I’ve long been fascinated by the book of Ruth. It is a short book, only four chapters, yet it is much quoted and examined. The preface in my Bible says it presents “a delightful account of true faith and piety”. You know the basic story. A man from Bethlehem decided to go to Moab and seek a better life and his wife and sons went with him. After their father’s death the sons married and remained in Moab. Everything was fine for ten years, but then both sons died so Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Her widowed daughters-in-law should have returned to their own people to find new husbands, and indeed that is what Orpah chose to do. But Ruth chose the unconventional path and stayed with her widowed, childless mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi pleaded with her to see the futility of her choice to stay with someone who could not provide for her or give her another husband, but for some reason Ruth was adamant about staying with her anyway. Because of her decision, her subsequent actions in her new home, and her faith in God, she was blessed with a new husband, Boaz, and a son, Obed.
Such has always been the fate of women; our fortunes are tied to the men we choose and to the actions they choose. Even if we choose wisely, we never know what lies ahead. We have to be prepared for changes and challenges. We don’t know much about Ruth’s previous life, except that she was childless and kind. We do know that she received her greatest blessings after she lost everything she had. I was thinking about that yesterday and about the many strong faithful women I know and love.
I have so many friends who have risen to the challenges of their lives and shown strength and courage to everyone around them. Even after illnesses and tragedies and accidents and deaths they have carried on. I have friends who are managing families and businesses and careers while running marathons and doing charity work and serving in their churches. They are an inspiration to me and to everyone around them.
I am blessed to also have many such women in my family and to have the stories of my ancestors available to me. Many good, strong, faithful women preceded me! However, none is more fascinating to me than Antjin (Anna) Demarest Banta. First I should tell you that we are lucky that the stories of my mother’s ancestors have been written down in many books and histories and research papers. The Banta family was closely tied to the histories of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and the Dutch Reformed Church, so records of their deeds and travels abound. The story of Anna is recorded in several such works.
Anna, born December 23, 1733, was the daughter of Samuel and Leah Demarest. Samuel had two sons by his first wife, Antie Losier and ten children with Leah, so Anna was accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a large family. I’m not sure she realized that she would need that experience later in life!
Anna married Hendrick H. Banta in New York City on January 24, 1751. Hendrick was a widower whose first wife, Rachel Brower, had died leaving him with five children. Hendrick was a restless man with dreams of a Dutch colony where his children and grandchildren would be raised and educated in the old ways. He was constantly trying to escape the influence of the English and their language, so he traveled from place to place until 1780. Then he migrated with a colony of relatives from Conewago, Pa. to Kentucky and located near Boonsborough, where Captain Daniel Boone had established a settlement some five years earlier. Within a few years Henry and his sons and other family members had purchased and settled twelve thousand acres of land in Henry County.
This account from “A Frisian Family” written in 1893 by Theodore M. Banta, gives just an idea of what the women and children endured with their pioneer men:
“men on foot with their trusty rifles on their shoulders, driving stock and leading pack-horses, and the women, some walking with pails on their heads, others riding with children in their laps, and other children swung in baskets on horses, encamping at night, expecting to be massacred by Indians, subsisting on stinted allowances of stale bread and meat, encountering bears, wolves, and wildcats in the narrow bridle-path overgrown with brush and underwood.” One of Henry Banta’s sons was killed by Indians in Kentucky.
Theodore writes: “At the time of removal to Kentucky, Henry Banta was the father of twenty-one children, of whom three had died in infancy and his eldest son had recently died* leaving nine children who were brought up by their grandfather…His family, who accompanied him in this toilsome, dangerous journey of several month’s duration, consisted of his wife and twelve children, five of whom were under twelve years of age, and nineteen grandchildren, almost all of whom were under twelve years of age.” (Note: *Hendrick Jr. died of smallpox in 1777 and his wife Maria was killed the next year by a falling tree.)
While I admire the tenacity of Hendrick in following his dream and establishing a Dutch colony, I doubt that he had any more day to day participation in the upbringing of the children than any other man of his era. This passage about Hendrick’s wife, Anna, is from “Banta Pioneers” written in 1983 by Elsa M. Banta: “A most remarkable woman, she raised 5 step-children, 13 children of her own, and 9 grandchildren, (the children of Hendrick and Maria Stryker Banta), for a total of 27 children. She followed Hendrick in his quest for a Dutch colony to Somerset County, N. J., York County, Pa., and after a harrowing flatboat journey, she settled with him in the wilds of Kentucky. All of this would seem an almost impossible achievement in any day, let alone the era in which she lived. She was a person of outstanding character and was revered in the memory of her many descendants.”
Hendrick died in October of 1805 at the age of 87 and left all of his estate and property to Anna. His will says, “I give and bequeath unto Anna, my beloved wife, all and singular my lands, as also my personal estate of every sort and kinde I die so possessed of…” The next month Anna signed over her estate to her youngest son, Henry Banta Jr. She lived out the remaining five years of her life with her daughter Rachel. She was 77 when she died.
I imagine Anna’s life sometimes and marvel that she managed to raise so many children at a time when every household task was so labor intensive. I’m sure she enlisted the help of the older children and other family members, but still…I admire her courage and faith and strength. There are many other stories in my files about women fighting off Indians and braving new adventures to follow their men. I hope to share more of them in the future.
In the meantime I want you to remember that YOU are courageous and faithful and strong. You are an inspiration to your family and friends and neighbors and co-workers. You CAN face the changes and challenges ahead. If you have doubts just turn to your mother or grandmother or great-grandmother for inspiration. I'm sure they were women of faith and substance.