Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mary Polly (Cannon) Champion: A Mover and "Shaker"

Mary Polly Cannon was my great great great grandmother.  In 1794 at Mercer County, Kentucky, she married my great great great grandfather, John Champion, a man said to be of Irish descent who had moved to the Mercer County area from Berkeley County, West Virginia a few years earlier.  
Little is known about Mary prior to her marriage to John Champion.  She was born in 1773 to Robert and Elizabeth Cannon, who were both born in Ohio, but I’ve not determined if Mary was born in that state or elsewhere.  John and Mary had nine children, all born in nearby Washington County, Kentucky: Ruth, Elizabeth, John, Rebecca,  Mary, James (my great great grandfather), Robert, Thomas, and Joseph.
John, Mary and their family reportedly lived for a time on the highest hill in Mercer County which is on old U.S. Highway 68 just before starting down the large hill to the Cliffs near the Brooklyn Bridge over the Kentucky River.  According to papers in the McMurtry family genealogical documents, Mary was a very religious woman and joined the Shaker Community in Mercer County.  Although there is no formal record of such, Elizabeth Cannon’s name is mentioned in the records of the Shaker Community in 1815.  Although not confirmed, this Elizabeth Cannon is probably Mary’s mother.  
The Shakers were a religious communal society that began in New York shortly after the  American Revolution.  In 1805, three of their missionaries established a community in Mercer County, Kentucky that eventually became known as Pleasant Hill.  The Shakers clung to a peaceful way of life and are still known to this day for their fine designs and craftsmanship.  They were celibate and practiced equality of race and sex and freedom from prejudice.  Their population peaked at about 500 and they eventually acquired about 4,500 acres of Mercer County farmland.  After the Civil War, their numbers began to decline.  In 1910 the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill ceased to exist as an active religious society.  The last twelve members deeded their last 1800 acres to a local merchant who was to care for them until their death.  The last Shaker died in 1923.  Pleasant Hill eventually became a small country town known as Shakertown until historic restoration began in 1961. See www.shakervillageky.org.
After the death of John Champion in Washington County in 1811, Mary eventually followed her oldest child, Ruth Champion, to Knox County, Illinois.  Ruth had married William McMurtry, a larger-than-life figure in Illinois community affairs and state government.  McMurtry was a friend of Stephen Douglas of Lincoln-Douglas debate fame and eventually was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.  Mary died in 1847 in Knox County and was buried in Rice-Blue Cemetery there along with Ruth and William and other family members.

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