Oral History Interview with
First cousin of Harry S. Truman
Mary Ethel Noland
August 23, 1965
James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Noland Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Mary Ethel Noland
August 23, 1965
James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Miss Noland, would you start out by telling us of your relationship to former President Harry S. Truman?
NOLAND: Yes, Mr. Fuchs, I will do that. My full name is Mary Ethel Noland, and I am named for my grandmother (the Mary part is), who was also the maternal grandmother of Harry S. Truman. But I've never been known by my first name and that is why you know me as Miss Ethel Noland.
My mother, Margaret Ellen Truman, was a sister of John Anderson Truman, who was Harry S. Truman's father. They were both born on the Lykins farm in what is now Kansas City, Missouri,
though then it was all farm land between Westport and the Landing down on the river; but when they were very small the family moved to Platte County, Missouri, where they stayed until after the Civil War.
My Grandfather Truman's politics was "the Union as it was." I suppose you would call him a Whig at that time, not a Republican, and not a Democrat. They were slaveholders, not great slaveholders, but they were of the type that had inherited slaves. They never bought one; they never sold one, and of course they gave them up at the time that the slaves were freed. They were inherited from the Holmes side of the family, my grandmother having been Mary Jane Holmes. The slaves were all women. They didn't have any men, so it was quite a heavy burden for my grandfather to support his family of a wife and five children, and five
grown slave women, who did the work around the house and it might seem that they made life very easy for my grandmother, though the truth is that the mistress had burdens that we don't think of very much now, because the slaves were more like children than anything else; so she really had the welfare of her own five children and these five women. She had to look after their clothing, and their food, of course, and their work--she must apportion that and see that it was properly done, and she was a meticulous housekeeper. I remember hearing my mother say that she thought her mother was relieved after the Civil War when she saw my grandfather Anderson S. Truman load all the Negro women and their children--because some of them had married men belonging to other people in the neighborhood in Platte
County, and there were children--into the big wagon with enough bacon, ham, cornmeal, everything that they might need for a month's supply, and started to Leavenworth, Kansas, where they wished to go. According to my mother, my grandmother felt that it was a great financial loss in a way, but it was a great relief. She was no longer responsible for their welfare, and so she didn't lament the freeing of her property, which was no small property in itself, if they had ever sold them.
Mary Jane Holmes and Anderson Shipp Truman had been married in Shelby County, Kentucky. My great-grandmother, who was Nancy Tyler Holmes, the widow of Jesse Holmes, had come West from that county along about 1845 and had settled in old Westport, because she had a cousin living there who was Christiana Polk McCoy, the wife of Isaac McCoy, who was one of the
founders of old Westport. She also had two Sons on nearby farms, Silas and Robert Holmes. One of her daughters, who had come out here as a young lady along with my grandmother and a third daughter, was married at old Shawnee Mission by the Reverend Isaac McCoy. Her name was Martha, but she was known as Patsy Holmes, and, after her marriage, as Patsy Holmes Ford, the wife of Lewis Ford. But my mother always spoke of her most affectionately as "Aunt Pat" and she dearly loved Aunt Pat.
After a short time, my grandmother Mary Jane Holmes began to look wistfully back to Shelby County, Kentucky. She liked the young people of Westport; she liked her cousins there; and there was one young man that she had known back in Shelby County,
whose name was John Wornall, and she liked John Wornall very well. He helped to pass away the time socially along with a number of other young people, but still she looked back to Shelby County because there was one young man there that she didn't forget, and that was Anderson Shipp Truman. She went back to Shelby County on a visit to her sister, Catherine Holmes Clayton, the wife of Dr. James Clayton of Christiansburg.
FUCHS: That was what year?
NOLAND: That was in 1846. And there, of course, was young Mr. Truman, happy to see Miss Mary Jane again. They renewed their old interest in each other, and without getting the consent of Mother Holmes, who was in Westport still, they were married. I think the reason they didn't wait for her consent, they were
afraid they might not get it, because he was not her favorite prospect as a husband for Mary Jane. But they were married at the Clayton home in Christiansburg.
FUCHS: Is there truth in the statement I've read that the reason Mrs. Holmes objected was because the Trumans were not slaveholders at that time?
NOLAND: It might have had some bearing on the case. At that time they were not slaveholders. They had been further back, I find in records of wills in Kentucky and Virginia. It was a little bit of a social stigma not to own slaves. If you did your own work, it was not quite according to Hoyle--according to the gentry of that time.
FUCHS: They were farmers?
NOLAND: They were farmers; they were all farmers.
So, now they were married, the question was what to do next. They must make their peace with Mary Jane's mother. She could not go on without asking forgiveness, but she dreaded to come back to Westport and ask for it, so Anderson Shipp or "Andy" as he was always called--not by Mary Jane, to her dying day he was "Mr. Truman" to her, as was the custom then. But to all the rest he was Andy, and
FUCHS: You mean in speaking to him she would call him "Mr. Truman?"
NOLAND: Yes, she did, Mr. Fuchs. It was a formal day.
FUCHS: That's interesting. I thought maybe in speaking of him always she would say...
NOLAND: Yes, of course, my mother did that, but to him.
FUCHS: That's interesting.
NOLAND: Yes, and all of her sisters did. To Patsy, Lewis Ford was Mr. Ford, and so on; they all did. And to the mother, Jesse Holmes was Holmes.
Mr. Truman offered to come bravely and tell the mother that they were married and ask her forgiveness. He rode horseback from Shelby County, Kentucky, to Westport Landing in Missouri and finally he reached Westport. It must have been a long, tedious journey on horseback. It must have taken a good while. But when he rode up to the house the mother saw him coming; she ran out and threw her arms around him, kissed him and said, "Oh, Andy, where is Mary Jane?"
With that he told her--I think she had probably had some news about it--that they had married and that they had not asked her consent, but they asked her forgiveness which she very readily granted. He sent for Mary Jane and she came by steamer to Westport Landing and they rented a farm, which was at that time called the Lykens Farm. Dr. Lykens owned this farm which is now in the business section of Kansas City. An interesting bit of local history is that after Dr. Lykens died, his widow married George Caleb Bingham, the artist who painted "Order Number Eleven." After about five years they moved across the Missouri River to Platte County.
FUCHS: That would be about 18
NOLAND: It must have been late in 1851 or early 52. There were now three children, William Thomas, Margaret Ellen (Ella) and John Anderson, Harry's father.
FUCHS: Yes. Actually then, they went before the Civil War--they went, perhaps, even before the border troubles really got started, so it really wasn't because of the Civil War that they went to Platte County.
NOLAND: No, it was on account of a farm over there that my grandfather wanted and so they moved to Platte County. The place was between Parkville and Barry. They were very happy there. The two younger children were born there, and that would be Emily and Martha. There was a school there called Prairie Point Academy, a subscription school. There must have been some very fine teachers there
because people were leaving Jackson County on account of the border troubles by that time, and so they came over there and taught at Prairie Point. I think that for a country school the training, the schooling, must have been very superior because they were very well taught in the three R's and other things that I am surprised to this day that they knew about. So they were brought up in an intelligent atmosphere for that day and age.
FUCHS: You say the younger children were born there?
NOLAND: Yes. My Uncle William, the oldest child, was born in 1847. My mother, 1849--she was a forty-niner, and Uncle John in 51. He was very tiny, evidently, when they went to Platte County, and that was Harry's father, John Anderson
Truman. The John was for his Uncle John Truman, who was my grandfather's brother, John Thomas Truman who was very much beloved by his brother's children. He lived for six years with them here in Jackson County and in Platte County. He went to California in the Gold Rush, which began in 49. It was 1855 when he left because by that time my mother was six years old. She cried when he left for California, and said, "I'm afraid I'll never see you again, Uncle John." He didn't strike it rich in California. He went back to Shelby County, Kentucky, where he married a Miss Moseley, and my mother never saw dear Uncle John again. But her little brother was named John, which I think endeared him to her, and she used to tell about the things that happened when they were little. Once a circus was coming through the country, going from Parkville to Barry, and the little children
were all dressed up to go down the lane to the big gate on the road to see the circus go by, because there was an elephant, which they had never seen, and there were a few other animals, and there were some big wagons painted up like circus wagons and all that--quite a treat for them to go. Mother used to tell us about little John--how he looked in his little linen homespun suit, with a little, what she called a roundabout jacket, which I infer was a kind of a little Eton jacket. She loved that little brother dearly and thought he was the cutest little boy in the world, and she said she could see him led along by Mary, the colored nurse, down there to the big gate where they stood, probably with big eyes and open mouths, looking at the elephant and the other accouterments of the
circus. And then as they got older there were pastimes there that were surprising. You know, at that time, everybody read Sir Walter Scott. The Southern people liked Sir Walter Scott, and they all knew their Scott, better perhaps than Shakespeare. An annual social event of the neighborhood was a tournament on May Day, in which the young men rode pell-mell, as you do in tournaments, armed with spears, by means of which they tried to take rings off an overhanging arm that stuck out over the race course. The knight who got the greatest number of rings was the winner and he was allowed to crown the queen of the day. The knights were named after their favorite characters in Scott's poems and novels, such as The Knight of Snowdon, James Fitz-James, Ivanhoe, and so on. If a young man didn't have
a good horse, it would be like a young man not having a car in this day and age, and they all had good horses, Kentucky stock, because they all had come from Kentucky. I know of only one family mother ever told me about over there that wasn't from Kentucky, and that was the Hinkle family, who were Pennsylvania Dutch. All the rest had come from Kentucky and Virginia just as the Trumans had.
FUCHS: Well, did they originally, as one writer has said, start in the Northeast--I've forgotten whether it was New York--I mean the first immigrant Truman--do you know where...
NOLAND: No, we're not from the Northeast. Do you want me to tell about that?
FUCHS: Well, I was interested in knowing who was the first ancestor of this line of Trumans?
NOLAND: None of us came to the colonies north of Mason-Dixon's line. If the Mayflower had never landed, we would still be here, because none of us came to the North in any line on any side, which is rather remarkable. We are not mixed up with northern Trumans. Trumans did come to Connecticut and there is a street in New London, Connecticut named Truman Street, and that line of Trumans went down into New York where there's a town named Trumansville These northern Trumans migrated West along Northern lines because they were not slaveholders and you didn't cross Mason-Dixon's line, that is rarely, if you didn't own slaves. You didn't want to get mixed up with that. And if you did live south of Mason-Dixon's line, you didn't cross it because you didn't want to give up your slaves. There might be trouble. According to the Dred Scott decision
they were legally yours, even in "free" states, but it made complications. So the two sides kept pretty well along the same lines across the country, and so with our Trumans. The first one we find is in Richmond, Virginia, in Henrico County. His name was Richard; and then we find them again in Caroline County, but the courthouse has burned during the Civil War in Caroline County and those records were lost; but then we find them in Kentucky, and then on out here.
FUCHS: You don't know how Richard Truman came down the line as an immigrant?
NOLAND: No, I can't find that at all, because of the records. There are those who think they can trace that, but a genealogist who is worth his salt doesn't guess at things; he must
have adequate proof.
FUCHS: But you feel that they actually immigrated from the old country to the Southern states rather than coming through
NOLAND: Yes, I'm sure o