Monday 6 February 2012

Out of Their Trees

Lauren Meece

Today is Lauren Meece’s 29th birthday. Happy Birthday Lauren.

Lauren represented the USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics (the gayest Olympics ever – so far) in judo. At the age of 17 she was the youngest judoka at the Sydney Games and the youngest ever US judo team member. After the 2008 Olympics Lauren caused a ripple when she criticised the lgbt community for putting more emphasis on someone’s sexuality in sport than someone’s sporting endeavour.

Is there anything in Lauren’s ancestry which gives clues to her career? As far as sport is concerned, yes there is – but not judo. Lauren’s great-uncle Wilbur Meece was a golf pro and Central Kentucky champion, the state where the family had lived for over 200 years. There must certainly be a healthy gene in the family because Wilbur’s father was still very active at the age of 100 years old. His great-grand-daughter Lauren was born on the 1st anniversary of his death.

The first Meece (originally spelt Meiss) to live in Kentucky was Thomas Meece. Originally from Pennsylvania Thomas moved with his family to Pulaski County, Kentucky, in about 1800. Thomas’s father Johann, however, came from farther afield.

Johann Meiss emigrated to America from Württemberg in Germany with his wife and 2 brothers in about 1750. They settled in Pennsylvania. At that time there was unrest between the English and French colonists. This developed into the French and Indian War, which put the German settlers in the idle of a conflict between the English on one side and the French with their Iroquois allies on the other.

In 1757, while Johann Meiss and one of his brothers were working out in the fields they were attacked by a band of Iroquois. One brother (I’m not sure which) was shot dead on the spot and the other ran towards the farm house pursued by an Iroquois. A fence stood between the brother and safety. But as he was leaping up and over it the Iroquois caught up and smashed his tomahawk into his skull. This particular attack remained in people’s memory for several generations.

Back in Pulaski County, Kentucky, Lauren’s grandfather Virgil Meece married Jennie Jones. Jennie’s great-grandmother came from another family of European continental settlers, the Chaudoins from Silly-de-Long in France. The first Chaudoin settler, François, was a barber-surgeon who was called up to join the Virginia militia in the same conflict in which the Meiss brothers were murdered. However, as a French settler serving in an English colonial army during the French and Indian War, François was, in effect, helping the English to fight his fellow Frenchman. Not surprisingly, François deserted and a wanted poster set up around Virginia put a price of 40 shillings on his head.

After the war ended differences were forgotten, and François’ 2nd wife was Susannah Weaver (Lauren’s ancestor). Her family had been among the earliest settlers in Virginia, arriving in 1622 from Shropshire.

Also through Jennie Jones Lauren descends from an important French settler called Mareen Duvall. He was a Huguenot and settled in Maryland in 1650. He owned several thousand acres of plantation and it made him and his family very wealthy. Even today, anyone with the surname Duvall is considered American aristocracy like the Vanderbilts, Astors, Fords and Roosevelts. Mareen left a large family, many of whom married into other “aristocratic” families, and among his descendants (all Lauren’s cousins) are 2 US Presidents (Obama and Harry Truman), former Vice President Dick Cheney and his lesbian daughter Mary (all 3 are also descended from settler Richard Cheney of London), the Duchess of Windsor, and actor Robert Duvall.

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