Posted by Ann Daugherty on Mar 02, 2023
Since its first meeting more than one hundred years ago, Rotary has grown into an international organization with clubs in nearly every country and our membership sharing a singular passion for making the world a better place for everyone. We all come from Somewhere. We all have a Story.

Understanding our identities better helps us see how our biases were formed. I recall our Family Values being expressed through stories told with inherited gifts and visits to places of historic significance. While I like to think of myself as “Quintessentially American”, my ancestors were mostly Western European: English, Welsh, Scottish, and Scotch-Irish. My family's story is about immigrants coming to a New World in search of a better life, freedom, civil rights, and the opportunity to survive and later thrive.
Judge Samuel SewellMy first family member of note was Judge Samuel Sewell, whose strict Calvinist family immigrated from Hampshire, England in 1661. In 1667 he entered Harvard College. Later, Judge Sewell was appointed official printer of The Colony, and he published John Bunyan’s famous The Pilgrim’s Progress. Sewell was also one of nine judges appointed to try those from Salem, Massachusetts accused of witchcraft; he later very publicly regretted his role quoting Matthew 12.7: But if ye had known what this meaneth, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

My Grandmother Isabel Howell Kerr, a member of the Washington DC Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, noted our Patriot of Record as Daniel Blaisdell, an orphan who served as a drummer boy in the American Revolution and later in the War of 1812. Also a judge, Blaisdell became a member of the House of Representatives, and later a Senator from New Hampshire.

statue of Josiah BartlettThis beautiful statue standing in Amesbury, Massachusetts commemorates the life of Josiah Bartlett. An ancestor of mine who started his medical practice in Kingston, New Hampshire in 1760, he later became one of the first signers of the Declaration of Independence and the first Governor of New Hampshire.
My Great, Great, Grandfather Washington Caruthers Kerr was appointed State Geologist to North Carolina in 1864, where he was instrumental in discovering new water power resources, geological formations, valuable tracts of timber, and mineral deposits. In 1882 he published a new state map of North Carolina used for both topographical and geological work. The ring I often wear on my right hand, passed down now for five generations, has a beryl emerald stone set between two diamonds. The emerald stone was mined by Washington Caruthers Kerr during one of his geological expeditions.  
William Caruthers Kerr

My Great Grandfather William Hall Kerr attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (then considered a “Blue Collar Engineering School”) and there met Alice Maude Getchell, one of the first women to attend MIT. As virtuous women often did in those days, Alice fell in love, got married, dropped out of school, and moved to Catonsville, Maryland where she settled with William and they had six kids.

A textile manufacturer and president of the Thistle Cotton Mills of Ilchester, Maryland, Great Grandfather William invented a complicated device that could manufacture 25,000 tobacco bags, operated by a single person in one day, and this device was still in use in 1948. On June 16, 1895, Great Grandfather William’s life was cut short, when his six-year-old son (my Grandfather) fell off the family steam yacht. Great Grandfather William dove in to keep my Grandfather’s head above water and saved his son. Tragically, Great Grandfather William died of a heart attack. This article appeared on the front of The New York Times the next day telling of the tragedy. Because of the heroism and love of my Great Grandfather, I am here today to tell my family history.

The Kerrs lived on an estate called "Cherokee" in Catonsville, Maryland. I remember visiting there as a little girl. My mother showed me the “never ending closet” with a hidden entrance to the underground railroad allowing slaves to escape through Maryland to the North. 

While all six of the Kerr kids grew up to be notable in their own right, my great Uncle Dabney made quite an impression on me as a young lady. After graduating from medical school at Johns Hopkins in 1919, and marrying the former Elenore Smith of Catonsville, they both served in China under the Presbyterian Board as medical missionaries.
Mostly self-made, my Forefathers and Mothers were theologians, judges, physicians, scientists, inventors, traders, homemakers, and men of war whose accomplishments and lives best express the origins of my core values and have helped to make me who I am today.
Kerr family home
Editor's Note: Thank you to Ann Daugherty for sharing her impressive family history as a DEI Moment at the Club Assembly on February 21, 2023.