Henry Hawkins Downing, II descendants recently gathered to explore Scotland and Schuyler counties where their ancestor was one of the original pioneers settling in the region. Photo by Abby Fincher.

by Barbara Blessing

On August 14 and 15, 2017, descendants of pioneer settlers converged on northeast Missouri to view the origins of their predecessors. Henry Hawkins Downing I and his wife Airy Hitch Downing were joined by five of their seven children to make the 1,000 mile trek to Missouri in 1834. Included with the five journeying to Missouri was our ancestor Henry Hawkins Downing II.  The other four children were Harriet Green Smoot, Martha Acton Briggs, Amanda Melvina Williams, and William G. Downing.  A sister, Sarah Ann Downing Hudnall, with her family, soon joined the Missouri contingent.  The only one to remain in Virginia was son John Hitch Downing.  Together with their families, they made the trek from Virginia to settle on the frontier.  While they had no wealth when they left Faquier County, Virginia, through industry and hard work, they were soon landowners and prominent businessmen.

Henry H. Downing II had nine children: namely, John Alexander, Rhoda Ann, William Green, Mary Etta, Amanda D., Harriet (Hattie) Ann, Henry Hawkins III, James M, and Jennie Valiant.  The descendants of John Alexander, Rhoda Ann and Jennie Valiant were present for the reunion.  Those attending were Bill Cox, Rebekah Cox Fish, Jennie Downing Cox, Mel Cox, Abby Cox Fincher, and matriarch Melba Cox from the Jennie Valiant Nelson family.  Those attending from John Alexander’s family were Kathleen Downing de Izaguirre, Indiana Lugo Downing and Emma Lugo Downing, Maria Downing de Villa, Martha and Frank Fair, Pearl Gizzarelli, Vivian B. Najarra,  Sergio and Maria Zamora, and Maria Downing,   Those present from Rhoda’s family were Henry Hawkins Blessing and his wife Barbara, Marilyn Blessing and her husband Roy Blessing, Jr., Jim Bruner, Louise Newland, and  SC researcher Joanne Aylward who had helped Mr. and Mrs. Cox during a previous visit.  The descendants attending currently live in New Jersey, California, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Bill Cox and his late wife Teresia have done extensive research on our family’s origins.  On Monday, he presented a notebook to everyone detailing some of the information they have gleaned from years of study.  We left the fellowship hall of the Downing Christian Church to go to the Downing Family Cemetery located on land owned now by Henry H. Blessing II, another descendant of Rhoda’s.  We visited at the recently renovated site and took pictures.  Then we journeyed to the James Garnett home to visit the place of the original homestead of Henry H. Downing II.  There have been years of change, but there remains the cistern and a depression in the ground where the cellar was originally and then filled in.  After lunch at Keith’s, we went to the Downing House Museum built by Henry’s brother, William G. Downing to view artifacts, history, and memorabilia from Scotland County.

The Downing House Museum hosted the group of Henry Hawkins Downing descendants during their visit to Memphis. Photo by Jennie Cox.

The Scotland County Genealogical Society presented us with folders of information from their files.  They also hosted a reception at their building and served refreshments in honor of Miss Indiana Lugo Downing’s 77th birthday.  We then went to view the square where Mr. John Alexander Downing, upon returning to America from Nicaragua, established a business.  His father Henry II had deeded him three lots with a house where they resided during their brief sojourn in America before returning to Nicaragua to finally establish their permanent home.

We went to the Scotland County Library where we viewed the resources that were available for genealogy study.

On Tuesday, we reconvened at the Fellowship Hall of the Downing Christian Church before going to the Downing Museum where we were hosted by volunteers Judy Sharp and Jerry Scurlock.  Several pictures were taken and visiting continued.  We then went to the Winn Hill Bed and Breakfast to view a typical 1850’s home where the brick were kilned on the property.  After a fantastic meal and more visiting and picture-taking, several had to depart to catch planes to return to their homes.  The Cox family went to the Dover Cemetery to view the resting places of Colonel John William and Rhoda Priest and their descendants and then to Henry and Barbara’s home to view the Middle Fabius grist stone, the site of the presumed Rhoda Downing Priest’s home, and other artifacts.

We are indebted to the Genealogical Society, Curators of the Downing House Museum, Rhonda McBee, Lynette Dyer, and Anna Lynn Kirkpatrick, the Childresses for opening their Winn Hill B&B home for touring and dining, Melissa Schuster of the SC Library (who is herself a Downing descendant), Mr. Garnett and Henry Blessing II for access to their land, The Downing Christian Church for use of their fellowship hall, and to Ronnie Tinkle for refurbishing the family cemetery.

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices, I honor their history.  I cherish their lives.  I will tell their story.  I will remember them.”  Author Unknown