From the 1885 History of Steuben County, Indiana

pages 800-803



Nancy Van Auken, -- We who have attempted to write a short biography of our mother find it no easy task.  True mothers are in the estimation of their children, faultless; and to attempt to discourse upon the many virtures and unselfish charities of a mother is entirely too delicate a matter to be dealt with in so meager a manner.  Seated ready for the task, with pen already dipped in ink, the first thoughts that come to us are her last words, her last wistful look upon us, and then, as the vivid recollection of the many, many loving kindnesses of mother, cluster about us, the heart beats quick, the eyes are filled, and the fingers refuse to write. * * * We pause, we linger for a time in reverie, until the faculties are again collected.  * * * Nancy Strawway was born and reared among the mountains of New Jersey.  She was born at a time when the heart of this country was stirred to quick and resolute action in consequence of the last war with England, and not unlikely many of the sterling qualities which she possessed were imbued upon her by her mother at this critical juncture.  When quite a young girl she was sent from her father's poor and lowly home (for he was a miner for iron ore) to live with her uncle, Joseph Harvey, where an opportunity for getting an education was possible.  For four years she attended school under the instruction of Jacob H. Van Auken, who afterward became her consort for the remainder of her life, with whom she lived nearly fifty years, rearing a large family of children.  And for these many years she was truly both Secretary and Treasurer of her entire family, and a living encyclopedia for the same.  Her willingness and ability to do for, and her zealous and watchful care over her own household and family, were barely ever equaled and could not be excelled by any mother on earth.  The children were lullabied to sleep at night by her tuneful song, while yet her hands found work to do.  In addition to doing her own housework with neatness and dispatch, she still found time to spin the yarn and knit the stockings for the family, and once, when the stern decree of fate had robbed them of every farthing, with six small dependent children, with almost superhuman effort she found time to spin the flax and weave the cloth for summer clothing for herself, her husband and her little ones, and at the same time delivering bright and mellow words of hope and consolation to those about her.  She was endowed by nature with a strong and vigorous constitution, added to which was a cultivated and well-balanced mind which well fitted her for the office of maternity, which she so well and nobly filled.

  The order of her motherhood is as follows -- Sarah Jane, born Aug. 11, 1832, died Jan. 14, 1834, at Deerfield, Ohio; Calvin E., born July 29, 1835; James H., born Oct. 2, 1837; Horace N., born Oct. 23, 1839; Maria, born Aug. 9, 1841; Nancy, born Sept. 20, 1842, died Aug. 30, 1845, at Orange, Ohio; Phebe Elizabeth, born Dec. 8, 1843; Mary Jane, born March 9, 1845; Amos B., born July 19, 1847, killed by lightning at Red Oak, Iowa, Aug. 4, 1874; David E., born Sept. 17, 1848; Frank B., born Nov. 13, 1850; Jacob J.; born Feb. 8, 1852; Nannie, born June 27, 1854, died Sept. 4, 1856, at Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Leah Katherine, born Feb. 25, 1856, died Aug. 28, 1856; William P., born Dec. 23, 1858; Perry D., born Feb. 28, 1861, died Nov. 16, 1865, at Pleasant Lake, Indiana.

  And now, at the time of writing this sketch (1885), fifty-four years have elapsed since her marriage, and were it possible for a reunion of her own children with their families, sixty-seven living souls would call her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, while twenty-three lie covered with the clods of the valley.  How wonderful!

  She did not live quite the allotted "threescore and ten years," but she lived to do and accomplished much.  She lived to send sons to the civil war, and to see them return with the scars of battle.  She lived to see her sons emerge from the colleges of learning of her country, with honor to her and credit to themselves.  She lived to see sons fill places of trust and honor given them at the hands of their countrymen.  She lived to see her daughters rear families for usefulness.  She "plied the steady oar" to a purpose, and with the habits of industry and frugality as a part of her very existence, the constant presence of which had a telling influence upon her family around her, a sufficient fortune was gathered together to insure her plenty in her declining years, and the enduring marks of her handiwork in beautifying her home will stand as living monuments to her praise for centuries to come.  Would that all mothers of the children of earth could emulate her example.

  And now we think the words of the poet will clearly and plainly apply to her, and are here appropriate:

"Blessings on the hands of women,

Angels guard and give them grace

In the palace, cottage, hovel,

No matter where the place.


"O'er her may no storm-clouds lower,

Rainbows be ever gently curled,

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rocks the world."


   The obituary notice printed in the Angola Herald was as follows:  Aunt Nancy Van Auken, wife of Jacob H. Van Auken, died at the family residence two miles northeast of Pleasant Lake at 8:15 p.m., July 19, 1878.  Her disease was enlargement of the liver, a post mortem revealing a condition of that organ known as " Lardacious;" also were found within the gall bladder three gall stones lying side by side, of precisely the same shape and size, being almost perfect cubes, the faces of which were quite one half inch.  Her condition caused no alarm until about eight weeks before her death, when the enlargement became noticeable and from that time she knew the end was near, but she did not take to her bed until the very last, her last conscious words being, "My children, was I ever so sick, so deathly sick?"  From this time until her death, about twenty-four hours later, she was in a semi-unconscious state.  Her age was sixty-three years, seven months and twenty-seven days.  Born at Morristown, Morris Co., N. J., on the 22d day of November, 1814; was married at Sandyston, Sussex County, March 3, 1831, by Peter Young, Esq., (father of our old townsman, Andrew Young).  She was the mother of sixteen children, nine sons and seven daughters.  Four of the daughters and one son died in childhood.  One son Amos, was killed by lightning, in Iowa, and had he lived he would have been thirty-one years old on the same day of his mother's death.  The funeral was held in the grove which surrounds and adorns the last home of the departed, one of the most beautiful spots on earth, made lovely by her own hands.  The discourse was delivered by Dr. Wilson, of Auburn, assisted by Prof. Hull, of Montgomery, Mich.  The discourses were in keeping with the life of the deceased and were full of words of consolation for her family, such as would have come from her silent lips could they have spoken.  The mother had the satisfaction of having all her living children minister to her wants during her last sickness and with their hands to wipe away the dew of death from her fading brow, and as she had no belief in a future punishment, nor expectation of meeting an angry God, she passed away as she had lived, with fortitude, courage and serenity.

  The large concourse of people in attendance at the funeral attest the esteem of the community for the deceased and their sympathy for the bereaved family.



Submitted by Kim Davoli