Local DAR inducts its newest, oldest member

February 28, 2017

Membership to this group isn’t a matter of showing up and paying dues. Rather, it is based on one’s ancestors and what those relatives did – as well as one’s persistence in documenting it.

The Jean Epsy chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which has members throughout the Lee County area, recently inducted its newest, oldest member. Yes, it sounds like a contradiction, but at age 96, Fort Madison native Mary Patten Sokolik became the chapter’s newest member. In fact, Sokolik, who now resides in Des Moines, is one of the oldest applicants in Iowa.

But that didn’t happen until a great deal of research was completed by her sister, Lois Patten Delaney of Fort Madison, with help from another sister, Gertie Patten Hundt, also of Fort Madison.

Delaney joined the Jean Epsy chapter a few months prior to Sokolik’s induction. Hundt, while sharing the same lineage to a Revoluntionary War veteran, opted not to join the DAR chapter.

“It’s really something to verify stories you’ve been told throughout the years,” Delaney said.

One of those stories was about Benoni Patten, the sisters’ great, great, great, great grandfather.

Delaney said she checked records in Nauvoo, Ill., and also came across pages from “The History of Butler County.” In it, she learned that what she had been told many times while growing up was indeed true - Benoni Patten had served in the Revolutionary War.

In fact, he entered the Continental army at the beginning of that war and endured the infamous harsh winter at Valley Forge, at Trenton. He also experienced the satisfaction of seeing Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.

According to a portion of The History of Butler County, Benoni Patten was taken prisoner during the battle of New York and was confined several months at a British prison ship in New York harbor.

Further, this history reveals some of the hardships such prisoners endured.

“One day, after suffering from hunger for a long time, a large iron kettle, with peas boiled into a soup, was brought to the prisoners, with nothing to eat it with - without spoons, ladles or other utensils, and each had to help himself with such as he could find in that loathsome prison-ship,” it states in the History of Butler County.

So, how did Benoni Patten seize this rare offer of nourishment?

“He, in his hunger after food, took from his foot an old shoe and dipped it into the kettle of pea soup, and drank out of the heel of the shoe,” it states.

But that story, and even its documentation, isn’t enough to be inducted into a DAR chapter.

“You have to trace your lineage, starting with yourself. You have to provide birth certificates, a marriage certificate, death certificates and so on,” says fellow Jean Epsy member Donna Hedgepeth of Fort Madison.

The Patten sisters did just that and were able to trace themselves down to Benoni Patten – and they discovered that he wasn’t the only war hero in the family. Archibald Patten, the Patten sisters’ great great great grandfather, fought in the War of 1812. Their great grandfather, Charles Patten, fought in the Civil War.

And, in addition to documenting the family tree, applicants to the DAR must document their ancestor’s service record.

“Sometimes that isn’t easy since farmers would enlist, leave to tend to their crops, and then re-enlist,” Hedgepeth said, adding that those reviewing DAR applications tend to be a bit more lenient with documentation going back six generations or more.

The local Jean Epsy chapter of DAR has about 40 members and is looking for new ones.

“With the growing interest of genealogy and the research that can be done online, we hope to add more members,” Hedgepeth added.

DAR is a nonprofit group with promotes historic preservation, education and patriotism with about 180,000 members in the U.S. and in several other countries.

The DAR actually came about because the Sons of the American Revolution refused to allow women to join. On July 13, 1890, Mary Smith Lockwood published a story about patriot Hannah White Arnett in the Washington Post. In it, she asked “Where will the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution place Hannah Arnett?”

A week later, William O. McDowell, a great grandson of Arnett, published an article in the Washington Post offering to help form a society to be known as the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The first meeting of the DAR took place on Aug. 9, 1890.