Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Eames Massacre

My great great grandmother Henrietta's line goes back to the 1600s in historical Sudbury, MA, town of my birth and upbringing and of zip code 01776. One of the two oldest family names from Sudbury in our tree was Eames which evolved into the name Ames. Henrietta's mother was an Ames. Many Ames ancestors are buried in Wadsworth cemetery in Sudbury not far from my grandparents. Wadsworth Cemetery is a peaceful spot I have spent a lot of time in over the years. In the middle of the cemetery is a monument, dedicated in 1852 to Captain Samuel Wadsworth and the 28 men who died during one of the last battles in King Philip's War on April 21, 1676. The obelisk was erected to honor those men who are buried beneath it. Each year on Memorial Day, members of the Wampanoag tribe decorate the monument honoring men from both sides of the conflict. 

So important was the battle in Sudbury's history that the monument appears on the town's official seal.

Six generations before Henrietta was born,  Thomas Eames was born in 1618. He moved to Sudbury in the late 1660s after having emigrated here from England in 1634. He first made his home in Dedham, then in Medford and finally Cambridge before he sold his home and eight acres there and moved his family to Sudbury. Thomas leased the Pelham Farm in Sudbury for several years. Although a mason and brick maker by trade, the farm is what fed his family. Thomas had been a soldier in the Pequot Wars in 1637 and was injured "maimed in his limbs". Because of this disability he petitioned the court to allow him a land grant based on his service in that war. But his petition was denied.

Thomas Danforth, Deputy Governor at the time and a wealthy landowner in Framingham saw the petition, took pity on him and leased him some land on the side of Mt. Wayte in Framingham, just south of where he had been living in Sudbury. Here he made his home along with his second wife, the widow Mary Blandford Paddleford. Between them they had many children from each a previous marriage as well as some who were born to Thomas and Mary. 

During this same period Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, also called Philip by the English, was actively and successfully rounding up the support of surrounding tribes to drive the settlers out of the area. His father, Massasoit, had been a friend to the Pilgrims in Plymouth, but Philip did not trust the English. He rallied thousands from tribes all over to reclaim their lands and raids on outlying farms and remote settlements were a constant threat and struck fear into the hearts of all the settlers and their families.

But many of the Indians in the area were friendly with the settlers and had lived among them peacefully for years. Among these "praying Indians" was Netus, also known as 'William of Sudbury'. Netus and his family would often worship with the settlers of Sudbury and probably knew Thomas and his family quite well.

As so often seems to be the cause of conflict, misunderstandings and false accusations became common in a climate already rife with fear and before long nobody trusted anyone on either side of the situation, no matter their history. These friendly Indians who had dwelled peacefully among the English settlers were being forced from their homes by the English military who first moved them all to Natick, the town next to Framingham, forbidding them to leave the area for any reason, including hunting and fishing. Then, as if that weren't enough of a hardship to impose on them, in late October of 1675, soldiers were sent to round up all the Indians from Natick and relocate them to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. They weren't allowed to bring winter stores, nor had they shelter. Feeling betrayed and fearing that they would not survive the winter on Deer Island, a handful of these Natick Indians fled into the woods, including Netus.

Thomas' farm was miles from the next inhabited property. From all accounts there were only seven families in all of the town of Framingham at the time. His family was particularly vulnerable in such a remote area and Thomas was well aware of that. He petitioned the court to allow him to keep his two horses for his own means of escape, rather than surrendering them to the military for use in protecting the towns of Sudbury and Marlboro where he traveled regularly.  "Divine Providence having cast my lot in a place both remote from neighbors, in the woods and in a place of no small danger in this day of trouble when God hath so signally (?) let loose the heathens against his people everywhere..." And in 1675, he may also have asked the court for protection because Boston sent four guards to Framingham. But when no attack came, these guards were removed in the late fall or early winter, at about the same time that Netus and a handful of Nipmucks who had escaped the forced move to Deer Island were living in the wilds of Natick and Framingham and Sudbury.

Late in January of 1676, word reached the settlers that Sudbury and the surrounding towns were going to be Philip's next area of attack. Perhaps that's why Thomas left his family, taking the horses and the wagon to Boston for supplies, ammunition and further assistance for himself and the neighboring farms.

On the morning of February 1, 1676, while Thomas was in Boston, Netus gathered a band of a dozen or so Braves and headed toward Natick where they had left corn and other winter provisions before the soldiers had come to relocate everyone. But when they arrived, the food was gone, probably taken by the area settlers to add to their own winter stores. So, Netus and his men headed toward Thomas Eames' farm, a place he was sure would have food.

Mary, Thomas' wife was making soap that morning. Her children, some from her first marriage, some from Thomas' first marriage and some of their own, were busy on the farm, perhaps performing some of the chores that their father normally would perform. Two of the children were out on the edge of the property by the well.

Netus' men approached the two and grabbed them, taking them to the cover of the woods and keeping them quiet so that they wouldn't alert the rest of the family. While one of the men, William Jackstraw, guarded the children, the others approached the home. Mary was known to be a formidable woman and witnesses say that she vowed not to be taken alive. So she threw the pot of boiling lye on the invading band of men, infuriating them. She fought with every weapon she could get her hands on, but she was no match for the strong men and she was killed along with several of her children. Netus was one of those who engaged in the actual killings, according to testimony, while others in the group begged them to just take the survivors rather than killing any more children. Although, this account may not be completely accurate because the tellers of the story were also those who had supposedly begged Netus to show some mercy hoping that they would be offered some leniency at the trial. All of the Eames farm buildings were burned to the ground, their livestock slaughtered and anything worth taking had been taken by Netus and his group or destroyed.

Although there are differing accounts, Thomas claims that his wife and nine children were killed or captured. One account reads as follows:

Mary Eames, wife killed
Mary Eames, daughter, age 32, killed
Zacharia Paddleford, age 18, captured and escaped
Edward Paddleford, age 15, killed
Thomas Eames, Jr. age 12, killed
Samuel Eames, age 11, captured and escaped
Margaret Eames, age 9, captured and ransomed
Nathaniel Eames, age 7, captured and escaped
Sara Eames, age 5, killed
Lydia Eames, age 3, remained with her captors 

Massacre of the Eames family.
Our ancestor, John Eames, Thomas' oldest son by his first wife, was not at the farm during the attack. Perhaps he was with his father in Boston purchasing ammunition and asking for assistance. Just a year later, in 1677, destitute and in despair, Thomas Eames petitioned the court and was granted 200 acres in Framingham and Sherborn and 80 acres on the Framingham Sudbury line, and another 200 acres of Indian land near his original home in Sudbury for the losses that he incurred. Thomas never came back to the Framingham area, living instead in Sherborn where he became a Selectman. He died suddenly in 1680.

A month after the massacre, Netus was killed in a battle where he led 300 men in an attack at Sudbury near Marlboro.  Three of the Indians that took part in the Eames massacre were hanged after standing trial, including those who testified to begging Netus to be merciful. Netus' wife and the wife of another chief said to have been involved, were sold into slavery.


A.D. 1900

I wonder how this story came down through the generations? Did Henrietta's mother tell her about it when she was a little girl, sitting by the fire, maybe in a house on the land Thomas had been granted? Was it spoken about at all? Were they forever a fearful family, generations later? Did they marvel at Mary Eames's courage or curse her for provoking the savagery by resisting and injuring her attackers? Would their lives have been spared had she just given them some food? We can't answer those questions, but, it is certainly a fascinating story. It answers the question for me as to how the Eames family decided to settle in Sudbury. 
The Ames "cousins" I knew as a girl were Ruth Ames, a large woman who was a spinster lady my grandmother's age. She taught me piano when I was eight years old at her big old upright piano that was covered with tall piles of music books and sheet music. I was always afraid it was going to topple over on top of me when she sat down next to me to play, her huge upper arms bouncing up and down as she banged on the keys. She was a very sweet woman but I don't remember what she looked like. I was just eight years old and because of their proximity to my line of sight, I remember her arms more than her face. Her mother Julia lived there as well but I only saw her once or twice. She was very old. They lived in an old farm house in the middle of what once was an apple orchard, surrounded by apple trees that bloomed every spring. The home was on the Sudbury-Framingham line, probably on land granted to Thomas Eames almost 300 years before. I wonder if Ruth ever knew the story?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Here's to Good Olde Yarmouth

As I sit down to write today's post I haven't a clue what's going to be written. Ordinarily I have an idea, usually inspired by something I have discovered while researching the half dozen or so family trees I work on regularly. But the past two weeks have been a little busier than most this summer and I haven't been doing much research nor have I found any one thing "large" enough to turn into an entire post. And the truth is that once I start writing, I have no control over what I tell you all, anyway. It just lands on the page and at times I am surprised at what I get. So, for today, I thought I'd just start writing and see what washes ashore, so to speak.

I am winding down my stay on Cape Cod where I feel compelled to do research on Ed's family tree. One side of his family descends from the immigrant John Crowe  who came from England in the 1630s via Charlestown. The 11 generations of ancestors that came before Ed, not only compels me but makes me feel somewhat obligated to write about them while I am here in this old historic little town.
Bass River Bridge courtesy Descendants of Yarmouth FB page

The Crow (Crowell) family in England is believed to have come from Kent, then moved to Wales before the immigrant John Crowe (Crowell) came to Charlestown in about 1635. One account I read said they were descendants of Sir Sackville Crowell. (I just stuck that little tidbit in there because I thought the name was funny.) John's wife, Elishua was here even before John arrived because her name appears in the church records at Charlestown in 1634 and she bought a house there from Mr. William Jennings that same year. So, evidently, John sent her ahead to work with the Realtor. Both John and Elishua were born in 1592. After 4 years, John sold the home in Charlestown and they moved to Old Plymouth Colony. They had 5 children, among them John and Thomas, who were among the first of any to be born in Yarmouth.

John and two others, Messrs. Thacher and Howes, went to Yarmouth, when Governor Bradford and the Old Colony Court granted them land there, known as Mattacheese at the time. These three were the land committee given the task of surveying, mapping and extinguishing the Native American titles, as Governor Bradford was still in the process of purchasing the land from them. Then, they were to divide the land up among inhabitants according to their estate and "quality". But, you can't please all of the people all of the time and there were jealousies and arguments among those who received the apportioned land making it necessary for Governor Bradford to step in. He added four more men to the committee and he assigned an objective party to mediate the whole fiasco: one Miles Standish.

Miles, always the diplomat and certainly a well respected fellow, cleared up the differences, or at least quieted the whiners and brought peace to the early families who lived there, although the whole issue wasn't completely put to rest for a good 10 years. Probably not unlike today's political debates and municipal machinations. Having retired from municipal government, the motto is always "Things take time."
Main Street -courtesy Descendants of Yarmouth FB Page

Meanwhile, John and Elishua's son Thomas,  who was Ed's 8th great grandfather was growing up in Bass Ponds, later to be called Crow Town and what is now West Dennis. (Dennis didn't break off from Yarmouth until 150 years later.) Thomas married Agnes and they had two sons, one called  John and one called Thomas, just to make things more confusing for the genealogists that were to be tearing out their hair 375 years later.

John of Bass Ponds married Sara O'Kellia, another name that changed with time. Crowe was changed to Crowell about the 3rd generation from what most documents show, but in many documents they would  make a note that this was an alias for Crow. Even when they spelled it as Crowell, for many years, it was pronounced Crow.  The name O'Kellia went back and forth between O'Kellia and Kelly, settling down as Kelly sometime along the way. There are many Kelly families in Yarmouth's history. John and Sara Crowell had eight little Crowells, among them, of course were a John and a Thomas.

Courtesy Descendants of Yarmouth FB page

This latest John Crowell married Experience Higgins from Eastham. He would be the last of the Johns and Thomases in Ed's line. They had five children, one of whom was Abner, Ed's 5th great grandfather whom I have mentioned before as to having perished aboard a British Prison Ship in Newport Harbor. I have found one account that says Abner's father John also perished with him, although John would have been 83 at the time and I am not sure he would have been on board any ship at that age. That deserves a little more research at some time in the future.

So, on down the tree we go as Abner married a girl named Sara O'Kellia. Sound familiar? Abner's grandmother was also named Sara O'Kellia. Now we know he didn't marry his grandmother, but believe me it caused me to double and triple check the records when I saw that name come up again. Sara and Abner had 8 children before she died, leaving Abner to remarry months before his demise. You may remember in an earlier post that Abner married the Widow Ruth Hinckley Nickerson whose husband had been murdered at sea by a cousin. They had that one son, Simeon who I have also written about.

The son of Abner and Sara who would be Ed's fourth great grandfather was Judah. He married Rhoda Philips of Harwich. Judah was, like all of his forefathers, a lifelong resident of Yarmouth. By the time Judah's son Heman had a family in Yarmouth there were 16 Crowell families in the little Cape Cod town. They all had lots of children and many of them married people who had the same last name.

Clarence Crowell 1869-1949
Another Heman came along in Ed's tree and then Clarence, Ed's great grandfather;

Uriah Benedict Fisk Crowell 1892-1977
followed by Uriah, his grandfather;

and Ed's mother, Phyllis was born in 1922. There was a brother Edmond who died young and produced no heirs. So, the Crowell name in this line did not continue.
Phyllis Crowell Eaton 1922-1993
Ed's older sisters Karen (1945-1992) and Gail (c1946-1947) whom I never met.
Ed and his siblings are the 11th generation descending from the Crowell immigrant, all who lived here. Ed's sister and her children, generation 12, are the only ones still living here now. We are just summer folk. Ed's niece's Joanna's significant other is a member of the Crowell family from Harwich, another Cape Cod town down the road a piece. I haven't gone back to figure out where his tree and hers split but we could probably find it without too much trouble. Chances are, though, they are related in more than one branch.
Ed and his siblings 2009
Carlene (1960-2010) Bob, Ed and Kathy

It really is fairly unique to find a situation anywhere in the country where so many families who began a town remained there for almost 375 years. But the Cape is the next thing to being an island, a remote location causing its inhabitants to refer to any other place as "off Cape". Separated by the Cape Cod Canal from the "mainland" it really is very much like a little island and provides an interesting provincial feel despite the millions of folks who visit here each year, crowding the roads and beaches.

Ed and I have had a 'discussion' over the past few years as to where we will be "planted" when our time comes. I have roots in Sudbury where I grew up, where my ancestors came and left and came back again over a few centuries, but nothing like Ed's family who never left. And Sudbury is where I always thought I'd be buried one day, perhaps in Wadsworth Cemetery the resting place for my mother and my grandparents and great grandmother and my fourth great grandparents.

I always thought that was where I belonged.

But, Ed wants to go to Pine Grove, the little cemetery in South Yarmouth, just this side of Bass River, the place where some of his ancestors rest and a place I've become more familiar with over the years, visiting often and exploring the older stones for names I've found in Ed's ancestry. A friend of ours, John Sears who I have mentioned before is the consummate expert on local history here in Yarmouth and someone who has helped me to really get the feel of this old town. His family on both sides goes back as far as you can go here in Yarmouth and Dennis next door. Both his paternal Sears line and his maternal Baker line are legendary around here, the names appearing on street signs and schools and the like everywhere you look. John can point out all along Old Main Street where different ancestors of his once made their homes, all of them surrounding his own home. He is fascinating to talk with and I enjoy telling him about some of the interesting stories I've found doing my Cape Cod family research. He always has more to add to what I find.

John has his place all picked out and ready there in Pine Grove and it's just a short walk from where Ed and I would be if we end up there with Ed's grandparents and great grandparents. John and I have talked about it when he was conducting a little cemetery tour for me one day a couple of weeks ago. If I do end up there with Ed, John said he'd come over from his spot and visit and that we were welcome to do the same. Maybe we'll invite Ed's sister Kathy and her husband George over. They'd be just a short walk in the other direction from John's place. We could play cards or just kick back and talk over old times. And I am sure John will introduce us to others there. I guess if I know some of the neighbors it might just be a nice place to end up some day.

Reworking that old Harvard Toast about Boston Brahmins, completely tongue in cheek, I might add...

And here's to good olde Yarmouth,
Home of the gull and the Cod,
Where the Crowells speak only to the Sears's
And the Sears's speak only to God!

or Bakers, or Halletts or Chases or Howes, or... 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Carved in Stone

Since last week I have spent quite a lot of time doing research here on Cape Cod with more than the usual amount of time on my hands. I wasn't always successful in my searches, but I thought I'd share with you what I was looking for and what I did, or didn't find just to give you a taste of what we genealogy driven people experience regularly.

Some of you will remember the two-parter about Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney and her two husbands killed at sea. You may also remember that in the same story, I talked about her son Simeon, who went to sea as a young lad and came back a ship's captain who started the Baptist Church in Bass River. Well, because that church is around the corner from where I live here in the summer, I thought I'd go see if I could find any of these characters from our story. And I did!

I found Simeon, and his wife Charlotte, buried there right next to the church.

Simeon died in 1848 at the age of 70

Although I have been to this cemetery on a hunting expedition before, until I wrote Ruth's story, I had no idea who Simeon was and would not have made any special note of his being there. But it is fitting that the first minister of the Bass River Community Baptist  is buried so close to his beloved little church.

And just to the right of Simeon, he buried his mother, whom he adored and for whom he sacrificed his childhood, going to sea to help ease the burden of so many mouths to feed. Right next to Simeon, lies in eternal rest, Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney.

Ruth, outlived husband Thomas Nickerson, murdered at sea and Abner Crowell, killed
on a British Prison Ship months after they married. She was Simeon's mother.

Some of you may remember that Ed has several ancestors in his Crowell family tree whose first name was Heman, a unique name I once thought, although now I seem to come across it every time I do research in the 19th century. Ed's great great grandfather was Heman as was his great great great grandfather. While exploring that old cemetery, I found Ed's ggg grandfather Heman's headstone. I also found his ggg grandmother, Minerva.

Heman and Minerva are buried right next to each other. Minerva, whose maiden name was also Crowell, making things a little complicated was a cousin of some degree. I guess there were lots of Crowells on the Cape back then and probably not too many eligible mates who weren't in some way related. Minerva whose name is spelled MEnIrva on her gravestone, died in 1878 at the age of 75, outliving Heman by many years. I have confirmed from several different documents and histories that the date of her death is accurate. 

However, Heman's grave which shows that his age at death was just 40, confirming what I had already found, the date of his death shows as August 15, 1835 which was not what I had at all. So, now I had to find out what was correct. I knew that this date was suspect for the simple reason that I have more than one source document telling us that Heman and Minerva had children as late as 1842. Unless they were freezing embryos back then, something was not right. I checked and rechecked what I had on file. I knew this was the correct Heman because he was married to Minerva.

Minerva's parents, Vinney and Experience Crowell, (also a Crowell before she married Vinney. What?!?) are buried right nearby, so I have the correct Minerva, wife of Heman. 

And so, one discovery of a headstone created another mystery and uncovered conflicting information that I had to iron out. My records showed that Heman died at the age of 40 in 1842. I have his birth record dated 1802; I have his marriage record to Minerva; I have the birth records of their children, including those born after 1835, the date on his headstone.

On the official death record from the town register, it says he died at "about age 45" on August 31, 1842 of consumption. Heman was a seaman, so the fact that this record identifies him as a Mariner is one more piece of evidence that this was the Heman who died in 1842, although they were a little off on guessing his age. I also found a transcript of a newspaper announcing his death in the "Yarmouth Register" It simply says, Heman Crowell, age 40 on September 15, 1842. The headstone says he died August 15, 1835 at the age of 40. So, sometime between August 15 and September 15 1842, 40 year old Heman Crowell died.

The explanation for the error on the headstone is most likely that both his headstone and Minerva's stone were erected at the same time in 1878 when she died. From someone's memory, perhaps Ed's gg grandfather, they carved the date into the stone, left there to baffle genealogists for hundreds of years to come. 

From another side of the family, I spent many hours trying to determine some background on Ed's own grandmother, Josephine Eaton. This woman was someone he and his cousins and siblings knew, who died just over 30 years ago and yet she remains the "Henrietta" of his family. Not that she met a sad demise, but that she is such a mysterious figure.

Josephine was born in Ireland in 1886. We knew she came from Kilkenny and that she lived Bridgewater when she met and married Ed's grandfather Orin, who lived in Middleborough. So that was a help as well.

1910 Census
In 1910, the newlywed couple of Orin and Josephine are found in Middleborough, he shoe trimmer. Notice that her name is Johanna, something her family only found out in the late 70s when a great granddaughter was born, named Joanna. Josephine casually mentioned that this was her name when she was in Ireland, although her family had only known her as Josephine all those years. This record clearly shows that she and her parents were all born in Ireland and that she immigrated in 1899. Sounds like it should be easy to find her immigration record, right?

1920 Census
In 1920, we have Orin and now Josephine, still in Middleborough. The immigration information, however, shows that she immigrated in 1907 and was naturalized in 1908. Okay, so which date do I go after? 1899 or 1907? Hmmm....

1930 Census
But in 1930, now the family has moved to Cape Cod and that she immigrated in 1904 and was an alien, never having become a naturalized citizen.

So, folks, my search for Johannah/Josephine's roots have just begun. I have family anecdotes to pursue but no real dates to go by. And the Irish records are terrible to work with, if in fact they even exist. We have several family members working on this mystery and someday we may actually find out how she became orphaned and when she arrived here. We know her mother and father's names from marriage records in Bridgewater and Middleborough, although her maiden name is spelled Shay in one town and Shea in the other. Her mother's maiden name is listed as Tobin in one town record and Tobey in another. So, you can see, Josephine is a real mystery on par with Henrietta.

In my family tree, I have been doing a little research on my great Aunt Charlotte Willett. I knew Aunt Lottie, as I called her, when she was married to my Uncle Frank. We loved Uncle Frank and Aunt Lottie, who were both singularly unique personalities in our family's history. Lottie was my grandmother's younger sister, a twin to her sister Edith. But one thing I always knew about Lottie which intrigued me as a little girl, easily taken in by any romantic story, was that she had been married as a much younger woman to a man who fell victim in some way to the stock market crash in 1929 and left Aunt Lottie a young widow. I never knew anything else about this fellow except that his name was Jim McNair and that she was heartbroken when he died. So, I went looking in Census records to find them as a couple in New York City around the time of the market crash, October of 1929. I don't know why exactly, but I wanted to know more.
Aunt Lottie c. 1936

I never found a census record when they lived together. The first thing I found was a record of a trip they took from New York to Quebec and Halifax, a two day cruise in August of 1928 aboard the SS Shawnee. Maybe a honeymoon? I like to think so. From that record I found out that his name was James Taylor McNair and that he was ten years her senior, they lived on 63rd Street. Later I found that he was actually 12 years her senior, perhaps not completely truthful about his age for fear his bride would think the age difference too much to overcome.

Passenger list from the SS Shawnee Aug 18-20, 1928
Like I said, I looked for a census record, but found none. From there, I looked for a marriage record, but found none. I looked for a directory listing, but found none. I looked in old newspaper articles, and I did find one.  As I scrolled down the page, I felt a little bit of hope that this would be a mistake, but it wasn't. For at the very bottom of the column, the last person listed was James Taylor McNair, beloved husband of Charlotte, who died suddenly in April of 1930.

It's funny how when you look for people you start to feel something for them. Although he passed away 80 years ago and I knew that he had, I was caught up in the story, a romantic one I knew from childhood, one that I wanted to end differently. But, it was just as I knew it would be. Yet, from that newspaper article I found that James, had children from a previous marriage, something I never knew before. I found he was in the automobile business, an executive of some sort. His parents were Scottish and his mother was Harriet, for whom his daughter was named. His son was the third James Taylor McNair, his father also shared that name with him. In this search, he became more real than ever and I still would like to know more about their life together, albeit so brief.

Charlotte, curiously is listed as single and was living with her mother and younger brother in the 1930 census that was taken 10 days before James passed away. Was he hospitalized for a while maybe? We don't know how he died. I remember thinking as a child that he'd jumped out a window, like the stories we'd all heard about after the stock market crashed in 1929. Then I remember hearing that maybe his heart gave out as a result of losing everything. But I am not sure what happened, really. *

 Lots of mysteries were uncovered this past week. Some solved, and some leading to more mysteries. It's often like that when researching genealogy. And even when we think we know the story, or even when it's carved in stone, like Heman's headstone, it's not always the way things were.

After my brother read this post, he sent me an email adding more information about Jim McNair. I don't think I'd ever heard this story, but now we know how he died. Still a sad tale.

From my brother, Chuck:
Here's what I remember being told about Jim McNair, all, or most, comes from Gram --
He was a handsome man who owned a Cadillac dealership, the only one in New York City at the time.
This could have been one of the cars Jim McNair sold back in those days.
 He had many wealthy clients, including the Rockefellers. He was a social friend of several of these wealthy clients and was quite well off himself. I was told he visited the Rockefellers at their Hudson Valley estate, Kykuit several times which must have impressed Gram. He, along with other well heeled young men of his acquaintance, invested heavily in the stock market and did very well for some years. When the market crashed, he lost everything, likely overly leveraged. His health deteriorated rapidly, his hair turned white "overnight", and he died of a stroke.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tea at the White House

On Tuesday of this week, I purchased a subscription to an online searchable data base of newspaper archives. I thought I'd fiddle around with it some and looked up this ancestor or that, without much luck. It was fun snooping around the old articles in places where our ancestors lived and it will give me lots of help with background and historical information when I write future Henrietta posts.

I found some newspaper articles my grandfather, Leslie C. Hall (Henrietta's grandson) had written for the Acton Beacon in the 50s and 60s. It was a local newspaper that covered several area towns. He wrote some articles about the history in Sudbury, a colonial village established in 1639 and my home town. I think that's how I became so interested in history. But he also wrote articles about what was going on around him in the small farming community on the verge of a large population explosion.
Leslie Hall, my Grandfather

His column, which he called "Hi Neighbors" featured stories about the people in Sudbury, their goings on with the grange, the churches and other community organizations and events. In one article, he collaborated with a Ms. Lilly Nelson who helped him out because he was suffering from an "inflamed eye". Ms Nelson is listed as collaborator on several other articles I found, so they may have decided to share the byline some time in the early part of the column, although I hadn't remembered hearing about that until I found it online.

The exploration of the newspaper data base and an invitation to a "tea" in Sudbury that I received this summer gave me today's Henrietta inspiration. As I write this I haven't yet attended it, but I will post it the day after, adding a few finishing touches and post "tea" remarks. This tea was offered as an item in my old church's service auction last spring. The hostess, Alexandra, an old friend advertised it as a "British Tea" and it was to be given for 6-8 guests. My sister Becky and good friend Melinda purchased the event with the idea that I would be here to join in with the fun.
Alexandra's House

You might be wondering what on earth this all has to do with my Henrietta blog, but behind what promises to be a delightful afternoon of teacakes and extended pinkies, was the fact that the home in which this tea is to be held is the home in which I lived from infancy until I was about 3 years old, right next door to my grandparents at the time my grandfather was penning his column.
My Grandfather, Grandmother and Uncle Alan c 1950

Seeing the house will be interesting, but I am not sure if I will "feel" anything for this house because I know it has changed so much. I have seen photos of the interior after it has been beautifully restored. My friend Alexandra bought it about a year or so ago.

It's a beautiful antique home, built in 1830, once the main house for a huge farm in Sudbury. But, before I see it in its new incarnation, I thought I should write down what I do remember from more than half a century ago, lest the new memory mingles with the old.
"The White House" late 1940s

I have memories of this home, vague and fragmented, but strong. I remember the hurricane whose wind sent a tree branch through the kitchen window as I ate my breakfast and Mom and Ginny Baldwin, the upstairs neighbor sat at the table with me. I remember the glass from the broken window cutting my mother's ankle and the dash across the driveway to my grandmother's house, poodle skirts flying as my mother carried me and Ginny Baldwin carried my brother Chuck through the storm. I remember it as if it happened yesterday, Chuck's cowboy hat flew off and Ginny ran after it, braving the storm to save what was probably my 4 year old brother's favorite possession, spinning along the ground on its edge, like a red felt wheel. I don't remember if she caught it, I just remember her trying. I remember how much I loved Ginny. I don't remember what she looked like, just that I liked being in her company. I do remember it being a treat to go upstairs to Ginny's and I can see myself in my mind's eye playing with little cars on her linoleum floor, cars that probably belonged to her son Stevie.
The White House-View from my grandmother's house.
Behind the garage is that 'dark dirt-floored' room. The outbuilding
with the bees is in the foreground.

I don't remember the bedroom we slept in but I remember having a recurring nightmare there in which a Woolie Dog, half dog, half lion, would put a ladder up against our window and steal us away in the night. My brother Chuck and I shared the same villainous Woolie Dog character in our dreams. I remember light coming through kitchen window curtains and the wooden high chair where I sat to eat my meals. I remember the bay window where the kitchen table sat, the same window shattered by the tree branch in the hurricane. I remember the dark area between the garage and the kitchen, with an unfinished dirt floor and no lights that we could reach. It was dark in there even on the brightest of summer days. I have a vague memory of a plank from the outside door over to the kitchen door. If I did it just right, I could step up up over the threshold, and hang onto the doorjamb with one hand, then swing into the darkness to the plank and up onto the kitchen step without letting my bare feet touch the dirt floor, and anything else that waited in the darkness there. My feet were always bare then.
My grandparents escort my great grandmother into their home
The White house in the background 1959

Over the years we always referred to it as "the white house" because it was painted white, and later we thought it was funny when we told people we used to live in 'the white house'. Like a classmate at a reunion, it's gray now, but the face I remember from childhood is still there and recognizable if I look closely. It was just down the street from the new house we moved to when I was 3, and right next to my grandmother's house. It was a constant in my neighborhood travels, a landmark that spoke to us when we were older and we'd ride by on our bikes or pass on foot. It said "I remember YOU!" every time.

It loomed from atop a slight grassy hill on which it sat, looking down onto unpaved King Philip Road as though it was royalty itself. Tippy, who was Aunt Marian's big German shepherd dog lived across the street and he and my Grandmother's English setter, Duchess, would lie stretched out, sleeping like the dead in the middle of the cool dirt road on hot summer days. People had to drive around them in order to pass by. In the front yard, hundred year old maples provided shade keeping the grass cool under our feet, their roots lying partly above ground, like long ropey legs stretched out into our path, playfully waiting for us to trip if we didn't watch our step. A worn granite rectangle served as a step up to the front door, which I can't remember ever using.

The Porch was removed at some point.

There were tall lilac bushes along the sunny side of the house, untrimmed and drooping out and over the stone and dirt driveway, smoothly rutted where the wheels of the cars rolled, grass growing in the middle, large puddles in the same spots whenever there was a big rain. An ancient rubble stonewall ran down to the road, separating the yard from Mr. Bonnazoli's huge vegetable garden. His wife, Ida, was the kindest woman my grandmother ever met, she told me once.
Ida and Al Bonnazoli.
Ida, the kindest woman my grandmother ever met.

There were bees in some of the old out-buildings in the back yard, that I didn't like playing near. Someone once had a workshop there. We knew that because there were rusty screw tops of jars nailed into the bottom of a wood shelf, their glass bodies that had once hung below and held nuts and bolts and nails and brads, had long since been broken and were nowhere to be found. I know what they were because my dad had the same jar tops nailed above his workbench in a later house. But the bees kept us from going into that old place that might have been a chicken coop at one time. An old gray wagon wheel, leaning against the white clapboards comes to mind but I'm not sure if I remember that from a painting my mother had, or if there really was a wheel there. There were more lilacs and multitudes of hostas and orange tiger lilies growing together in a crowd along the stone foundation in the back. An old well was in the center of the yard and we weren't allowed to go near it. I steered clear of it but it is that well which comes to mind whenever I hear the nursery rhyme "Ding Dong Dell, Pussy in the Well."

My grandmother's house, the 'red house', sat further up the drive past the long red barn that we never went into. I think her house had once been the milk house, although not in my lifetime. It had clean white trim and its brick foundation was painted white, too. 
In front of my grandmother's house, red with white trim, once the Milk house.
My brother is the baby held by my Dad. My Dad's family and my mother's family
together in 1951. I was just about to be born. Duchess, the English setter is in the foreground.
 Gram's was the house that I loved the most, that little red house. It represented a haven in a storm on more than one level, I guess.

My grandmother and me, when I still lived in the white house, c1954.
But "the white house" is also central to a story of which I don't have any memory, but is part of my own family history. I look at it with a sort of detached curiosity now, as though it happened to someone else. Yet, it is my history and you all know how I love those stories of one's personal history. This house is where my history began and it was in this house where a vaporizer, attached to an infant's crib ran out of water in the middle of a cold February night in 1952 and caught the baby's world on fire.

Like I said, I have no personal memory of it, I was just five months old, the exact age that my granddaughter Lily is today. Looking at Lily gives me some perspecitve on how little I was and what my parents and grandparents must have experienced. A miracle really, that I have no recollection of it and that I survived at all. And I have heard the stories countless times, the stories not just about a tragic accident, but the stories about the little town that rallied around a young family and a baby when all seemed so lost. These are the stories that made Sudbury so much more to me than just the town in which I grew up.

Over the years they told me stories of the telephone operator, Gladys Tighe, a dear friend of my grandmother's who would pass along reports to all the townspeople who were interested in knowing my condition during those weeks of hospitalization. The Chief of police, John McGovern would tell the story of how he drove me to Waltham hospital in 7 minutes, and that he'd never forgotten that trip, although I think that might be an exaggeration in the time the trip took. He told that story as long as I knew him, and how ironic that the first house I ever bought would be right next door to his.

The story of Clyde Barber, the local rubbish man and the subject of a Reader's Digest "My Most Unforgettable Character" article,  dragging away the charred crib with tears in his eyes stays with me. I remember him, the gruffest of men, with the softest of hearts. My Godmother, Maryellen, leaving her nursing job to stay with me night and day. I remember hearing about the support of the church and so many townspeople, when nobody knew if the baby would survive.

The MacLeans were a well loved couple in town who would run young couples dances on Friday nights in the town hall. My parents often told me how touched they were that these folks once ran a benefit dance to help raise money to pay the doctor's bills. Such a special community it was back then. Maybe it was because the town was only about one quarter of the size that it is today and still populated by folks who grew up there, as had their ancestors for generations before. Now, we are so scattered, it's hard to feel so attached to a place I think.

But with that deep attachment to Sudbury still firmly in place, as I was hunting through the newspaper archives on the eve of going to tea at "the white house" I found an article and I think it's rather remarkable that I found it just now. On April 24, 1952 in the column called Hi Neighbors, written by Ms. Lillie Nelson  in collaboration with my grandfather there was the following excerpt:

was sung last Saturday evening
by Dick Whelpley at the Donation
Dance that the Couples' Club
worked so hard
for the benefit of little Suzanne
Hall. We were all as deeply touched
as he, to think.that so many
would rally to help this little child
who has known so much pain in
so brief a span of life.
We will say only that the
Couples' Club wish to thank everyone
for the generous response, and
to thank those who contributed,
including Dave Bentley's orchestra.
(Lillie Nelson says that this organization
is not far from a baby
itself, but it took on a very worthwhile
project. Good Luck in the

I knew Dick Whelpley, the singer who they talked about in the article. I remember him singing in church many times, a tall thin man with a remarkable tenor voice. I've known his daughters and his wife as long as I can remember. He rests now in Wadsworth Cemetery, just across the lane from where my mother is buried. A bench marks his grave and there are musical notes carved into the granite. 

The story I told today is self-centered, I guess. But I tell it because stories from days gone by, even as recent as during my own life time, give a sense of how things really were. I don't know how many people who live in Sudbury remember Dick Whelpley or the dance for "Suzanne" or Chief McGovern and the MacLeans. But, there are a few still. I just hope they tell their stories when given the chance. 

We had a fabulous time at the tea. I will post some photos on my tomorrow for "Feel Good Friday". The "white house", now gray is just beautiful inside, but the rooms were not as I remembered. Now a single family home, the steep stairway upstairs to where the Baldwins lived seemed a little familiar, although they now lead to bedrooms and a lovely area for Alexandra's chaise. The dark room between the garage and the kitchen now has a floor and is their laundry room and mudroom. The well is still out back in the yard and there are lilac bushes that I know were there when I once ran bare-footed in the grass.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Story of Ruth...(Well, sort of) Part II

When I left off last week, I was telling the tale of Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell, twice widowed. She was the second wife of Ed's 5th great grandfather, Abner Crowell,  who died aboard a British prison ship during the revolution.

To recap a little bit, Ruth had an overwhelming task before her when Abner died. She had the responsibility of raising 4 of her own children and 4 or 5 more stepchildren from Abner. And then a son was born from Ruth and Abner's union after Abner's death. That child was Simeon went to sea as a boy; became a ship's captain; returned home starting a saltworks and began a Baptist church where he served as it's first minister. Although that's a really nice ending to a sad tale, like I said, that's not THE story I wanted to tell.

Ruth's first husband, Thomas Nickerson IV, died at sea before their son Thomas the V was born. So Ruth had two different sons from two different husbands who would never know their fathers because they both died at sea. These two were but 6 years apart in age. But,as sad as that is, and as tough a life as Ruth and the children had after losing Abner, and despite the fact that Ruth is central to each of these separate stories, hers is not really THE story I wanted to tell you either, hence the disclaimer in the title of this two-parter.

These stories are each interesting on their own. However, when trying to find out a little more about Ruth, her story led me to the story of her first husband, Thomas Nickerson IV. That, my friends, is where I found the most interesting of all the stories surrounding poor Ruth.

Thomas Nickerson was a member of a very prolific Cape Cod family. There were Nickersons in virtually every town on the Cape in the earliest of settlements. Thomas IV was the son of Thomas III and Dorcas Sparrow, both from Chatham, MA just a couple of towns south of Yarmouth where Ruth lived with Abner Crowell after remarrying as a widow. Thomas the III was a farmer in Chatham, but his father had been a mariner. Thomas IV took after his grandfather and became the captain of the fishing schooner Abigail.

From all accounts, Ruth and Thomas IV were happy young newlyweds in Chatham in 1765. He was 22 and she was 21. Soon after they married they started a family, first Myrick was born, then David and Isaac. All these sons further added to the already large numbers of those with that surname on Cape Cod. Life was no doubt hard, given the times and the climate, but it was probably as good as it got back then on salty old Cape Cod. 

Thomas IV, as I mentioned, was a sea captain and the master of the schooner Abigail out of Chatham by the time he was 28. He made a living as a fisherman, bringing his catch to Boston and other ports along the coast and up and down the Cape. Thomas, his brother Sparrow Nickerson and their sister Phebe's husband Elisha Newcomb made up the fishing vessel's small crew. Another crewmember, new to the sea, was 13 year old William Kent, and although I haven't been able to verify it, I suspect he was also a relative as the name Kent appears often in the Nickerson genealogy I have seen.

The crew of Abigail would fish the Massachusetts waters at a time when the Sons of Liberty were just coming into their own all over the Colonies. Rumblings by the Colonials over British taxation on tea and the Stamp Act which taxed every piece of paper used in the Colonies from ship's records to newspapers to playing cards. The King,  imposing his will on these independent souls was wearing thin throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony after enduring it for so many years. The Cape was no exception, indeed, the inhabitants of Cape Cod included some of he oldest immigrant families in the Colonies, and they had independence in their blood and in their bones.

One practice in particular that set the pre-revolutionary Cape Codders' blood to boiling was 'impressment'. This was the law of the land at the time and it allowed the King to send out "press gangs" to kidnap British and Americans of sea-going age and force them on to a ship and at the threat of death, coerce them into serving as part of the British Navy. Whenever there was war brewing or a need to build up their navy, these press gangs would become active and go after the townsmen from all over the Colonies. In addition to many thousands of Americans, the British also commandeered American vessels. They did this at sea or on shore, wherever they could find able-bodied men, preferably experienced seamen. The Cape, with its many sailors and vessels was of particular interest to the British and these press gangs.

Thomas IV and his crew, braved the rough waters and tricky tides off the coast of New England, but also were on the lookout for the pirates and press gangs that were just as much of a threat to their lives and livelihood as any storm that might blow across the bay.

One November day, Ruth's husband Thomas and his crew set sail from Boston Harbor on his schooner Abigail returning to Chatham. This particular day, a cousin, Ansel Nickerson, was on board needing transportation from Boston back to Chatham to get "his cloathes". In the wee hours of the next morning a Topsail Schooner was spotted not far from Abigail. A boat was launched from this unidentified ship containing a few men who rowed along side and boarded Abigail. The men questioned its crew and passenger. The boat left, but soon 3 more boats returned, this time full of armed men. 

Before the men could board her, fearing this was a press gang about to kidnap him, Ansel swung himself with rope over the 'traffarill' (the stern of the boat) and hung there, listening to the exchange between his cousins and the gang who had boarded the ship. Immediately following the boarding of the Abigail, a violent struggle broke out. Ansel could hear the sounds of Thomas and his crew being slaughtered as steel struck bone and their screams were audible over the rest of the crashing sounds. He heard them fling them over the side into the sea, one after the other, food for the fishes.

Ansel hung there, in the ropes, terrified, keeping his eyes on the railing above for fear he would be discovered. He heard loud laughter and angry retorts and the crashing of the chests that held cargo being transported from Boston to the Cape and other property belonging to the crew. After smashing the barrel of rum that had been aboard and the subsequent arguing over the drink as the pirates partook of it, Ansel heard young William shouting for help, as he was being carried away into one of the waiting boats, as one of the scoundrels proclaimed they were taking him "to make punch" for them.

After a while, the commotion subsided as all but one of the boats left Abigail and returned to their own ship. A few of the men, the leaders of the expedition, remained aboard, discussing whether or not to set fire to the Abigail and sink her. But, instead of burning her, to Ansel's relief, they decided to leave her sails up, scuttle her and let her sail out to sea on her own.

About 10 o'clock the next morning, Sunday November 15, 1722, Captain Doane from Chatham spotted Abigail sailing between Chatham and Nantucket, flying a distress flag. When Captain Doane boarded Abigail, he found a terrified Ansel, who described the events of the earlier hours as I have just related them.

Captain Doane and his crew brought the Abigail and Ansel to Chatham and then told the story he'd heard to Justice of the Peace Bacon, from Barnstable, who then sent a report to Governor Hutchinson in Boston. A ship was sent to find the "pirates" but nothing was found. There were many inconsistencies in Ansel's story, and the Governor found it all incredible. A warrant for his arrest was issued, and Ansel, who was found to have been wandering in parts unknown, was hunted down and sent to jail on the charge of murder on the high seas and piracy.

Ansel was questioned by the Governor and a panel of justices after which a trial was ordered for June. Some of the inconsistencies in Ansel's story were that there was a substantial sum of money on board as the crew had collected it's pay for the preceding year while in Boston and it was contained in the chests, while Ansel claimed there had been a small amount of money. Although the rum was smashed and broken into, there were stores of beef and other food these pirates did not take. The panel thought it would be impossible for Ansel to hang there on the ropes over the stern as long as he did and why hadn't the men searched for him, having first boarded the ship and undoubtedly counted the passenger and crew? Other suspicious elements of the story were that nobody else had seen this mystery ship, nor had any other ships been boarded. And in none of Captain Doane's testimony, had he described any blood smeared decks.

Even his defense attorney made some notes of the inconsistencies of his story.  Ansel was the only one spared. He as alone on board, covered with blood. On the other hand, the flying of the distress signal was inconsistent with criminal behavior. Ansel said his reason to be on board was because he needed to get his clothes in Chatham and that it would be too costly to travel by land seemed hard to believe. Ansel said the money box was missing from the hold, yet he also said he hadn't been in the hold.

More notes from his own lawyer's records: Incredibility that there should have been a Pirate Vessell. The boats could not board. The rum hadn't been carried off, and still in the stores were fresh Meat, Butter, Cyder, Roots. The Pirates must have trod in the blood, and left the Marks in Cabin, hold, but none were found. Where was the Prisoner for fear of Impress. Hanging on the Stern. Is it possible he should have hung there a Minute? Why did not they discover him, when on the deck and when they came under the Stern. The Paint clean, not bruised nor broke.
If the Prisoner guilty would not every appearance have been as they were.
Liquor, Cyder and Rum in the Pail, and the [Cantien?] he gave, shews they were made drunk and then butch[ere]d.
Conduct after he came ashore—wandering God knows where. No Account can be given of him. An opportunity to bring <it> ashore, the Money.
Confident he should be discharged.
Went a little Way, felt poorly, when he came back. The Witnesses say he could not go on board the Vessell then, but he might go where the Money was hid.
All Night absent going to his Grandfathers. He pretended he was lost.
Went to the Hay Yard to the End of the Stack, to get hay for his Horse.
Yet, after all of these notes his lawyer writes:
Altogether presumptive.

A trial was held after several delays, in August of 1773, and despite the court's accusations and defense counsel's questions, Ansel was acquitted.

His lawyer admitted that he did "not know the basis of the acquittal" but thought it was due to the lack of direct evidence. According to his defense counsel, "Nickerson lived many years, and behaved well." He didn't seem very grateful to his lawyer. "His comments before and after the trial were less than gracious."  Defense counsel later reported that “He had nothing to give me, but his promissory Note, for a very moderate Fee. But I have heard nothing from him, nor received any Thing for his note, which has been lost with many other Notes and Accounts to a large Amount, in the distraction of the times and my Absence from my Business.”

Some say Ansel went on to live in the area and fought against the British in the Revolutionary war. He died in the West Indies. Some say he was convicted of murder and hanged in the Antilles. Others say that while he lay dying on the Island of Martinique he confessed to the murders aboard Abigail.

The IOU that Ansel wrote to his lawyer was found. It was dated 30 July 1773, for £6 13s. 4d. It was found too late to enforce payment, and still remains, unreceipted, in the files of Ansel's attorney,
John Adams. 

From John Adams' Diary:

So, that's the incredible story I found while looking for Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney's roots. Her first husband, Thomas Nickerson IV, killed at sea either by a band of French pirates or by his own cousin for the contents of a ship's chest. Ruth nor Thomas are in Ed's direct line. But, this is where I was led. For me, it's not always the story from my own tree that tugs at me and grabs my curiosity, although it is fun when that happens. The wonderful thing is that there are fabulous, intriguing stories in the trees surrounding our own. And it's a very large forest!