Sins of the Mother

By: Allan Wallace

“…I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers (and mothers) on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations…” – Deuteronomy 5:9

This verse of Scripture is at the heart of a Wallace Family Secret that reaches back through my paternal family line to my Great Grandfather’s Mother, Hulda Moats and back through time to about 150 years ago.

To be clear, the word, Iniquity, literally means “unequal” and is defined as “immoral or grossly unfair behavior.” Perhaps this is so because it is an act that upsets or imbalances the relationship between God and mankind.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned of the Family Secret. My father told me the story because he thought I “ought to know about it.” He warned me and made me promise never to bring up the subject with my grandfather because it was still a source of shame for him.

So, this is how the story goes: 

Hulda Moats was a very poor and very “foolish” young teenager. She was born just before the beginning of the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression as it was known to many in these parts. And, Hulda turned 14 in 1874 which was a marriageable age back then. I do not have any information about Hulda’s parent’s names or what they did for a living. But, it is reasonable to think that they were farmers, most people were back then even if the primary source of income was from the mines or working on the Tennessee River, the fastest form of transportation they had.

Hulda met and fell in love with a young man in his late teens and in the course of events, she gave in to his repeated requests for greater intimacy, in all probability with the promise of marriage and his undying love.

Everything went well until she informed her young man that she thought she was pregnant. Suddenly the young man was gone, and Hulda was left only with a growing baby bump and the urgent need to tell her parents before anyone noticed.

No one still alive knows anything about the young man, where he grew up, where his family lived, what happened to him after his escape from the jaws of marriage, or even his name. It is reasonable to think that he left the central Tennessee valley as shotgun weddings happened more frequently back then than people realize today. We will never know what happened to him.

All we know is that Hulda eventually told her parents and that it was a huge source of embarrassment to the whole family. But they had to act quickly to avoid ruining the family reputation. Her father probably searched for the young man with the intent of using gunpowder persuasion to force him to “do the right thing.” But there was little time.

Hulda’s father turned to a good friend, a younger man named Elijah Wallace, whose wife died about a year earlier, leaving him with three small children. Hulda’s father explained to his friend the situation with his daughter, and Elijah Wallace (known as Lige) agreed to marry her saving his friend’s family that embarrassment and giving Hulda’s child a father. This arrangement also gave Lige’s children a mother. And, about five months after they were married, they named the child born, Alex S. Wallace, the middle name is unknown, but he was to be known throughout his life as Elik.

Lige and Hulda stayed together for the remainder of their lives and had two more children. Elik grew up and married Addie England, and their four children called them Pappy and Mammy. Their fourth child was my grandfather, Horace. Elik and Addie, along with their first and third-born sons (Edward and Kim) and their wives, are buried in the old historic Pleasant Forest Cemetery which has the distinction of being the final resting place of Tennessee’s second Governor, Archibald Roane. The cemetery is now in the City of Farragut on Concord Road.

My father told me something else. He said that my grandparents did not marry under the Wallace name, but the family name of the man who impregnated my father’s great grandmother. Even at 21, I understood enough of the law to know that there was no need for that and questioned my father as to why. He said that they were simple and uneducated folk and didn’t know any better. I didn’t say anything further, but I knew the ramifications of the decision my grandparents made. They were not legally married. Luckily, they always used the Wallace name, no one questioned it, and nothing ever happened to challenge the legality of their marriage. In any case, it probably would not have been an issue after the first seven years of their marriage, as Common Law Marriage laws were still on the books in Tennessee.

My grandfather’s last 50 years of life coincided with my first 50 years and throughout that time I often heard him saying something that left me scratching my head. Whenever someone in the family acted foolishly or rashly, he would say, “What are you, a Moats?” So, once I asked him about it. I could see that he didn’t really want to talk about it, but he answered me anyway. He said, “Moats was my grandmother’s maiden name, and she was a very foolish woman.” And that was all he would say about it. And even after I learned the family secret, I honored my promise to my father and never pressed my grandfather about this.

The quote from Deuteronomy came up when my father told the story above. But our family did not assume that the children and grandchildren had to bear the sin debts of their forbearers, but they believed that they did share their parents’ guilt and shame until the third or fourth generation. The Bible is clear in both Old and New Testaments; God does not place any of the sins or iniquities of parents on their children. So, if anyone told Elik that he was a bastard, that was wrong both legally and morally, he was not born out of wedlock, he had a father, the one who raised him from birth to adulthood. And even if his mother conceived him out of wedlock, that is still not his fault

The concept of visiting our sins and iniquities on our children in the scripture quoted is found many times in the Old and New Testaments. But there are even more scriptures that refute it, assuring us that we are responsible only for our own sins and iniquities, not those of our parents and grandparents. But, I assume that if anyone wants to pass guilt and shame down through their family line, that is up to them.

This story also becomes a lesson for those who would quote scripture without context to bash someone they don’t like. Context is everything in the Bible. And the condition of your heart is everything when quoting the Bible to others. In this case, the Bible quoted what people were saying back then only to refute it. So be careful to learn the full context when quoting scripture. And before you do, examine the condition of your heart. If your feelings are negative (hateful, disgusted, appalled), you will do better not to speak. But if your heart is filled with love for the person you talk to, be sure of the context and then speak.

Scripture was never meant to be used as a weapon to smite, bash, or hurt anyone you believe is wrong. But, quoting the Bible in love for the purpose of bringing someone into a closer relationship with Jesus is good and right. So, one could easily say that quoting scripture out of context or with negative feelings in your heart is iniquitous, or perhaps, “grossly unfair.”

NOTE:  My oldest living relative, my Aunt Edna told me that she remembers her great grandmother being referred to as Hilda Moats, not Hulda. But I got the spelling from an old family Bible. Admittedly, it was written there in cursive and probably many decades earlier. I wish I had photographed the pages from that family Bible because I do not know where it is now.

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