Friday, November 04, 2005

Matilda Jane Downing Underwood ~ Quaker Minister


Matilda's novel, Blue Belle of the Forest.
Published in1919.

Matilda Jane Downing Underwood (b. April 10th, 1851 in Baldeagle Valley, Centre County, Pa. ~ d. March 25th, 1932) was the much younger and vivacious wife of Zephaniah Underwood (b. November 10th, 1820 in Columbus, Ohio ~ d. April 17th, 1900). He was 50 years old and she was only 20 when they married on December 28, 1871. They had two sons and two daughters: Ruth Anna, Zephaniah, Jr. (Zephie), Joseph Miles and Jane Eva. Zephaniah was a well-to-do fruit farmer. He owned 78 acres in Warren County and 420 acres in Chester Township of Clinton County. One hundred of those acres were orchards. He was also the president of the Southern Railroad Company.


The Underwoods were steadfast Hicksite Quaker involved in Miami Monthly Meeting (attending meeting at the Harveysburg Preparative Meeting of Miami Monthly Meeting, Hicksite, as well as meeting in the White Brick Meetinghouse in Waynesville, see THE QUAKER MEETINGHOUSES IN HARVEYSBURG, OHIO), Miami Quarterly Meeting and Indiana Yearly Meeting. From 1885 on Matilda was an active minister in the Society of Friends. Matilda often visited other Meetings as a traveling minister. Matilda and Zephaniah were also loyal members of the W.C.T.U. (The Women’s Christian Temperance Union).


The The Underwood homes and farms can still be seen today between Harveysburg and Wilmington, Ohio on State Route 73 Zephaniah built “Orchard Home” (a Victorian house with a tower) to ease the memory of loosing their daughter, Olive (March 23, 1881-October 27, 1882), who had died in the old Federal brick farm house near Jonah's Run Baptist Church. Orchard Home was state-of-the-art when it was build. It had a large storage tank on the second floor and a network of pipes for gravity flow of the water into the kitchen and a bathroom with bathtub and lavatory. When Zephaniah died in 1900, Aaron B. Chandler and Clarkson Butterworth helped settle the estate. Clarkson Butterworth had been a witness to his Will. After the death of Zephaniah in 1900, Matilda then married his youngest brother Elihu Underwood.

Matilda’s parents were Jacob and Jane Underwood Downing. Jane Underwood Downing was the first cousin to Zephaniah, Matilda’s first husband. Zephaniah had offered his widowed cousin Jane and her children a place to live in exchange for work. So, they moved west. Matilda’s mother, Jane, was a Friend who wore the traditional Quaker dress until her death in 1906. Jacob, her father, had been an artist, an unusual vocation for a Friend at that time. Matilda also had a precocious talent. She wrote the book, Blue Bell of the Forest: A Story of Olden Times, In the Midwest (see above). She also wrote her Autobiography, and a variety of poems and other short works. Matilda’s brother, Joseph J. Downing was a photographer in Waynesville and Xenia. He made his home in Xenia, Ohio. Matilda died in 1932 almost 81 years of age. She died in the home of her daughter, Ruth Anna Tomlinson, wife of Curtis Tomlinson.


Also see, Matilda Underwood and the Underwood Reunion in 1930, to see a photograph of Matilda.

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