The 22nd in a series of posts about my family tree
Inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
Conflict begins with the crossing of a boundary. An uninvited someone or something enters our mental, emotional, physical or spiritual space and provokes a defensive response. Basically, our solitude is invaded; our focus is hijacked, and in an attempt to gain back our equilibrium we react.
As one who has spent the past several years dismantling her defences I’ve discovered that it’s our vulnerability that either acts out to attract attention, or we attract conflict by subconsciously demonstrating our vulnerability to those who need to act out to command attention. Either way there are lessons to be learned and there’s healing to be done if we care to make the effort to walk down that path.
And sometimes we’re simply collateral damage in the wake of another’s energetic toxic tornado.
Consider, for instance, how many wars have been fought; how many lives have been lost or ruined based solely on the wounded, insatiable need of the bloated, embittered ego determined to conquer all at any cost.
As well, the nature of conflict is not exclusive to war on a military scale. It can be as simple as walking on egg shells around an overbearing parent or some other difficult family member or friend just to keep the peace. There are many emotional dynamics that come into play and are worthy of consideration, however for the purpose of this piece take what you will from two examples picked from the branches of my family tree.
My maternal great grandfather, Steve McDonall, was not a bad man, but he was a difficult man with a volatile temper. The same man who read Ingersoll and gladly made room for the travelling preacher at the dinner table also handily “dispatched” the farm dog for not being mean enough and provoked physical altercations with his sons. In an earlier post, How Curiosity Leads to Compassion, we explored how his family’s traumatic experience during the Great Fire of Michigan in 1881, and his mother Elizabeth (Sparling) McDonall’s consequent rages likely informed his behaviour. Steve was adept at creating family conflict. Mary (Belton) McDonall, a vivacious and genteel young woman when they married, learned to shutdown for the sake of self-preservation. My grandfather, Stanley Lewis McDonall, played off his father’s influence and became a source of instability and conflict within his own small family.
In her memoir, my maternal grandmother Alice (Gordon) McDonall offers this description of her father-in-law. She and Stanley lived with his family for the first few months of their marriage.
“… Steve was very dominant to the point of his wife and sons feeling as if they lived under the heel of some dictator whom, if they displeased, could cause a cloud of great, dark displeasure over the home and all who dwelt in it for as long as the dark mood was on him. Then, he expected everyone to get into his bright mood again immediately when he did. I liked him though. He had a real gift of sarcasm and put many an unwary innocent (like myself at 18) into a state of unbelievable shock at their own stupidity. Oh well, Steve did a lot of good, too, and got very little thanks for it.
Steve had a blacksmith’s shop. He was an amateur blacksmith. Blacksmithing ran in his family. The shop fascinated me. I loved watching him work and can smell yet the hot iron and see the flames from the big fire. His mind was not made up about me for a long time as it was not made up about anyone for a long time. I knew that. I knew that again he would have to have proof of my worth. After all, he was very family proud.
Anyway, I loved the blacksmithing so much that I would swallow all my pride and go and stand in that shop door way and watch him. He never said much. He would spit and rub his hands and move around fast. Sometimes he would ask me to hold something like his hammer or just something, and I felt really good then. I was very young and didn’t know how to prove to him that I was worthy. I think in time he accepted me. But there would always be reservations. They were American-born. Loyalty to Britain or anything British to them was unthinkable. I was Scottish and British and proud of it. From a school of patriotism. From a family who had sent many sons to fight for British principles. And from a family on both sides whose blood was and is embedded in distant and foreign lands and also in the seas. So, we had no meeting place there. I was too young and too polite to argue so the American way held sway. The king was a no-good figure head. Ill born and expensive. Englishmen were sort of stupid and arrogant. The bag pipes were terrible. Steve often told me that the best way to make a Scot happy was to not take away his porridge and never change his bed. I swallowed a lot of insults while smiling, but underneath boiled. We had only been in Canada for seven years when I married. I think that attitude of theirs at the very start of my marriage perhaps started the decay of it.
We lived with them for all of the first winter. I was not happy with it at all. I had come from a lot more open-minded people. We laughed a lot at home. McDonalls were having a hard time. …”Source: Memoirs of Alice (Gordon) McDonall
Another more elevated example of conflict, of course, is all out war. Our family tree has its fair share of those who served. One such ancestor was my 5th great grandfather, Lt. Col. Daniel Springer, a United Empire Loyalist who served with Butler’s Rangers during the American Revolution. Following is an account of some of the conflict in which he was embroiled as shared on FamilySearch by a 10th cousin.
Daniel Springer was born in Albany, New York on January 5th, 1764. At the outset of the American Revolution, Daniel’s father, Reverend David Springer, a British sympathizer, was shot in his front yard in Poughkeepsie, New York and had his land confiscated. After the death of his father, Daniel and three of his brothers (John, Richard and Benjamin) abandoned their homes and came north to Canada.
While John, Richard and Benjamin Springer settled in Hamilton, Daniel separated from his brothers. When he settled on the banks of the Thames River in what would become the village of Delaware, Daniel Springer became the first white settler of the future site of Middlesex County.
He became friends with the local Indians with whom he settled among and traded with. He was called “Wahasash” which means good man or wise counselor. In 1794, Springer would marry Ruth Fairchild, who, on July 7, 1805 gave birth to a child, Henrietta. Remaining in Delaware, Springer served as postmaster for the village.
During the War of 1812, Springer served as the Captain of the 1st Middlesex Militia and the Lt. Colonel of the 4th Regiment of the Middlesex Regiment, and was appointed magistrate by Colonel Thomas Talbot.
In 1812, Isaac Brock found that the entire western frontier of Upper Canada was in a desperate state. Many militia units were littered with desertion or were refusing to march and many villages were actually calling upon American General Hull for protection. Brock quickly instructed Springer to organize a force that would suppress rebellion and impress those neutral into siding with the British. Days later, American sympathizers Andrew Westbrook and Ebenezer Allan were arrested.
Westbrook would get revenge later in the war, however, leading an American raid on Delaware on January 31, 1814, that snagged Springer, Colonel Francis Baby and at least one other officer as prisoners. After his capture, Springer was sent to American General Henry Harrison headquarters before being sent to Chilicothe, Ohio. Springer escaped and returned to his regiment in time to take part in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
After the war, Springer found himself embroiled in a feud with a neighbour, John Matthews, who coveted Springer’s land and sought to discredit him. Matthews accused Springer of enlarging his holdings by intimidation and deceit, but Springer received aide in the form of no less than Thomas Talbot himself who reputed Springer’s claims to his holdings.
On June 15, 1826 (or possibly 1827), Daniel Springer died and was interred two days later with Masonic honours. Springer Lake, a reservoir at the Sharon Creek Conservation Area and Springer Road in Delaware were both named in honour of Daniel Springer.Source: Daniel Springer ~ First White Settler in Middlesex County by Stephen Blakeney, October 17, 2013 (FamilySearch)
A Final Word
Conflict is not a subject to be taken lightly and this was, in fact, a difficult prompt to answer. I was raised in a loving home because my mother made the commitment to herself that no matter what my brother and I would always know we were loved, something of which she was never sure when her father went into one of his spontaneous rages. Like all families the three of us have had our differences of opinion and endured our moments of brooding silence, and yet we’ve always known where we stood and that our love was absolute. This is where we choose to place our focus as each of us endeavours to make peace with our own personal conflicts while becoming even greater sources of love at home. ❦
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