Only child, orphan, traitor’s daughter, bride, step-mother, widow, single mom, bff, cook, housekeeper, caretaker, Christ follower—all these names fit my maternal great-grandmother, Sarah A. Geer McIntyre. My mother called her Mammy McIntyre. She died many years before I was born, but I heard stories.
Sarah A. Geer1 was born on January 4, 18602 in Smyth County, Virginia, to Margaret Ann Moore Geer (1838-1860), daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Moore3, and William E. Geer (1830-1913).4 Though the couple had been married five years, Sarah was their first known child.5 The couple’s joy at Sarah’s birth turned much too soon to sorrow, for Margaret died just eight days later of “child bed fever.”6 The early loss of her mother was the first in a number of tragedies Sarah would face throughout her life.
By April 1860, Sarah, age 4 months, lived at Seven Mile Ford with her father, William E. Geer, age 29, a wagoner, and with her grandmother, Celia Geer, age 57. They lived in the home of Henry L. McLure, his wife Lear, and their two children.7 The relationship between the McLures and the Geers is unknown.8
Sarah’s grandmother Celia was herself a single mother. Whether she was widowed or not is a mystery, as is the identity of her children’s father. In 1850 Celia and her two sons, William, age 19 and Thomas, age 12, lived in Washington County, Virginia. Celia was farming.9 Perhaps some of Celia’s resourcefulness in the face of difficult circumstances was passed on to her granddaughter, Sarah.
On June 20, 1861,10 when Sarah was eighteen months old, her father left her with his mother and traveled to Abingdon, Virginia, with his brother-in-law, Theophilus Moore,11 and signed with the 48th Virginia Infantry, Confederate States of America. In 1863 he was captured on the retreat from Gettysburg and imprisoned at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, Delaware. After ten weeks, William signed the “yellow dog contract,” as the Rebels called the oath of allegiance, and he was assigned to the United States Army’s 1st Regiment Connecticut Cavalry,12 Company G.13 When the war ended, William’s mother wrote to him that it was unsafe for him to return home.14 Consequently, when he was mustered out of the service in Minnesota where he was stationed in October 1865, William stayed there, eventually making his home in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.15
Back home in Smyth County during the war, Celia took care of little Sarah. Family tradition suggests that Sarah’s maternal aunt, Hannah Moore Allison, wife of John P. Allison, Civil War veteran and farmer, probably kept Sarah after Celia’s death, prior to 1870. During the war, Smyth County endured two battles, one at Saltville (1864), resulting in the destruction of the salt works, and another battle at Marion. How these events affected Sarah and her family can only be imagined. Although specific events of Sarah’s childhood are unknown, it is easy to surmise that a little girl whose father was considered a traitor faced scorn.16
|Sarah A. Geer, c. 1900|
1 Sarah’s birth certificate states her name as Sarah A. Gear. In the 1860 census, her name is listed as Sarah Ann, and it is recorded as Sarah Ann in the McIntyre Family Bible, but the name on her tombstone, chiseled by her son, John Martin McIntyre, is Sarah Alice. As for the spelling of her last name, in documents prior to and during the Civil War, the name is spelled G-e-a-r. After the war, it is spelled G-e-e-r. So too, the spelling of McIntyre varies in records: McIntire, McEntire, MacEntire, and McIntyre.
2 Smyth County (Virginia) Register of Births Book 1, p. 15. The spelling of the name in the record is Gear.
3 For Margaret death date: U. S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule, 1850-1880, Smyth Co, Virginia, p. 571, l. 22, citing Margaret A. Geer, 12 Jan 1860; Ancestry (NARA, T1132 Roll 5).
4 The year of William’s birth is unconfirmed. The 1850 census records his age as 19, and the 1860 census records his age as 29, which would indicate that he was born in 1831. However, his enlistment in the U.S. army on October 1, 1863, records his age as 33, and the newspaper in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, reports that his wife, Julia, threw him a 75th birthday party on January 31, 1905, his birthday, both of which would indicate that he was born in 1830.
5 The marriage date of Margaret Moore and William E. Geer is unconfirmed. The only record of their marriage I have found to date is actually a record of their application for a marriage license dated Jan. 4, 1855, located at the Washington County Historical Society, Abingdon, Virginia, STA VA WA 3.1, p. 22.
6 Smyth County Register of Deaths, Book 1, 1857-1896.
7 1860 U. S. census, Smyth Co, VA, p. 888, dwelling 165, family 165, Henry S. McLure, see Sarah Ann Gear; Ancestry (NARA, M653, Roll 1377).
8 Some family researchers have assumed that Lear McLure was William’s sister, but further research of the McLure family revealed no relationship. Henry and Lear were both born in North Carolina, and Lear’s maiden name was most likely
9 1850 U. S. census Washington Co, VA, p. 70B, family 35, Celia Geer; Ancestry (NARA, M432 Roll 980)
10 John D. Chapla, 48th Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1989), p. 124.
11 Ibid., p. 142.
13 Veterans Records, Union, Ist Connecticut Cavalry, Company G, Muster Roll, 1 Oct. 1863.
14 “An Old Soldier’s Romance,” Maiden Rock Press, Dec. 1905, n. pag.
16 Several years ago, I met a descendant of Thomas Geer, William’s brother. When I told her I was descended from William, she said, “Oh! He was the traitor.” That remark made 120 years after the fact opened my eyes to how difficult it must have been for Sarah to have grown up in a community where people viewed her father to be a traitor.