"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

A Foster Parent's Love Can Heal a Broken Heart: The Story of John Rowlands, a.k.a. Henry Stanley

St. Asaph's Workhouse, Wales, United Kingdom
The boy never knew his birth mother. She never came to visit.  He would one day discover she had been eighteen and out of wedlock when he was born.  Illegitimate children in 19th century Wales carried the scars of social stigma, including being branded 'a bastard.'   This boy was called a bastard child. Some whispered that the boy's mother made a living prostituting herself. The bastard's grandfather, they said, was only caring for the boy to atone for his daughter's shame.

John Rowlands was the boy's name. Nobody knew the name of the boy's father. His mother refused to give her last name to her illegitimate son. The boy's maternal grandfather, Moses Parry, took care of John as best he could, but when the boy was just five and a half years old, grandpa Moses fell over dead in his potato field. He was seventy-five.

There was nobody left who wanted to care for the bastard child.

The boy's missing mother had a couple of well-to-do brothers who took John in for a few days after their father's funeral, but they soon shipped the little boy to a neighbor family and promised "to pay for his keep." After six months, the money stopped coming. The uncles refused to take the boy back, so the neighbor family asked their oldest son, a twenty-seven-year old named Richard, to get the six-year-old John Rowlands ready for a journey.

It's best to let Richard's own words describe what happened next:
"My parents and I told John he was going on a trip to see his relatives. I requested mother to dress the little boy....Then taking his little hands over my shoulders, I carried him down through the town passing the houses of his well-to-do relatives... The boy was anxious and often asked "Where are we going, Dick? Where are we going?" I told him we were going to see his aunt Mary. We walked eight miles to the St. Asaph Workhouse. When we arrived, I set the little boy on the porch and rang the bell. I told John to stay there and I turned to leave. He asked me "Where are you going, Dick?" I told him, "I'm going to buy cakes for you." I left John at St. Asaph's and never returned." ((South Wales Daily News, 14 May, 1904: Interview with Richard Price):
Six-year-old John Rowlands would spend the next ten years in the St. Asaph's Workhouse for the poor and abandoned. He would later write, "the false cajolings and treacherous endearments on that eight mile journey to St. Asaph's will live forever in my memory. It would have been far better for me if Dick, being stronger than I, had employed compulsion, instead of shattering my confidence and planting seeds of distrust in a child's heart."

Nobody is quite sure if the cruelty at St. Asaph's was as bad as John would later recount in his autobiography. All new arrivals, whether abandoned children or pauper adults, were stripped, shaved of all hair, and given drab, uniform clothing to wear. John claimed he was often beaten, and he dreamed every night of running away. Four years after arriving at St. Asaph's, the warden pointed out a woman and asked John if he knew her. "No sir," John replied. "What? Do you not know your own mother?"

John's mother and her next two illegitimate children had been sent to St. Asaph's Workhouse due to their abject poverty. Though she'd been told by the warden John was her son, she never made any attempt to speak to her boy. "I expected to feel tenderness towards her, but her expression was so chilling that the valves of my heart closed as with a snap." (Source: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, Tim Jeal).

Escape from St. Asaphs

Liverpool Shipyards (1860's)
After ten years of closed-in walls, drab clothing, and the mundane routine of institutional living, John Rowlands escaped the poorhouse. Though the details of how he freed himself from St. Asaph's at the age of sixteen vary, John Rowlands would eventually make his way thirty-five miles northeast to the big city of Liverpool. He found a job making deliveries to the ships that docked from far away places. One day, after delivering meat to an American packing ship called The Windermere, the captain invited seventeen-year-old John Rowlands into his cabin and offered him money to serve as 'cabin boy' for the next trans-Atlantic trip to New Orleans. John knew his only hope for a brighter future was to accept. What John didn't know was that 'cabin boy' meant 'ship slave,' and the awful abuse boys his age endured on similar journeys often led them to jump ship without waiting to be paid. In December 1858, at the age of seventeen, John Rowlands left Wales and sailed for America.

The trans-Atlantic trip to New Orleans took two months, and upon arriving in New Orleans, John 'jumped ship,' having experienced what other 'cabin boys' had endured in similar circumstances.

What happened next is nothing short of amazing.

An American family took the boy John Rowlands into their home. He met this foster family the first day he jumped ship, while walking the docks of New Orleans. This American family owned a business that traded in goods shipped up and down Mississippi and its tributaries. John saw a sign in the shop window that said, "Need a boy" and he went in and applied to be a shop hand. The family took John in as one of their own, not only giving this teenager a place to live, but showing him with affection that he'd been lacking his entire life. John, for the first time , experienced 'familial love.'

This family was the equivalent of a modern foster family.

John Rowlands Makes a Name for Himself

According to John, his new American 'father' would eventually get him established in a trading business of his own on the Little Red River,  a tributary of the White River and Mississippi River, about 50 miles north of Little Rock. John took the skills he learned in New Orleans with his foster family and put them into effect as a young adult in Arkansas. It was during this time that, according to John Rowlands, he changed his name to honor his American 'foster father" - Henry Stanley.

John Rowlands - a.k.a. Henry Stanley
John Rowlands, aka. Henry Stanley, a Welshman with no American papers, would join the Confederate Army after the Civil War broke out in April 1861. He didn't particularly desire to fight, but all 'the boys his age" were joining the cause, and he was too afraid of being called a coward not to join. His Arkansas regiment would be sent to Corinth, Mississippi where Henry Stanley would fight in the Battle of Shiloh.  Henry Stanley's Arkansas 6th Regiment engaged the Union's Illinois 9th Regiment in the pitched battle in a 'half-mile square of woodland' that killed General Albert Sydney Johnston and my wife's (Rachelle Burleson) great-great-uncle, wounding Rachelle's great-great grandfather as well. During that battle, Henry Stanley escaped death, but was captured by the Union army and taken to near Chicago, where he was imprisoned. The United States government later released Henry Stanley after he pledged to fight for the Union. Stanly joined the Union army, but abandoned his post. He wanted nothing to do anymore with hand-to-hand combat. He'd been shocked at Shiloh "that the human form we made so much of should now be mutilated, hacked, and outraged; and that life, hitherto guarded as a sacred thing... should be so easily given up to death." He added the middle name "Morton" to avoid detection as a deserter, and just prior to the end of the Civil War (1865), Henry Morton Stanley joined the Union navy

While in the navy, Henry used his skills at reading and writing, honed as a boy at St. Asaph's Workhouse, to record the ship's logs. After the war, Henry Stanley traveled to St. Louis, Missouri and applied for a job as a 'reporter' with the St. Louis Democrat Daily, using his experience in the navy as a reference. He was hired, and it was on a special assignment with the St. Louis Democrat in Indian Territory, that Henry Stanley began making a name for himself. He was the only reporter at the infamous Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 in Indian Territory, the first treaty between the United States government and Plainsmen Indians.

Newspapers from all over the country reported on the astonishing treaty signed by the government with the Plainsmen Indians, a treaty that confined the roaming Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians to reservations in "Indian Territory" (Oklahoma). This infamous treaty ensured Manifest Destiny - the ability of the United States to link both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts via railroad without threat of Indian attacks. Henry Morton Stanley's colorful reporting of the Medicine Lodge Treaty led the owners of the largest newspaper in America, the New York Herald, to offer H.M. Stanley a job.

It was James Gordon Bennett, Jr. owner of the New York Herald, who sent his young reporter in early 1871 to Africa to find the long-lost missionary Dr. David Livingstone. On November 10, 1871, after an excruciating difficult journey into the heartland of Africa, New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley met the oft-presumed dead, but still living Livingstone, and greeted him with the famous words:
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
Henry Morton Stanley would go on to become the greatest explorer the continent of Africa has ever seen.  His discoveries and explorations of the Dark Continent are legendary. The Queen of England knighted him. He became a member of British Parliament. He became the recipient of the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal. His life  is a long legacy of exploration, discovery and ultimate recognition.

A great deal of credit to the man H. M. Stanley became goes to the love of an American foster family.

My son and his wife took into their home this week a little girl, a foster child whom they believe God's given them to love. I write this post to encourage them and thousands of other foster families that take in children, both young and old, who for circumstances beyond their control no longer experience the love of a family. A foster parent's love can heal a broken heart and set a child on a future course that could change the world.

By the way, the building where John Rowlands stayed for ten years as a destitute orphan, known as St. Asaph's Workhouse in St. Asaph, Wales, United Kingdom, still exists.

It's now the H.M. Stanley General Hospital.

The love of a foster family can make a difference.


Gordon said...

A moving story, well told.
I can't believe that the sacrifices and kind deeds of these and other foster parents will not go unnoticed by our gracious and generous Heavenly Father. Mark 9:41 "truly I tell you, that person will be rewarded".

Curious Thinker said...

I agree that was a very moving story. I wonder what became of John Rowlands/Henry Stanley? Good luck to your son on taking care of a foster child. God Bless.

Wade Burleson said...

He became the legendary explorer and cartographer of the continent of Africa, knighted by the Queen of England, a member of Parliament, a much-in-demand speaker, and died May 10, 1904 at the age of 63.

Christiane said...

God Bless your son and his wife for opening their home and their hearts to a little child in need of protection at this holy season of year.
Your son and his wife, in receiving this little child, show great love for Christ and He will remember their love for Him on the Day of the Lord.

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence. Our church library has the book, "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" by Ian Anstruther and I have enjoyed reading it recently.
Florence in KY

Bill Pierce said...

That, my friend, is a GREAT post !

Anonymous said...


This Henry Stanley??

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