In 1838, Austin Hammer settled on a 120-acre tract of land in Caldwell County, Missouri. He had traveled from Indiana by wagon, and looked forward to finally settling down and farming the land with his wife and 6 children.
Hammer had settled in Missouri at an unfortunate time–the area was politically volatile, and Hammer was a Mormon. The Missourians at the time wanted nothing to do with a religion they considered “unChristian” and to make things worse, their leader disagreed with the area’s inhabitant’s on a volatile political matter (he had had the audacity to oppose slavery–Caldwell County was secessionist). The Mormons’ growing numbers made the Missourians anxious about their overwhelming voting power.
Those who wanted them out of the area fought hard: Mormons were arrested time and again as “invaders,” mobs dragged Mormons from their homes or prisons into the street to beat or attempt to execute them. Eventually, pushed by his constituency, Missouri’s Governor Boggs signed Executive Order #44, giving authorization for the deportation or extermination of all Mormons in his state. You read that right. Extermination.
Austin Hammer, my fifth great-grandfather, lived just three miles from a little gristmill owned by a man named Jacob Haun. In defiance of his angry neighbors who had plotted to see the Mormons starved out, Jacob had continued to grind grain for his fellow Mormons. His life had been threatened repeatedly, and so on the morning of October 30, while most of the Mormons packed and fled, Austin Hammer and 34 other men stood by Jacob Haun as the Missouri Militia approached his mill. Seeing that the militia, 240-strong, would not compromise, the men ran to the blacksmith shop for safety. For over 30 minutes, the little band of men were fired upon with an estimated 1600 bullets. Then they ravaged the village and whatever survivors they could find.
Austin was murdered, and his family left destitute. His wife, Nancy, fled Missouri for her life with only a wagon and a blind horse, some clothes and blankets, and a little corn meal. She was 32 years old. Only two of her six young children had shoes, and the others had to walk on rags for 200 miles in the rain and snow to what they hoped would be safety in Illinois. For a while, it was.
Friends, I am the child of refugees. So are you. Whether you are the child of pioneers, pilgrims, immigrants, slaves, or Native Americans, you are the child of refugees. This country was built on the backs and hopes and ideas of refugees, and we cannot ignore those who are in need. I live in a state where new refugees settle daily, and I have been so grateful for the beautiful diversity they bring to my community. I’m grateful for the tolerance and humility they help instill in the people around me. I’m amazed by their grace and their joy in simple things.
I have been shaken to my core, lately, by the thought that when there are people who are in fear for their lives, who are running from religious persecution, who have been abused and defiled, who have lost all they have, we might turn our backs and say “No. Not you.” The idea of a religious test for refugees distresses me more than I can say. As someone whose people once faced actual extermination based solely on fear of their religious beliefs, I will not stand by and do nothing.
The Hammer Cap is named in honor of Austin Hammer. His people were refugees. None should have to endure what he did. Let’s help them, OK?
All proceeds from the Hammer Cap pattern will be donated weekly to rescue.org. If you would like to donate your actual hat or other items, the pattern has information on that, as well. Thank you so much for your help and support!
The Hammer Cap is available now!