I almost titled this piece "Bathsheba Layton, original badass", but that didn't seem appropriate for a number of reasons. It is true, though, that upon discovering my 5x great-grandmother, I immediately felt a sense of pride, respect, and exhilaration.
Bathsheba was born on 26 July,1812 in Bedfordshire, England, the eldest of four children born to Samuel Layton and Isabella Wheeler. Her family was not a wealthy one - they were, in fact, quite poor by all accounts. Her father was a struggling farmer, and all four children began working at an early age; Bathsheba took up lace making, a career that would carry her through her entire life.
Where her story really gets interesting is around 1831, when she found herself pregnant and unmarried. The father of her unborn child, William Martin, apparently got cold feet - it is said that they were engaged when she told him of her with-child status and that he calmly and cooly responded by...running away. This wouldn't prove effective in the long-term, as two of Bathsheba's siblings married two of William's siblings, undoubtedly leading to some very awkward family dinners, but he did succeed in avoiding any parental responsibility it seems. On the 6th of April, 1832, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy and named him Charles. Charles Layton. Not only did Bathsheba buck the tradition of the time and refuse to give her child up for adoption, she chose to raise Charles alone and give him her surname.
Continuing her work as a lace maker, Bathsheba raised Charles as a single mother for four years. In October of 1836, she married Nathaniel Denton, a man 6 years her junior, and the two went on to have seven children of their own. As a teen, Charles converted to Mormonism, and joined his uncle, Bathsheba's brother Christopher, in Utah; so close were Christopher and Charles, many historical records name them as father and son, rather than uncle and nephew. They were also apparently quite persuasive - eventually, most of the Laytons converted to Mormonism and migrated to the U.S. to help establish settlements.
As her siblings, nieces and nephews, and even her parents, converted and one by one made their way to America, Bathsheba, Nathaniel, and their children held fast in England. Whatever her hesitation, she instilled it in her children as well. In an 1864 letter to Charles, written the year after Bathsheba passed away, Nathaniel addresses Charles' plea that his siblings convert and join him in America with a kind but blunt "they never shall".
While the details of Bathsheba's life and personality are still scant, what we do know about her leaves me in awe: a woman of the mid 1800s making her own living, raising her born-out-of-wedlock son alone and giving him her surname, marrying a much younger man, and firmly rejecting the religious pressures of three full generations is impressive and fascinating, to say the least. I hope that more time and research will tell me more about this remarkable woman.
Original badass, indeed.