Colwell had been a doctor there, and she a nurse). Emma did not survive the procedure. Hannah, however, lingered on. Granddaughter Lena Hastings assumed the role of primary caregiver for the final two years or so. The picture at the left is Hannah in her extreme old age. By this point, she was still a resident of Martintown, but may no longer have been dwelling in the big house; residing instead with Lena or whichever other granddaughter stepped forward to give Lena a breather from time to time. It was at Lena’s home that Hannah finally passed away 12 November 1919 at age ninety -- demonstrating a longevity that eluded her children but would manifest richly in the lifespans of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a sixth of whom would live even longer than she had. She became the last person buried in the family cemetery with the exception of her grandson Fay Horatio Martin, who at the end of his life -- most of it spent near Martintown -- expressed the desire that he be buried there as well, and that wish was granted after his death in 1965.

This photograph of Hannah and some of her family members was taken 19 July 1917 when she was eighty-eight years old. This may be the same occasion that yielded the photo shown a little higher up this page in the latter part of the biography. Most of this group was local to Martintown, the main exceptions being Hannah’s granddaughter Cora Belle Warner Spece and her husband and daughters. The Speces were then residents of Sanger, Fresno County, CA. The gathering may have been prompted by the Speces’ visit; however, it is just as likely to have been an observation of condolence to support Hannah as she grieved over the death of her daughter Emma Martin Brown, who had succumbed three days earlier. (This would help explain the lack of smiles.) Hannah is near the center front with a blanket cloaking her shoulders. The stout woman in the white dress next to Hannah is her daughter-in-law Lavina Watson Martin. The little girls left of Hannah are Leah Merle Hastings and Barbara Anna Hastings. The two slightly older girls on the right are Mary Hilda Hastings and her first cousin Helen May Patrick. The long row of individuals standing behind these six consist of, left to right, Barbara Ann Spece Hastings, Alfonso James Spece, Mary Emma Warner Hastings, Mary Lena Brown Hastings, John Quincy Adams “Picket” Hastings (face shadowed by his hat), Cora Belle Warner Spece, Salome Ima Hastings Patrick, Elma Grace Hastings (standing almost directly in front of her father), Fred Philo Hastings, Gladys Beryl Spece, Ethel Ruth Hastings, and Erma Alice Spece.

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