Sunday, April 1, 2012

a thief in the family

the portion of the letter William Kirlin wrote in 1851
describing the theft by Vashti Dunham
In 1851 my great-great-great-great-grandmother Vashti Willits Dunham was living in Centerville, Indiana.  She was 42-years old and was married with a family of seven children. Vashti was the daughter of Levi Willits and Rachel Field, both from Quaker families. Vashti was born in Ohio but as a child moved to Indiana with her family.  In 1828, her father Levi Willits died and her mother later remarried to William Kirlin.

Vashti's mother Rachel Field Willits Kirlin died on March 10, 1851 at the age of 71.  She left a surviving husband, William Kirlin, and many grown children and grandchildren.  As part of the distribution of her effects, it was decided that all of Rachel's clothing and personal items would be divided equally between her three daughters (Mary, Sarah and Vashti) and her three daughters-in-law (Polly, Sarah J., and Sarah A.).

At the time, only four of the women - including Vashti - lived nearby.  They met at their stepfather's house and divided the clothing equally in six ways.  Each of them took their share home and left two piles for the women who lived out of state.  My ancestor Vashti then devised a plan to get her hands on more of the clothing.  She found out that a neighbor was coincidentally about to travel to where her brother James and his wife Sarah were living in Illinois.  She went back to her stepfather's house and told him that if he gave her one of the piles of clothing, she would then give it to the neighbor so that it could get safely to her sister-in-law in Illinois. William agreed to the plan and gave Vashti the clothing intended for his step daughter-in-law. 

Then, while the clothing was in her custody,Vashti stole some items before giving them to her neighbor.  Apparently one of the things she had stolen was an expensive shawl that William Kirklin had given as a gift to his wife Rachel.  Apparently, he had paid $10.00 for it (or about $280.00 in today's money). 

William Kirlin found out about the theft and then wrote a letter on May 3, 1851 to his stepson James Willits explaining what had happened and that he knew Vashti was a thief.  He then included an inventory of what he knew had been in the pile (a gold watch, a plaid dress, another dress, a silk apron, a white cape, gloves and other items that he did not remember), so if there was anything else missing, he knew who to blame.  William then asked James if he wanted him to confront Vashti about it or just let it go.  It is unknown what eventually happened with the issue.  Interestingly though, when James and Sarah's first daughter was born in 1854, they named her Vashti after the sister who had apparently stolen from them. 

Vashti and her family did not remain in the area for long. A few years after the incident, she and her family moved out west to Iowa.  She later lived in Kansas and Missouri.  Despite her apparent theft and possible strife with her stepfather and siblings, she appears to have been very close to her children.  All of her children survived to have children of their own. Sadly, during the 1860s four of her adult children suffered from untimely deaths leaving a large network of parentless grandchildren.  We have three letters that Vashti wrote in 1870-1871 to her son-in-law Irvin Thurston in Minnesota after the death of her daughter Lydia from consumption (tuberculosis).  In these letters she expressed much sympathy to Irvin and his four young daughters (including my great-great-grandmother Julia, then 5 years old).  She expressed interest in doing what she could from afar (she sent the girls each a pair of stockings that she had made) and also gave Irvin her blessing to remarry so that the family would not have to be separated. 

Sometime during the 1860s, her elderly-husband John Dunham moved by himself to New Mexico to be a silver miner.  She never saw him again.  They both died during the early 1870s. 

My decent from Vashti:

Rachel Field md. 1st. Levi Willits md. 2nd. William Kirlin
- Vashti Willits md. John Dunham
-- Lydia Dunham md. Irvin Thurston
--- Julia Thurston md. Henry Bixby
---- Neil Bixby md. Bertha Hoffman
----- Patricia Bixby md. Ben Plymale
------ Barbara Plymale md. Randy Wadleigh
------- Ryan Wadleigh