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Jacob and Me

June 24, 2018

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This handsome farmhouse, caught between two shafts of light on soltice eve was built over 150 years ago by Jacob Neff Ebey. Jacob and I have more than a nodding acquaintance with one another: Isaac Ebey was his son and Rebecca Ebey his daughter-in-law. In my show, “Rebecca: the story of Rebecca Ebey”, Jacob played an important supporting role.

Like so many of those early pioneers, Jacob moved around – a lot. Born in Pennsylvania, he married Sarah Blue and moved to Ohio. There, he and Sarah had eight children- five of whom survived to adulthood. Isaac was his second child and first son. In 1831 the family moved to Illinois. There, in the Black Hawk War, Jacob was a captain in the same battalion as a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. Then, in 1840, they moved again – to Missouri. Finally, following his son Issac west, Jacob and the remainder of the family joined him here on Whidbey in 1854.

The Aebi family can be traced back to the 13th Century in Switzerland. Theodorus Durst Eby, Jacob’s first American ancestor, settled in Pennsylvania – and the land he tilled is still being farming by the Amish… strange to consider as I look out on Jacob’s alfalfa fields. Those fields of Jacob and his son, a rich panoply of brown and yellow and green, are still there – thanks to Ebey’s Landing, the 17,000 acre preserve created in 1978. Third and fourth generation descendants of Central Whidbey’s pioneer community still farm some of those lands.

Jacob and Sarah named their farm – right next to their son’s land claim – Sunnyside. He didn’t have much time to enjoy it; he died on February 24, 1862 only four years after it was built. His younger son, Winfield, wrote in his diary: “This is a day of sorrow and mourning. Our dear Father died…. I shall feel very lonesome I know…. I have so long been with him.” By the time Winfield died three years later, the Ebey family had lost so many: Jacob and Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and their daughter, Hetty, and Isaac and Winfield’s sister, Ruth. Overcome with grief, Jacob’s oldest child, Mary Ebey Bozarth, created the beginnings of the Sunnyside Historical Cemetery, located on Jacob’s claim. Eventually all the Ebey family grave sites were moved to this spot and remain there today.

I have been to those grave sites many times, stood beside them, read the names, and thought about this family that- through research and imagining- I have come to know. They are like old friends – Jacob and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca and the others. I picture Jacob: the farmer, the old warrior…bearded…sturdy and strong. The farmhouse reflects the man: simple yet beautiful. I am so glad it is still here.

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