Joanna Sharpless ~
In the living room of the house where I grew up hangs a framed copy of a seventeenth-century map of Pennsylvania. The land is divided into tiny plots, each painstakingly labeled with a family name.
When I was little, I’d stand in front of the map and search for the little squares labeled “Sharples”–the original version of my last name. I’d imagine my distant ancestors, John and Jane Sharples and their seven children, dressed in bonnets and breeches as they sailed across the Atlantic in 1682. As Quakers, they’d purchased land from William Penn and had fled religious persecution in their home country, England.
To a young girl, their immigration story sounded romantic; but as I grew older, I realized that it wasn’t. Their life in England must have been unbearable for them to be willing to risk losing everything in order to rebuild their lives in a strange wilderness. Indeed, they paid a steep price: One of their children died on the journey. I also had to consider their role as colonizers, living on land that had once belonged to Native Americans. How should I feel about my family’s immigration story?