Isabella Sarah McCabe Anderson (1818-1912)
What was she thinking? Marrying a man so much older when she was still a teen…taking on the care of his small children…having so many children of her own….moving away from her family to a new state? I think, as I look at the picture of this woman sitting tall and proud in her 90s, she was thinking, “This is what I want to do, and so I’m going to do it.”
Isabella, my great-great grandmother is the sturdy woman who sits front and center in the family portrait taken in 1909. Her astounding life took her from child bride defying her family’s wishes by marrying and moving from Pennsylvania to Ohio, to become one of the longest-surviving members of the family. She is ninety-one years old in this picture, surrounded by four of her seven children, assorted grandchildren (including my grandfather) and great-grandchildren (including my mother) and in-laws. And she was to live three more years after this picture.
I mentioned in my sketch of Mary Brink Anderson, that my mother and grandmother’s stories about family seemed to ignore my grandfather’s maternal line. Not only did they neglect to follow the story of the Brink-Middaugh Dutch connection, they also did not relate the rich family history of Isabella McCabe Anderson.
Although my mother’s version of her story was that Isabella came from Scotland with her parents, she was really born in Pennsylvania. The records, including the Ohio Biographies Project entry on John Anderson tell the true story. Isabella’s grandfather, William McCabe, came to America in 1775 as the pioneer of the family. He settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. And his father is identified as Scotch-Irish. While the McCabes originated in Scotland, they had been in Ireland for generations, first moving there to serve as militia for Irish lords.
Isabella’s mother comes from a very distinguished early American family–also from Scotland– the Fifes. I do not want to get distracted here with the rich history of the Fifes , but they came to the United states in the early 1700s and three members of the first and 2nd generation served in the Revolutionary War.
After having two children who died in infancy and a son, John Fife McCabe, Joseph and Margaret Fife McCabe had a baby girl in September, 1818. They named her for her maternal grandmother, Isabella Thompson Fife. There may be something to the name, as that elder Isabella lived to 91, which in the mid 19th century was a very long time.
Isabella had three younger children, but her mother, Margaret, died when she was only forty years old, leaving her husband and
- 18-year-old John,
- 14-year-old Isabella,
- nine-year-old Thompson,
- seven-year-old Mary
- and five-year-old Lavinia.
We can assume that Isabella was important to her widowed father. As the oldest girl, she would have responsibilities for younger children. But she wanted more than that.
So it is not surprising that three years later, when recently widowed John Anderson wanted to marry Isabella, her father (and probably other relatives) objected. It is quite easy to see the objections. John Anderson was twenty years older than the then-17-year-old Isabella. And he had three children. I have not located information on Abigail, but Erasmus (yes, THAT Erasmus) was just five years old and his little sister Sarah Jane Anderson (McDowell) was three.
It may be superficial but is easy to attribute Isabella’s strong personality to her warrior ancestors, but she clearly knew what she wanted and did not fear consequences.
Defying her family, Isabella married John Anderson in 1835, and promptly got pregnant with the first of her seven children, John O. Anderson born in 1836. (The Biographical Record of Holmes County assigns son John to John Anderson’s first wife, however, if the date of his birth is correct, that is not possible.)
- In 1939 Isabella gave birth to Margaret Anderson (Lisle).
- In 1841 William McCabe Anderson was born.
I suppose it is possible that the friction caused by the McCabe family’s disapproval of her marriage led to, or at least speeded up John and Isabella Anderson’s decision to move from Pennsylvania. At any rate, at about twenty-two, Isabella, responsible for the care of five (or six) children, left her Pennsylvania family behind to help her husband on a new farm in Holmes County, Ohio. I picture Isabella as a young woman not intimidated by the aspect of moving to the unknown territory of Ohio.
According to the Ohio Biographies Project, Biographical Record of Holmes County (written in 1889), John and Isabella and their children moved from Allegheny County in Pennsylvania to Monroe Township in Holmes County, Ohio in 1840, although it was probably a little later. Census records are contradictory about when the rest of the children were born, so I am not positive about John O., but the last four were surely born in Ohio. (And thank goodness she had all those children, because the next to last was my great-grandfather.)
Family stories say Isabella was an enthusiastic traveler, going as far as California in a day when not many women made such trips so maybe she saw the move to Ohio as a great adventure. I have no idea whether she did this before or after he husband died, or perhaps she followed her daughter Amy (Roof) and her husband as they traveled around the country. At any rate, she outlived five of her children/step children, and her husband. And as hard as she might have had to work, I don’t believe she regretted following her heart and marrying that older man.
I know that the family remained close, devoted to each other and to their church, and all of them at least modestly successful financially.
In 1861, when her youngest child was nine, Isabella and John’s son William joined the Union Army and the following year her step-son Erasmus joined up. As far as I know, Isabella lost no children in infancy or childhood, so when Erasmus died in 1863, he was her first great loss. Ten years later her son John O. died as the result of a fall from a tree on his farm. In 1879 her husband, John, died at the age of 83, leaving her a widow who spent the rest of her days moving from the home of one child to another.
At first she lived with William McCabe Anderson and his first wife, but then he was widowed, and remarried. Two more children died–Joseph Anderson (my grandfather who died in his 30s) and Sarah Jane Anderson Brink. Isabella moved in with Caroline Anderson Bird and her husband. Soon after that, William McCabe also died. By 1909, when the big family portrait was taken, Isabella was living with the recently widowed Amy Anderson Roof.
In April of 1912, Isabella, not quite 94, died in Holmes County, Ohio, but I have not determined where she was buried. Great-grandma, I think I know what you were thinking.
Information about Mary V. Brink Anderson and her family comes from death records,obituaries, census records and marriage records obtained from Ancestry.com; the recorded recollections of my mother, Harriette V. Anderson Kaser (1906-2003); and the Biographical Record of Holmes County, 1889 from the Ohio Biographies Project. Information about the Fife family can be found on the website Fife Genealogy. There are several Fife family websites, as well as McCabe sites. Find one that tells the history of the McCabes at this site.
This has been a weekly post in the 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Project started by Amy Johnson Crow at “No Story too Small.” Check out her weekly recap showing the list of participants for some ripping good stories.