John Lincoln Shockey was born near Lima, Ohio, on April 27, 1846, to a farm family, Isaac and Hannah Shockey. John had two older half-siblings and later had six younger siblings, but only five of the children lived to adulthood. The family eventually settled in Roundhead, Ohio. When John was eighteen years old, he enlisted in the Union Army, joining the Ohio 192nd Infantry Regiment. He mustered out on May 25, 1865, at Columbus, Ohio, never having engaged in battle. John was an avid diary writer, recording several years of his life, his activities, and his travels. In March 1869, at the age of 21, John left for Nebraska in search of land to homestead. He traveled for days, walking, hitchhiking, boarding a train and a steamship. He arrived in Lincoln with less than a half-dollar in his pocket. John’s older half-sister, Sarah, and her husband, Marvin Henry, lived two miles outside of Lincoln. John lived with them while he located the perfect 160-acre homestead. He staked his claim on May 1, 1869. To earn money to develop his land he worked at many different jobs in and around Lincoln.
Around 1870 he went to Seward, Nebraska, and filed for a homestead. Nebraska was new territory, and, in his diary of 1869, John tells about his new life on the wide-open prairie, where he built a dugout sod house on his claim. Describing the Nebraska winds he said, “It blew like a hurricane” and was as “cold as Greenland.” In the Nebraska hailstorms and sudden downpours of rain he “got a healthy wetting,” and a flooded Soddy house when “it rained all day without hesitation.” John saw “1,000’s of buffalo” and enjoyed seeing “the setting sun in all its glory with nothing larger than a shear of grass to hide the view.” He also experienced the invasion of grasshoppers “that commenced flying over for two days or more in great numbers.”
John often wrote to his Aunt Jane living near Warsaw, Indiana, and a niece who lived with her. The niece had a best friend named Lydia Bartholomew who lived nearby. John’s aunt begged Lydia to start writing to John because “he was a lonesome bachelor living out on the prairie by himself.” Lydia agreed to answer John’s letter IF he wrote first. So they began corresponding. Eventually he visited Aunt Jane and finally met Lydia, soon returning to Nebraska. By this time he had been in Nebraska three years and was tired of being alone, so he proposed to Lydia by letter. John went back to Warsaw where he and Lydia were married on March 13, 1872, and John took her to Nebraska to live in the little sod house. By this time he had fields of corn and potatoes. They planted a large orchard of apple and peach trees. John worked for neighbors to earn extra money and gradually purchased more land, increasing his farming crops. On January 1, 1873, a baby girl was born to John and Lydia. Sometimes John would go buffalo hunting and be gone several days while Lydia and baby Ada stayed home alone. There were Pawnee Indians around who would come every now and then and ask for food. Lydia was afraid of them, but she was careful to never show it.
One day in 1873, a Seventh-day Adventist minister, Elder Charles L. Boyd, pitched a tent at Seward, Nebraska, five or six miles from the Shockey’s home, and began to preach. John, Lydia, and baby Ada went to the meetings and heard such wonderful things they had never heard before. Lydia kept the first Sabbath, but John kept it as he had kept Sundays–working. The next Sabbath, John kept it reverently.
John was doing well in Nebraska and in 1875 another daughter was born. She was named Flora. The family made a trip back to Indiana and then Ohio in a covered wagon. John’s father begged him to sell out and move back to Ohio. After a while John sold his place and livestock and did move back to Ohio. In 1878, the Shockeys had a boy named Charlie. In 1882, another boy was born whom they named Lewie, and in 1884 twin girls, Minnie with dark curly hair, and Winnie with light hair.
Because of John and Lydia’s influence, several members of John’s family became Seventh-day Adventists, including his younger brother, Phillip, who later became an evangelist in Arkansas, in addition to being a farmer and a photographer. Phillip had traveled to Arkansas and become quite taken with the area. He urged his family to sell their Ohio farm and move to Arkansas. In October 1884, the Shockeys, including John’s parents and Phillip’s family, moved to the Butterfield, Arkansas community, near Malvern. They traveled by train with all their household goods and their livestock. Lydia and Phillip’s wife, Pleasant, each had a set of twin daughters a month apart in age. On the train they had fun pretending that all four babies belonged to one—then the other of them.
Things didn’t go well in Arkansas and John had a hard time making a living for his family. Times were hard, the climate was different, and John lost all his livestock he had brought with him. They also discovered they had moved to an environment that was not friendly to those who did not worship on Sunday. There were Blue Laws in effect and John was arrested twice for working on Sunday. One time he was splitting rails to repair his fence so he could keep his stock in. Someone came by and saw him and turned him in for working on Sunday. Another time, a preacher from another denomination came by and bought a chicken from him on Sunday. John was arrested for selling the chicken on Sunday. However, this did not deter the family from worshiping in their home on the Sabbath.
In 1888, another daughter was born, and they named her Henrietta Belle. The family was very happy despite the hardships and John and Lydia were good Christian parents. Although there were no other Adventists in the area, the Shockeys would meet together each week in their homes, and others would join them. The group grew to a recognizable size and when the Arkansas Conference was organized in 1888, Malvern was one of the ten existing churches that was recognized and accepted into the new Conference. John was the delegate and while in Minneapolis for the session, he was privileged to hear Ellen G. White speak. Back in Arkansas, John was elected as the evangelism director for District #3 which covered nine counties. By 1893, many of the church members had moved away from the Malvern area and there were only the two Shockey families of Adventists left.
Early in October 1897, John became poisoned from eating a castor bean and after about a week and a half, he died on October 11, 1897, at the age of fifty-one. Lydia continued to meet with her friends and neighbors for Sabbath services, and just after John’s death, they held a barn-raising for her. Twenty-eight years later, Lydia helped raise donations to build the first Seventh-day Adventist church building in Malvern. On June 26, 1926, when the Malvern church was reorganized, Lydia and her youngest daughter, Henrietta Belle, were two of the twelve charter members. Lydia died on March 14, 1929, about a year after the little church was dedicated debt-free.
Phillip Shockey’s family moved to Texas in 1909, but Lydia remained in the Malvern area. Meanwhile, her children grew up, married, and had families of their own. And what became of Henrietta Belle Shockey, the youngest child of John and Lydia Shockey? She grew up too. Click the link to read more of her story.