Saturday, March 7, 2015

Harrison and Mildred

Now that the poems about John and Mary Ratcliff's lives are going to be published (Finishing Line Press, sometime in 2016), I think it's time to focus on the next phase of the Skimino Cycle.  Harrison and Mildred Ratcliff present two compelling individuals.  Mildred was a Quaker prophetess and minister who traveled fairly widely in her ministry and visitations with other Quakers.  She was well-known among Quaker circles in the 1810s and 1820s, and was vocal during the schisms that rocked Quakers in the early 1800s.  Her Memoranda and Correspondence were published after her death.  She led a public life.

I know less about Harrison.  For a time, he and Mildred lived in the Lynchburg, VA area, which suggests to me that he might have taken on running of the family's farm in that location.  Middle and upper income Virginia farming families typically had farms in Tidewater, the Piedmont, and out in the mountains.  I know that Harrison's father, William, owned land in York County (Tidewater) and Hanover County (Piedmont) as Quaker records list him in both locations at various times.  But, back to Harrison.  He was the first postmaster of Leesburg, OH in the early 1800s, which means he and Mildred were early migrants to Ohio.  When his uncle, William Harrison, decided it was time to move the extended family to Ohio in 1817, Harrison Ratcliff (then in his 50s) was sent to find suitable land to purchase and on which to settle.  In his obituary, Harrison is described as having a "fractious" personality.

Mildred was not a Quaker when she and Harrison married and, even though she attended Meeting with him, she questioned Quaker's beliefs (she was raised Baptist).  Harrison had lost his membership for marrying outside the faith, but apparently still attended meeting.  Mildred's conversion to Quakerism came in part after reading John Woolman's Journal, a copy of which Harrison owned.  Coming from a prominent Quaker extended family, Harrison probably had met John Woolman as he traveled among the meetings in the South.  I don't know much else about Harrison and Mildred.  I assume they were childless-- there is no mention of children in Mildred's writings or in either of their obituaries.  They both seem to have been strong-minded and strong-willed individualists.  Mildred certainly wasn't afraid to express her thoughts and opinions, and I imagine the labeling of Harrison as "fractious" suggests a certain penchant for going his own way as well.  There's also no mention of Harrison traveling with Mildred in her writings, which suggests openness, respect, and trust between them, and agreement that each should be able to pursue interests.

Mildred's life is "out there" to some extent through her published writings and the writing of others.  Harrison is less known, but as the husband and man behind the prophetess, just as interesting.  I think it's worth exploring and imagining his personality and life. 

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