Monday, January 19, 2015

My Famous Relatives: Jaakko Ilkka

The 1978 premiere of the opera Jaakko Ilkka by Jorma Panula, with Tuomo Häkkilä, center, in the title role

Most people in the USA won’t recognize the name Jaakko Illka. But in Finland he’s a well-known folk hero, the leader of the Cudgel War of 1596.

I know the name Jaakko Ilkka because he’s my eleven-times-great grandfather, at least according to research by a Finnish cousin of mine. Finnish church records, which have been the legal repositories of birth and marriage announcements, are all that researchers have to rely on. Those records seem to confirm two lines of descent from Jaakko Ilkka to proven ancestors of mine on my mother's side.

One line of descent comes down through my great-grandfather Wilhelm Hirvi, who I’ve written about on this blog before. You can hear a recording of him singing here. 

The other line of descent comes down through my great-great-grandfather Matti Uhmusberg Hietanen, who I’ve written about on this blog here.

Sigismund III by Pieter Claesz. Soutman
In the late 16th century Finland was a part of Sweden under King Sigismund III.  Sigismund lived in Poland, which he also ruled, so to oversee Finland he appointed a governor, Klaus Eriksson Fleming. At the same time Sweden was overseen by Sigismund’s uncle Kaarle. Governor Fleming of Finland and Duke Kaarle of Sweden did not get along. They vied for power, often at the expense of the poorest of the Finnish peasants.

The people of the Ostrobothnia region of central Finland resented the feudal military tax imposed to help pay for Sweden’s war with Russia. The Ostrobothnians had been legally exempted from this tax during the reign of Sigismund’s father, in return for their defense of Ostrobothnia against the Russians. But when Sigismund took the throne, the exemption was ignored. Crushing taxation—collected, often brutally, by Governor Fleming’s military—only added to the Finnish peasants’ woes, which already included the loss of men drafted to defend the border and poor harvests of the little ice age.  In some places the peasants faced starvation. Small rebellions broke out from time to time, but the taxation continued.

In 1585 Jaakko Ilkka (1545-1597), a farmer, lived with his wife and son in Ilmajoki in Southern Ostrobothnia, Finland. He bred cattle on his farm and became a merchant, shipping his cattle to Sweden. From 1586 through1588 he served as the second sheriff of Ilmajoki. This position increased his prestige and his income. He flourished and became the seventh richest merchant in Southern Ostrobothnia, managing shipping to Sweden, Estonia, and elsewhere.

His first wife died about 1588. He re-married and eventually had three more sons.

In 1591 Jaakko Ilkka joined the army. As a member of the military he was tax-exempt and collected feudal taxes. He participated in three expeditions in Sweden’s war with Russia. By 1593 his military activity stopped. He collected no more taxes from his peasant neighbors. In 1592 Governor Fleming declared a trade embargo in the Gulf of Bothnia. Merchant shipping in the Gulf of Bothnia virtually ceased. Ilkka concentrated on cattle farming.

By late fall of 1594 Sweden and Russia began negotiations to end their war. To support the negotiations Governor Fleming had Swedish troops transported to Finland. The Finnish people, already crushed by military taxes, refused to pay the Swedish forces’ costs. Fleming ordered the military to force collection.

On May 18, 1595, the Treaty of Teusina ended the twenty-five-year Russo-Swedish War. Despite the war’s end, Fleming’s militia continued to collect the feudal tax. Fleming wanted the revenue in order to combat Duke Kaarle’s efforts to take the Swedish crown. But this meant little to the Finnish peasants who lived in fear of being robbed, tortured, and having their homes burned if they could not pay.
Duke Kaarle, later King Charles IX of Sweden.

By late 1595 Duke Kaarle of Sweden was denouncing the oppression of the peasants by Fleming and his military. Encouraged by this, the entire population of Finland’s Ostrobothnia region refused to pay their butter tax.  A small force of Finnish peasants approached Jaakko Ilkka with the idea to take back the grain that had been collected as tax since the end of the war. He agreed to lead them.

On December 24, 1595, while the military was preoccupied with Christmas celebrations, the rebels attacked the Swedish cavalry in Isokyro and Rautalampi. They recovered their grain and drove the soldiers out of the region. But by mid-January 1596, the Swedish military had suppressed the rebellion and arrested Ilkka. He was imprisoned in Turku Castle in Turku, Finland.

Ten months later he escaped. One story says that a draft in his cell led him to a sewer duct that he crawled through to freedom. But the actual duct at Turku Castle is too small for a man to fit inside. Another story says he used a concealed knife to pick mortar from between the stones of his cell wall. He used the holes to climb the wall, then let himself down the other side with a rope made from his coat. A more plausible explanation is that friends, sympathizers, or possibly his second wife’s relatives used their influence to free him.

Unrest among the Finns grew. On November 15, 1596, St. Catherine’s Day, Duke Kaarle sent an emissary to a gathering at the church in Isokyro, Finland, urging the people to fight for their rights. He also sent a shipment of distilled spirits. The men at the church decided to stop paying the feudal tax and to defend themselves with arms. They gathered a small resistance army from all over Finland and named Ilkka their leader. In mid-December three groups of these fighters set out marching south by different routes toward Turku. Jaakko Ilkka and Yrjo Kontsas led the main group of about eight hundred, looting and burning soldiers’ farms and crown-owned properties and gathering adherents along the way.

The spiked cudgels carried by many of the peasants were effective weapons in piercing soldiers’ armor. These instruments gave their name to the rebellion, the Cudgel War—or as it’s known in Finland, Nuijasota.

On December 26, Ilkka and his men, now about 2500 strong, defeated a party of two hundred cavalry soldiers and set up camp in Nokia. On December 31, Governor Fleming attacked the rebels with his army of over 3000 professional soldiers and several cannons. The rebel army defended themselves successfully.

During the night Fleming, having failed to defeat the rebels and realizing that other groups of rebel reinforcements were coming, sent emissaries into Nokia to treat with the rebel leaders. The emissaries offered an end to the feudal tax and safe passage home for the rebels. In exchange they demanded the rebel leaders, particularly Jakko Ilkka. Fearing betrayal, Ilkka and several others fled on horseback into the night.

Now unable to fulfill Fleming’s demands, the rebel army broke up and began to flee. Fleming’s cavalry attacked the fleeing peasants and a massacre was on. Other groups of rebels were also defeated by the military. Peasants were slaughtered until one local governor pointed out that dead peasants could not pay taxes.

Jaakko Ilkka returned to Ilmajoki where he was captured by his neighbors. He was turned over to local governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika, who had orders to transport Ilkka to face Fleming in Turku. However, Melkiorinpoika feared that rebels would succeed in freeing Ilkka during the long trip to Turku. He staged a quick court martial in neighboring Isokyro. Ilkka and five other rebel leaders were sentenced to death.

Jaakko Ilkka’s exact method of execution on January 27, 1597, is unknown. The standard method of the day was to have the hands and feet crushed, the right arm cut off, and then the head severed from the body.  Ilkka’s parts were publicly displayed in Ilmajoki before the rebel army buried him honorably in the local cemetery.

The rebellion continued. The climactic Battle of Santavuori on February 27, 1597, was a disaster for the peasants. Many were brutally slain. The Cudgel War, one of the largest European peasant rebellions, ended in failure for the oppressed. Governor Fleming died a couple months later. Duke Kaarle, who had given lip service to the rebels’ cause but provided little in actual support, eventually became King Charles IX. But little changed in the lives of the peasants.

Duke Kaarle insults the body of Klaus Fleming in 1597, painting by Albert Edelfelt, 1878.

Jaakko Ilkka, the first Finnish freedom fighter, was hailed as a hero.  His example of a common man rising up to lead the fight against injustice has continued to inspire Finland as a nation.

Jaakko Ilkka monument in Ilmajoki, Finland.
Among the memorials to Jaakko Ilkka is a large monument raised in his home town of Ilmajoki in 1924. In 1978 Jaakko Ilkka, an opera by Jorma Panula with a libretto by Aarni Krohn, was first performed at the Ilmajoki Music Festival. A recording of the opera was released in 1979.  A Finnish television production of the opera was broadcast in 1982. The legacy of the Cudgel War has continued in literature, art, and academic studies. Each year since 2003 The Cudgel War has been reenacted at a camp in Kavalahti, Inkoo, Finland. In 2004, viewers of the Finnish television show Great Finns (Suuret suomalaiset) voted Jaakko Ilkka number 75 of the 100 greatest Finns of all time. 

I have no means to double-check the genealogical research that says Jaakko Ilkka is my forebear since I don’t speak or read Finnish and don’t have easy access to the records. But I’m happy to accept my descent from Jaakko Ilkka as true. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dropping Bombs

Lucille and her mother Dell.
I love my grandma. She’s a calm, matter-of-fact, generally happy woman, who laughs easily. She’s ninety-eight years old, and she plans on making it to one hundred.

Grandma’s not a secretive person. I’ve spent time with her discussing her life and our family. And she’s willing to tell me her stories. Yet not too long ago, when I was asking her about family matters, she dropped a bombshell.

For years I’d known the general outline of Grandma’s early life.

My paternal grandmother, Verna Lucille Evans Shanower Cote—called Lucille—was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916, an only child. Her parents, Joseph Edward Evans (1884-1943) and Adella Cecil "Dell" Grandy (1888-1974), divorced when she was just four years old. Lucille and her mother Adella moved in with Adella’s parents—Millard Curtis Grandy (1867-1941) and Bertha May Flora Grandy (1868-1942)—at their home in Cleveland. For the next few years, while Adella worked as a telephone operator, Lucille was basically raised—along with her aunt Helene Grandy (1907-1987) and first cousin once removed Elva Flora (1907-unk)—by her grandmother, Bertha.

The Grandy Family, l to r: Clayton Curtis Grandy, Verna M. Grandy Lundberg, Elma Helene Grandy Haylor Humes, Bertha May Flora Grandy, Grace L. Grandy Draper, Millard Curtis Grandy, Inez Irene Grandy Balcomb Kolinski, Adella Cecil "Dell" Grandy McElroy Evans Hundhammer.

So much for the outlines, but I wanted to get some detail out of Grandma. “How much did you see your father after your parents divorced?” I asked her.

Joseph Evans and Lucille, c. 1917.
“Oh, he came by once in a while,” Grandma answered. “He’d send a card at Christmas. But I didn’t see him again after he married his second wife and moved to California.”

Whoa! Hold on! Second wife? Moved to California?

My uncle, Lucille’s son, who happened to be in the room, did a double-take.

Trying to process this revelation, I said, “Grandma, I don’t remember hearing this before. Your father re-married and moved to California? I thought he was buried in Cleveland.”

“They shipped his body back,” she said.

This was news to everyone except Lucille—including my dad, who I phoned to tell soon after. Was this the first time in over seven decades that she’d bothered to mention it?

Maybe. She wasn’t keeping it a secret on purpose. Until I asked, there just hadn’t been any particular reason for her to talk about it.

But what did my great-grandfather Joseph Evans’s second marriage mean? Did my grandmother have half-siblings out there somewhere?

I started research.

Grandma’s information was right. She’s in her late nineties, but her mind is unimpaired. On October 29, 1930, more than a decade after his divorce from Adella Grandy, Joseph Evans married Elizabeth Prosper (1891-unk) in Cleveland, Ohio. I uncovered no children from this marriage, so no half-siblings.

Sarah Jane Hopton Evans and Jonathan Rapier Evans, c. 1940.
It’s unclear when Joseph moved to California. The 1940 census, ten years after his wedding to Elizabeth, lists him living in Cleveland with his Welsh immigrant parents, Jonathan Rapier Evans (1860-1944) and Sarah Jane Hopton Evans (1860-1948). But California death records confirm that he died three years after that, June 12, 1943, in Los Angeles. His body was shipped back across the country and buried in the Monroe Street Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Elizabeth Prosper, Joseph’s second wife, had been married twice before. Before 1910 she married Harry J. Damme (1889-1923) in New York and they had four children. First husband Harry died, leaving Elizabeth a widow. In 1923 she married a second time to Turkish immigrant Steve Totolidis (or maybe Fotolidis) (abt 1894-unk) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Perhaps Steve Totolidis died, although I suspect he and Elizabeth divorced, leaving her single to marry Joseph Evans in 1930.

That’s all I know about Elizabeth Prosper Damme Totolidis Evans. One of her four children with Harry Damme, Harry John Damme Jr., had descendants, but I can’t find any who might be able to provide further details about Elizabeth.

After learning about the second marriage of my great-grandfather Joseph Evans, I asked my grandmother whether she had any other deep, dark family secrets that she hadn’t told anyone. She laughed and told me that she didn’t, that her father’s second marriage hadn’t been a secret, there’d just never been a reason to mention it before.

No more family secrets. Right.

While doing more genealogical research some time later I came across the marriage certificate of Lucille’s parents, Joseph Evans and Adella Grandy. No surprises there—but, wait! What was that listed with Adella’s information? A previous marriage? Whoa, another bombshell.

I immediately e-mailed my dad and my uncle. What was this about their grandmother Adella’s marriage to a Charles E. McElroy (1888-unk), who she’d divorced before marrying Joseph Evans? Did any of them know about it?


So my uncle asked his mother Lucille about this first marriage of Adella’s. Lucille explained.

After Lucille graduated from high school in the 1930s, a man she didn’t know paid a visit to her mother Adella. Lucille asked her mother who this stranger was. Adella explained that he was her first husband, Charles McElroy. Today Lucille suspects that if Charles McElroy’s visit hadn’t prompted Lucille’s curiosity, Adella would never have revealed to her daughter the fact of her first marriage.

Marriage record of Charles E. McElroy and Adella C. Grandy, May 9, 1911. Charles's first wife is listed as deceased. As always, you may click the image to see it larger in a new window.

My uncle told me that Lucille got a good laugh out of the idea that she’d kept this bombshell a secret on purpose. Actually, she hadn’t mentioned her mother’s first marriage to me simply because she’d completely forgotten about it.

(An aside: I should have discovered Adella’s marriage to Charles McElroy earlier. Another family researcher, a McNaughton cousin, had Adella and Charles’s marriage recorded on his family tree. I’d seen that information there, but I’d dismissed Charles McElroy’s name as being an error.)

Adella Grandy and Charles McElroy had no children together, so Grandma remains a single child. However, Charles McElroy was married both before his marriage to Adella on May 10, 1911, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and again after their divorce in October 1913.

Lorriane F. McElroy Pecka, 1927.
Who was Charles McElroy’s first wife? I can’t find her name recorded anywhere, but in 1906 a daughter was born from their union, Lorriane F. McElroy (1906-unk). When Lorriane married James Pecka (abt 1901-unk) in Cleveland on June 1, 1927, she listed her mother on her marriage license as Anna Voelker (1886-unk). But Anna Voelker was Charles McElroy’s third wife, not his first wife who was Lorriane’s mother. Charles's first wife was recorded earlier as deceased. But is that true? Was third wife Anna listed on Lorraine’s marriage license as a matter of convenience, since she was Lorriane’s step-mother? Or was Charles McElroy actually married to Anna Voelker twice, both before and after he was married to Adella Grandy? Who knows?

Another question remains. Why did Charles McElroy pay that visit to his second wife Adella after Lucille had graduated high school in 1935, more than twenty years after Charles and Adella had been divorced? Was Charles trying to re-ignite their relationship, despite the fact that his third marriage seems to have been intact? Lucille doesn’t know, so there’s little chance anyone does.

Aloysius "Ollie" Hundhammer.
After marriages to both Charles McElroy and Joseph Evans, Adella Cecil Grandy McElroy Evans married a third time in 1924, just after Lucille turned eight years old. I knew about this marriage to Aloysius “Ollie” Hundhammer (1894-1964), since there had never been any secret about it. Ollie moved his new wife Adella and step-daughter Lucille to Mentor, Ohio.

According to Lucille, Ollie was a mean man. He was also Catholic. My Protestant grandmother Lucille for decades looked unfavorably at Catholics, partly because of her mean stepfather Ollie. Ironically, however, following the death of Lucille’s first husband, my grandfather, Stanley Raymond Shanower (1917-1987), she married a Catholic, Rene Cote (1906-2002), as her second husband in 1990.

After the bombshell revelations about her parents’ marriages, I asked Grandma again whether there were any more family secrets that she was keeping. She laughed and told me no.

But she hadn’t thought her father’s second marriage was any big deal, much less a secret.

And she hadn’t even remembered her mother’s first marriage.

So who knows what other secrets she may hold?

Grandma and me, 2014.