The Tener Family

This is a journal kept by Dennis Holmes and friends concerning the Tener Family.
The links below will take you to the "Tener Blue Book" - "TENER: A History of the Family in France, Ireland and America"; and to a Finding Aid.

NEW! Tener Eckelberry: A Life
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Thursday, July 28, 2005


Arranged and Edited by Roberta Tener Johns

Mary Frances Evans TENER (M.F.T.) was born at Farm Hill, Andreigh, near Athy, County Kildare, Ireland in 1799. She was the eldest daughter of George Evans, Esq., of Ardreigh, and Margaret Anne Harrison, daughter of George Harrison, Esq., of Kilmullen Hall, Queens County. Of her early life little is known except she was educated at a school for young ladies, famous in its day, at Waterford, County Wexford, Ireland.

In 1822, when twenty-three years of age, she was married to John Kinley Tener, then not yet twenty-one, a young surveyor and land agent of Castlecaulfield, County Tyrone, and came to the north to live. For three years she lived at Castlecaulfield, and there her first son was born. In 1825 she moved to the house which her husband built on the Moree farm which he had purchased from the estate of Col. Stewart. The estate was soon after sold to W. Lindsey, for whom John Kinley Tener (J.K.T.) later became agent. For this information we are indebted to a history of his family written by Isaac Tener, a younger brother of J.K.T.

(***Do any of you know where this may be located? I'd love to acquire a copy of it!***)

And so, at Moree House, this dearly loved home from which most of these letters to her friend were written, Mary Frances Tener lived the rest of her life; and here at the time of the earlier letters to Mrs. Cole, she was presiding over her "family of men" -- her loved husband, her six sons, and the evidently equally beloved young man, James Macrum, the son of a neighbor and friend, who was tutor to several of the sons of the house, lived at Moree for five years. Always frail of body, and suffering frequently from bronchitis which became chronic, she was long ill in the Spring in 1864. One morning very early, the fire which had just been lighted in the open grate in her room, in some way leaped out and ignited the mantle piece. Greatly alarmed, and helpless, she sprang from bed and, trying in vain to put out the flames, rang for her maid and ran to the room where her granddaughters were sleeping and got into bed with them. This bed she never left, for the shock and exposure in her weakened condition were too much, and on April 11, 1864, she died.Of the beginning of their relationship with Mrs. Cole there is no account, only the hint that Mrs. Cole had cared for her most kindly once when she was alone and ill in Dublin. Perhaps as a stranger who may have taken lodgings in Mrs. Cole's house, since ladies traveling alone did not go to hotels, and became ill there.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Cole were of the Society of Friends, gentle people of high birth and culture, but in reduced circumstances. They lived in a large house in the good part of Dublin, and Mrs. Cole let rooms, after the fashion of the day, to guests of proper reference, seeing to the preparation of their meals, provided by themselves, upon request. Mr. Cole had a school for boys. Their one child, Ellen, became a great favorite of her mother's friend and of the whole family at Moree. Thus an acquaintance begun in a business relationship became also an intimate and enduring friendship lasting twenty years, and broken only by death: and the modest, reserved little lady of Moree, surrounded by her masculine household, poured out her heart and mind to her dearest woman friend in her letters. It was her favorite outlet.

She wrote freely and Mrs. Cole responded. She was a kindred spirit - - like her friend, warm and affectionate -- one to inspire confidence and return it. Nearly every letter her friend sent, Mrs. Cole treasured and kept, pressing out the folds that the paper might not be cut. Then shortly before her own death, when she was very old, she returned the whole pile, one side of a correspondence of twenty years, to the family of their author, to the only one of M.F.T.'s sons then living in Ireland. He kept them for years, treasuring them too; for he felt that while in the "full and free expression" of his mother's mind to her loved friend, there would naturally be much of intimate family life, not worth keeping; yet there was sure to be found in them many passages worth preserving --- "passages that would do justice to the memory of the gifted woman whom many held in reverence and love;" "opinions, reflections or sentiments worth a record;" or "news of, or allusions to the then current events."

His own failing eyesight prevented his culling these out and transcribing them, while destroying the rest; and, so, in 1910, he sent all the letters to my Mother (Maude Tener – Tener Blue Book Page 74) and me and asked us to undertake the task, one of privilege and love. To us they are a precious legacy. At once a start was made. The letters were carefully arranged in their proper years and then in correct sequence -- no small task for there were more than three hundred of them, some mere notes, others regular volumes in themselves -- the writing quite plain and beautiful to look upon but so small and fine as frequently to require a reading glass to decipher; and in spite of the care which had been taken, they were sadly mixed. Matching some of the middle and last sheets to the proper beginnings was often a long process of trial and error. In this part of the work Mrs. Cole herself had greatly helped, because so often she had carefully supplied, at the time, the date or place omitted by the hasty writer, added an explanatory word or two, and her comments. Several letters written badly and in pencil, when M.F.T. had almost no use of her eyes, Mrs. Cole had carefully gone over in ink that the words of her friend might not be lost. But when all were finally placed in proper order (mostly by my mother) and the twenty little piles were safe in separate folders with only a very few scraps left over, the task had to be laid aside before any careful reading or selection of outstanding passages could be attempted; and now, nearly a quarter of a century later, I have taken it up to finish. However, all the letters taken together are such an entity, trivial and tedious though some may seem to a later generation, and the picture they present of the writer and her life in her country home, in the midst of family and friends, is so complete that to me -- to whom my great grandmother -- through this close association in her letters as well as stories told to me by my mother of her own childhood -- has become a very real and delightful person -- it seems as no selection of "thoughts" or "opinions" or "reflections" wise and worthy though they might be, could possibly be so interesting or so valuable as a human document, as the continuous story of those twenty years. Births and deaths, romance and heartbreak, high hopes and deep disappointments, philosophy and faith --- all are recorded. Life, of which trivialities and tediousness are also part, is there. And so I have ventured to keep nearly all of the letters in the record. Some of them are, it is true, very personal; but it is all so long ago --- ninety years, nearly, since the early ones; seventy, since the last. Of all the people in the intimate home circle of Moree who knew and loved its mistress only three are now living, my aunt and my mother (the two granddaughters born in the house) and the niece, of about the same age who was brought from Dublin to grow strong in the country and lived in Moree the last five years of her aunt's life.

Surely no offence can be given by so intimate a record of those long gone people, places and events. There is a lovely little oil portrait of M.F.T. and several daguerreotypes and photographs and all are prized by her descendants. In them is shown the delicate small person, tastefully dressed, her rather elaborate caps arranged over her 'front' or 'transparency' nearly always a book or a child -- as was fitting -- in the picture. She had large gray eyes with dark brows, markedly arched, and a serious, almost sad expression. She thought herself very plain, but those who loved her did not at all agree. However, like as the painting or the photographs, may be, she has, by her own hand, unconsciously given us, her great grand children and great-great grand children (**and those who read these letters later), a much clearer portrait of herself in the setting of the life of her day. For although she was but an unconspicuous, busy mother of a family living off in the country in the North of Ireland, yet her life reached out into far places --- gold digging in Australia, college life in America, war in India, the new movement in religion toward a return to primitive Christianity, Alexander Campbell and the beginnings of the Disciples (of Christ) Church. Her interest touched them all in greater or less degree.

As in the letters to Mrs. Cole she has given her own account of herself and her life, we have in the letters of others something of the effect and influence of that life on her family and friends.

In 1866, replying to the request of one of M.F.T.'s old friends (not Mrs. Cole) for a photograph, her daughter-in-law, Susan, writes from "Cloughbane":" 'Twas this day two years she left us! Yet the irreparable loss, the great blank has not been and never can be made up." May we emulate her quiet virtues and especially her self-abnegation for which she was so eminant. Oh! the sorrowful past. I often think over some things with great regret and long for just one year of her life back again that I could better appreciate her true value and dwell on her sweet words of loving instruction which were received and lost too lightly. However, there is consolation in the thought that our friendship was complete, unruffled from the first day to the last: and we shall have a grand and joyful reunion. With this in view may I not very easily part with this perishable tho' most speaking likeness?"

And, Alexander Campbell in a letter to his daughter, written after his visit to Moree, has this to say of his hostess: ".....Sister Tener, one of the most accomplished, most excellent and amiable of ladies, and one of the most exemplary Christians I have met with in any Country."

--- Roberta Tener Johns, Pittsburgh, PA
Feb. 24, 1933

(***NOTE: Roberta Tener Johns died in Pittsburgh in 1970. )