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WOODS, Mrs. ELLIS "Aunty" - 1890 Bio (1813-1891)


Posted By: Joey Stark
Date: 9/5/2007 at 19:49:25

Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties, Iowa, Printed 1890 by Lake City Publishing Co., Chicago
Pages 235-236

Mrs. ELLIS WOODS, who is familiarly called "Aunty" WOODS, and is thus better known to the citizens of the community, is one of Jefferson County's most honored pioneers. She was born on the banks of Lake Champlain, in Georgia, Chittendon County, Vt., September 28, 1813, and is the youngest of five children born to Julius and Hettie (CASSEL) OWEN. Her father was a native of Salisbury, Conn., and an uncle of the noted Ethan ALLEN, of Revolutionary fame. Her family was of Welsh origin and descended from one of two brothers who came to America during Colonial days, and who took an active part in the War for Independence. Her grandfather, Owen, was a man of remarkable longevity, having lived to past the century mile post. The father emigrated from Connecticut to Vermont, where he married Miss CASSEL, a lady of French origin, her people having come to this country with Gen. LaFayette. She died in Vermont, and the husband married again. Patriotic blood flowed in his veins, and following the example of his illustrious Revolutionary ancestors, he served in the War of 1812. Having removed westward to Harvard, Ill., he there spent his last days, attaining almost the age of one hundred years. Of his children only two are now living -- Mrs. Eliza DICKENS, of San Francisco, Cal., and Mrs. WOODS.

Our subject received a very limited education. Her mother having died when she was quite small and her father marrying again, at the age of twelve years she went to live in the home of a Mr. Mears, a Deacon in the Congregational Church, thus to make a living with her own hands. Later she went to the home of a sister, with whom she removed to New York, and about 1835 she joined another sister in Harvard, Ill. There she met and married G. M. FOX, a native of Ohio, of English descent, and a carpenter by trade. In 1839 they started for Fairfield, Iowa, arriving on the day of the first election in this city -- June 27. Mr. FOX purchased a lot, and the following year erected thereon the house in which Mrs. WOODS now lives, which was then known as the "big house." He was a first-class mechanic and erected many dwellings for the early settlers, besides assisting in the erection of the first court-house. The first house, however, in which they lived was a primitive log dwelling with a stick chimney. Mr. FOX died in 1844 and three years later she married Parish ELLIS, an early settler, and also a mechanic. He lived but four years. In 1857 she wedded Joel WOODS. Though a tailor by trade he was a man of splendid natural endowments and a well-trained mind. In 1858 he went to Colorado and engaged in mining, and so won the esteem of his fellow-miners that he was elected to the Legislature. While hunting in Arizona he was shot and killed by mistake. His remains were buried at Ft. Whipple.

Though left alone in the world, Mrs. WOODS found a broad and useful field for her activities. The war at length commenced and several severe battles had been fought. The Iowa "boys in blue" sick and wounded, had been sent to the hospital at Keokuk, and realizing how much those who had left comfortable homes needed some one to take the place of a mother, she sacrificed her personal interests and gave her time and best efforts to the noble work of alleviating the sufferings of Iowa's soldiers, especially those from Jefferson County. Backed by the loyal women at home, she did a work that is gratefully remembered by the soldiers and spoken of at their reunions, and that will live on the pages of history. On the 3d of April, 1862, she took a quantity of sanitary supplies to distribute among the sick and wounded in the hospital at Keokuk, where she remained during the greater part of the summer to care for the afflicted troops. Having received three passes -- one from Gen. Curtis, for the department of the Northwest; the second, from Gen. Thomas, and the third from the war department, she made nine trips, taking cargoes that varied from ten to thirty-seven tons. In November, 1862, she started with the first supplies to Springfield, Mo., but finding it impracticable for her to go farther she placed her stores in charge of another at St. Louis and returned. In March of the following year she started with a large cargo for Missouri and ministered to the Third Iowa Cavalry, at Pilot Knob, and the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, at Helena, Ark. Soon afterward she made her first trip down the Mississippi into the heart of the Confederacy. Her plan was to travel incognito, letting her business be known only to the proper authorities. When asked where she was going, she would reply: "To see my sons, all of whom are in the army." Though she had no son, she was a mother to many, and the Iowa boys learned to call her by that sacred name, a custom which they still continue. To show how extensive was the field over which she operated, it is but proper to give the dates of transportation to a number of the places visited: Little Rock, Ark., March 14, 1864; Chattanooga, Tenn., May 16, 1864: Memphis, Tenn., November 23, 1864; and Milliken's Bend, in April, 1865. In the rear of Vicksburg she was twice under fire, but escaped uninjured. Her last trip was made under the auspices of the United States Sanitary Commission. With thirty-seven tons of supplies she proceeded to New Orleans, there to take a boat for Baraucus Island, off the coast of Louisiana. A sanitary officer advised her not to venture, saying that she could not reach her destination and that the vessel in which she was going was unsafe. If she would turn over her stores to him he would see to their proper distribution. Mrs. WOODS insisted upon going, whereupon he became irate and said she should not, but she replied that she had a pass from the Government. The officer then went so far as to say that she could not go if she "had a pass from Heaven," but when she drew forth the instrument and said no power on earth should keep her from going, the fellow's assumed authority shriveled up like a "catterpillar on a hot shovel." Arriving at the island, she found her assistance much needed. Several thousands of disabled soldiers were left there, while the able-bodied went to assist in the capture of Mobile. Mrs. WOODS remained a month, and on Christmas Day had one of the most enjoyable feasts ever served, consisting of the crackers and fresh butter taken from Iowa and the large fresh oysters gathered from the ocean.

Since the war Mrs. WOODS has led a quiet life, unconscious of the great honors and gratitude she was won. Of the following societies she is a honorary member: Eastern Star, A. F. & A. M.; Rebecca Degree, I. O. O. F.; The Grand Army of the Republic; Agassiz Society, and the Alethean Literary Society, of Parsons College. The Fairfield Hose Company is named in her honor, and to its members she gives a royal banquet each year. In 1886 she was a State delegate to the National Encampment at San Francisco. Unknown and unsolicited on her part, her friends secured for her a pension of $25 per month, of which she is truly worthy. For fifty-one years Mrs. WOODS has been a resident of Fairfield, and no citizen of the county is more tenderly loved or held in higher esteem.

[Transcriber's note: "Aunty" WOODS' first name is Mehitable. The Grand Army of the Republic is the fore-runner of today's American Legion. Click on the link below and type WOODS in the search box to see more of Aunty WOODS' adventures.]

*Transcribed for genealogy purposes; I have no relation to the person(s) mentioned.

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