He Did More for a Sick Young Soldier than any Medical Attention Ever Could #52Ancestors

James D and Mary E (Shriver) Van Meter

James D and Mary E (Shriver) Van Meter

As I sat down to start writing about this week’s #52 Ancestors I had intended to choose one of my grandmothers. I’ve written about both grandfathers the past two weeks so it was only natural to switch over to the women. Yet once I sat down it just didn’t feel like grandmothers day so I pulled up my fan chart to look over my list of ancestors and came to James Downing Van Meter. I realized right away he’s the one to write about this week so here’s his story.

James Downing Van Meter is my 3x great grandfather. He was born September 9, 1804 in Brooke County, Virginia but didn’t stay a Virginian long. Along with his parents and grandparents a young Jim settled in Ohio. I’ve blogged about his youth before here. It’s a great story about this small boy’s broken thigh and a Native American who healed him. I’d love it if you’d check it out but with this post I want to write about the man my research has found James D. Van Meter to be.

James married Mariah Elizabeth Shriver December 16, 1832. They were the parents of nine children. My 2x great grandmother Susannah being their oldest. The family farmed quite a number of acres in the northern part of Allen County, Ohio.

As I check the censuses through the years these Van Meters had no problem opening their doors to whoever needed a home. When James’ brother John passed away he and Mariah took in one of John’s sons James R. into their home. When their oldest daughter turns up pregnant without being married her son is added in the mix and that’s just a couple examples of their open door compassion and generosity.

Yet in my opinion the most telling characteristic of James D Van Meter comes in a passage written by nephew James R. (the one he took in after his father’s death) in a letter home.

Dated May 5, 1862 James R. is a Union soldier, sick in barracks writing home telling his mother “I am at Parks Barracks Uncle James was here he came Wednesday night. I was very glad to see him and to hear that you was all well. He fetched the letters from Elisabeth town that you sent there to me and I got that dollar out of one of them . . . . . I received my money the 22nd of last month and I sent $10 home. I expressed to Uncle Jim and I told him to let you have all of it you wanted of it.”

According to my research Uncle Jim, or my 3x great grandfather, James D. Van Meter had a son and six nephews fighting during the span of the Civil War. Here he is traveling to Kentucky to check on his ill nephew and my guess would be visiting whoever else in the family he could find. He would have left Mariah and several children at home when he traveled but the trip was important enough to do just that.

Certainly this would be a couple days journey by train and who knows how long on horseback. Yet James D. Van Meter made the effort to go see these boys, to talk with them, help them out as best he could, even stopping at another city along the way to pick up mail.

You’re a good man James D. Van Meter. I can’t help but think your visit did more for a sick young soldier than any medical attention ever could and that’s one story I want to remember. I want to make sure your care and compassion for your family is never lost to history.


  1. […] in Allen County Ohio, 28 August 1833, Susannah was the oldest child of James D. and Mariah Shriver Van Meter. Her parents were among the new settlers to the area and along with […]

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