Reynold Clayton Fuson - Forward and Ancestry


Soon after my retirement at the University of Illinois in 1963 the University Archivist invited me to record for his files events that might be of interest to future University historians. At my request he suggested most of the topics to be included. Mindful of my obligations to supply the National Academy of Sciences with an autobiography, I have tried to write something suitable for the Academy as well as for the Archivist.


"Reynold Clayton Fuson," mused my 98-year-old mother when she had finished reading aloud to me the citation I had received along with an honorary degree at Illinois in 1966 -- "a very nice name, I always thought." She had conscientiously pronounced "enediol" and "vinyl alcohol," paying respect I fancied to what she imagined was my world of science, and also "emeritus" and "esthetics," thus recognizing learning in general which in her mind had become associated with the name she and Dad had picked out for me 71 years before.

There on the formal document it did seem adequate, but around the fraternity house it had given way to "Bob". "Clatie" and Rennie" of my childhood had fallen into disuse even in the family. The change to "Bob" would be understandable if "Reynold" had been "Robert". Some went so far as to suggest that I might very well have been named for a favorite uncle, Robert Chesnut. I see now that in giving me the name Reynold Clayton, nowhere else to be found in our family histories, my parents had made the meaning of that name uniquely my own responsibility. So I was glad to hear my mother say that the name still pleased her, especially when she added "I wish your father could be here - he would be so proud."

We know little of the history of the Chesnuts, my mother's family; as in so many others the historical thread was broken by the Civil War. We know that my grandfather, William Chesnut, came from the Carolinas before hostilities broke out.

Subsequent changes in land values make us wonder about his choice of a homestead. His search took him from the Illinois-Wisconsin line to Jasper County. He passed up the rich prairies of northern and central Illinois including the then swampy acres of Champaign County, proceeded across the terminal moraine and finally settled on a hilly tract with a fine spring and plenty of timber.

In England today, we can find Fewsons but no Fusons; yet the name Fuson is carved on tombstones located near Hull. In 1934 I called on some Fewsons in London to explore the possibility that our names might be related. They were kind enough to consider the question and said that I "looked like" a Fewson. They told me that long ago a member of their family had emigrated to America as a stowaway. He was small in stature and at a critical moment was able to hide under a woman's hoop skirt. Our search for ancestors gave us the uneasy feeling that it might lead back to a horse thief or something worse. Skirt hiding fell into disrepute, I think, only with the World d Wars.

The change of accent from the first to the last syllable of the name Fuson was made by an older brother who served in France during World War I and came to the conclusion that the name is of French origin. I followed suit on the:advice of one of my teachers at Missoula. With its new accent the word has always seemed to me to be a sort of stage name and may have contributed to my feeling at times that I was acting a part.

Our record of Fuson ancestors includes a William Fuson who fought at Yorktown, which maybe makes up a little for our obscure overseas origin. Also our American forebears maintained, officially at least, a high standard of morality; the soldier of the Revolution was followed by an unbroken line of men of the cloth which extended all the way down to my grandfather, John Lee Fuson, or a1most. All of his five brothers were Baptist preachers but he broke with tradition and became a medical doctor.

He, too, was deeply religious, however, and at opportune times could "exhort", as they said in those days. To the faith he brought a measure of scholarship, it would seem, for he wrote a book upholding the doctrine of baptism by complete immersion. Clearly though, authorship came to him as an avocation; he wrote the book during an extended illness which forced him to give up medical practice.

We remember him with special tenderness because he was the doctor when my mother was born. The date was February 11, 1868 and the place was Grandpa Chesnut's farm which lies about six miles northwest of Wakefield. Her entry into the world must have caused Grandpa Fuson a lot of inconvenience since he had to ride those six miles on horseback, presumably in bitterly cold weather. The doctor was only 31 years old and had "hung out his shingle" in Wakefield little more than six years before. If he had only known that the newcomer, Nancy Jane Chesnut, would one day become the wife of his then six-year-old son John! And that John and her children would regard her as their greatest good fortune! But the good fortune, so clear to us today, for him lay far in the future. He was permitted only a glimpse of it, for he died in 1891 when her firstborn was only four years old. How a pretty girl with three doting older brothers could grow up entirely unspoiled, as my mother did, remains a mystery. Far from being self-centered, she devoted her life to helping others with no thought of rewards for herself.

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