Oh Susannah! Were you really a Woman’s Libber?

The Obituary:

KAYLOR-At Harrisburg, Pa., Feb. 4, 1884, Sister Susannah Kaylor, in the 93d year of her age.Her mortal remains were taken from the residence of her son-in-law, Brother Phillip R. Awxer(sic), of Harrisburg, to the Fourth street bethel. After several impressive addresses by the brethren, ministers, and the last earthly look upon the cold remains of one so aged, and so much loved by all who knew her, the body was conveyed for interment to the Harrisburg cemetery. While old age is honorable, it is only a long life of devotion to God and consecrated to his service, that surrounds the end thereof with a halo of glory which outshines the glittering diadems of earthly monarchs. Such was the life, and such the closing hours of our aged grandmother. None feel her loss so much as Brother Awxer(sic) and family; except one son, now residing in Independence, Missouri. C. Price

The Story:
Taking in mind that this was published in a Church of God publication, the emphasis was of course, on Susannah’s saintliness. It appeared in the February 27, 1884 issue of The Church Advocate. Whether she was that saintly or not, went to the grave with her. Susannah’s story is a fascinating one.

Susannah was born in July of 1792 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. By 1813 she was married to Samuel Leader of Marietta and the mother of a daughter, Maria, my ancestor. She went on to have at least two more children, Jacob in 1814 and Frederick in 1821. With a seven year spread between her 2nd and 3rd children, odds are she had other children who may have died young.

  • Fact: The 1820 census shows 2 girls under the age of 10. This accounts for Maria and one other. Only one girl appears in the 1830 census, so chances are Susannah had a daughter who died in that period.

The 20 year period between 1820 and 1840 was a tough period in Susannah’s life. Marietta, Pennsylvania was a River Town and was known for more Taverns than Churches. Her father-in-law, Lewis, owned a tavern, one block from the river and one block from a lumber yard. Since Samuel was a Joiner and probably worked at a lumberyard, chances are Samuel frequented his father’s business.

  • Fact: In October of 1819, Samuel was in Debtor’s Prison. Notice of this appeared in the Lancaster Journal on 2 November of that year.

Lancaster Jail, October 21, 1819
That we, the subscribers, have applied to the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, in and for the county of Lancaster, for the benefit of the several acts of insolvency of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and they have appointed Monday the 8th of November 1819, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, to hear us and our creditors, at the court house in the city of Lancaster, where you may attend.

How this situation happened is unknown, however, with a wife and two young children at home, life must have been tough for the family. Five years later, the family’s home was sold in a Sheriff’s Sale. By this time there was another child, and it was not the era that women worked.
  • Fact: Notice of the sale appeared in the Lancaster Journal on 20 February 1824:

By virtue of a writ of levari facias to me directed, will be sold by public vendue, on Friday, the 27th day of February, inst. at the public house of James McClellan in borough of Marietta, a Lot of Ground, situate in that part of Marietta, called New Haven, No. 58, with a one story house, thereon erected, adjoining lots of John Depler and others, fronting on Locust street.

Sale to commence at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Seized and taken in execution as the property of Samuel Leader, and to be sold by Frederick Hambright, Sheriff.

It is unknown where the family lived after they lost their home, but it is assumed they remained in the Marietta area, since that is where Samuel’s extended family lived. Frederick was still in school in 1831 and appeared on the “Poor Children’s List” for that year.

The “Poor Childrens List” is the list kept by the County, for the Children who’s parents cannot, for one reason or another, afford school supplies or to contribute to the salary for the teacher. The County picked up the tab for those students. Frederick owed for 3 sheets of paper.

In 1839, Susannah’s life took a turn. For the period starting in 1829, Samuel is listed on the Tax List for Marietta alternately as a Joiner or a Carpenter. In 1839, he does not appear.

This is the year she receives a Bible. It is dated April 15, 1839. Susannah does not read, so chances are the Bible was given to her on an important ocassion in her life. . . . perhaps even the death of her husband.

In the 1950’s when the cemetery was transcribed there was a broken stone in Zion Union Meeting House Graveyard, Waterford Ave., Marietta, PA. It showed a person aged 63 yr, d. 4 ? 1839. This falls into line with Samuel’s age, the date in Susannah’s Bible and the absence from the tax list. I’m assuming Samuel died in April of 1839.

In March of 1840, Susannah bought a home in Elizabethtown, just east of Marietta. Since her family was from this area, she probably went where her support lay. Susannah seemed to do better on her own than she did sharing her life with Samuel.

In January of 1844, Susannah decides to remarry. She must have sensed something since she and her prospective bridegroom, George Kaylor, also a widower, fill out a prenuptial agreement, whereby their respective properties are their sole and separate properties, to do with as they pleased.

1844 and a prenup!! Was my ancestor a Woman’s Libber or what?

A nasty divorce started just 10 short years later. George called her names, she called her witnesses. She was awarded alimony since George had more than just a wandering eye. Her witnesses included her daughter, Mary and her sister Barbara. Both testified as to George’s advances toward them, “trying to make connection with them.” He even tried to collect his rent from a tennent in the same manner and the tennent also testified on Susannah’s behalf.

Susannah was 62 and on her own again. She had one son in Jackson County, Missouri, one in Philadelphia and her only daughter lived close by in Conoy Township. She went to live with Mary and is found there on the 1860 census.

She is still living with the Auxer family when they move to Harrisburg in 1866. She appears on the census with them in 1870 and is living with them when her daughter died in 1877.

Instead of Susannah being the saintly one, I would think it was her son-in-law, Philip Kleiss Auxer. After his wife died in 1877, Philip continued to care for Susannah. He cared for her for seven years before she died in 1884 at the age of 91 years old.

Susannah had lived a long and hard life. She had experiences in her life that would have broken an average person, but she picked herself up and went on.

They made them tough back then.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 10:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s Journal


NIESS.-Mrs. Catharine L. Niess, died at her home, 117 Dock street, Harrisburg, Pa., May 27, 1921. She is survived by three sons: Edwin A., and John E. Niess, both of Washington, D.C., and B. Frank Niess, of Harrisburg, Pa.; on daughter, Mrs. Lewis (sic) J. Houseal, of Harrisburg; also by two sisters. Mrs. Niess was a charter member of the Nagle Street church of God. For many years she was deaconess of this church, and in this capacity she served with unusual efficiency. She lived an exemplary Christian life, and will be missed many days. Funeral services were held at the above address on June 1st, conducted by her pastor, assisted by the Rev. George R. Hoverter. Interment was made in the Harrisburg cemetery.


In 1844 Catharine Leader Auxer Niess was born into a family of three older sisters. Maria Leader and Philip K. Auxer had lost a son four years before she was born. A sister and a brother were born after her.
The family was a religious one and it set the stage for Catharine’s life. When she was 15 years old, she appeared on the census as a domestic in the home of Christian Graybill in East Donegal Twp, Lancaster, County. The year was 1860.
Catharine (on left) and three of her sisters.

Four years later she married Ephraim Niess in Harrisburg. They were married for over 50 years when he died in November of 1915. They buried six young children and watched four grow and have families of their own. My great-grandfather, Edwin A. Niess, was the oldest of these. She chronicles her prayers for her children, and especially for her husband.

Philip Auxer's home in Harrisburg
Home of Philip K. Auxer, Catharine’s
father in Harrisburg as it is today

I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s journal! It covered four years of her life in the late 1880’s and chronicles the ups and downs in the family and neighborhood. Her life was basically not a happy one. Her husband, a Civil War Veteran, was a servant to liquor and Catharine was a servant to the Gospel. She was continually praying for him and referred to him only as “my husband” in her journal. Money was in short supply and she would go around and pay the creditors.

Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary
Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary

On the plus side is the giving, caring spirit that lived within Catharine. She loved her children and missed them when they were gone. She was always caring for an ill neighbor or sharing her table with somebody. She always had guests, some for a week, some overnight.

Her journal covers historic events as well. She tells of viewing the devastation of the Jonestown flood. She tells of the flood in Harrisburg where they moved everything to the second floor and then waited weeks for rugs and floors to dry out. She wrote about a train derailment down the street from her home and the deaths caused by it. Another story was the 1893 collapse of the floors in the old Ford Theatre in Washington DC,where my great-grandfather was working. Twenty two people lost their lives, but my great grandfather, being meticulous man he was, rolled down his sleeves, put his jacket and hat one before he walked outside. After all, a well dressed man would never go outside in his shirt sleeves!

Her Church was very important in her life. She was happy when her children were baptised in the Susquehanna River and she was disappointed when they chose to join another Church. She shared her religion with her neighbors and family. Her Pastor was revered.

She took trips. She traveled to Williamsport, PA to visit her brother-in-law’s family. She traveled to Washington DC to visit her son and his family and she traveled to Altoona to visit her niece and her family. She visited her sister in Camden, New Jersey and she often went to visit her cousin in Marietta. She did not let grass grow under her feet.

Catharine experienced the death of both of her parents, her brother, two of her sisters, her grandmother, her brother-in-law, six young children and finally her husband. The home she raised her children in is now gone. The Dock Street Bridge now takes it’s place. The home was on Dock Street in the Shipoke District of Harrisburg.

Catharine and her older sister, in mourning clothes
Catharine and her older sister in their Mourning Clothes.

Catharine outlived her husband by six years. She died in May of 1921 at her home in Harrisburg. She was finally going home to join her family.

Her prayers were answered.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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