It’s my belief that all women are goddesses. A few years ago, I began jokingly referring to myself as a ‘goddess.’ Not with the capital ‘G’ in the theological sense, of course, but more along the lines of someone associated with charm, sisterhood and motherhood, as well as being connected to love and to home; in short, an Earth Mother.
As we end this month of celebrating Women’s History, I believe that the ‘goddess-hood’ of all women should be honored, especially that of those women in our own histories who lived lives that we in the modern world cannot even fathom. Those women were true goddesses. They set up hearth and home (sometimes over and over again), had numerous children, travelled over unknown frontiers, kept the faith, lived life to the fullest, and hopefully loved to the depths of their being.
I’ve always been particularly fascinated with one ancestor of mine. Based on what details I’ve learned about her, I feel a connection that I cannot explain that reaches out over the decades that separate us. I believe that she lived the life I described above in every way possible and died as a result of a deep and abiding love.
Nancy Henrietta Browning McReynolds was my fourth great grandmother. She was one of at least eight known children born to Edmund Browning and Mary Ann Murphy Browning. She was born in 1755 in Culpeper Co., Virginia, and her nickname soon became “Haney.” Her name was written clearly as Haney McReynolds in her father’s will dated April 19, 1807, in Caswell Co., NC.
Edmund and Mary Ann moved their family from Virginia to Caswell County sometime by the end of the late 1770s. At some point after that move, Haney met a young man named Joseph McReynolds. Family historians claim that she wrote many letters to him over the course of his years of service during the Revolutionary War.
Joseph McReynolds was born on December 12, 1762, in Caswell County. He was seven years younger than Haney, but that age difference didn’t seem to matter to either of them. Joseph distinguished himself as a young soldier who fought in the battles of Guilford Court House and Eutaw Springs, among others. The letters from Haney must have been a godsend to him, helping to sustain him during those hard times. Clearly, a strong relationship had been forged between the two young people.
Joseph and Haney married after his return from war sometime around 1783 in Caswell County, NC. They began their family there in Caswell, where their six children were born: Samuel (who was also my fourth great grandfather – don’t even ask; that’s a whole ‘nother story!), Edward, Mary “Polly” (also my fourth great grandmother – what a family!), Margaret Henrietta “Ritty” (my third great grandmother), Tabitha, and Joseph, Jr.
By the year 1802, when Haney was in her late 40s, Joseph moved his family to Sumner County, TN. Haney had to leave her already established home, following her love to create a new home in a frontier area that had seen more than its share of Indian raids and massacres. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that must have been to actually build your own house and then make it a home for your family, always wondering how safe you would be from possible attacks. The McReynolds family lived in the Station Camp Creek area north of the Cumberland River near Gallatin in Sumner County for nearly 30 years, when once more Haney would have to move to follow her husband and family.
At least one of her sons, my Samuel, had moved to Posey County, Indiana, and Joseph purchased land there in 1831. By 1832, Joseph, his 78-year-old wife, Haney, their daughter, Ritty and her husband Archibald Wallace and family, loaded themselves into several wagons and began the trip from Sumner County to Indiana.
As they were nearing their destination, the wagon which carried Joseph and Haney overturned in the cold, icy waters of Barr Creek, just south of Cynthiana in Posey County. They managed to get Haney to the shore, where she died from shock, never having reached her newest hearth and home. I, personally, never cease to mourn that fact. She most certainly endured many hardships over the course of her life, but I console myself knowing that the hardships were mixed with love, excitement, and adventure. What a brave lady she must have been!
Her body was taken to Samuel’s home, which was not far from there. Nancy Henrietta “Haney” Browning McReynolds was buried on land that had been donated for a cemetery and a church and which would become Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. There is no marker there for her, but Joseph died in 1840 and actually has two markers; the older original one and a newer DAR marker.
A couple of years ago, I found a bumper sticker that had the words “Back off – I’m a Goddess” on it. I had to have it - not to put on the bumper of my car, but to hang with affection in my computer area at home. I keep it there to remind me of my belief that the true essence of womanhood is the connection we have with each other; that power we have over our homes, our loves and our lives; that bond of sisterhood we share. Women are clearly all goddesses.
Well, at least I’m pretty sure I am, and I know that Haney was.